Bernie And The Donald Tapping Into A Reality Both Political Parties Refuse To Acknowledge

Most voters think the political system is rigged and corrupt. Trump and Sanders are not seen as creatures of the system.

By Mike McCabe

Blue Jean Nation (8/25/15)

Political pundits assume cooler heads will eventually prevail. They figure picking a president is more or less like picking a spouse. Voters might want to have a fling or two, but ultimately will settle on someone who is the marrying kind.

The handlers have their formula. Money plus organization equals victory. Results will follow the formula in the end. They are sure of it.

Party bosses are smugly confident in their ability to pull strings. Enough voters will support who the establishment wants them to support when all is said and done.

Or maybe not.

Consider that in both major parties, the biggest crowds and the most excitement and enthusiasm are being generated by the unlikeliest of characters.

Bernie Sanders calls himself a socialist, embracing an association that most political practitioners in America consider the kiss of death. Never mind that actual socialists don’t consider Sanders one of their kind. Or that others obsess over the distinction between democratic socialists (which they claim Sanders is) and socialists (which they say he is not). What he actually is or isn’t is beside the point. A great many people associate Sanders with the supposedly toxic term “socialist” and he doesn’t discourage it. And his popularity grows.

Donald Trump calls himself a savior. He boasts of his net worth and of his past purchases of politicians. To him every problem is but a high-stakes poker game, and all America needs is a Trump card, a dealmaker-in-chief who knows how to sell to the Chinese and how to build the wall of all walls sealing our southern border and make Mexico pay for it. Republican insiders don’t care to admit it, but Trump is the Frankenstein they themselves built. He is the reflection of noxious elements the GOP establishment eagerly invited into their ranks to construct governing majorities in states across the country and in Congress. That makes him the current Republican frontrunner in the race for the White House.

What they share in common

On the surface, Trump and Sanders appear to have absolutely nothing in common except for unruly hair and the way they say “huge” without the “h.” Dig a little deeper, and it’s clear there is at least one other thing they share.

In their own ways, both Trump and Sanders are birds of a different feather. They stand out from the crowd in their respective parties because they are so unlike all of the other politicians competing with them for the office they seek. Both have their own distinctive brand. Think of Donald Trump, and the last thing you think is Republican. What comes to mind is reality TV and “you’re fired” and casinos and skyscrapers bearing his name and that preposterous combover and one gigantic ego. Trump is his own brand. Bernie Sanders is unquestionably more understated, but no less unique than Trump. Think of Sanders, and you don’t think Democrat. Just as Trump says whatever he damn well pleases, Sanders is the guy on the other side who pulls no punches, who is unafraid of having his views characterized as socialism, and who openly talks of the need for revolution in America.

The pundits and party bosses and handlers will regard Trump and Sanders as passing fads. They will not likely be able to see that their fires are fed by the same fuel. Much is said about how divided we are, how politically polarized America is, how much Republicans hate Democrats and vice versa. Nothing is said about a much more important political phenomenon that is the wind in Trump’s and Sanders’ sails. Most Republican voters don’t care much for most Republican politicians, and most voters who have the habit of supporting Democrats have little use for most Democratic politicians. Trump and Sanders are nothing like most politicians. Most voters think the political system is rigged and corrupt. Trump and Sanders are not seen as creatures of the system.

It’s too early to tell if either Trump or Sanders has what it takes to ride growing intraparty self-loathing all the way to the White House. But for now, what’s clear is that they are both very skillfully tapping into something that the pundits and party bosses and handlers don’t get and will choose to ignore in hopes that it goes away.

Maybe it will. Or maybe, just maybe, it won’t.

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Bernie Sanders: High Drug Prices Are Killing Americans

Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world — by far.

By Sen. Bernie Sanders

The Huffington Post (8/29/15)

All across the country, Americans are finding that the prices of the prescription drugs they need are soaring. Tragically, doctors tell us that many of their patients can no longer afford their medicine. As a result, some get sicker. Others die.

A new Kaiser Health poll shows that most Americans think prescription drug costs in this country are unreasonable, and that drug companies put profits before people. Want to know something? They’re right.

Americans pay the highest prices for prescription drugs in the world — by far. Drug costs increased 12.6 percent last year, more than double the rise in overall medical costs. (Inflation in this country was 0.8 percent that year.)

Even before that, we spent nearly 40 percent more per person on prescriptions in 2013 than they did in Canada, the next most expensive industrialized country. Prescription drugs cost nearly five times more per person in this country than they did in Denmark that year.

This is not a partisan issue. Most Americans — Republicans, Democrats, and independents — want Congress to do something about drug prices. 86 percent of those polled, including 82 percent of Republicans, think drug companies should be required to release information to the public on how they set their prices. Large majorities support other solutions to the drug cost problem as well.

Health Care in America

(Daily Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2015. Open source and free to use with link to )

The Kaiser poll also showed that Republican voters care more about drug prices than they do about repealing Obamacare. They should. Republicans in Congress have tried to repeal that law so many times that it’s an embarrassment. It’s also a distraction from the very real health care problems our country faces. Millions of Americans still can’t see a doctor when they need one. Another poll showed that nearly one in five Americans didn’t fill a prescription because of cost.

Expect prices to go up 10% annually

That should not be happening in the United States of America — but it is. And it’s not likely to end anytime soon, unless we do something. Medicare is predicting that drug costs will continue to rise by nearly 10 percent per year for the next 10 years. Tens of thousands of Americans now spend more than $100,000 a year on prescription medication. One drug costs $1,000 per pill.

None of this has happened by accident. Our drug costs are out of control because that’s the way the pharmaceutical companies want it. Other countries have national health insurance like the Medicare For All plan I have proposed, and these national plans are able to negotiate better prices. In this country, however, drug lobbyists have been able to block Medicare from negotiating better prices on behalf of the American people.

Big Pharma fraud

The pharmaceutical industry is also riddled with fraud. As a result, the American people are ripped off to the tune of billions of dollars per year. Virtually every major pharmaceutical company in this country has either been convicted of fraud or has reached a fraud settlement. Offenses include price manipulation, kickbacks, and substandard manufacturing practices.

Between our government’s unwillingness to negotiate prices and its failure to effectively fight fraud, it’s no wonder drug prices are out of control. We need to do more.

Steps to reform

Here are some of the common-sense measures I will fight to see enacted into law:

  • We should end “pay for delay.” That’s the collusion which takes place between drug companies when the holder of a brand-name patent pays another drug company to hold off on manufacturing a generic substitute. Brand-name drugs cost ten times as much as generics, on average, and can cost as much as 33 times as much.
  • Congress should instruct the Secretary of Health and Human Services to negotiate drug prices with the pharmaceutical companies on behalf of Medicare. We should use our buying power to get better deals for the American people. Other countries do it; why aren’t we?
  • We should penalize drug companies that commit fraud. They seem to feel the same way big banks do: that paying fines and settlements is simply part of the cost of doing business. That needs to change. We should pass legislation which says that drug companies lose their government-backed monopoly on a drug if they are found guilty of fraud in the manufacture or sale of that drug.
  • We should also demand transparency from drug companies, who have been concealing the true cost of their research and development while at the same time taking tax breaks for it and using biased figures as an excuse for price gouging.
  • We should also make it easier to import lower-cost drugs from other countries. Years ago, I was the first member of Congress to take Americans across the border to Canada to purchase drugs at a fraction of the cost they were paying in the United States. They were able to buy breast cancer medication at far, far lower prices than what they were paying in our country. Americans should be able to do this online or by mail, provided they have the proper prescription from a physician.

Americans should not have to live in fear that they will go bankrupt if they get sick. People should not have to go without the medication they need just because their elected officials aren’t willing to challenge the drug lobby. The public is fed up, and they have a right to be fed up. It is time we joined the rest of the industrialized world — not only by enacting a national health care program, but by implementing prescription-drug policies that work for everybody, not just the CEOs of the pharmaceutical industry.

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Bernie Sanders’s Small-Beer Donors In The Big Money Casino

Image result for money

By The New York Times, Editorial Board (8/28/15)

As a measure of democracy, one of the more encouraging statistics of the 2016 presidential race is the fact that the average contribution to the long-shot campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders is $31.30. It would be hard to buy any politician for $31.30. That is exactly the message Mr. Sanders intends, in renouncing fat-cat, super PAC campaigning that is turning American politics into an exercise in plutocracy.

Americans of ordinary means have made 400,000 donations — about 80 percent of them were $200 or less — to Mr. Sanders. Contrast that with the appalling fact that fewer than 400 of the nation’s most affluent families, writing six- and seven-figure checks, account for almost half the money raised so far by both parties in the campaign, according to an analysis by The Times.

Revival of public financing of elections needed

The Sanders campaign, whatever its fate, has at least established that small-beer donors are alive and well and enthusiastic in America. What they and democracy need as a quid pro quo is a revival of the public financing system that protected politics after the corruption of the Watergate scandals.

As things stand now, the Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United decision has grossly boosted the buying power of corporate and special interest donors and made a casino frenzy of the race. The Koch brothers have proudly organized more than 400 of their wealthy allies to create a super war chest of $889 million for Republican candidates. The Jeb Bush campaign, pretending to remain at arm’s length from its supposedly independent super PACs, raised over $100 million so far in big-check donations. Hillary Rodham Clinton, aiming to stay competitive, has raised more than $20 million in super PAC money, much of it from millionaires, even as she pursues small-dollar donations and vows to do something about campaign reform.

The small donors carrying the Sanders campaign are a refreshing break from the egregious money bundlers. Gone missing, however, is the post-Watergate system of matching funds that leveled the playing field for less affluent candidates and worked well until Congress failed to update it, even though it was embraced for two decades by the major presidential candidates. George W. Bush broke with the system for more deep-pocket support in his 2000 primary victory, while President Obama was the first to turn away from it in a general election in 2008.

A worthy measure to restore public financing in presidential elections has been crafted by Representatives David Price and Chris Van Hollen and Senator Tom Udall. Regrettably, most congressional politicians may be too engaged at their own tables in the money casino to notice as runaway money again corrupts a presidential campaign.

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Save The Date For BobFest 2015 –Sept. 19th

Scan 30

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Walker Punts, Fumbles & Misses On Basic Question On Relations With Pakistan

Posted by Capper

Liberaland (8/30/15)

On Friday, just before he was to give his first major speech on foreign policy, Scott Walker appeared on Morning Joe on MSNBC to talk about that very subject. But when Walker was asked for specifics about Pakistan, he tried to punt and failed at even that:

In advance of his foreign policy address in South Carolina, Gov. Scott Walker was asked Friday morning about U.S.-Pakistan relations.

His answer was a little fuzzy.

Appearing on MSNBC’s Morning Joe, Walker was asked by Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin to assess the current state of relations between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Well, I think anywhere in the world we need to be better. We obviously have challenges all throughout the world,” Walker replied. “Heck, we even have challenges with a relationship with Israel, which is obviously one of our greatest allies out there. But we have ongoing challenges in Pakistan and Afghanistan, around the world. Again, it’s one of those where strength begets strength, confidence begets confidence.”

Halperin pressed Walker further, asking him to specifically rate the current strengths, weaknesses, positives and negatives in the relationship between the U.S. and Pakistan.

“Well, I think you look both in terms of Pakistan and Afghanistan, you look at — we talk all the time about ISIS and Al Qaeda. We still have ongoing concerns about the Taliban and their ability to regain strength,” Walker said. “That has a relationship between both Pakistan and Afghanistan. We need to make sure that any form, any form of radical Islamic terrorism that’s targeted at us or allies is one that we stand firm on. And those are still lingering problems, even in that part of the world.”

The gentle reminder is that this non-answer came after Walker boned up on foreign policy.

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Out-Trumping Trump: Now Walker Open To Building Wall Along Border With Canada

By Laura Barron-Lopez

The Huffington Post (8/30/15)

WASHINGTON — Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), a staunch advocate of beefing up security on the southern border, said Sunday he is open to building a wall on the U.S. border with Canada as well.

The Republican presidential candidate said the idea of building a northern wall was brought up to him during a recent town hall in New Hampshire.

“That is a legitimate issue for us to look at,” Walker said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Republicans typically take a tough approach on securing the southern border, but few have said a wall should also be built along the U.S.-Canada border.

Walker reasoned that it’s about much more than building a wall, arguing, “It starts with securing the homeland.”

“It wasn’t just about building a wall and securing our borders,” he said. “It was also about making sure our intelligence community has the ability for counterterrorism and the ability to go after the infrastructure they need to protect us.”

Talk of constructing a towering wall at the nation’s southern border became a hot topic for Republicans after the first GOP debate and consistent mention of it by Republican front-runner Donald Trump.

Trump has said he would build a “big, beautiful wall” on the border to keep undocumented immigrants out.

In fact, there is currently 700 miles of fencing along the southern border already, and apprehensions of those crossing illegally are at some of the lowest numbers they’ve been in the last decade.

Still, Walker stressed the need to “secure borders in general.”

“We spend all this money on TSA. But I think right now one of the most rampant spots is on our southern-based border,” he said.

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Busting The Myth Of The Food Desert: A Farmer’s Market In Milwaukee Sautés Statistics

By John Collins

in These Times (8/27/15)

By any economic measure the 53206 zip code—part of a 120 block neighborhood on Milwaukee’s north side—is among Wisconsin’s most struggling. Sixty-six percent of households earn less than $30,000 per year while the number of violent crimes and the rate of unemployment rank consistently higher than state and national averages. But how’s the food?

In 2009, a Community Food Assessment (CFA) found that in this community, where 96 percent of the people are African American, 89 percent of the food retailers were comprised of “convenience stores, gas stations, fast food restaurants and food pantries.” This reality, not unlike a Slurpee®, is cold and utterly lacking vitamins. But it’s not uncommon in low-income urban areas. Neither, of course, are the disproportionately higher rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease—maladies empirically linked to the prolonged consumption of exactly the cuisine one encounters at convenience stores, gas stations and fast food restaurants.

Science suggests people should eat fruits and vegetables

From May to November, however, the local Fondy Farmer’s Market, now in its 97th year, operates one of the largest and most culturally diverse open-air markets in the region—connecting the 53206 community (and surrounding neighborhoods with similarly dismal access to fresh produce) to 30 local farmers.

Now a growing trend nationally, Fondy became the first farmer’s market in Wisconsin to accept to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in the form of Electronic Benefit Cards (EBTs). Going against the standard “cash-only” business model practiced in many open-air markets (a technological headache, at first, for farmers selling their goods outside) has allowed more people access to fresh food. This applies not just to the families receiving SNAP assistance (53 percent in this Milwaukee community), but also to the 21st century consumer-at-large who’s been subconsciously phasing out cash in favor of plastic for years. In 2014, Fondy EBT sales totaled $43,392—10 times the national average of $4,628.

Stop calling it a food desert

The executive director of Fondy Farmer’s Market, Young Kim, is a second generation Korean American from the deep south—born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, than raised in Louisiana and North Carolina. With a background in social services, not agriculture, he’s been overseeing Fondy Market, a 501(c)(3), since 2003. Prior to moving to Wisconsin, Kim, was working with the homeless population in Seattle, Washington, which, in recent years, has become one of the largest in the nation. Reflecting on that experience, Kim says:

“I felt like I was running around inside a house, placing buckets of water to catch the raindrops coming through ceiling. But I didn’t feel like anybody was climbing up on the roof and fixing it.”

The metaphor speaks to a mindset Kim calls “institutional momentum.” He says a lot of organizations formed to address social issues should be actively trying to put themselves out of a job. Instead, they find themselves becoming a business.

“When you have a large non-profit, one of the ways to demonstrate legitimacy is to provide services to a lot of people,” says Kim. “But then you become a service organization [instead of an organization trying to correct a situation]. Before you know it, you’ve become an industry.”

Overcoming “institutional momentum” can seem counter-intuitive at first. So much so that Kim admits his initial approach to the issues facing the north side of Milwaukee was wrong.

“I called this neighborhood a ‘food desert,’ ” says Kim. “I thought wholesale change needed to happen and be forced on this neighborhood.”

“Food desert,” a term used to describe the lack of access to healthy things to eat in an urban area, is one Kim no longer uses. He explains:

“This is a very food opinionated culture. People take great pride in being called a good cook and it’s not a compliment batted around lightly. I’ve since learned that to do this kind of work the right way—for long-term affect—there needs to be a sharing of power. You have to back off and listen. A lot of the good ideas come from the neighborhood and our customers themselves.”

Culture and calories

As Mark Kurlansky writes in his 2002 book Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History, “Food is a central activity of mankind and one of the single most significant trademarks of a culture.”
And while the current state of American food culture (indeed much of it trademarked) remains hard to pin down—somewhere between $6 asparagus water and something called a Baconator—it might not be too late to rethink what we eat, why we eat it and where it comes from.

That mindset, as opposed to “institutional momentum,” informs Kim’s strategy. He says that every culture in Milwaukee has a healthy eating tradition and that it’s up to everyone to explore—to look back—and find their culinary heritage. Thus, cooking demonstrations, competitions and the interactive exchange of healthy recipes are an integral part of the Fondy Market mission.

Last July, while researching African-American cooking traditions prior to an upcoming weekend collard green competition, Kim came across a cookbook written by a woman during the Harlem Renaissance. Sifting through the pages, he was struck by a section in which the writer described how chickens would be raised specifically for frying, once a year, in the Spring.

“Of course back then you had to catch a chicken, kill it, pluck it, gut it and slice it up,” says Kim. “Then you had to use the fat you saved in a coffee can all year—you couldn’t go to a grocery store and buy a 5 gallon jug of canola oil. It was a once in a while thing, a celebration.”

When it comes to healthy eating, instant abundance can and does have some unintended cultural consequences. Presumably for as long as humans have lived in groups, whatever they most liked eating has been a driving part of how that culture defined itself. But while some things never change, technology does. In the age of the supermarket and driv-thru, mass-produced cultural favorites can now be purchased, indefinitely stored and consumed, in any quantity, courtesy of the frozen food aisle and/or 24-hour delivery window (the latter currently operated by people who, in the opinion of this reporter, will soon be replaced by robots blissfully undeterred by the concept of a livable wage).

“At some point a lot of the celebratory foods that were eaten as once-in-a-while treats became everyday foods,” says Kim. “In Mexican-American cuisine, for example, there’s the tamale. That used to be a very labor-intensive treat, involving whole families getting together to make them once or twice a year. Now, thanks to our industrialized food system, you can get all those ingredients and make them all the time. But that’s not healthy eating.”

Indeed, every culture has its favorites and while it’s safe to assume the celebratory foods we enjoy tasted every bit as good to our ancestors, it becomes important to remember the context of that food’s origins. Or better yet, how that context has changed. The fact is, most of the western hemisphere is doing less manual labor now than at any time in our past.

“People are starting to wake up to the fact that they’re not working on the farm anymore,” says Kim, “they’re maybe clicking a mouse, typing, standing up every now and then to go file something—we’re not using the same amount of calories as we were when these recipes were created. I think that there needs to be a return back to how our grand parents and great-grandparents ate.”

The foodies of 53206

Of course, any attempt to return to a more environmentally balanced, sensible diet is contingent upon access to fresh alternatives (to, say, Taco Bell’s Quesarito). But for that to happen, people in a community have to want options. According to Kim, his customers in Milwaukee very much do.

“The growing awareness and enthusiasm for good food has penetrated all levels of society,” he says. “The 53206 is struggling by every economic measure, but the conversations taking place here are sophisticated—I’m often asked, for example, if the corn we’re selling has been genetically modified.”

It isn’t. In 2010, the Fondy Farm Project was established to connect local farmers (many of them Hmong immigrants from Southeast Asia) with affordable plots and the agricultural infrastructure needed to grow organic produce for the market. (Located in rural Port Washington, just north of Milwaukee, a more thorough description of Fondy Farms can be read here.)

It stands to reason that a satisfactory relationship between a community and its food might be best established when residents understand (and trust) where their food comes from.

“I do think that local trumps organic,” says Kim in response to a question about the merits of sustainable farming, “I would rather eat a locally produced tomato that was grown 30 minutes away from me than an organic tomato from Mexico.”

“Agriculture hasn’t been kind to everybody”

Like many cities in the Midwest and Northeast, the majority of Milwaukee’s African-American population settled here during the Great Migration—a period between 1910 and 1970 when black people left the south in droves in hopes of putting centuries of enslavement and poverty behind them. That migration, perhaps put too simply, was motivated by a desire to get as far away from Southern farming traditions as possible.

“These people were being exploited through agriculture and there was a more modern way of life calling up north‑in Chicago, New York, Newark, Boston or Oakland and a lot of people made the conscious decision to leave it behind,” says Kim. “So when you reintroduce the idea of agriculture to people that live in this neighborhood, you can’t assume folks want to be involved with farming.”

Rural communities across the country were in no way immune to the pervasive 20th century march of brightly lit peddlers of readily available, affordable, overly-processed caloric garbage. But as our nation settles into the obese aftermath, the correlation between proximity to arable land and access to trustworthy food can’t be ignored. When it comes to suggesting a struggling African-American community should readily embrace local agriculture, neither can our collective history.

Alice’s Garden, an organization that teaches urban kids about the process and business of responsible agriculture, and The Walnut Way Conservation which, as part of its comprehensive approach to local economic development through education, operates multiple high production community gardens, have recently partnered with the Fondy Market. Together, these organizations are working to produce food while healing the rift between young people, their communities and misconceptions regarding the future of agriculture.

“This is not about somebody coming in from the suburbs and luring everybody into becoming a vegetarian,” says Kim. “We’re trying to get at [food] sustainability but, when I talk about that, I mean all three aspects of it: environmental, economic and cultural.”

A different kind of optimism

Farmer’s markets are spectacles and every city does it differently.

In Seattle, for example, in addition to purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables, open air markets are a good place for complete strangers to sort out who started drinking kombucha first and/or which chakras benefit most from having the Didgeridoo played over them—all while being while being serenaded by hit-or-miss tunes on a dulcimer.

Fondy Farmer’s Market mixes in some tunes also. In fact, they hit all of the familiar notes one might expect from a socially-conscious, eco-friendly organization—community, thinking local and sustainability are all part of the conversation. But it’s their let’s-make-this-taste-good approach and dogged commitment to implementing these buzzwords that make the market unique.

In November 2014, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor and founding director of the Center for Economic Development, Marc V. Levine, published Zipcode 53206: A Statistical Snapshot of Inner City Distress in Milwaukee: 2000-2012.The report’s findings—socio-economic census data illustrated with easy-to-understand bar graphs—were grim. Strictly according to the numbers, a decade-long attempt at social and economic revival of the neighborhood had failed on almost every front. “Unfortunately,” the report reads, “the trend lines in 53206 continue to point downward.” In other words, the report suggests that without major change in its economic development policies, the 53206 community is poised to disappoint the next academic analysis of its unemployment, poverty, housing and educational attainment metrics.

While such studies are important, perhaps even anthropologically crucial, they tell us next to nothing about the actual people on which the statistics are based. Last July, in response to Levine’s findings, John Linnen and Michael Gosman came to the defense of the 53206 in a Milwaukee Journal Sentinal opinion piece. They wrote:

“It’s certainly true that this ZIP code has challenges, and we take no issue with the study. But a statistical snapshot—by its very nature—can’t measure how individuals in this area approach life. There are Milwaukeeans fighting for and believing in the potential of this difficult area—challenging the “snapshot” and offering an alternate narrative of opportunity and optimism.”

How an individual approaches life is hard to study or measure because it’s constantly changing. The need for food, however, remains a constant and there are people working to make an alternate, more sustainable narrative real. “It’s like any social issue,” says Young Kim, “once the wool has been pulled from your eyes, you can’t pull it back over them.”

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World Cup Corruption: The Bigger Scandal

Scan 7

(Daily Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2015. Open source and free to use with link to )

In the shadow of Qatar’s new soccer stadium, Nepali migrant workers face exploitation, injury, and death.

By Seema Rajouria

The American Prospect (7/6/15)

Ganesh Bishwakarma left for Qatar in 2013 to join the thousands of migrant workers hired to work on construction projects for the 2022 FIFA World Cup. He had a dream of earning enough to build a comfortable life for himself and his impoverished family in the Dang District of Nepal. Six weeks later, he was back home, in a coffin. The 16-year-old had died of cardiac arrest, leaving his grief-stricken family with a lost son, in deeper poverty than before. His dream had taken him on a journey of exploitation and deceit, involving a fake passport, extortionate recruitment fees, and huge debt—typical of what faces Nepali migrant workers.

Two recent events briefly focused the world’s attention on the plight of Nepali workers in Persian Gulf states, mainly Qatar. First were the terrible earthquakes that rocked Nepal on April 25 and May 12, killing more than 8,000 people and razing many villages that are a source of migrant labor. Many such workers were barred from returning home to help in the devastation and perform the last rites for their loved ones because of their terms of employment, which leave them at the mercy of employers who take away their passports and often withhold wages owed. The working conditions are grim, frequently 12 hours a day.

According to Tek Bahadur Gurung, Nepal’s labor minister, his government formally asked construction companies in Qatar to permit Nepali workers to return home after the April 25 earthquake, and to contribute airfare. But workers on World Cup sites were not permitted to go. The Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy, the body overseeing World Cup projects in Qatar, reported that more than 500 Nepali workers were given temporary leave—out of more than 400,000 Nepalese working on the project.

Qatar, like other Gulf states, applies what’s known as the kafala system of indentured servitude, which limits the rights of movement for foreign workers. This has led to widespread exploitation, with workers’ passports being seized when they reach their destination. The system ties them to their employers for a set period, and they cannot change their job without permission.

The second attention-grabbing event that briefly focused attention on migrant workers in the Gulf was the construction of the stadiums that Qatar is building for the 2022 World Cup. The prosecution of senior FIFA officials for taking bribes raised the question of how the world football federation could have possibly awarded the 2022 soccer tournament to Qatar, a despotic nation with horrific summer heat.

A death every two days

The construction of the stadiums has attracted thousands of Nepali migrant workers to Qatar. All told, some 1.4 million migrants, mostly Nepalese and other South Asians, are working on a $200 billion construction spree. The Nepalese, the largest single national group, typically travel to Doha after borrowing money from family and friends, and often after paying corrupt recruiters. When they arrive, they typically find that the wages and working conditions are far from what was offered. Instead, they are in a status akin to indentured servitude. The Guardian conducted an undercover investigation and found out that Nepali migrant workers are dying at a rate of one person every two days. They are mostly young men who suffer heart attacks or heart failures, or die from workplace incidents or from working in temperatures that are higher than 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit).

I am a former journalist in Nepal. I’ve worked for donors and civil-society organizations working in human rights and economic development. Filling out the departure form at Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport, I was approached by a hesitant middle-aged man from the Terai region of Nepal, asking for help in filling out his own form. The man could hardly read and could not write. He was going as a migrant laborer to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), he said, to work in “some” factory, doing “something.” He did not know the details.

I asked him why he was leaving the comforts of home to go to a strange country for a couple of thousand Nepali rupees. “To make the lives of my family better,” he said. This is the standard answer of almost all the young and middle-aged men and the few women who leave their country every day. The National Population and Housing Census of 2011 places the absentee population of Nepal at more than 1.9 million, nearly 7 percent of Nepal’s total population of about 30 million. Most of these Nepalese are migrant laborers, and some 300,000 leave their homeland to seek work every year. Emigration from Nepal has increased by 37 percent in the past two years.

Nepal underwent a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006, and is still grappling to find an economic and political foothold. The biggest challenge has been creating enough jobs for its ever-increasing youth population. The exact unemployment rate in the country is debatable, but the figure is estimated to be around 46 percent. And 25.2 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.

Lost boy

The combination of poverty and unemployment is why the only international airport in the country is full of people like the weary and lost man who approached me. This was not the first time someone had approached me, and it would not be the last, either. Another time a few years ago at the New Delhi airport, I met a young boy who had been turned away from immigration in Qatar and was totally bewildered, with not a cent in his pocket. When he got into the airport in Qatar, the most common destination for Nepali migrant workers, the immigration officials did not let him through because his papers were not legal.

The overseas recruitment company to which he had paid more than 100,000 Nepali rupees (about $1,000) in order to get a job in Qatar had apparently duped him. He was stuck in New Delhi with no money to fly back to Nepal. I often wonder what became of him. He was handed fake contract papers by the recruitment agency that exploited his poverty and innocence, very likely putting him into significant debt. (The labor agreement between Nepal and Qatar forbids recruitment fees, but recruitment agencies charge up to $1,500 per person.)

Qatar is an attractive destination because of the promise of higher wages and potentially skilled work. The government of Nepal tries to set minimum wages for Nepalese migrant laborers based on skill levels. It seeks to persuade the government of Qatar to enforce these wage standards, but they are routinely violated. Even so, the promised wages are generally higher than anything on offer on Nepal; they act as a magnet. Direct flights from Kathmandu to Doha also make it an easily accessible destination for Nepali workers. Now there are multiple flights every day that take migrant workers to Doha. …

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Many Police Departments Secretly Spy On You Without Oversight. This Must End

Stingray phone trackers are so controversial that some state legislatures have passed laws restricting their use – which is why police want to keep it secret.

By Trevor Timm

The Guardian (8/26/15)

Local police around the country are increasingly using high-tech mass surveillance gear that can vacuum up private information on entire neighborhoods of innocent citizens – all to capture minor alleged criminals. Even worse, many cops are trying to put themselves outside the reach of the law by purposefully hiding their spying from courts to avoid any scrutiny from judges.

Two important news reports from the last week have shed light on the disturbing practices, and new technology that’s never been previously reported. The first investigation, done by USA Today’s Brad Heath, found:

“In one case after another … police in Baltimore and other cities used the phone tracker, commonly known as a stingray, to locate the perpetrators of routine street crimes and frequently concealed that fact from the suspects, their lawyers and even judges.”

Stingrays facilitate a particular controversial and invasive form of surveillance, where the police essentially own a roving, fake cell phone tower that force all the cell phones in its vicinity to connect to it. They then vacuum up the cell phone data of their suspect, as well as that of potentially hundreds of innocent citizens. Police departments have previously claimed they would only use it in “emergencies,” but as predicted by nearly everyone, those vows have almost immediately went out the window once they got their hands on the technology.

Extreme secrecy

Stingrays are so controversial that some state legislatures have already passed laws restricting their use – which is exactly why police want to keep it secret. Police and the FBI have claimed extreme secrecy is needed to prevent alleged criminals from finding out about how they use the devices, but they are so well-known at this point that they’ve been featured in virtually every major newspaper in the country. The real reason they want to keep them secret is to protect them from judges ruling their use illegal, as well as from state legislatures cracking down on them.

Stingrays are expensive, costing police departments hundreds of thousands of dollars (when they don’t get a grant from the federal government to get them for free). But the ability to secretly track untold numbers of cell phones is getting much cheaper still, as a second-generation of products is now coming to the market.

The Wall Street Journal also reported last week about newer devices costing as little as a few hundred dollars with ominous sounding names like the “Jugular” and “Wolfhound.” While, thanks to all the restrictive secrecy around them, it’s still unclear exactly how they work, we do know that they use radio waves to find cell phones and that the police supposedly don’t think they require a court order at all to use against potential suspects. They’re also smaller than Stingrays, which fit into the back of a van. These devices are handheld or can be attached to clothing.

“We can’t disclose any legal requirements associated with the use of this equipment,” a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Police told the Wall Street Journal. “Doing so may disclose how we use it, which, in turn, interferes with its public-safety purpose.”

Assault on the Constitution

This is not only potentially illegal – defendants have the Sixth Amendment right to know how evidence was gathered against them – but keeping the legal rationale for surveillance hidden is also an absurd concept. It’s like saying the fact that a warrant is required for the police to wiretap your phone should be a state secret, and the Fourth Amendment – instead of being enshrined in the Constitution – should be redacted from public view.

Not only are these cops violating the constitutional rights of defendants by spying on them without court orders, but, in some cases, they’re also allegedly dismissing felony cases involving potentially dangerous criminals, so they can prevent judges from ruling on whether their surveillance tactics are legal. The USA Today reported that the Baltimore police quickly dropped a kidnapping charge without explanation when their tactics might have been revealed.

Think about that for a moment: rather than be upfront about their surveillance methods to prosecutors, defendants and judges – like is required by law – they are purposefully letting serious alleged criminals go free, all to continue their blanket surveillance practices with minimal scrutiny.

All of this is especially disturbing considering the recent reports – confirmed by the government’s own documents – that both the Department of Homeland Security and local police departments are closely monitoring peaceful activists in the #BlackLivesMatter movement, in some cases with police counterterrorism officers. If local police departments are willing to use these powerful devices on minor criminals, in many cases without court orders, and have no problem hiding their practices from judges, what’s the prevent them from spying on citizens merely expressing their First Amendment rights? The answer seems to be nothing, and that is exactly why this reckless snooping must end.

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These Former Debt Collectors Decided To Ditch The Industry, Buy Up Medical Debt, And Forgive It

People coming together for crowd-funding for debt relief is becoming an increasingly popular trend.

By Araz Hachadourian

Yes!~ Magazine (8/20/15)

When Paola Gonzalez received a phone call from RIP Medical Debt, she was certain what she heard was a mistake. A prank, maybe. The caller said a $950 hospital bill had been paid for in full: It would not affect her credit and she wouldn’t have to worry about it again. “They wanted to pay a bill for me,” she said. “I was just speechless.”

The 24-year-old student from Roselle Park, New Jersey, has lupus, a chronic autoimmune disease that in 2011 put her in and out of hospitals for a year. Even with insurance she faces a barrage of medical bills that often get pushed aside. “I can’t always work,” Gonzalez said. “I’ll be fine today and sick tomorrow. It’s really amazing that people would help out like this.”

Gonzalez is one of many people who have had a debt paid by RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit founded by  two former debt collectors, Jerry Ashton and Craig Antico, that buys debt on the open market and then abolishes it, no strings attached. In the year since RIP Medical Debt started, the group has abolished just under $400,000, according to Antico. On July 4, it launched a year-long campaign to raise $177,600 in donations, which it will use to abolish $17.6 million of other people’s debt.

Medication or the water bill?

Millions of people are, in Ashton’s words, “sitting at the kitchen table and you have to decide, ‘Do I buy medication today or do I pay the water bill or do I pay the debt collector?’… We decided we should take the debt collector out of the equation.”

It works like this: typical collection agencies will buy debts from private practices, hospitals, and other collection agencies that don’t find it worthwhile to pursue the debt themselves. The buyers often get a steal, buying a debt for pennies on the dollar while charging the debtor the full amount, plus additional fees.

According to a 2013 report from the Federal Trade Commission, from 2006-2009 the nine biggest debt collection companies purchased about $143 billion of consumer debt for less than $6.5 billion; 17 percent of it was medical.

Antico and Ashton are plugged into the same marketplace. They say that with the money they raise, they buy the debt for around one percent of the amount it’s worth (when debtors settle directly with collection agencies, they pay an average of 60 percent of the loan.) Then, they forgive it.

Some debt-sellers find the cash in hand more valuable. Some doctors want the debt forgiven to help maintain a relationship with their patients.

Ashton worked in the debt collections business for more than 30 years. As he learned about its tactics, he was moved to start his own consulting firm with the goal of keeping people out of collections. He said the industry treated debts as “commodities” and sold them for a profit while the debtor struggled to pay off the full amount. “That I find to be unconscionable,” says Ashton.

He was inspired to rethink debt by the Occupy Wall Street movement and its offshoot, Strike Debt, which started the Rolling Jubilee, a program that began buying debt and abolishing it in October 2012.

Medical debt contributed to almost 60 percent of the bankruptcies in the United States in 2013. So when Rolling Jubilee shifted its focus to student loans, Ashton and Antico decided to pick up the torch.

“You don’t wake up one morning and decide to have a $150,000 mastectomy,” says Ashton. “This is not elective debt.”

For people with chronic illness, like Gonzalez, or those who require extended care, the prospect of a growing pile of debts that cannot be paid is simply frightening. For many, it leads to neglect of care they need: an estimated 25 million adults will not take medicine as prescribed because they cannot afford it; others will avoid the doctor altogether.

This is why RIP Medical debt sees the outstanding bills not just as unpaid, but ultimately unpayable. When buying debts, Ashton and Antico seek out patients whose payments create an immense burden—patients who either earn twice below the national poverty level or whose payments would require five percent or more of their income. They work with the hospitals and medical practices when purchasing debt portfolios to identify debtors who need aid the most.

A sick system

Many of the people who need aid are not properly identified when they go through a hospital registration process. According to Antico, typically 5-10 percent of all hospital cases are uncompensated. When those who cannot pay are billed, those bills often turn into unpaid debts. “This is a systemic issue. It’s not their fault they got sick and incurred debt,” says Antico. “You can’t imagine how bad they feel and they shouldn’t have to.”

Crowd-funding for debt relief is becoming an increasingly popular trend. Back in 2002, a church in Virginia got together to eliminate its members credit card debts. Rolling Jubilee has abolished nearly $32 million in loans since it began. A UK man even tried to crowd-fund a bailout for Greece, raising almost €2 million from strangers by pointing out that Greece’s €1.6 billion debt simmers down to €3 from every European.

RIP Medical Debt has been criticized by some within the debt abolition movement for structuring itself as a nonprofit organization that pays for work (though Ashton and Antico work as volunteers, they pay outside contractors for things like website maintenance and design); whereas the above efforts and the original Rolling Jubilee focused entirely on grassroots organization and mutual aid.

Still, Ashton and Antico see potential for the project as an opportunity people to help their community. “I think everybody giving to everybody is how we should approach this,” Antico says.

As for Gonzalez, while she is excited and grateful for the bill that was paid, her ongoing condition means she still has a lot of debt to get through. Right now she’s focused on avoiding bankruptcy and managing the bill from her primary doctor while the others are pushed to the side. “I just hope that eventually I’ll be able to pay it off,” she said. “This is the first time I’ve been healthy for a couple months straight so I hope that it stays that way.”

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‘Call’ Readers Write — While Walker Spends $2.4 Million On Security…

Last week I was having a beer on the pedestrian mall in downtown Burlington, Vt. (after a Citizen’s Climate Lobby visit at Senator Leahey’s office) when Bernie Sanders walked briskly by a few feet from where I was sitting, accompanied by a single office staffer.  So refreshing!

Tom Wilson

Viroqua, WI

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Dept. Of Much Needed Humor — Ouch! Pope Cleans Up Dead Angel Who Flew Into Sistine Chapel Window


The Onion (8/31/15)

VATICAN CITY—Hurrying outside after hearing a disturbingly loud thud against the side of the church, Pope Francis was reportedly left to clean up the remains of a dead angel Monday that flew straight into one of the Sistine Chapel’s windows.

“It’s really sad; it seems like one of these guys crashes into a window at least once a week,” said the pontiff, who appeared visibly distressed while sweeping up the feathers scattered around the angel’s lifeless body. “Most of the time, their necks break and they die instantly, but once in a while they’re still twitching a bit. That’s when I find it’s best to put them out of their misery with a shovel.”

At press time, the Bishop of Rome was attempting to scrape off an angel splattered on the windshield of the Popemobile.

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Tuesday / September 1, 2015

(See “Small-Beer Donors In The Big Money Casino”, below.)

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Monday / August 31, 2015

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Fellow Democratic Worker Bees—To Defeat The Corporate Dems All We Gotta’ Do Is Stand Up And Not Play The Game

The only way we will ever get rid —or the attention — of these corporate democrats is to make their pro corporate votes sting.
Time to get mad as a hornet.
And Buzz awhile.

By Dennis Brault
The Daily Call (8/31/15)

As I reflect back on my decision to not allow the yoke of chairmanship of the Vernon County Democratic Party to interfere with my party activism I am reminded of two great memes I saw recently on Facebook. The first is from the movie War Games where the lesson learned from Tic-Tac-Toe and thermo-nuclear war is the only way guaranteed to win was not to play:

strange game

And likewise with Tic-Tac-Toe, so is it with party politics. The corporate dems are running both the state and national party. The game they want me to play is to blindly give them my support because they have a “D” behind their name. I will do that no longer.

The only way I can win this political game is to withhold my support from those politicians I feel have betrayed their oath of office and/or their constituents. I will do no work that will support their re-election efforts.

One candidate I’m completely disappointed in is Congressman Ron Kind. His support for fast-track authority, which unconstitutionally gifts sole legislative power to the president. The power to rewrite our labor, environmental, copyright, banking health and safety laws into compliance with at least three secretive pro corporate trade treaties now in negotiation. The TPP, TTIP and TISA treaties. These treaties also eliminate the sovereignty of our American courts when dealing with multi-national corporations, giving the final say to world court tribunal made up of three corporate attorneys.

Add to that Rep. Kind’s support for chained CPI which will lower everyone’s future Social Security benefits. Throw in his support for amending parts of Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act in such a way as to let banks gamble on certain derivatives with taxpayer backing, thereby putting Americans on the hook for $trillions.

I am also disappointed with Congressman Kind’s continued co-chairing of the Third Way, a Wall Street creation that just wants both parties to get along and cut/gut Social Security, Medicare and other social programs. Then of course privatize them, list them on Wall Street and let the investment bankers of the Third Way keep the profits from the middleman’s take. This will lead to increased cost to taxpayers as someone has to pay the middleman’s fees.

As if one membership in a pro Wall Street organization wasn’t enough to concern me, Rep. Kind is also the Chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, about which the Huffington post writes, they’ve “sold their souls to the business lobby in exchange for generous campaign contributions and future jobs as lobbyists.” Congressman Kind’s support for legislation, which is often written by the bankers themselves, that only benefits the 1% and will hurt families across the Third Congressional District is shameful.

Another democrat I’m disappointed in is State Sen. Jennifer Shilling. I was willing to overlook her not signing a letter opposing fast-track authority. While these pending trade treaties will adversely affect Wisconsinites, the issue is federal and I figure she had plenty of other pressing issues to deal with, like the disastrous Walker budget. So she may not have been as informed on the trade issue as I would have hoped.

However, Sen. Shilling’s vote in favor of putting taxpayers in Wisconsin on the hook for $400million  including interest and overruns for a new Milwaukee Bucks stadium, was the straw that broke my support. All so a few politically connected billionaires could have the taxpayers pay for half of their new stadium by holding the team’s fate hostage.

The yoke of chairmanship carries with it responsibilities that would force me to help these candidates that I can no longer personally support. As chair of the county party it would be my responsibility to create several fundraisers this year and next to assure the county party has enough funds for ads, signs, office space, internet and phones going into next year’s Presidential, Senate, Congressional, State Senate and Assembly elections. Not to mention the local spring and primary elections.

The only way out of this bind is not to play. So in July, I resigned as Vernon County Chair. At the county party’s August meeting none of the members present wanted to be chair and I was the only one nominated. I agreed to act as an interim chair until the party elects a new one. Hopefully, someone will take off my yoke at our September 13th meeting, 2 p.m., at Borgens in Westby.


This second meme is perfect. The monopolists playing their greedy game on the backs of everyone else. And all we gotta’ do is stand up and not let them play their game anymore.

This is the type of political activism I hope to soon employ. What would happen if many of the worker bees (those that make the calls, signs, buttons, staff the offices and walk the walks and do the lit drops) were to stop working for democratic candidates whose key votes they question; votes that make the worker bees, that make campaigns possible, wonder if these dems aren’t more properly labeled Republican-lite or corporatecrats. What if the bees stand up and refuse to play the game?

Sure, it could be game over for these corporate democratic candidates, because without the support of all those hardworking bees the Republican candidate has a better chance of winning. Win or lose, either way the bees will have sent a powerful message and held their corporate democratic reps accountable. If a Republican should win, then the next election the bees must make sure a Progressive Democrat is running and then work their tails off to get that progressive candidate elected.

Time to buzz my fellow worker bees. The only way we will ever get rid — or the attention of these corporate democrats is to make their pro corporate votes sting. Time to get mad as a hornet. And Buzz awhile. Buzzzzzzzzzzzz.



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