Truthout Stories Fri, 26 Aug 2016 07:32:13 -0400 en-gb 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
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
Flood-Ravaged Gulf Coast Residents Ask President Obama to Cancel Federal Offshore Drilling Lease Auction

Blake Kopcho, Sue Prevost, John Clark, and Renate Heurich in the entrance to the BOEM’s office building in New Orleans. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Blake Kopcho, Sue Prevost, John Clark and Renate Heurich in the entrance to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's office building in New Orleans. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

During President Obama's visit to a flood-ravaged area near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, this week, a group of environmental activists delivered a petition to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) protesting the planned leasing of more of the Gulf of Mexico for oil and gas drilling.

They gathered 184,000 electronic signatures over just six days calling for the President and BOEM to cancel its lease auction -- scheduled to take place August 24. 

Four members of the group told police on the scene they planned to stay until either they got a response from President Obama or they were arrested.

"I am here to show support for Cherri Foytlin [a Louisiana activist who runs Bold Louisiana], who started the petition after experiencing the 1,000 year flood that just hit Louisiana," New Orleans retired teacher Renate Heurich told DeSmog. "She couldn't be here today because she is still gutting her house."

"We are not just selling the Gulf. We are selling our children's future. We are refusing to change our lifestyle and our children's, who will have to deal with immense problems once the climate gets more and more extreme," Heurich said before she was arrested.

Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, met with activists and legal advisors before the action began.

"While climate change affects everyone, communities of color and low-income communities continue to be hit hardest by the lasting impacts of climate disasters," Rolfes said.

"That's true in the Gulf Coast, and it's made worse by the fossil fuel industry's destructive projects in the region. Thousands of oil spills, sinking land, and extreme weather creating turmoil for countless people. What more will convince the Obama administration to stop treating the Gulf like a sacrifice zone to fossil fuel interests?"

Adrianna Norwood and her two sons sit on her destroyed car in front of the flooded home she rents, with nowhere to go. The main shelters turned them away because they were full, so they slept in a different church every night until her son who has epilepsy had two convulsions. Only then was the family taken in at the Medical Special Needs Shelter at the LSU where her son could get medical help. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Adrianna Norwood and her two sons sit on her destroyed car in front of the flooded home she rents, with nowhere to go. The main shelters turned them away because they were full, so they slept in a different church every night until her son who has epilepsy had two convulsions. Only then was the family taken in at the Medical Special Needs Shelter at the LSU where her son could get medical help. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
Roxanna Johnson in front of her flooded home in East Fariline, a subdivision in Baton Rouge, surveying her block. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Roxanna Johnson in front of her flooded home in East Fariline, a subdivision in Baton Rouge, surveying her block. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

"Protests that disrupted an oil and gas sale in March and an April federal open house about environmental impacts of continued lease sales played a part in that decision," agency spokesperson Caryl Fagot said on August 22, according to the Associated Press.

John Clark trying to drop off a box that contains petitions to stop the Gulf Lease sale at BOEM's office in New Orleans. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)John Clark trying to drop off a box that contains petitions to stop the Gulf lease sale at BOEM's office in New Orleans. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
BOEM representative who took the petitions for President Obama wouldn't give his name or title. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)BOEM representative who took the petitions for President Obama wouldn't give his name or title. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Retired Loyola University professor John Clark pointed out the importance of getting word to President Obama during his visit to survey the Louisiana flood damage that he needs to honor the Paris Agreement. Clark believes the leasing of more of the Gulf for drilling goes against the spirit of the agreement. 

Meanwhile in Louisiana, there is still standing water in some parishes. And where the water has gone down, there are mountains of what had been the contents of thousands of homes across southern Louisiana. 

Paulina, Louisiana on March 20, 2016 where back-flow swamped the area. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Paulina, Louisiana on March 20, 2016, where back-flow swamped the area. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
Sorrento, Louisiana, on March 20, 2016 where standing water from back-flow swamped the area. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Sorrento, Louisiana, on March 20, 2016, where standing water from back-flow swamped the area. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Sorrento, Louisiana, on March 20, 2016 where standing water from back-flow swamped the area. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Sorrento, Louisiana, on March 20, 2016, where standing water from back-flow swamped the area. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

The Landaiches return to their home in Sorrento, Louisiana, on March 20, 2016 to try to rescue what they can after floodwaters inundated their home. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)The Landaiches return to their home in Sorrento, Louisiana, on March 20, 2016, to try to rescue what they can after floodwaters inundated their home. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Heurich cited the fact there have been eight 500-year floods in Louisiana in just over a year, and now this 1,000-year rainstorm. The protesters attribute this extreme weather to climate change.

"How many more extreme weather events do people need to believe the science?" she wondered. 

Blake Kopcho, right, activist from California, being taken away by police for trespassing along with Louisiana activist John Clark, left. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Blake Kopcho, right, activist from California, being taken away by police for trespassing along with Louisiana activist John Clark, left. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
Louisiana activist Sue Prevost being taken away by police for trespassing.  (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Louisiana activist Sue Prevost being taken away by police for trespassing. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

Environmentalists documenting the action for the Bucket Brigade thanked the group for their work as they were led away in handcuffs by the police. Heurich smiled broadly before slipping into the back of a police car. 

Trailer park in Zachary, Louisiana following the thousand-year flood. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Trailer park in Zachary, Louisiana, following the thousand-year flood. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)
Cemetery in Zachary, Louisiana. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)Cemetery in Zachary, Louisiana. (Photo: Julie Dermansky)

President Obama toured Zachary, a small city 16 miles from Baton Rouge, where the powerful flood waters not only destroyed homes but also dislodged coffins in a cemetery.

While many celebrate Obama's pledge to combat climate change, the protesters in New Orleans feel the imminent Gulf of Mexico drilling lease auction is another example of too little done too late.

News Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Trump Illegally Pumped Up His Own Book Sales With Campaign Donations

Now we know how Donald Trump manages to write so-called bestsellers. He buys up thousands of copies himself.

The newest wrinkle in the Republican nominee for president's con artistry is that he used campaign donations -- to the tune of about $55,000 -- to buy up approximately "3,500 copies of the hardcover version of Crippled America: How to Make America Great Again, or just over 5,000 copies of the renamed paperback release, Great Again: How to Fix Our Crippled America," the Daily Beast reported Wednesday morning. 

According to a Federal Election Commission filing, the Trump campaign paid $55,055 to Barnes & Noble for the books in May. While it's not illegal to buy thousands of copies of your own book to artificially boost your sales, it is when you use campaign donations to do so, while also lining your own pockets.

At the very least, campaign finance experts say, Trump would have to forego any royalties on the sales. Federal campaign law says that, "campaign spending must not result in the conversion of campaign funds to the personal use of the candidate or any other person." Trump could donate any personal money he reaps from the sales to charity, potentially, but if history is any indication, he's not a big one for donating to charity.

The Trump campaign claims that the books were purchased for inclusion in the Republican Convention goodie bag, along with a ton of other Trump campaign paraphernalia. The swag bag also included plastic fetus figurines, which everybody always loves.  

News Thu, 25 Aug 2016 00:00:00 -0400
Temp Organizing Gets Big Boost From National Labor Relations Board

(Photo: UFCW International Union)Temporary workers can now organize along with direct employees and belong to the same bargaining unit, or form a separate bargaining unit composed only of temps. (Photo: UFCW International Union)

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Thanks to a National Labor Relations Board decision, workers employed by temporary staffing agencies may find it easier to organize and bargain.

The Board issued its long-awaited ruling last August in the case of Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI). The decision revamped the Board's test for what's considered a "joint employer," imposing new legal obligations on employers who hire through temp agencies and potentially also on giant corporate franchisors.

The new joint-employer standard provides a much more favorable legal framework for workers to form unions at temped-out warehouses, manufacturing and food processing plants, recycling facilities, hotels, and franchised janitorial services and fast food outlets.

Prior to this ruling, a factory that hired workers through a temp agency was not considered their employer and could not be compelled to bargain with the temps who worked at its plant.

The same standard would apply to a corporate franchisor like McDonald's, if it were found to be a joint employer along with the franchise owner.

Who Decides Conditions? 

The NLRB applied the new joint-employer test in a union election at BFI's California recycling facility, where all 240 low-wage sorters and screeners were hired through Leadpoint, a temporary staffing agency.

The temps had voted to join Teamsters Local 350, which already represents the 60 forklift operators and truckers directly employed by BFI.

The union argued that the temps should be considered jointly employed by both the temp agency and the recycling facility. As evidence, it pointed to contract terms that gave BFI control over the speed of the conveyor belts and the number of temp workers staffing the lines, as well as the right to discharge any agency worker.

Like many standard temp agency contracts, the agreement also limited the length of a temp's assignment to the facility, and capped the top wage the agency could pay. BFI argued that the temps were not its employees because they were supervised by onsite Leadpoint managers.

The Board sided with the union, finding that the temps' wages and conditions were co-determined by both businesses. It certified a bargaining unit that classified BFI and Leadpoint as joint employers, and ordered both bosses to negotiate with the union.

Temps Abound 

The BFI recycling facility is not unusual. In core industries and service sectors, staffing agency workers are everywhere.

Temp agencies accounted for more than 17 percent of net employment gains after the Great Recession of 2008.

The increase is most dramatic in the blue-collar and low-wage service sectors where "permatemps" are used to staff entire departments, job clusters, or facilities. In many auto assembly and parts plants, for example, temp agency workers account for more than half the workforce.

Temps are often paid as little as half of what regular employees make, with no benefits or paid holidays. For example, temps in the Chicago warehousing sector average $9 an hour, while direct hires average $12.48, almost 30 percent more. Thousands of employers now use temps this way, splitting their workforces into "core" and "contingent" segments.

Before the BFI decision, temps in these segmented workplaces were denied meaningful collective bargaining. They could not join the same bargaining unit as directly hired employees because, under federal law, they had two different employers.

Even in workplaces where temps made up a majority, the companies that actually controlled the terms and conditions of work weren't considered their employers, and therefore had no legal obligation to bargain.

And if temps engaged in concerted activity, the company could discharge them simply by requesting replacements from the staffing agency or by re-contracting with a different agency. Even if the workers were able to prove the temp agency committed an unfair labor practice, there would be no way to get rehired at the same company.

A New Day

Now -- assuming the ruling survives a federal court appeal -- all that has changed.

Temps can now organize along with direct employees and belong to the same bargaining unit or form a separate bargaining unit composed only of temps. In either case, if a union drive were successful, both the temp agency and the contracting employer would have to sit at the bargaining table.

Another important new NLRB ruling, Miller and Anderson, issued July 11, removes another legal obstacle that prevented temp workers and direct employees from belonging to the same bargaining unit, in workplaces where temps and standard employees work together. This decision eliminates the requirement -- reestablished by a Republican-controlled Board in 2004 -- that temp workers and direct hires could belong to the same bargaining unit only if the user employer and the temp agency both consented to that arrangement.

In addition, where joint-employer relationships exist, unions representing temps will now be able to take advantage of their right to picket and boycott both employers -- not just the temp agency. For instance, a union representing or campaigning to organize temps at Amazon distribution centers could picket Amazon facilities or corporate buildings, as well as the temp agency shape-ups where the temps are recruited, without being charged with secondary picketing.

Temps now have stronger legal protections against retaliation. Before BFI, if a certain temp at an auto plant was agitating for a union, the plant manager could simply order the temp agency to end the worker's assignment to this worksite -- and suffer no legal consequences, because the plant wasn't considered the temp's employer.

Now, the same action would be considered an unfair labor practice, permitting the Board to order the joint employers to rehire the temp worker with back pay and return him to his job at the auto plant.

Making use of the new ruling, immigrant Guatemalan temp workers won a union election last fall at a tire recycling business in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 328 now represents the temps in bargaining with the temp agency and the tire business.

The organizing campaign took off after the tire company fired three workers when they asked for a raise. Following a workplace protest, the three were rehired by the temp agency and tire business. One of the fired workers became a central leader of the organizing drive.

Fast Food Too

The Board's new joint-employer test may also be applicable to fast-food franchises, and to janitorial and hotel chains where the Board's control standard is met.

In the face of recent protests against low-wages, the fast-food giants have claimed that each local restaurant is the sole legal employer, even when the corporation dictates the particulars of the production process through franchise agreements and detailed manuals.

The Board's General Counsel has already issued unfair labor practice complaints naming McDonald's as a joint employer, along with a group of its franchisees, for retaliating against workers who protested against low wages and work conditions.

The complaints point out how McDonald's operations manual and computer system, which tracks labor costs and schedules employees, provide means of indirect, but substantial, corporate control over employment decisions. These have been consolidated into a massive case now being heard by an administrative law judge in the Board's New York office.

Organizing Possibilities

Going forward, the Labor Board will make joint-employer determinations on a case-by-case basis. Outcomes will turn on workers' and unions' ability to assemble a detailed picture of the mechanisms of control in the workplace.

This means that unions and worker centers will need to educate workers on the issue of control over the terms and conditions of employment. They'll need to gather evidence that the alleged joint employer co-determines such matters as schedules, overtime, the number of workers on the job, and the pace of work.

Further evidence will include franchise agreements and staffing agency contracts, which routinely set forth arrangements granting control over hiring, dismissal, work processes, and production standards to corporate franchises and businesses that hire temps.

These documents may also expose the hefty markups that temp agencies charge -- for instance, that the temp agency is receiving $20 an hour for an employee, and paying wages of just $10. Such information could be used to encourage temps and permanent employees to fight together for better wages and benefits.

Unions may now get access to these agreements at several points in the process of organizing:

  • in the context of proving joint employment, when the Board is determining the appropriate bargaining unit
  • when seeking evidence to prove an unfair labor practice
  • through information requests in the course of collective bargaining

The recycling center has appealed the BFI ruling to the federal circuit court in Washington, D.C. Whether or not this ruling survives appeal, many organizers agree that, to beat corporate divide-and-conquer, unions will need bring temps and direct employees together.

New book from Labor Notes: Secrets of a Successful Organizer is a step-by-step guide to building power on the job. "Full of so many creative examples and powerful rank-and-file stories, it makes you want to dive right in." Buy one today, only $15.

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