Truthout Stories Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:39:49 -0400 en-gb Day Laborers Leader on Right-Wing Hostility: "So Far, We Have Won This Fight"

Pablo Alvarado is executive director of the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON) -- a group dedicated to building a movement among low-wage workers, most of them immigrants and many of them undocumented. The 49-year old Alvarado, who came to the United States in 1990 from El Salvador, views NDLON as both a workers' rights and an immigrants' rights organization. It has been an important player in campaigns to win local minimum wage laws and to stop the exploitation of immigrant workers, many of whom survive in the shadow economy as day laborers, housekeepers, gardeners, restaurant workers and janitors.

We recently spoke with Alvarado in his small office at the Pasadena Community Job Center in Pasadena, California, one of some 70 worker centers in 21 states connected with NDLON. He is a whirlwind of activity, typically working 12 hours a day, running a national organization while engaged in the daily activities of the Pasadena center -- counseling workers, organizing demonstrations, negotiating with city officials, raising money and supervising staff.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Mark Maier and Peter Dreier: Tell us about your life in El Salvador before you came to the United States.

Pablo Alvarado: I came to the US in 1990 when I was 22. My mother was a housekeeper with nine children. Three died while they were small. My father was a peasant who worked the land. We lived in a village called El Nispero, surrounded by coffee plantations. There was no running water. We had to go to the city to carry the water. My father had oxen and we would bring water in barrels. My mother never went to school. She learned to read and write from the newspaper that wrapped the rice or beans. My father went up to third grade. He was right wing and a very smart man. He could talk you about communism and the Cold War, or almost anything.

You went to university and received a B.A. in social science in El Salvador. How did that happen?

My family was one of the first in the village to send their kids to high school. My brother was nicknamed "Bachiller," what they call you when you graduate from high school. He went on to university and got a degree to be an elementary school teacher. He needed hundreds of hours of community service so he came back to the same village and started a literacy class for peasants. His method was based on the ideas of Paulo Freire (the Brazilian educator who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed).

I went along with him to the classes. Even though I was only 10 years old, I began to understand the Freirian methodology he was using. You don't just teach the syllabic meaning of the word. You also teach the social meaning. It was fantastic. I remember the thick voices of the older men who were picking coffee during the day, repeating the vowels. It was music to my ears at that age.

Were you politically active in El Salvador?

Some of the residents of my village included powerful people in the military, including members of the death squads. If they didn't like you, if you spoke up for your rights or complained about the government, they could torture or even "disappear" you.

There was a soccer field in the village, the only flat property in the village where young people could play. But it was bought by a powerful person in the village, who was close to the military and their death squads. He closed the soccer field and began preparing the land to grow corn, disregarding the people who had played there for decades. One day he brought in his oxen and farm equipment and began preparing the land, disregarding a prior agreement to lease it to the soccer team.

Now, my father was a right winger aligned with the military. But he was also the president of the local soccer team. That afternoon, when all the peasants were coming from work, he led a protest and demanded that the owners negotiate with them to keep the soccer field open. He never would have called it an occupation, but that's what it was. We were so close to having a massacre right there. My father was the balance, the mediator. He stopped a massacre. If he hadn't been present, there would have been a lot of dead people.

I was there, watching it all happen. That was when I began to understand some of the basic concepts of justice and the power of organizing.

Why and how did you come to the United States?

It was my last day of college. When I got home I saw the whole family was meeting. My younger brother (had) received death threats because he'd join(ed) the (anti-government) armed struggle in the village where we grew up. He was 16 at that time. My family ask me to accompany him to the United States the next day. It cost us $3,000, each, for coyotes (smugglers who help people cross the US-Mexico border). We were very vulnerable. Even the Mexican police robbed us of our money. 

At the time, the (U.S) border control wasn't as tight as it is now. The coyotes put five people in the trunk of a Toyota CorolLA My brother was ahead of me and was about to go in another car. I grabbed him and we waited for the next car. That was lucky, because the border patrol stopped the first car and caught the people trying to get into the United States. My brother and I took the next car.  

What did you do when you arrived in the United States?

I worked as a day laborer from 1990 until 1995. First I worked at a party rental store from Fridays through Mondays when the business was good. I helped set up and take down parties. But on Tuesdays to Thursdays I went to the day labor corner. I did that for eight months. Then I got a job in a factory in Chatsworth (a Los Angeles suburb) where they made shampoos. I hated that job so much. There were two Salvadorans and about 25 Mexicans. My first job there was to wash the barrels of Vaseline. That was the worst job. Nobody wanted to do that job. But with my work ethic, I washed them well, so that was my job for a long time.

My sister worked for this rich man who made dolly carts used to move film equipment. She got me a job there in North Hollywood. I worked there for nine months. I would grind the metal to make the parts for the carts. The workers at the factory included Armenians, Central Americans and Mexicans. During the 40-minute break we'd play soccer. It was unhealthy, socially, the Mexicans versus the Central Americans. They would just go at each other. So I initiated the process to form a soccer team to play on weekends. Everyone was included in the team. Things changed because we would be playing on the same team. The Central Americans and Mexicans started to get along because they played with each other instead of against each other.

Also, at the factory, there were four people I worked with who didn't know how to read or write. I began to teach a class in that factory. In the nine months I was there, they learned to read and write.

Later on, I established a class in Pasadena and one of my students was an older man. One day he came to class in pain because he fell from a tree at his work. He was pruning a large tree. Even though he didn't drink, that day he was drunk. He drank to survive the pain. When I took him to the hospital with a broken shoulder, the nurses didn't want to care for him because he was drunk. As I was talking to him and other workers, I started to think about my own experience as a worker, both in El Salvador and in the United States. I had never heard the words "health and safety" with regard to work, but I realized that a lot of immigrant workers work in dangerous jobs and needed some protection, and it wasn't going to happen unless they were organized and demanded better working conditions.

How did NDLON get started?

We officially started NDLON in 2001 during the first convention in Northridge (an area of Los Angeles). NDLON was the first national organization to take up the cause of day laborers -- not only to organize workers but also to protect them and help them integrate into their communities. Though not all are directly affiliated with our network, NDLON has helped to open more than 70 day labor offices in 21 states. Thousands of workers go to these job centers across the country every day. Nationwide these centers have about 300 employees. Most of them work as organizers. About 30 percent of organizers were former day laborers. We also have a few lawyers on the staffs of these local worker centers. Our national office is in Los Angeles (and) has a staff of 25, including organizers and lawyers as well as finance and development staff.

Each of the centers is autonomous and operates independently, but we have some common goals and strategies and we shared the same principles. In these centers we do all kinds of projects and provide services. We do wage claims, ESL (English as a Second Language), job skills training, deportation defense.

The job centers are hiring halls. It's like the streets but more orderly. The centers bring transparency to the contractual agreement between workers and employer. There is clarity about wages and working conditions. If employers are not satisfied with the work, they know where to go. Sometimes when workers mess things up at the workplace, the folks at the centers send a crew to fix the mistake. The centers also advocate for and organize workers who face wage theft and other problems. They also help immigrant workers become naturalized and fight deportation. We organize to change public policy, like the minimum wage and immigrant rights. The centers have become more than hiring halls. They are worker and immigrant rights institutions. They are community centers.

What is the relationship between NDLON and the US labor movement?

In the past, NDLON had a very contentious relationship with labor unions. Back in 1998 or 1999, the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations) had their convention in Los Angeles. A group of 50 day laborers went to check it out and they were kicked out. Some of the union delegates were chanting "scabs, scabs."  For many years the major unions weren't interested in organizing immigrant workers. That's begun to change, at least in certain unions. And the labor movement has changed its tune on immigrant rights. We've shifted the way that the labor movement thinks about migrant and low-wage workers.

How did your relationship to unions change?

At first they didn't understand what we do. They thought we were scabs -- like in 2001 when the janitors in LA went on strike with SEIU. The janitorial companies went to the day labor centers to hire workers. But we had educated our workers about the strike so instead of workers going to work for the employer, they joined the strikers. At the big march down Wilshire Boulevard, there were 250 day laborers walking with the janitors.

Our workers were charging $15 per hour for their services and this was in place before the Fight for 15 began. So one day we asked some progressive labor leaders to come and check out what we do. We took 20 labor leaders to one of our corners in Agoura Hills. That day the workers were insisting on getting a minimum wage of $120 a day, which was $20 more than they'd been paid before. Most of the workers came from the same indigenous town in GuatemaLA Before they demanded a higher wage, they discussed what impact it might have. Will we lose employers? It went back and forth. But after that discussion, they decided to insist on the higher wage. And they did. 

The Fight for 15 is not a fight that starts with the employer. It is a fight that starts with the workers themselves, when they decide that they are worth the money and more. The time for voting came up after a 90-minute discussion and the workers in Agoura Hills voted 85-15 for the pay increase. This was in early 2006. The main leader at the corner drew a line on the dirt floor and then he asked those that voted no to move to the other side of the line. He stood in front of them and said, "I want the 85 who voted in favor of increasing the minimum wage to look at them. They are not our enemies. But if we are not vigilant, they will drag down our wages and working conditions. And we want to know who they are and we want them to look at our faces and know that they have the same needs we have." The labor leaders were watching in surprise. They said, "this is the way my grandparents started their union."

So that was the moment when some labor union leaders understood that there were new kids on the block and that we should be allies, not adversaries. They understood that it was time to open up. A few months later, we signed a partnership agreement with the AFL-CIO.

What does NDLON do for immigrants' rights?

We played a big role in the fight for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals). We had been pushing for administrative relief for a long time, even when the mainstream immigrant rights groups said it was too narrow, that we have to fight for comprehensive immigration reform. Citizenship or nothing, they said. And they didn't even ask undocumented folks what they wanted.

Before DACA, we conducted about 20 ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) shutdowns with civil disobedience across the country. People put their bodies under the deportation buses. Day laborers chained themselves to the White House gates because President Barack Obama's administration kept deporting people and breaking up families in record numbers. When it was clear that comprehensive immigration reform wasn't moving forward, we worked with the "Dreamers" to push for DACA. Our litigation director, Jessica Karp Bansal, helped make the case that President Obama had the authority to carry out DACA.

The mainstream immigrant rights groups were primarily focused on federal laws, but the struggle goes on in localities -- at city halls, at neighborhood meetings, at schools and in courts. Every time we open a job center we are legalizing people from the bottom up. I call the day laborer centers, "street level immigration reform." Day laborer centers are sanctuary institutions. Every time we push a locality to adopt sanctuary measures, we are achieving immigration reform.

We have to build immigrants' and workers' power at the local level and then we'll have a stronger voice when we go to Washington. So far, Congress has been hijacked by the extremists, so they're not going to pass anything soon. But we will continue to push localities to be more friendly to immigrants while we push for administrative relief at the federal level. There are multiple layers of uncertainty for immigrants. And we have to build multiple layers of protection everywhere in the country.

I think both the Republicans and a segment of Democrats want to have immigration as a wedge issue rather than accomplishing a solution. It works for both of them: The Republicans appease their increasingly nativist voters and the Democrats keep making progress to turn Latinos into a permanent Democratic voting bloc. The more to the right the GOP becomes, the less the Democrats have to do to be different and satisfy Latinos. If we want to win rights for people, we must delink our struggles from partisan politics.

What have been some of the big issues at the local level?

We've mostly struggled against anti-immigrant and anti-day labor laws at the local level. We've worked with other groups to push back against local police cooperating with immigration officials. Now about 350 localities have laws drawing a line between immigration agents and local police.

We've also fought against local laws that prohibit day laborers from gathering in public places to wait for jobs. We won a big victory in 2012 when the anti-day laborer ordinance in Redondo Beach (a Los Angeles suburb) was ruled unconstitutional. (The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law, aimed at cracking down on day laborers, is an unconstitutional restriction on free speech.)

Have worker centers faced hostility from conservatives and anti-immigration groups?

Yes, of course. Every day, we work with undocumented workers. In many cities, we get funding from the local government. So right-wing groups, like Judicial Watch, are constantly targeting us. They try to get local governments to withdraw our funding. They try to get officials to arrest and deport the workers we serve.  

But we push back. The number of worker centers is growing. We now have centers in Tucson and Phoenix. We opened a center in Alabama, where there's a growing number of immigrant workers. We are moving into Utah, Las Vegas, North Carolina, etc. People have a right to have a space of their own. Everybody knows that these workers' centers are quintessential sanctuary institutions and, as such, they are the target of racist groups. They have orchestrated legal attacks and coordinated demonstrations across the country. They wanted to provoke workers into violence. But we have responded peacefully. For every person they mobilized to demonstrate against our center, we had 15 defending our community. So far, we have won this fight.

You play several instruments -- the bass, conga, guitar -- and play in a band, and use music in your political work. How did that happen?

I was 14 when I began teaching myself to play guitar, and then I played in the local choir where faith-based liberation theology was preached. We would sing "La Misa Campesina" songs. One of the things that I've learned is that you can turn every significant act of oppression into a practice of liberation.

For example, in 1996 we were organizing day laborers in the City of Industry (a working-class suburb of Los Angeles). This was right after Prop 187 (an anti-immigrant proposition that denied public services to those without documentation) so the situation was very hostile and the sheriff called the immigration agents who came into a parking lot where mobile HIV testing was taking place. After everyone ran away, one of the workers, Omar Sierra, wrote a ballad about what happened that day. We had an emergency meeting that afternoon and about 50 men came and he brought his guitar and he began to sing his song for everyone, "The Ballad of Industry," and that's how the day labor band was formed. 

After this experience, we asked Omar to bring his guitar and sing rather than giving speeches about the lives of workers. We began to go to other corners to look for other day labor musicians. We didn't go to school to learn music. Most of us taught ourselves. Our band, Los Jornaleros del Norte, (Day Laborers of the North), traveled up and down California playing at marches and rallies. We'll play anywhere where there's a struggle for workers' and immigrants' rights -- a parking lot, outside of LA County jail, a park or a concert hall. The band's membership is fluid. But we share the same political views. We have three albums. You can find some of our music on our website.

News Fri, 26 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Tax Evasion Double Standard: How US CEOs Are Withholding Revenue

Wisconsin's 99% march on GE at their Shareholder meeting in Detroit, Michigan, on April 25, 2012. (Photo: Wisconsin Jobs Now)Wisconsin's 99% march on GE at their shareholder meeting in Detroit, Michigan, on April 25, 2012. (Photo: Wisconsin Jobs Now)

If I refused to pay any taxes until the US government lowered my taxes to a so-called "fair rate," I'd almost certainly be arrested for tax evasion. But when The Washington Post asked Apple CEO Tim Cook about the billions that his company has stashed in tax havens around the world, Cook declared: "We're not going to bring it back until there's a fair rate. There's no debate about it."

And nothing happened, either to Cook or to Apple. Because when it comes to taxes, it's truer today than ever that only the little people pay.

Apparently though, that's not enough for the CEOs of multinational corporations, like Tim Cook. He doesn't just want to avoid taxes, he wants Americans to know that Congress isn't writing the rules; Apple is.

See more news and opinion from Thom Hartmann at Truthout here.

Dave Johnson from Campaign for America's Future wrote a great article about this titled, "CEO Of Giant Corporation Tells US Government He's the Boss of Them." In it, Johnson writes:

[T]hese days huge multinational corporations are the boss of our Congress. So, CEO Cook gets away with it, and with keeping $181 billion in tax havens to dodge paying $59 billion in taxes. Cook knows he can just come out and say they are not going to pay their taxes until there is a "fair rate."

And he's right.

But Apple is by no means the only corporation doing this.

In March, Citizens for Tax Justice reported that US Fortune 500 corporations are avoiding up to $695 billion in US federal income taxes by holding $2.4 trillion of "permanently reinvested" profits offshore. That's nearly $700 billion that the largest US corporations -- corporations like Netflix, Nike and Citigroup -- are stashing in offshore tax havens.

And now Tim Cook is setting an outrageous precedent by flagrantly declaring that Apple won't pay a dime of what's owed unless the US government does what he says.

It's not that these corporations don't rely on tax dollars from the government; they use our interstates, they use our municipal water systems, our court systems protect their patents and copyrights, and their products rely on government-developed technologies like GPS. They just don't want to pay for it.

Corporate executives like Tim Cook are plainly putting profits and the well-being of their investors ahead of the well-being of the country. Average Americans can't decide to refuse to pay taxes for any reason.

But a CEO like Tim Cook can simply say that his corporation won't bring its money home until he gets what he wants -- "no debate about it."

In his piece, Johnson translates exactly what a "fair rate" means:

[H]uge multinational corporations will tell you a 'fair rate' would be zero. Or better yet, how about We the People just bow down and pay taxes to them. The corporate tax rate used to be 50%. CEOs complained it was "unfair" so it was lowered to 35%.

In reality, though, the Government Accountability Office estimated in 2013 that the average effective corporate tax rate is only about 17 percent, including state and local taxes -- about the same as an individual who earned $37,000 a year. And right now we are basically paying taxes to them: We buy Apple's products, they stash the revenue overseas, and then we pay for the roads, water and technologies that their business depends on. It's average working Americans who are most hurt by this type of corporate tax evasion.

In 1952, about 32 percent of federal revenues came from corporate taxes, and only 8.7 percent came from payroll taxes. In 2016 though, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities reported that the corporate income tax only accounted for about 11 percent of federal revenues, while the payroll tax accounted for closer to 33 percent of total federal revenue.

Think about that: Multinational corporations have nearly $700 billion in unpaid taxes stashed overseas while average working Americans paid for a third of the federal government's revenues -- over $1 trillion!

Conservatives are intentionally lying when they declare that it's impossible to raise enough revenue to accomplish big goals like rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure, building a completely renewable energy grid and guaranteeing tuition-free college.

We just need to rein in companies that put their company's profits ahead of the well-being of the United States and act like paying taxes is a negotiation.

This type of greed that puts corporate profits and investor dividends ahead of our nation would have been unthinkable for the generation that fought World War II, but it's become textbook behavior for big businesses ever since Ronald Reagan changed the game and ushered in the "shareholder revolution" of the 1980s.

Our tax code needs to be fixed to encourage companies to come home and pay their taxes, and to block companies from doing business in the US without paying their fair share.

Opinion Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
From #NoDAPL to #FreedomSquare: A Tale of Two Occupations

The American empire required the erasure of Indigenous and Black humanity. Now both communities are standing up for self-determination -- against the contamination of Native land in North Dakota and for an alternative to the brutal police state in Chicago -- and finding common ground.

Caption: Chicago organizer and co-founder of the grassroots group Assata's Daughters, Page May expresses solidarity with #NoDAPL protesters. (Photo: Courtesy of Paige May)Chicago organizer and co-founder of the grassroots group Assata's Daughters, Page May, expresses solidarity with #NoDAPL protesters. (Photo: Courtesy of Page May)While the world watched the Olympics, and reporters echoed Donald Trump's latest absurdities, Black and Indigenous freedom fighters were holding space in revolutionary ways, and their struggles continue.

On the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, Natives have been encamped for 146 days, in an ongoing effort to thwart construction of the Dakota Access pipeline. In Chicago, Black organizers with the #LetUsBreathe collective have created a living, breathing community space in the shadow of the infamous Homan Square police compound -- a facility that some call a "black site," where people have been held for days on end without being able to contact loved ones or an attorney and where some have been tortured.

The camps in Standing Rock territory have brought my own people -- Native people -- together in a collective struggle beyond anything I've witnessed in my lifetime. With a full spectrum of our people in attendance, from elders who held Wounded Knee in 1973 to young families who've come with their children and pets in tow, our peoples have come together to thwart the construction of a 1,172-mile oil pipeline that would imperil the Standing Rock Sioux's drinking water and disturb sacred and cultural sites. Like many Natives around the country who are using up their vacation days and scraping together gas money to join this historic stand, I spent a few days in Standing Rock recently. It was overwhelming to not only see so many of my people, from so many walks of life, gathered together in common cause, but to also see so many faces from Native justice movements around the country. One after another, I would see old friends and co-strugglers, arriving and contributing whatever skills they could to strengthen the camps.

"We've been taught by the Oceti Sakowin Council here that this kind of gathering of the Seven Council Fires hasn't happened since the Battle of Little Big Horn, when the Lakota banded together to beat down General Custer," Miwok protester Desiree Kane told me in an interview.

With entire families and tribal elders gathered in prayerful camps now populated by over 2,000 demonstrators, some have expressed shock that the state has pulled out previously provisioned drinking water for the protesters. For those on the ground, the news was troubling, but unsurprising. "No one here is surprised the State pulled out clean water for the camp," said Kane. "This is all just a 2.0 version of the oldest fight on the continent."

In Chicago, where I returned home after my journey to the frontlines of #NoDAPL, the #LetUsBreathe collective has been maintaining its Freedom Square encampment for 34 days. Staffed by volunteers, Freedom Square provides free books, free meals and a wide variety of educational workshops and cultural programming in the over-policed, financially neglected community of North Lawndale. Originally formed in concert with a blockade organized by the Black Youth Project 100, Freedom Square is a testament to the kind of investments #LetUsBreathe organizers say the City of Chicago should be making in Black communities -- rather than spending four million dollars a day on Chicago's infamously violent police department.

As neighborhood children flocked to Freedom Square to partake in community meals and enjoy dance lessons and other workshops provided at the site, it became a place where self-determination, love and abolitionist ideology meet the struggle of real world expression. Instead of simply denouncing the police, #LetUsBreathe organizers have committed themselves to an exploration of what building safety and community looks like, without involving the state, while also endeavoring to improve the lives of those living in the community. With concrete demands around police brutality, a highly successful school supply drive for neighborhood youth, and ongoing cultural programming, Freedom Square is a celebration of Black life, Black love and Black resistance.

Native protesters Dean Dedman and Remy show their support for #FreedomSquare from the frontlines of #NoDAPL. Dedman has played a key role in documenting the #NoDAPL protests, while Remy, an arts trainer with The Indian Problem, has helped produce art on the frontlines. (Photo: Desiree Kane)Native protesters Dean Dedman and Remy show their support for #FreedomSquare from the frontlines of #NoDAPL. Dedman has played a key role in documenting the #NoDAPL protests, while Remy, an arts trainer with The Indian Problem, has helped produce art on the front lines. (Photo: Desiree Kane)

Freedom Square has made a priority of improving the lives of Black people living in an oppressed community, but the occupation is clearly more than a neighborhood-based project. It is a direct action that models human potential in a moment of significant social unrest -- an aim that many of Chicago's Black Lives Matter protests have aspired to.

While many Black Chicago organizers are focused on defending the lives of their own people, expressions of solidarity and intersectional analysis have repeatedly emerged in the city's protest scene. Last month, the grassroots group Assata's Daughters devoted a section of a rally about anti-Black police violence to Indigenous issues, and the connectivity between state violence against Native peoples and Black people.

Chicago's Black organizers are aware that Natives are likewise struggling, both with police violence and threats to their life-giving water supplies. "The fight to prevent the pipeline from encroaching on Native land illustrates the ways in which the horrible legacy of genocide against our Indigenous family continues to be resisted," Black Lives Matter Chicago organizer, Aislinn Pulley explained in an interview. "Like the fight for Black lives, the fight for Indigenous rights reflects a struggle for self-determination," says Pulley. "The foundation of American empire required the erasure of both Indigenous and Black humanity. These fights for liberation are intrinsically linked, and [that] is why we continue to stand in unflinching solidarity with our Indigenous family."

Atena Danner, a Chicago organizer with the Lifted Voices direct action collective shows support for #NoDAPL on social media. (Photo: Courtesy of Atena Danner)Atena Danner, a Chicago organizer with the Lifted Voices direct action collective, shows support for #NoDAPL on social media. (Photo: Courtesy of Atena Danner)In North Dakota, the connectivity of these struggles is also on the minds of some of those resisting the pipeline. Kwavol Hi'osik is a 34-year-old Akimel O'otham #NoDAPL protester who organizes with the South Mountain Freeway Resistance in her native Arizona. Having travelled to the frontlines of #NoDAPL to join this collective moment of Native resistance, Hi'osik reflected on the connections between Native and Black struggle.

"These kinds of situations are always placed onto communities of color. Understanding the lack of food systems, environmental racism, all of these are connecting issues," Hi'osik told me in an interview. Seeing the leadership of women and femmes as a common element in Black and Brown struggles, Hi'osik noted, "As women, we organize ourselves daily between our communities and households. So, it's not uncommon for the women to offer solutions and to be doing the work."

Speaking to the uniqueness of the historical moment, when two encampments are slowly forcing an awareness of Black and Indigenous issues, Hi'osik suggested that both Black and Native movements are experiencing a different kind of propulsion in the age of social media. "We have instant connection at our fingertips and young people are using these tools in the war."

Hi'osik also sees connectivity in the spirituality of Black and Brown strugglers and organizers. "One connecting issue is the strong and heavy presence of spirituality and community," she said. "That is the basis of all of our struggles and the thing that unites us."

Cody Hall, a Cheyenne River Sioux organizer and spokesperson for the Red Warrior Camp at Standing Rock had these words to offer to the organizers who are maintaining Chicago's Freedom Square: "Please, stand your ground and speak with your spirit, and never let the oppressors take the narrative from you, because peace is power."

Encampment, as a protest tactic, has deep historic roots. It means merging the freedom dreams of an oppressed people with the gritty, on-the-ground realities of holding space -- often in harsh conditions. Both encampments have held fast in the face of storms and excessive heat and both face possible, if not probable, state reprisal in the coming days. But as #LetUsBreathe organizer Kristiana Colón recently wrote, "Liberation is not some distant utopian goalpost where a journey of political struggle concludes."

Liberation, as both Black and Native strugglers are reminding us in real time, is the work of living our resistance and our freedom dreams as we create manifestations of both in the world.

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News Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
The Trump Campaign's Surprising $8.4 Million Expenditure

When the Trump campaign filed its latest campaign finance reports last weekend, the largest expense surprised a lot of reporters. Almost half of the money the campaign raised, $18 million, was spent on "digital and online advertising." Specifically, it listed $8.4 million spent with Giles Parscale Inc., a web design firm whose portfolio included real estate firms, local businesses, a candidate running for Bexar County, Texas, tax collector -- and the Trump family. 

Before designing the Republican nominee's campaign site, the small San Antonio vendor had previously worked for the Trumps designing Melania Trump's site, as well as the site for Trump Winery. According to the San Antonio Business Journal, the firm had just 60 employees and was hired when Trump declared he would run for president. 

As recently as June, the firm stated it would need to hire 100 employees to keep up with work on the campaign. 

What does that digital work entail? 

We know that the firm's services include website design and website marketing. We also know that it has launched other sites like and published short video clips as well. But since candidates can lump consulting and digital ad placement on the same line, we don't know how much was spent in either of these categories. Specifically, we don't know how much actually went to design or to ad placement

WIth television ads, we can see the placements in Federal Communications Commission filings. We know when ads run, how many were purchased and how much they cost. But with digital ads, we don't know very much at all. The Federal Election Commission has said the internet expenses only need to be reported if they are placed for a fee on another website. (We've previously written about how this internet blind spot could be troubling for disclosure.) 

In terms of listing expenditures, some candidates itemize those digital ads while others hire an agency to place the ads for them so the expense appears as a single number paid to the agency creating and placing the ad. 

Since internet advertisements are usually targeted to a specific demographic, only the people who are targeted by the ad will know it is out there. The only way to tell if campaigns are getting what they paid for in terms of this digital marketing is if those targeted people show up to the polls and vote.

News Fri, 26 Aug 2016 09:07:25 -0400
The Independent "Women's" Voice? Most Known Donors Are Men

The Independent Women's Voice touts its "independent" brand in reaching potential voters.

But is it even women's voices it is throwing? Let alone independent women?

The reported data from the Federal Election Commission data says no.

New research shows that the overwhelming majority of its known donors are men.

Very rich men.

Yes, men have provided most of the disclosed donations to fund election-related expenditures under the name of the "Independent Women's Voice."

(IWV is a (c)(4) that operates out of the same offices as the Koch-tied "Independent Women's Forum.")

How do we know? Because IWV disclosed donors to the FEC in connection with the Scott Brown special election for the Senate in filings here and here.

Because before the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated clean election reforms in the Citizens United case in 2010 along with related decisions, IWV took a different approach to disclosure.

89 Percent of Donors to Independent Women's Voice in Brown Race Were Men

In January 2010 in that spending, IWV reported that more than 89% of its donors were men.

Late last year, Heather Higgins, the President of IWV, told potential donors about the first race she deployed her strategy to use the "independent" brand: the race to fill the seat of the late Senator Ted Kennedy.

She said: "[W]e have worked hard to create a branded organization that does not carry partisan baggage. It's called Independent Women's Voice. Being branded as neutral, but actually having the people who know know that you're actually conservative puts us in a unique position. Our value here (and what is needed in the Republican conservative arsenal) is a group that can talk to those cohorts that wouldn't otherwise listen but can do it in a way that is taking a conservative message and packaging it in a way that will be acceptable and will get a hearing."

She noted that the "independent" brand of IWV was successful in the politically diverse state of Massachusetts in 2010.

Higgins added that in Brown's election, IWV was successful "redefining that as being about healthcare in the 41st vote" to filibuster the health insurance reforms that President Obama was seeking. She claimed that IWV helped "close his 20‑point gap" with his opponent, Martha Coakley, a Democrat.

Independent Women's Voice Funders for Brown? Not "Independent Women"

But who really funded that effort?

Not actually independent women.

The Biggest Donor: Foster Friess, a Multi-Millionaire GOP Guy

The largest reported funder of the Independent Women's Voice that January was Foster Friess. He gave $87,000 to the effort, nearly 33% of the funding.

The 73-year old investment fund manager describes himself as a "billionaire wannabe" because he has a net worth of only about $500 million.

And, he's no independent.

He funded the Super PAC of evangelical GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum (R-PA) in 2012.

Friess gave at least $1 million to advance the Koch Brothers' agenda, making that pledge at one of their political strategy session in preparation for the 2012 elections.

The billionaire wannabe has spent at least $3 million to underwrite the Daily Caller operation. It provides daily fodder for Donald Trump's claims. And the Trump operation pays Daily Caller to email its subscribers to promote his presidential campaign.

He also spent at least $100,000 to help Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) win his recall election in 2011.

And, he's no feminist.

Friess told journalist Andrea Mitchell his position on birth control: "[T]his contraceptive thing, my gosh, it's so ... inexpensive, you know, back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraception. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn't that costly."

That's Friess. Definitely not an independent woman.

But he does have close ties to Higgins. She contacted Friess to get funding to begin James O'Keefe's controversial campaign against ACORN.

He threw his voice (money) through IWV in the Scott Brown race for the Senate.

Friess is now "all-in" for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump.

Multi-Millionaire Man: Richard Sharp, GOP Donor

The next largest donor to the Independent Women's Voice for the Scott Brown effort was also not a woman and not an independent.

Richard Sharp gave Higgins $50,000 to help, which was almost 22% of the funding IWV reported that January.

Sharp, the former CEO of Circuit City, helped develop CarMax and invested first in Crocs, according to his obituary in 2014.

He was also an active Republican backer of President George W. Bush.

He notoriously tried to use his influence "to suppress a study ... that correctly predicted that [Virginia's GOP Governor] Gilmore's car-tax rollback would create a $1 billion hole in the state budget."

Another Billionaire Man: Jack Templeton, another GOP Donor

Dr. John (Jack) M. Templeton, Jr., was the next largest disclosed donor to IWV underwriting its efforts to help Brown beat Coakley in her bid to become the first woman Senator of the Bay state.

He gave $30,000.

Dr. Templeton was the son of billionaire investor John Templeton, one of the richest men in the world before his death in the Bahamas.

Dr. Templeton, an evangelical Republican, ran the Templeton Foundation.

In 2008 alone he gave nearly half a million dollars to the National Organization for Marriage, which fought marriage equality in Massachusetts and spent big on California Proposition 8. Regulatory agencies have pursued the group for failing to comply with requirements for private disclosure of donors.

NOM has been called an anti-gay group that demonizes LGBTQ Americans. And, internal documents revealed that one of it's goals was to divide black Americans over gay rights and to "to 'sideswipe' President Barack Obama by depicting him as a 'social radical' via issues including child protection and pornography."

Dr. Templeton also spent a million dollars launching "Let Freedom Ring," a right-wing group that helped launch the Tea Party protests, pushed for a huge fence between on the Mexican border, and promoted myths about the Iraq War.

He died in 2015.

Like the most of the disclosed donors to IWV, he was not ever a woman, and he was not independent.

Multi-Millionaire Man: Thomas Patrick, GOP Donor

The next largest donor to IWV was Thomas Patrick.

He gave it $25,000.

He's a former Merrill Lynch executive, who joined a venture capital firm: New Vernon Capital. He has appeared on the show of Higgins' ally, Larry Kudlow.

He backed Mitt Romney's bid for the White House in 2012, was a major donor to Bush-Cheney 2004, and has funded the National Republican Congressional Committee and other GOP-aligned groups.

Patrick, like the other bigger donors, is not a woman and not an independent.

Multi-Millionaire Woman: Randy Kendrick, GOP Donor

One woman did give about 10% of the funds to help IWV in the Scott Brown effort: Randy Kendrick.

As noted by the Arizona press, she is "in a league of her own in her support for the political right, giving more than $130,000 to state political efforts in the 2014 election cycle, according to the Arizona Secretary of State's Office, and, at the federal level, more than $290,000 to Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives and other conservative political action committees, according to the non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics."

She's a lawyer who has been active in the Koch billionaire network, working with Higgins to help launch Sean Noble's controversial money shuffling operation, the Center to Protect Patient Rights (which has been renamed American Encore).

Kendrick gave IWV $23,435 in January 2010.

Although she is a woman, she is not an independent. She is very active in federal and state GOP activities, although she opposes Trump along with some other "conservative" Republicans.

The other remaining four donors to IWV in January 2010 gave less than 10% to the effort cumulatively.

Three More Very Rich Men, GOP Donors

Tom Klingenstein, who has been the managing partner of an investment firm that shares his name, gave $10,000 (4%). Klingenstein describes himself as a "conservative," and he is not a woman.

Ron Gidwitz gave $5,000 (2%). The Illinois press has described him as "easily the Illinois Republican Party's most consistent contributor, fundraiser and cheerleader, dating back four decades when he was finance chair for Rep. Henry Hyde." Again, he is not a woman or an independent.

Myles Pollin gave $1,000. He practices law as a partner with the big firm Sidley, focusing on "Collateralized Debt Obligations" (CDOs) and distressed assets, like those discussed in the film "The Big Short." He helped raise funds for Romney in 2012. He, too, in not an independent woman.

A $300 Check From a Woman, Who Is a GOP Donor

Finally, one other woman wrote a small check to help in the IWV efforts for Brown in January 2010. It was for $300 (.001 of the amount raised).

Giovanna Cugnasca wrote that check. She's a Vice President at Emcor Securities in New York. The year after that donation, she joined the board of the Independent Women's Forum, which Higgins chairs.

Cugnasca has made a number of political contributions to GOP candidates, including to Republican U.S. Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, before his controversial comments about rape, pregnancy, and "God's will." She has also donated to the campaigns of Mitt Romney, Rick Perry, and Allen West.

None Were From Massachusetts

In all, more than 89% of the reported donations to IWV in January 2010 when it was working to help Scott Brown win a seat in the Senate were made by men. And the two women whose donations constituted a small minority of the funding have been GOP donors, not donors to "independent" candidates.

And none of those IWV donors even resided in Massachusetts.

Majority of Other Reported Independent Women's Voice Ad Donors Were Not Women

The only other FEC reported donors to IWV under Higgins' control occurred in late 2011.

Again, the majority of disclosed donors were not women, as shown here and here.

In September and October of that year, the group disclosed six donors. Two of whom are women whose donations constituted a minority of the funding.

The largest donor was a group called "One Jerusalem," which was founded by 18 people, three of whom are women.

Its founders included David Horowitz, a right-winger and friend of Higgins; some famous Rabbis; a movie star; and the comedian Jackie Mason. It held a huge rally in Israel in 2001. One Jerusalem, as its name indicates, focuses on maintaining Jerusalem as an undivided capital of the country.

It gave IWV $37,859.87 in late 2011.

Parker Collier, an active donor to the GOP and the wife of a Florida real estate investor, gave $29,060.69.

Virginia James, a wealthy investor who lives in New Jersey and an active donor to GOP candidates (like Richard Mourdock), gave $10,000.

James is also a major donor to right-wing groups that run ads to influence elections to help Republicans, like Club for Growth and Templeton's Let Freedom Ring.

The other disclosed donors were Pollin, the law firm partner, $3000; Donald Tober, the Chairman of the Sugar Foods Corporation, $1000; and Lewis van Amerongan, a wealthy investor, $1000.

Overwhelming Majority of FEC Disclosed Independent Women's Voice Donors? Men

The donations to IWV disclosed to the FEC in 2010 and 2011 total $313,654, and 80% of those donations were not from women.

And, none of them appear to be from people who are politically "independent."

Indeed, all of them, other than the one foundation, are active GOP donors.

What Now for the Independent Women's Voice?

Since the change in the interpretation of FEC reporting requirements, there is no comparable public snapshot of who has underwritten other ads and election-related activities of IWV

But that fact did not deter IWV from posing as the voice of independent women in the Brown election, even though most of its donors for that effort were wealthy Republican men.

So, will IWV disclose who has been bankrolling its efforts to be an asset in the "Republican conservative arsenal" since then?

If a majority of its documented donors actually are women and actually are independent that would be newsworthy.

This snapshot of the known funding reported to the FEC tells a different story, as Heather Higgins launched this chapter of IWV's activities to influence the results in American elections.

Furthermore, part of Higgins' pitch last November at the David Horowitz event was for men to fund the election activities of IWV: "So for the men in the audience who think that the last thing they want to do is support a women's group, understand that if you have any interest in … winning elections you have to think of this as a market segmentation issue and you can't leave out that part of the market if you want to win."

Therefore, the real question is: when IWV "speaks" to influence our elections, is it really just throwing the voice of billionaire wannabees like Foster Friess or of actually independent women?

The public evidence shows it's a man's world, masquerading as the voice of independent women.

News Fri, 26 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump Trump Trump ]]> (Tom Tomorrow) Art Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400 Weapons, Pipelines and Wall Street: Did Clinton Foundation Donations Impact Clinton State Department Decisions?

New questions have arisen this week over Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. On Tuesday, the Associated Press published a new investigation revealing that while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state, more than half of the private citizens she met with had donated to the Clinton Foundation. The AP investigation comes after a three-year battle to gain access to State Department calendars. The analysis shows that at least 85 of 154 people Hillary Clinton had scheduled phone or in-person meetings with were foundation donors. This does not include meetings Clinton held with U.S. or foreign government workers or representatives, only private citizens. We speak to David Sirota of the International Business Times and Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly. He was President Bill Clinton's chief speechwriter from 1998 to 2001.


AMY GOODMAN: New questions have arisen this week over Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation. On Tuesday, the Associated Press published a new investigation revealing that while Hillary Clinton served as secretary of state, more than half the private citizens she met with had donated to the Clinton Foundation. The AP investigation comes after a three-year battle to gain access to State Department calendars. The analysis shows that at least 85 of 154 people Hillary Clinton had scheduled phone or in-person meetings with were foundation donors. This does not include meetings Clinton held with U.S. or foreign government workers or representatives, only private citizens. These 85 donors contributed more than $150 million to the foundation combined. Calling into CNN's AC360 Wednesday, Clinton slammed the investigation.

HILLARY CLINTON: There's a lot of smoke, and there's no fire. This AP report, put it in context. It excludes nearly 2,000 meetings I had with world leaders, plus countless other meetings with U.S. government officials when I was secretary of state. It looked at a small portion of my time. And it drew the conclusion and made the suggestion that my meetings with people like the late great Elie Wiesel or Melinda Gates or the Nobel Prize winner Muhammad Yunus were somehow due to connections with the foundation instead of their status as highly respected global leaders. That is absurd. These are people I was proud to meet with, who any secretary of state would have been proud to meet with to hear about their work and their insight.

AMY GOODMAN: The AP says it's been asking for the State Department schedules for three years and that what's been released thus far covers only half of her four-year tenure.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who himself has donated $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, has accused Clinton of selling access to the State Department.

DONALD TRUMP: We are going to end government corruption. Hillary Clinton ran the State Department like a failed leader in a Third World country. That's what it's run -- it's run like -- like a Third World country. She sold favors and access in exchange for cash. She sold it.

AMY GOODMAN: Questions have also arisen over what will happen to the Clinton Foundation if Hillary Clinton wins the presidency. According to a new report in The Wall Street Journal, the Clinton Foundation will stop accepting corporate and foreign donations, but an exception may be made for the Clinton Health Access Initiative. The Journal also reports former President Bill Clinton will leave the board, but that Chelsea Clinton plans to stay on it.

Well, for more, we're joined by two guests. David Sirota is the senior editor for investigations at the International Business Times. His most recent article is titled "Was There 'Pay to Play' at the Clinton Foundation?" We're also joined by Paul Glastris, editor-in-chief of the Washington Monthly. He was President Bill Clinton's chief speechwriter from 1998 to 2001.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Paul Glastris, let's begin with you. What's your reaction to these revelations of the Associated Press?

PAUL GLASTRIS: Well, you know, I read the story very carefully. I think Secretary Clinton kind of got it right. This was a eyebrow-raising piece of math that said half of the private-sector people she met with in her first two years were Clinton donors. Let's -- basically, there's two -- there's two issues here. One, did she have special -- did people who gave to the foundation have special access? And, two, did the access get them anything? Right? On the special access part, that piece of math that the AP story shows suggests that. That's why people, I think, are paying attention. But it's -- actually, those 85 people are 1 percent of the Clinton Foundation donors. There are 7,000 Clinton Foundation donors; 85 got access.

And then you look at the individuals highlighted in the story. They're people like Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and human rights activist. They're people like Muhammad Yunus, who created the microfinance revolution that has lifted millions of the most destitute people out of poverty. They're people who are running AIDS campaigns in Africa. So -- and for the most part, these are people that have known Hillary Clinton for years, even decades. Muhammad Yunus and Hillary Clinton were doing microfinance in Arkansas in 1985. So, what these people seem to be, at least from the evidence of the story, are part of Hillary Clinton's longtime network. And they also happen to be people who gave to her foundation. They don't seem to be people who gave to her foundation in order to get to know Clinton. They're people who gave to her foundation because they know Clinton. And that's an important distinction.

AMY GOODMAN: David Sirota?

DAVID SIROTA: Well, my reaction to it is that I think that if you look at some of these individual examples, I think Paul is right that it's hard to argue that their donations to the foundation got them access. They are -- a lot of these people in the AP story are people who knew her.

But I think we should pull back and look at not just what the AP reported, but at the nexus between the donors to the Clinton Foundation -- major corporate donors, major foreign government donors -- and what business they had with the State Department. Look, the Clinton team, the foundation and the campaign, is saying that this is not going to happen if she is president. The question then becomes: Why was it then allowed to happen when she was secretary of state? The secretary of state has a huge amount of power over a huge number of issues and policies and contracts, for instance, that many of these donors had an interest in. And we did a series on, for instance, arms exports and how many of the governments that gave big to the Clinton Foundation saw huge increases in arms export authorizations from the State Department, and the State Department is the chief regulator of arms exports. There have been stories about foreign governments giving, like Algeria gave $500,000 to the Clinton Foundation at a time when it was lobbying the State Department on human rights issues. You had a situation, that The Wall Street Journal reported, where Hillary Clinton herself intervened in a case dealing with taxes with UBS, a Swiss bank, and then, suddenly, after that, UBS began donating big to the Clinton Foundation. So there are many examples of -- I mean, there's oil companies -- that's another one I should mention right now, which is that oil companies were giving big to the Clinton Foundation while lobbying the State Department -- successfully -- for the passage of the Alberta Clipper, the tar sands pipeline.

So, again, there are many of these examples where the people and corporations that were lobbying the State Department were giving huge to the Clinton Foundation. Do we know that that money made those deals and those -- and access about those deals happen? I don't think we know. But here's the key point. The key point is that ethics rules have typically been in place in states and at the federal level that have said we want to prevent the appearance or the potential for conflicts of interest, because we understand that if the appearance or the potential for a conflict of interest is there, we can't know if those conflicts are operationalized, that there are so many ways for them to be operationalized that we need to prevent the potential and appearance of a conflict of interest or potential appearance of a conflict of interest. And that is really what's at issue here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you respond to that, Paul Glastris?

PAUL GLASTRIS: Well, that was a -- that's a whole lot of examples, and I can't respond to, you know, each one individually. But I think we have now two big investigations -- one by the AP, the other as a result of the conservative Judicial Watch lawsuit that showed various members of the -- ex-members of the Clinton Foundation and others trying to get meetings with Secretary Clinton. And in virtually every case, the secretary's people made the right choice. So, when an ex-Clinton Foundation official wanted a visa granted to a soccer player who had committed a felony, the answer became no. When the crown prince of Bahrain wanted a special meeting with Senator Clinton -- Secretary Clinton, they said, you know, "Let's have it go through official channels," and she got -- he got the meeting, which is, of course, what he should have done. When Muhammad Yunus then asked for help because the government of Bangladesh was sort of destroying his leadership team at the bank that he created, and the entire international community said that that was wrong, she did act. So, in each of the situations where we have these internal records of what she did and who she met with, she did the right thing. And I don't think there's a lot of dispute about that. So, we don't know what happened in these other instances, but we have had this kind of deep forensic now from some very, very -- with some very, very good data, and it's shown a very tight ship and a very ethical set of choices. So, you know, you can always raise these issues, but the facts we have from this reporting pretty strongly shows that there were not favors granted for any of this.

AMY GOODMAN: No favors --

DAVID SIROTA: But can I just -- I mean, the --

AMY GOODMAN: David, go ahead.

DAVID SIROTA: The Bahrain example is a very good example. I mean, that is a very -- I'm glad you brought it up. The Bahrain example, we saw that the email came in from the Clinton Foundation. The crown prince of Bahrain has given the Clinton Foundation $32 million. And I don't think anybody is going to sit up and say the crown prince, one of the top leaders in a dictatorial regime, is giving money -- we haven't heard anyone argue that money from dictators typically comes because dictators want to reduce poverty in the world. So, money is coming into the Clinton Foundation from the crown prince of Bahrain. The Clinton Foundation reaches out to the State Department and says, "He is a good friend of ours," this person from this autocratic regime, head of the military there. The State Department says that the crown prince had already reached out to them and that Hillary Clinton wasn't sure she wanted to have a meeting with him. And then, subsequently, the meeting happens.

And what happens after, if that -- we don't know if that meeting actually happened, but there was a -- the State Department said it was going to happen. Subsequently, after that, what happened is that Bahrain saw a major increase in U.S. arms export authorizations from the Clinton State Department, at a time that Bahrain was facing the Arab Spring uprisings and was accused of human rights violations in crushing those protests. So, did the money and the Clinton Foundation relationship ultimately lead to those arms export deals? We don't know. Did it potentially get access for that leader at that time? There's certainly evidence that that could have happened.

And again, the question that this all revolves around is: Why was the potential for a conflict of interest allowed to exist at the State Department, when the Clinton campaign and the Clinton Foundation now says it's now unacceptable if Hillary Clinton would be president? What is the difference there?

PAUL GLASTRIS: OK, well -- well, can I address that particular point?

AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Paul Glastris.

PAUL GLASTRIS: So, the rules of Hillary Clinton and the existence of the foundation and what they could and couldn't do were hashed out by the Obama White House and Hillary Clinton. So the rules she lived under were the Obama administration rules.

Moreover, the decision to sell arms to this or that country, though the State Department is the regulator, the ultimate regulator, these are made in interagency discussions pushed more by the Pentagon and the White House and other parts of the government than anywhere else. So, there's no indication that Bahrain was -- by putting money into the Clinton Foundation, it was influencing the Defense Department, that wanted to sell these weapons. So, you can question whether they should or shouldn't have. They were right in the middle of orchestrating the Iran thing, and they had restive Sunni nations, so this was all -- you know, if you like the Iran deal, you know, you have to balance that out. So -- but this is -- so, this is a function of what the Clinton Foundation and the Clinton Global Initiative is. And their basic business model is --

DAVID SIROTA: But here's the question, Paul. I mean, the question becomes --

AMY GOODMAN: David Sirota.

DAVID SIROTA: Why were these leaders -- let's say, of these Middle Eastern dictatorships -- why were they giving that money? I mean, these are sophisticated, politically sophisticated donors, them and corporations. They are repeatedly giving money to the Clinton Foundation. And I don't think you're arguing, and I haven't heard anyone argue, that, you know, the Saudi regime or another dictatorial regime is giving money to the Clinton Foundation because they really -- in the deep well of their heart, they want to solve poverty or help poor children. They are repeatedly giving money to the Clinton Foundation at a time they are seeking highly controversial -- in this instance that we're talking about, highly controversial arms deals. There was a Saudi deal where the State Department said it was Hillary Clinton's personal top priority to get one of the biggest Saudi arms deals through. The Israelis were raising concerns about it.


DAVID SIROTA: It went through. And again, the money flowed into the Clinton -- had flowed into the Clinton Foundation. So, why were those donors giving? What did they think they were getting?


DAVID SIROTA: And again, the critics of this say that what it ended up being was potentially a way that donors saw a way to curry favor with the State Department on controversial issues.

PAUL GLASTRIS: Right. OK, two points. One, the reason the Clinton State Department and the entire Obama administration was willing to give a lot of arms to the Saudis and the Bahrainis was that they were tubing the Saudis and the Bahrainis by trying to open negotiations with Iran. Everybody knows this. It's not -- we don't need to kind of find some nefarious payoff in order to understand the policy. You can agree with the policy or disagree with the policy, but if you're in favor of the opening of Iran, it's hard to say they shouldn't have sold these arms to the Sunnis. They were trying to keep a balance of power going in order to bring some kind of peace and resolution of these nuclear issues.

Now, on the Clinton Global Initiative, the point I was trying to make is, the whole business model of this thing is: Get rich people and governments to empty their wallets in order to help poor Africans who can't afford AIDS drugs. Eleven million -- that Bahraini money and that Saudi money was spent on things like training midwives in Ethiopia or lower-priced AIDS drugs for 11 million people. So, you know, that was the business model. You could say that's a terrible business model, they shouldn't have set it up. Fine, I understand, it looks bad. But that's what the money went for. And, you know, it certainly leaves open questions as to whether that money bought influence. All I'm saying is, the deepest investigations we've had, this AP story and the Judicial Watch story, showed that that's not the case.

AMY GOODMAN: David Sirota?

DAVID SIROTA: Well, I mean, look, again, I think you're right to say that the Clinton Foundation has done projects and is involved in efforts that are laudable and philanthropic. But again, the deeper policy question here goes back to whether a potential conflict of interest, whether the appearance of a conflict of interest, should have been permissible at the State Department and what this money potentially bought.

And I want to go to the -- one other point about the appearance of a conflict of interest, because I've heard a lot of pundits out there defending the Clintons with sort of the same talking points, saying, "Oh, well, there was a -- there's an appearance of a conflict of interest, and there was only a potential, and that's all that can be proven." And, of course, if a lot of these same pundits, these Democratic pundits, were looking at a Republican situation, they would be screaming about how this is a huge scandal. But the key on the appearance of a conflict of interest is, if we want people to believe that their government is doing things in the right way in a democracy, that access isn't being sold, that contracts aren't being given out on the basis of preference and money going into a private foundation, appearances actually do matter. It is not something to throw -- to pooh-pooh. Appearances really matter. The optics are not just some talking point. The optics matter in a democracy, when people -- the public is asked to believe that its government is acting on behalf of the public interest. And in this case, all of these questions swirling around -- the Clinton people seem to understand that those questions cannot exist when she was president, but why was it allowed to exist when she was in such a powerful position as America's top diplomat?

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to talk about --

DAVID SIROTA: That's the central question.

AMY GOODMAN: We're going to talk about what should happen with the Clinton Foundation, if Hillary Clinton became president. We're speaking with David Sirota of the International Business Times, who has long covered the Clinton Foundation, and Paul Glastris, who was a President Bill Clinton speechwriter for a number of years and is now the editor of the Washington Monthly. Stay with us.

News Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Bernie Sanders Launches New Organization, but Key Staffers Quit in Protest

Bernie Sanders and his supporters have launched a new political organization called Our Revolution. It seeks to support the next generation of progressive leaders, empower millions to fight for progressive change and elevate the nation's overall political consciousness. More than 2,600 watch parties were held across the country last night to witness Sanders launch the new organization. But reports have emerged of political tumult within Bernie Sanders' own team. Over the weekend, eight key staffers abruptly resigned in a dispute over the group's leadership and legal structure. For more, we speak with Larry Cohen, incoming board chair of Our Revolution, and with Claire Sandberg, former digital organizing director for Bernie Sanders' campaign, who resigned as the organizing director for Our Revolution.


AMY GOODMAN: Senator Bernie Sanders and his supporters have launched a new political organization. It's called Our Revolution. It seeks to support the next generation of progressive leaders, empower millions to fight for progressive change and elevate the nation's overall political consciousness. More than 2,600 watch parties were held across the country Wednesday night to watch Sanders launch the new group.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Tonight I want to introduce you to a new independent nonprofit organization called Our Revolution, which is inspired by the historic Bernie 2016 presidential campaign. Over time, Our Revolution will involve hundreds of thousands of people. These are people who will be fighting at the grassroots level for changes in their local school boards, in their city councils, in their state legislatures and in their representation in Washington. Not only that, they will be involved in major ballot items dealing with campaign finance issues, environmental issues, healthcare issues, labor issues, gender-related issues, and doing all that they can, in every way, to create an America based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Former presidential candidate and Senator Bernie Sanders went on to reiterate his concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I have worked with President Obama over the years on a number of issues, and he's a friend of mine. But on the issue of the TPP, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, his support -- very strong support -- for that proposal is dead wrong. I intend -- I intend to work with trade unions all over this country, environmental groups all over this country, religious groups all over this country, to do everything that I can, as Vermont senator, to defeat the TPP if it comes up in Congress in the lame-duck session. Now, the TPP, TPP, as is always the case, is supported by Wall Street. It is supported by corporate America. It is supported by all of the big money issues. But I believe that if we stand together, we can, in fact, defeat it.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Senator Sanders speaking last night at the launch of Our Revolution. He was in Burlington, Vermont. But reports have emerged of political tumult within Sanders' own team. Over the weekend, eight key staffers abruptly resigned in a dispute over the group's leadership and legal structure. That was more than half of the staff.

Well, for more, we're joined by two guests in Washington, D.C. Larry Cohen is the incoming board chair of Our Revolution. He was a senior adviser to Bernie Sanders and past president of Communications Workers of America. He was also the first superdelegate for Bernie Sanders. And we're joined by Claire Sandberg. She was the digital organizing director for Bernie Sanders' campaign. On Sunday, she resigned as the organizing director for Our Revolution.

Larry Cohen and Claire Sandberg, welcome to Democracy Now! Larry, let's begin with you. The significance of this new group that has been launched, with 2,600 parties around the country launching it last night?

LARRY COHEN: Yeah, amazing. I was at one of the events in Washington, D.C., in a small apartment, totally packed with more than 80 people, incredibly enthusiastic. But just as importantly, as you said, across the country, 2,600 events, another 200,000 people turned in -- tuned in on their own to watch the live stream. The enthusiasm for this across the country is amazing. I was in Iowa this weekend with Iowa CCI, a big statewide community organization. The enthusiasm there, across Nebraska, where the new incoming head of the Democratic Party was actually at the same event with me last night, Jane Kleeb, who came in to lead the party on -- from the victory in the Nebraska caucus. So, I think it's, you know, literally from one end of the country to another, activists so enthused about what we can do together.

AMY GOODMAN: Claire Sandberg, you were a part of the Bernie Sanders campaign. You were the organizing director for Our Revolution. But right before it launched last night, you and more than half the staff quit. Why?

CLAIRE SANDBERG: Yes. Well, last Monday, as we were -- as the staff at Our Revolution was -- I'm sorry, there's an echo. So, last Monday, as the staff of Our Revolution was preparing for a very busy week, gearing up for the launch event last night, we learned that Jeff Weaver would be stepping in to run, actively manage, Our Revolution, which was a decision that was met with unanimous concern among the entire staff at Our Revolution. And --

AMY GOODMAN: Now, Jeff Weaver was the campaign director of Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign.

CLAIRE SANDBERG: Yes, Jeff was the campaign manager at the organization. And all of us who worked on the campaign who moved over to Our Revolution did so based on the promise that Jeff Weaver would not be involved in Our Revolution or that his role would be strictly constrained as a legal adviser or a board member who would have somewhat of a token role. But it became clear -- and so, there were two main concerns among the staff. One, we all saw how Jeff ran the campaign, and there were a number of concerns about that. Secondly, Jeff's leadership and advise as a legal adviser had already hamstrung Our Revolution before it even launched, specifically Jeff's decision to constitute the organization as a 501(c)(4), which prevented us from doing effective down-ballot organizing for candidates, also effective down-ballot fundraising. And --

AMY GOODMAN: Why is that, Claire?

CLAIRE SANDBERG: Well, Jeff has gone on the record admitting that he wanted to form the organization as a 501(c)(4) for the express purpose of accepting billionaire money, which of course flies in the face of what all of our supporters were so excited about, that we were taking a country back from the billionaire class without the use of billionaire money, $27 at a time.

AMY GOODMAN: Larry Cohen, your response? You're the incoming board chair of Our Revolution.

LARRY COHEN: Yeah, the board of Our Revolution will be key leaders from the various movements that make up progressive America, from civil rights, environmental justice, from people who are running for office. And there will be no contributions from billionaires, and I guarantee that. And I think it's unfortunate that staff left. They're good people. Jeff has worked with Bernie for 30 years. He's very close to Bernie. But this -- Our Revolution is not about Jeff or me or Claire; it's about the hundreds of thousands of people that are networked across the country. My job as board chair -- the board will be all volunteers -- is to support those networks and those people, and to continue the political revolution that we saw in this campaign and that has its ancestry from the many movements in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Claire Sandberg, the idea that it's larger than any one person, and why you couldn't be a part of it, moving into the future, given that you so clearly endorse the tenets of the organization, you know, its political philosophy?

CLAIRE SANDBERG: Yes, and it was an anguishing decision for all of us. And we thought about it for some time. The majority of the staff who resigned did not do so until almost a week later, on Sunday, when seven people resigned. We did that after thinking very hard about it, expressing our concerns repeatedly, saying we didn't think we could work for Jeff. And I would say that the concerns were really twofold: one, that Jeff -- under Jeff's leadership, the organization would not be well run, given how we saw that he ran the campaign; and secondly, that Jeff wanted to take the organization down this path of accepting billionaire money, and specifically had chosen a legal structure for the organization that had already prevented us from doing effective organizing for candidates like Tim Canova, who has talked about how we have left him hanging, which is true. As the group was formed as a (c)(4), we legally couldn't coordinate with Canova, couldn't return his calls, couldn't mobilize thousands of Bernie supporters locally in Miami or across the country to participate in his field operation, because we couldn't talk to him. The same thing --

AMY GOODMAN: Explain what you mean by this.

CLAIRE SANDBERG: Well, a 501(c)(4) organization has a number of problems with it. One, federal officeholders cannot be involved in 501(c)(4) organizations. So, there is a real question about whether Bernie could even be involved as a spokesperson, as someone who could send out emails. Secondly, candidates cannot coordinate with 501(c)(4) organizations. We can't -- we can't have private, nonpublic conversations about, for example, how to mobilize volunteers or what voters we're talking to. We can't make sure that we're not duplicating efforts, calling the same voters twice. We can't do any of those things.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Larry Cohen, what about this?

LARRY COHEN: Well, you know, I'm not going to get into a legal wrangle with Claire. I think the key is that all of us on this board believe that we will mobilize millions of people. We're not here to run campaigns. That would be a different kind of organization. We will mobilize millions of people against the TPP. We will enable people to donate to campaigns. We will be involved in eight ballot measures that are on the website right now,, that range from getting big money out of politics to single-payer healthcare in Colorado. We will be supporting, you know, great candidates, from Pramila Jayapal, who's running for Congress in Seattle, to people running for school board. So, this is not -- none of us on this board, and the design of this is not to run campaigns. The design of this is really to continue the political revolution.

AMY GOODMAN: On Wednesday evening, Senator Sanders stressed the importance of electing progressive candidates at the local level.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: As Americans, our goal must be to elect progressives at every level. And I want to mention just a few of the progressive candidates who Our Revolution will be supporting. And there will eventually be over 100 of them, in every region of our country, candidates from the school board to the United States Senate. Vernon Miller, a Native American, is running for the school board in Nebraska. And let me tell you, we need hundreds of candidates all over this country to run for school board. So I wish Vernon the best of luck. Jane Kim is a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, and she is running for the state Senate in California. By the way, their state Senate districts are like the equivalent of the entire state of Vermont, so it's not a small thing, you know. I campaigned with Kim when I was in San Francisco, and she will be a great addition to the California state Senate when she is elected.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Bernie Sanders last night in Burlington, Vermont. The Miami Herald has a headline, "Bernie Sanders is a No-Show for Tim Canova," in his South Florida battle against U.S. Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Larry Cohen, do you know why?

LARRY COHEN: You know, I wouldn't call him a no-show. I mean, Bernie is focused -- he hasn't --

AMY GOODMAN: He just didn't mention him in this list of people he was talking about supporting, and he was so significant in going after Wasserman Schultz and supporting Canova before the Democratic convention.

LARRY COHEN: Yeah. Well, again, unless a mistake was made, I'm certain Tim Canova is on the initial list that was put up on the website last night. Huge amounts of money have been raised, you know, directly from donors, but through the emails from the Bernie Sanders campaign and from Our Revolution. Bernie has not campaigned since the convention in Philadelphia for anyone. He is actually writing a book. So I don't think he's running away from Tim Canova at all. I think the question is, you know, when does Bernie go back on the campaign trail? That is not what Our Revolution will manage. Again, what we will manage and support are these networks of people that are pushing to reform the Democratic Party, as I mentioned, at the state level, like a Jane Kleeb, at the local level, independents like two candidates running for the Richmond, California, City Council -- in many cases, Democrats, in many cases, not. And so, I mean, that's the story here.

AMY GOODMAN: And as we have 10 seconds, Claire Sandberg, what will you go on to do, given you've devoted your recent life to the Bernie Sanders campaign and now Our Revolution, before you quit?

CLAIRE SANDBERG: Myself and the other people who resigned will fight to continue the political revolution however we can, and do the work that we hope to do through this organization in some fashion.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you both for being with us, Claire Sandberg, former organizing director for Our Revolution, and Larry Cohen, incoming board chair of Our Revolution. And, of course, we will continue to cover it.

This is Democracy Now! That does it for our broadcast. A very special belated happy birthday to Julie Crosby.

News Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Is Trump-Bashing Good for the Media?

Just about everyone now concedes that the media have it in for Donald Trump. A survey of eight major news organs during the primaries, conducted by Harvard's Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy -- one I cited in a previous post -- showed that the press grew increasingly hostile to Trump, peaking at 61 percent negative to 39 percent positive at the end of the primary season. Even the conservative, Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal editorialized that he should consider quitting the race, and the normally cautious NBC Nightly News has turned reporter Katy Tur into a one-woman truth squad, correcting Trump whoppers.

If you deplore media cowardice, you might think this is a good thing, not because Trump is a mortal danger to this country, although he is, but because it means the press is doing its job. That is not, however, the way some media critics see it, and not just those with a stake in Trump's promotion, like Howard Kurtz of Fox News, who has accused the media of "piling on" poor Donald.

To see more stories like this, visit Moyers & Company at Truthout.

There is now a debate over whether Trump-bashing is undermining media credibility. Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone, one of our most perceptive political journalists, warned in an essay last week that the mainstream media were getting perilously close to becoming partisan, pro-Democrat or pro-Republican, rather than ideological, tilting left or right, the way they used to be. And he felt the implications for the media were enormous. As he put it, "Once you jump in the politicians' side of the pool, it's not so easy to get out again."

If accurate, this would be a big deal, but I think Taibbi's analysis is based on two flawed premises. First, that the media are now arrayed in two camps: Republican and Democrat. And second, that Trump bashing (and Hillary bashing, for that matter) are the result of partisan side-taking and not of the candidates' considerable flaws -- in Trump's case, that he is a bigot, a compulsive liar, an ignoramus when it comes to policy, and a demagogue who is already attempting to delegitimize our electoral system to explain his anticipated loss. In fact, far from being "in the tank" for the political parties, as Taibbi puts it, I think the media might finally be performing one of the services they are supposed to perform: holding candidates accountable for their words and deeds.

This is a good thing, and we may have Trump to thank for it.

Let's look at the second charge first -- that the liberal media have it in for Trump, which is exactly what Trump has been saying, even as he boasts about how much media attention he gets. (The "piling on" is the "worst in American history," he tweeted on Tuesday.) In an essay this past week, Vox's Ezra Klein, another brilliant political analyst, remarked on the media's revulsion at Trump, and then went on to explain why they have abandoned any pretense of neutrality to go after him.  He believes that the press has been liberated by the fact that many conservatives don't much like Trump any more than liberals do (thus challenging Taibbi's thesis), that Trump's gross misinformation and disinformation insults the press in a "visceral" way, that the New York- and Washington-centric press has a "cosmopolitan" bias that works against a yahoo like Trump, and finally that the press feels both institutionally and personally, even physically, threatened by the prospect of a Trump victory.

Nothing Klein says is on its face untrue, and I am particularly sympathetic to his notion of a cosmopolitan bias -- one I discussed myself in an earlier post -- not because it is unfair to Trump, but because it skews coverage away from the disempowered and toward elites. Let's face it, the media are self-serving.

But sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and it is important to note that whatever theories you can concoct for an anti-Trump bias, the simple truth may be that, if you are any kind of journalist, you cannot cover him honestly without rebutting nearly everything he says. For a journalist to correct Trump's whoppers isn't taking sides against him any more than a scientist would be taking sides against someone who declares the moon is made of green cheese. As Klein admits, you can't treat Trump as if he were a normal candidate saying normal things because he isn't one. The danger isn't that reporters will gang up on him. The danger is that by not ganging up on him they will normalize the surreal circus he provides -- a circus that is subverting our political life.

That brings me back to Taibbi. He isn't critical of the media attacking Trump. His criticism is of a Trump-induced journalistic polarization that mirrors our political polarization and threatens our media the same way political polarization has threatened our politics. "We now have one set of news outlets that gives us the bad news about Democrats, and another set of news outlets bravely dedicated to reporting the whole truth about Republicans," Taibbi writes, and goes on to report the result -- namely that "we have no credible news media left." He calls the current coverage the "worst case of journo-shilling we've seen since the run-up to the Iraq War."

This endangers journalism, he says, because when you shill for a party, the way Fox News shills for the GOP, you lose credibility, even with your own viewers. All media take the hit. No one believes anything.

But is what Taibbi says about a binary media true? Conservative media actually are deeply divided between those who think Trump is the Second Coming (Fox News, Breitbart) and those who see him as the devil destroying ideological conservatism (The National Review, The Weekly Standard). CNN, which Taibbi places on the Democratic Party side of the divide, also pays former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, even though, reportedly, he continues to advise Trump. Meanwhile, CNN employs Dem operatives too, letting apologists from each side commandeer their air. The trouble with CNN may not be, as Taibbi says, that it is partisan, but that it is bipartisan, serving up both Republican and Democratic spin instead of journalism.

In fact, if, as Taibbi claims, this year's election coverage is "unique," it is not because we suddenly have Democratic and Republican news outlets (let's face it, Fox News was always the propaganda arm of the GOP) or that Trump and the GOP are getting hammered by one part of the MSM and Clinton and the Dems by the other part, but that both candidates are getting very negative coverage across the board. In that Shorenstein study reporting Trump's overwhelmingly unfavorable coverage in the final five weeks of the primary season, Hillary Clinton's was scarcely better, and, for that matter, neither was Bernie Sanders'. (By the way, the GOP losers -- Cruz and Rubio and Kasich -- got the worst coverage, suggesting a pro-winners bias.) And Shorenstein was looking across a range of the so-called MSM. Maybe things will look different when we get a survey of the post-primary coverage, but will that be because the presumed Democratic media were aligned against Trump or because he kept shooting himself in the foot? Will it be because GOP media were aligned against Hillary or because her emails kept popping up?

The media are banging away at both Trump and Clinton, and, if you exclude Fox and MSNBC, the way diving competitions throw out the low and high scores, the same outlets are often doing the bashing, neither an anti-Trump free-for-all nor a Republican and Democratic media schism. In fact, it may be a matter of the normal media bias toward negativity going mega-negative. The media really, really seem to hate everybody this election.

So both Ezra Klein and Matt Taibbi may be wrong about the state of the media in Campaign 2016. For all the havoc he has wrought elsewhere, Trump may have actually awakened some in the MSM from their long slumber. Sure, they are still too preoccupied with process to fasten on policy. Sure, they are still beholden to false equivalencies between Trump and Clinton. Sure, they are still likely to succumb to criticism and reverse course if they get accused of being too hard on Trump. But for all that, the media aren't letting Trump get away with his self-contradictions, fabrications and bigotry, and they aren't letting Clinton get away with her prevarications, political incest with contributors and attempts at misdirection.

Call it partisan bias if you like. I call it journalism. Maybe it's just been so long since we've seen it, we can hardly recognize it.

News Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
"I Didn't Serve, I Was Used": How Veterans Are Losing the War at Home

(Photo: Jean-François Schmitz)New schemes are seeking to use veterans for corporate interests and dismantle the VA system in the name of privatized profits. (Photo: Jean-François Schmitz)

A friend of mine, a Vietnam vet, told me about a veteran of the Iraq War who, when some civilian said, "Thank you for your service," replied: "I didn't serve, I was used." That got me thinking about the many ways today's veterans are used, conned, and exploited by big gamers right here at home.

Near the end of his invaluable book cataloguing the long, slow disaster of America's War for the Greater Middle East, historian Andrew Bacevich writes:

"Some individuals and institutions actually benefit from an armed conflict that drags on and on. Those benefits are immediate and tangible. They come in the form of profits, jobs, and campaign contributions.  For the military-industrial complex and its beneficiaries, perpetual war is not necessarily bad news."

Bacevich is certainly right about war profiteers, but I believe we haven't yet fully wrapped our minds around what that truly means. This is what we have yet to take in: today, the U.S. is the most unequal country in the developed world, and the wealth of the plutocrats on top is now so great that, when they invest it in politics, it's likely that no elected government can stop them or the lucrative wars and "free markets" they exploit.

Among the prime movers in our corporatized politics are undoubtedly the two billionaire Koch brothers, Charles and David, and their cozy network of secret donors.  It's hard to grasp how rich they really are: they rank fifth (David) and sixth (Charles) on Business Insider's list of the 50 richest people in the world, but if you pool their wealth they become by far the single richest "individual" on the planet. And they have pals. For decades now they've hosted top-secret gatherings of their richest collaborators that sometimes also feature dignitaries like Clarence Thomas or the late Antonin Scalia, two of the Supreme Court Justices who gave them the Citizens United decision, suffocating American democracy in plutocratic dollars.  That select donor group had reportedly planned to spend at least $889 million on this year's elections and related political projects, but recent reports note a scaling back and redirection of resources.

While the contest between Trump and Clinton fills the media, the big money is evidently going to be aimed at selected states and municipalities to aid right-wing governors, Senate candidates, congressional representatives, and in some cities, ominously enough, school board candidates. The Koch brothers need not openly support the embarrassing Trump, for they've already proved that, by controlling Congress, they can significantly control the president, as they have already done in the Obama era.

Yet for all their influence, the Koch name means nothing, pollsters report, to more than half of the U.S. population. In fact, the brothers Koch largely stayed under the radar until recent years when their roles as polluters, campaigners against the environment, and funders of a new politics came into view. Thanks to Robert Greenwald's film Koch Brothers Exposed and Jane Mayer's book Dark Money: The Hidden History of the Billionaires Behind the Rise of the Radical Right, we now know a lot more about them, but not enough.

They've always been ready to profit off America's wars. Despite their extreme neo-libertarian goal of demonizing and demolishing government, they reportedly didn't hesitate to pocket about $170 million as contractors for George W. Bush's wars.  They sold fuel (oil is their principal business) to the Defense Department, and after they bought Georgia Pacific, maker of paper products, they supplied that military essential: toilet paper.

But that was small potatoes compared to what happened when soldiers came home from the wars and fell victim to the profiteering of corporate America. Dig in to the scams exploiting veterans, and once again you'll run into the Koch brothers.

Pain Relief: With Thanks From Big Pharma

It's no secret that the VA wasn't ready for the endless, explosive post-9/11 wars.  Its hospitals were already full of old vets from earlier wars when suddenly there arrived young men and women with wounds, both physical and mental, the doctors had never seen before.  The VA enlarged its hospitals, recruited new staff, and tried to catch up, but it's been running behind ever since.

It's no wonder veterans' organizations keep after it (as well they should), demanding more funding and better service. But they have to be careful what they focus on. If they leave it at that and overlook what's really going on -- often in plain sight, however disguised in patriotic verbiage -- they can wind up being marched down a road they didn't choose that leads to a place they don't want to be.

Even before the post-9/11 vets came home, a phalanx of drug-making corporations led by Purdue Pharma had already gone to work on the VA.  These Big Pharma corporations (many of which buy equipment from Koch Membrane Systems) had developed new pain medications -- opioid narcotics like OxyContin (Purdue), Vicodin, Percocet, Opana (Endo Pharmaceuticals), Duragesic, and Nucynta (Janssen, a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson) -- and they spotted a prospective marketplace.  Early in 2001, Purdue developed a plan to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars targeting the VA.  By the end of that year, this country was at war, and Big Pharma was looking at a gold mine.

They recruited doctors, set them up in private "Pain Foundations," and paid them handsomely to give lectures and interviews, write studies and textbooks, teach classes in medical schools, and testify before Congress on the importance of providing our veterans with powerful painkillers.  In 2002, the Food and Drug Administration considered restricting the use of opioids, fearing they might be addictive. They were talked out of it by experts like Dr. Rollin Gallagher of the American Academy of Pain Medicine and board member of the American Pain Foundation, both largely fundedby the drug companies. He spoke against restricting OxyContin.

By 2008, congressional legislation had been written -- the Veterans' Mental Health and Other Care Improvement Act -- directing the VA to develop a plan to evaluate all patients for pain. When the VA objected to Congress dictating its medical procedures, Big Pharma launched a "Freedom from Pain" media blitz, enlisting veterans' organizations to campaign for the bill and get it passed.

Those painkillers were also dispatched to the war zones where our troops were physically breaking down under the weight of the equipment they carried. By 2010, a third of the Army's soldiers were on prescription medications -- and nearly half of them, 76,500, were on prescription opioids -- which proved to be highly addictive, despite the assurance of experts like Rollin Gallagher. In 2007, for instance, "The American Veterans and Service Members Survival Guide," distributed by the American Pain Foundation and edited by Gallagher, offered this assurance: "[W]hen used for medical purposes and under the guidance of a skilled health-care provider, the risk of addiction from opioid pain medication is very low."

By that time, here at home, soldiers and vets were dying at astonishing rates from accidental or deliberate overdoses. Civilian doctors as well had been persuaded to overprescribe these drugs, so that by 2011 the CDC announced a national epidemic, affecting more than 12 million Americans.  In May 2012, the Senate Finance Committee finally initiated an investigation into the perhaps "improper relation" between Big Pharma and the pain foundations. That investigation is still "ongoing," which means that no information about it can yet be revealed to the public.

Meanwhile, opioid addicts, both veterans and civilians, were discovering that heroin was a cheaper and no less effective way to go.  Because heroin is often cut with Fentanyl, a more powerful opioid, however, drug deaths rose dramatically.

This epidemic of death is in the news almost every day now as hard-hit cities and states sue the drug makers, but rarely is it traced to its launching pad: the Big Pharma conspiracy to make big bucks off our country's wounded soldiers.

It took the VA far too long to extricate itself from medical policies marketed by Big Pharma and, in effect, prescribed by Congress. It had made the mistake of turning to the Pharma-funded pain foundations in 2004 to select its Deputy National Program Director of Pain Management: the ubiquitous Dr. Gallagher. But when the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency finally laid down new restrictive rules on opioids in 2014, the VA had to comply. That's been hard on the thousands of opioid-dependent vets it had unwittingly hooked, and it's becoming harder as Republicans in Congress move to privatize the VA and send vets out with vouchers to find their own health care.

Cute Cards Courtesy of the Koch Brothers

To force the VA to use its drugs, Big Pharma set up dummy foundations and turned to existing veterans' organizations for support. These days, however, the Big Money people have found a more efficient way to make their weight felt.  Now, when they need the political clout of a veterans' organization, they help finance one of their own.

Consider Concerned Veterans for America (CVA). The group's stated mission: "to preserve the freedom and prosperity we and our families fought and sacrificed to defend."  What patriotic American wouldn't want to get behind that?

The problem that concerns the group right now is the "divide" between civilians and soldiers, which exists, its leaders claim, because responsibility for veterans has been "pushed to the highest levels of government." That has left veterans isolated from their own communities, which should be taking care of them.

Concerned Veterans for America proposes (though not quite in so many words) to close that gap by sacking the VA and giving vets the "freedom" to find their own health care. The 102-page proposal of CVA's Task Force on "Fixing Veterans' Health Care" would let VA hospitals treat veterans with "service-connected health needs" -- let them, that is, sweat the hard stuff -- while transforming most VA Health Care facilities into an "independent, non-profit corporation" to be "preserved," if possible, in competition "with private providers."

All other vets would have the "option to seek private health coverage," using funds the VA might have spent on their care, had they chosen it. (How that would be calculated remains one of many mysteries.) The venerable VA operates America's largest health care system, with 168 VA Medical Centers and 1,053 outpatient clinics, providing care to more than 8.9 million vets each year. Yet under this plan that lame, undernourished but extraordinary and, in a great many ways, remarkably successful version of single-payer lifelong socialized medicine for vets would be a goner, perhaps surviving only in bifurcated form: as an intensive care unit and an insurance office dispensing funds to free and choosy vets.

Such plans should have marked Concerned Veterans for America as a Koch brothers' creation even before its front man gave the game away and lost his job. Like those pain foundation doctors who became self-anointed opioid experts, veteran Pete Hegseth had made himself an expert on veterans' affairs, running Concerned Veterans for America and doubling as a talking head on Fox News.  The secretive veterans' organization now carries on without him, still working to capture -- or perhaps buy -- the hearts and minds of Congress.

And here's the scary part: they may succeed.  Remember that every U.S. administration, from the Continental Congress on, has regarded the care of veterans as a sacred trust of government. The notion of privatizing veterans' care -- by giving each veteran a voucher, like some underprivileged schoolboy -- was first suggested only eight years ago by Arizona Senator John McCain, America's most famous veteran-cum-politician. Most veterans' organizations opposed the idea, citing McCain's long record of voting against funding the VA.  Four years ago, Mitt Romney touted the same idea and got the same response.

That's about the time that the Koch brothers, and their donor network, changed their strategy. They had invested an estimated $400 million in the 2012 elections and lost the presidency (though not Congress).  So they turned their attention to the states and localities.  Somewhere along the way, they quietly promoted Concerned Veterans for America and who knows what other similar organizations and think tanks to peddle their cutthroat capitalist ideology and enshrine it in the law of the land.

Then, in 2014, President Obama signed into law the Veterans' Access to Care Through Choice, Accountability, and Transparency Act. That bill singled out certain veterans who lived at least 40 miles from a VA hospital or had to wait 30 days for an appointment and gave them a "choice card," entitling them to see a private doctor of their own choosing.  Though John McCain had originally designed the bill, it was by then a bipartisan effort, officially introduced by the Democratic senator who chaired the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs: Bernie Sanders.

Sanders said that, while it was not the bill he would have written, he thought it was a step toward cutting wait times. With his sponsorship, the bill passed by a 93-3 vote. And so an idea unthinkable only two years earlier -- the partial privatization of veteran's health care -- became law.

How could that have happened?  At the VA, there was certainly need for improvement.  Its health care system had been consistently underfunded and wait times for appointments were notoriously long.  Then, early in 2014, personnel at the Phoenix VA in McCain's home state of Arizona were caught falsifying records to hide the wait-time problem.  When that scandal hit the news, Concerned Veterans for America was quick to exploit the situation and lead a mass protest.  Three weeks later, as heads rolled at the VA, Senator McCain called a town hall meeting to announce his new bill, with its "hallmark Choice Card." His website notes that it "received praise... from veterans' advocacy organizations such as Concerned Veterans for America."

That bill also called for a "commission on care" to explore the possibilities of "transforming" veterans' health care.  Most vets still haven't heard of this commission and its charge to change their lives, but many of those who did learn of it were worried by the terminology.  After all, many vets already had a choice through Medicare or private insurance, and most chose the vet-centered treatment of the VA. They complained only that it took too long to get an appointment. They wanted more VA care, not less -- and they wanted it faster.

In any case, those choice cards already handed out have reportedly only slowed down the process of getting treatment, while the freedom to search for a private doctor has turned out to be anything but popular.  Nevertheless, the commission on care -- 15 people chosen by President Obama and the leaders of the House and Senate -- worked for 10 months to produce a laundry list of "fixes" for the VA and one controversial recommendation. They called for the VA "across the United States" to establish "high-performing, integrated community health care networks, to be known as the VHA Care System."

In other words, instead of funding added staff and speeded-up service, the commission recommended the creation of an entirely new, more expensive, and untried system. Then there was the fine print: as in the plan of Concerned Veterans of America, there would be tightened qualifications, out-of-pocket costs, and exclusions.  In other words, the commission was proposing a fragmented, complicated, and iffy system, funded in part on the backs of veterans, and "transformative" in ways ominously different from anything vets had been promised in the past.

Commissioner Michael Blecker, executive director of the San Francisco-based veterans' service organization Swords to Plowshares, refused to sign off on the report.  Although he approved of the VA fixes, he saw in that recommendation for "community networks" the privatizer's big boot in the door.  Yet while Blecker thought the recommendation would serve the private sector and not the vet, another non-signer took the opposite view. Darin Selnick, senior veterans' affairs advisor for Concerned Veterans for America and executive director of CVA's Fixing Veterans Health Care Taskforce, complained that the commission had focused too much on "fixing the existing VA" rather than "boldly transforming" veterans' health care into a menu of "multiple private-sector choice options."  The lines were clearly drawn.

Then, last April, Senator McCain made an end run around the commission, a dash that could only thrill the leaders of Concerned Veterans for America and their backers. Noting that his choice card legislation was due to expire, McCain, together with seven other Republican senators (including Ted Cruz), introduced new legislation: the Care Veterans Deserve Act of 2016.  It's a bill designed to "enhance choice and flexibility in veterans' health care" by making the problematic choice card "permanently and universally" available to all disabled and other unspecified veterans.  You can see where the notion came from and where it's going. By May 2016, when Fox News featured a joint statement by Senator McCain and Pete Hegseth, late of Concerned Veterans for America, trumpeting the VA Choice Card Program as "the most significant VA reform in decades," you could also see where this might end.

As real veterans' organizations wise up to what's going on, they will undoubtedly stand against the false "freedom" of a Koch brothers-style "transformation" of the VA system. The rest of us should stand with them. The plutocrats who corrupted veterans' health care and now want to shut it down, and the plutocrats who profit from this country's endless wars are one and the same. And they have bigger plans for us all.

News Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400