Saturday, June 24, 2017

When Will The Drip, Drip, Drip Of Putin-Gate Drive Trump From Office?


Trump is obsessed with Putin-Gate-- and for good reason. He knows what he’s done. He knows it’s just a matter of time before Mueller exposes him. So he tweets away when no one’s around to keep him calm and he screeches and rages at the White House TV sets, even in front of witnesses. Now he’s blaming his chief White House lawyer, Donald McGahn for not containing Putin-Gate before it got so messy and so embarrassingly public. In it’s June 12 poll, PPP reported-- and other polls have corroborated-- that most voters think Trump has obstructed justice and is dishonest and do not trust the congressional Republicans to get to the bottom of Putin-Gate.

The special report that Greg Miller wrote for the Washington Post Friday night probably sent him into another breakdown-- Obama’s Secret Struggle To Punish Russia For Putin’s Election Assault. “Early last August,” wrote Miller, “an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried ‘eyes only’ instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides. Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives-- defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump… The post-election period has been dominated by the overlapping investigations into whether Trump associates colluded with Russia before the election and whether the president sought to obstruct the FBI probe afterward. That spectacle has obscured the magnitude of Moscow’s attempt to hijack a precious and now vulnerable-seeming American democratic process.”
Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

But at the highest levels of government, among those responsible for managing the crisis, the first moment of true foreboding about Russia’s intentions arrived with that CIA intelligence.

The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President’s Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report’s distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.

It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA’s view. Only in the administration’s final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August-- that Putin was working to elect Trump.

…[I]n late December, Obama approved a modest package combining measures that had been drawn up to punish Russia for other issues-- expulsions of 35 diplomats and the closure of two Russian compounds-- with economic sanctions so narrowly targeted that even those who helped design them describe their impact as largely symbolic.

Obama also approved a previously undisclosed covert measure that authorized planting cyber weapons in Russia’s infrastructure, the digital equivalent of bombs that could be detonated if the United States found itself in an escalating exchange with Moscow. The project, which Obama approved in a covert-action finding, was still in its planning stages when Obama left office. It would be up to President Trump to decide whether to use the capability.

In political terms, Russia’s interference was the crime of the century, an unprecedented and largely successful destabilizing attack on American democracy. It was a case that took almost no time to solve, traced to the Kremlin through cyber-forensics and intelligence on Putin’s involvement. And yet, because of the divergent ways Obama and Trump have handled the matter, Moscow appears unlikely to face proportionate consequences.

Those closest to Obama defend the administration’s response to Russia’s meddling. They note that by August it was too late to prevent the transfer to WikiLeaks and other groups of the troves of emails that would spill out in the ensuing months. They believe that a series of warnings-- including one that Obama delivered to Putin in September-- prompted Moscow to abandon any plans of further aggression, such as sabotage of U.S. voting systems.

…Beset by allegations of hidden ties between his campaign and Russia, Trump has shown no inclination to revisit the matter and has denied any collusion or obstruction on his part. As a result, the expulsions and modest sanctions announced by Obama on Dec. 29 continue to stand as the United States’ most forceful response.

“The punishment did not fit the crime,” said Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia for the Obama administration from 2012 to 2014. “Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy-- electing our president. The Kremlin should have paid a much higher price for that attack. And U.S. policymakers now-- both in the White House and Congress-- should consider new actions to deter future Russian interventions.”

The Senate this month passed a bill that would impose additional election-- and Ukraine-related sanctions on Moscow and limit Trump’s ability to lift them. The measure requires House approval, however, and Trump’s signature.

…The FBI had detected suspected Russian attempts to penetrate election systems in 21 states, and at least one senior White House official assumed that Moscow would try all 50, officials said. Some officials believed the attempts were meant to be detected to unnerve the Americans. The patchwork nature of the United States’ 3,000 or so voting jurisdictions would make it hard for Russia to swing the outcome, but Moscow could still sow chaos.

…Obama confronted Putin directly during a meeting of world leaders in Hangzhou, China. Accompanied only by interpreters, Obama told Putin that “we knew what he was doing and [he] better stop or else,” according to a senior aide who subsequently spoke with Obama. Putin responded by demanding proof and accusing the United States of interfering in Russia’s internal affairs.

In a subsequent news conference, Obama alluded to the exchange and issued a veiled threat. “We’re moving into a new era here where a number of countries have significant capacities,” he said. “Frankly, we’ve got more capacity than anybody both offensively and defensively.”

There were at least two other warnings.

Trump immediately tried to undo everything Obama did to sanction Russia. But he got caught and was forced to slow down… a bit. Putin got his primary objective-- the weakest, most easily controlled and most unfit, ineffective and ignorant leader in American history.

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DCCC-- Never Too Busy To Protect Paul Ryan's House Seat In Wisconsin-- It's In Their DNA Now


That’s an old Blue America radio spot we ran against Paul Ryan at some point in the distant past. As you may know, Randy Bryce isn’t the first Democrat to go up against Ryan. In 2000, 2002, 2004 and 2006 Ryan's Democratic challenger was Jeffrey Thomas, a retired orthopedic surgeon from Ryan's hometown of Janesville. The Ryan-friendly Thomas' only issue for his first three runs was healthcare and he never quite cracked a third of the vote, but in 2006 he ran against Ryan's shady relationship with Republican corruptionists Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay and went all the way to 37%. In 2006 Ryan raised over $1.6 million and Thomas, who always refused to raise money for campaigns, spent $5,000 of his own. He was the ideal candidate for a DCCC uninterested in offering Ryan any kind of a challenge.

In 2008 Obama won Ryan’s district, 51-48%. Predictably (albeit irrationally), the DCCC had refused to back the Democratic candidate that year, Margaret Krupp, and she was only able to spend $134,042 against the $2,251,389 Ryan spent. He took 64.0% of the vote to her 34.7%. The following cycle, there was a lot of excitement about building on Obama’s win and finding a strong candidate to the on Ryan. The DCCC, in no uncertain terms, told Wisconsin politicians that they shouldn’t waste their time. A progressive activist, Paulette Garin, a member of the National Single Payer Alliance and the Wisconsin state Coordinator for both Progressive Democrats of America and the Leadership Conference for Guaranteed Health Care, stood up anyway. Paulette spent almost all of her time campaigning for healthcare reform rather than for Congress but in August, 2009, she faced off against Ryan in the only contest he agreed to participate in-- a goat-milking event at the Racine County Fair. Paulette beat him.

Maybe that made the DCCC nervous, because they smacked her down like a ton of bricks falling on her head. How dare she! She had only raised $3,549 in the primary. The DCCC found their own candidate to run against her, someone they were quite certain would offer no threat to Ryan, and put up John Heckenlively, a hugely oversized unemployed man who lived in his parents basement. After the DCCC worked to sabotage Garin and deliver the nomination to Heckenlively, they promptly abandoned the district and “their” candidate, who went on to raise just $12,066 and accrue just 30% of the vote (two years after Obama had won the district with 51%). That's the DCCC. They've been protecting Ryan's reelection bids every 2 years since 2000. I'm sure there must be a great reason and maybe Pelosi will tell us in her memoir someday.

When we set out to recruit a candidate for the 2018 cycle, we were fully aware that the DCCC would, once again, do whatever they had to do to keep Ryan in his seat. And so were all the local elected officials. Each one of them passed on the race. Finally, progressive state Senator Chris Larson and former candidate Rob Zerban each suggested I call union activist and progressive stalwart Randy Bryce. So I did. He told me he was leaning towards running and that the Wisconsin Working Families Party was urging him to as well. I started to get to know him and I could see immediately that Randy was not going to be another childish, wishy-washy moderate in the Ossoff mold. This was a fully-mature, independent-minded working class family man with a life of experience that has shaped his political perspectives. No one was ever going to have to persuade him that a living wage is better than a minimum wage or that single payer health care is the way to go. Bryce had long ago come to those conclusions and he’s been doing the persuading for years. In 2016, he had been a Bernie activist and a Bernie surrogate-- and after Hillary won the primary, he was a Wisconsin state elector for Hillary.

You probably know by now that he declared his candidacy last Monday. On Monday morning he had 7,200 twitter followers. His introductory video caught fire-- hundreds of thousands of views in the first few days-- and his twitter following rocketed past 85,000. Requests for local and national press started flooding in. The first member of Congress to endorse him was Ro Khanna, an economic populist, who said "We need leaders connected to the community who can speak with authenticity about the need for universal healthcare, better wages, and good jobs. Randy has a bold vision that is rooted in his life experience. It's heartening to see people like Randy step up to serve. That is what our founders envisioned."

But the DCCC wasn’t buying any of it. They immediately started looking around for their own “candidate” to set up as a shill to force Randy to spend his funds in a primary. Now there’s some stolen galore guy from somewhere-- Ohio or Florida-- that’s not WI-01 or even Wisconsin running and EMILY’s List quickly dug up one of their identity politics offerings-- a woman version of Heckenlively. Suddenly a battalion of silly Hillary dead-enders was swarming all over twitter spreading their poison. No one paid much attention and an interview with Randy by Sarah Jones in the New Republic made a mockery of all their lies.

Sarah: Tell me why you decided to challenge Paul Ryan.

Randy: I’m a lifelong resident of Southeastern Wisconsin. I graduated from public schools, went into the Army after that. When I came back, I was diagnosed with cancer and I didn’t have insurance, and now it’s considered a preexisting condition. I worked sometimes two full-time jobs to make ends meet. Finally, I joined the union, the Ironworkers Union, which had an apprenticeship. I got my journeyman’s card and I’ve been doing that for 20 years now. As I drive through the district I can look and see, “I worked on that, I built that.” So literally I spent the last 20 years of my life building the district. Looking over at Paul Ryan, I’m wondering what he’s been doing.

Things have been taken away from us. Autoworkers used to have a lot of great-paying jobs building cars. Right now they’re tearing down the UAW plant-- the General Motors plant-- in Kenosha, there’s a huge abandoned facility in Janesville, and some of the best-paying jobs in Waukesha County are going up to Canada.

People are working harder these days and having less to show as a result for it. Paul Ryan hasn’t been in the district for a town hall in over 600 days and it’s time to make a change. If I can’t perform my job I get fired at work. And it’s time to get someone who can do the job Paul Ryan was hired to do.

Sarah: How will your experience with the union influence your campaign?

Randy: I see this as an opportunity to create stewardship, to look out for the rest of the people in the community. Just like I’ve done as a member of the union’s executive board. It’s about taking care of people, and making sure that they’re heard, and that people are treated fairly. Nobody’s been heard, and that’s the biggest complaint right now.

Donald Trump won an area in Kenosha that had traditionally been Democratic, but people are waking up and they’re seeing that it was all talk. They have buyer’s remorse now. I’m a working person, I don’t play one in a video. That’s my life, and I’ve always stood with working people. That’s where I’m coming from. The majority of the people in this district are working people. They’re not corporate donors, and that’s who Paul Ryan’s been spending most of his time with.

Sarah: Do you support the Fight for 15 campaign?

Randy: I do, and I’ve been at numerous actions on behalf of providing people a livable wage. I feel strongly that anyone who works a full-time job deserves the freedom to be able to stand on their own two feet.

Sarah: Your first ad focused prominently on health care. Do you support single-payer health care?

Randy: I do. I am convinced we need to move towards single-payer. It works every place else. There are improvements that need to be done with Obamacare, but to completely remove it and the protections that are in place, I see that as the wrong way to go.

Sarah: Can you tell me a little bit about how you decided that your first ad would be about health care and that you would feature your mother?

Randy: Well, it’s one of the issues that’s intergenerational. The Ironworkers are self-insured, so it’s based on hours worked. So especially during the winter months, when there’s not a lot of work, it makes me, as a dad, concerned I might lose health insurance, which would affect my son. Do I make him stay inside in his room and wear knee pads and a helmet to eat dinner? Or can I let him be a kid? Parents shouldn’t have to worry about that. It also affects me personally being a cancer survivor. Luckily I’ve been in remission, but what if it comes back? How is it going to affect me? And with medical bills being the leading cause of bankruptcy I don’t want to be in that position. I don’t want to have to choose between paying my rent or seeing my doctor.

And it affects my parents: My mom, who is in the video, has multiple sclerosis. Luckily she has insurance that can get her the medication she needs, but there are too many people that don’t. If one person can’t get the medication they need, that’s wrong. My father’s in assisted living because he has Alzheimer’s, so that affects my mom too. Thankfully, she is able to have her independence due to the medication she takes, so she can go see my dad. Health care is a universal issue that affects all ages and all races-- everybody, regardless of economic status.

Sarah: What’s your position on abortion rights?

Randy: I am firmly committed that it is a woman’s choice to make decisions about what happens to her body.

Sarah: And you support LGBT rights as well?

Randy: Absolutely.

Sarah: For people who aren’t from your district: What do you want them to understand about it?

Randy: It’s a broad section of Wisconsin. There’s large urban areas, cities like Racine and Kenosha, which is now the third-largest city, and more to the west it’s all farmland. It’s a big cross-section of working people. You could pick up the first district in Wisconsin and put it pretty much any place on the map and it would blend in anywhere across the United States. It’s a lot of people, and it’s made up of different ethnicities, and it’s a melting pot of what America should be. We take care of our neighbors.

Sarah: How are you going to address the urban-rural divide in your campaign?

Randy: It’s easier to hit the urban areas as far as reaching more people, but there’s going to be emphasis placed on going to the harder-to-reach places. We need to pay attention to everybody in the district. It’s easier for me, living where I do, to reach out to the urban people, but there are concerns too for farmers-- like making sure that rural roads are taken care of, that they have access to things like broadband service.

I’ve always had such a healthy respect for farmers. I know the hours I put in are hard hours, but we have eight-hour days. Farmers work from sunup to sundown; they don’t get days off and they have to worry about their retirement. Maybe it’s getting them access to some kind of pension system, so that after donating the best years of their life to raising the farm they have some restful years to enjoy what they earned.

Sarah: Paul Ryan often appeals to his roots. But you seem to have a very different vision about what it means to be from a state like Wisconsin.

Randy: It’s obvious who Paul Ryan is making his decisions for when he has time to go to 50 fundraisers throughout the country and not have one town hall in his own district. If I don’t show up for my job, I’ll get fired and they’ll get somebody else to take my spot. I can’t imagine asking somebody for $10,000 to have their picture taken with me. That’s unimaginable. It shows where his priorities are and they aren’t the people in this district. When he shows up there are breaking news alerts: Paul Ryan has been seen in the First Congressional District at such and such a place. It’s so wrong.
Goal Thermometer There’s no doubt the Pelosi and her DCCC will divert energy and resources from winning congressional races to, once again, throw whatever they can in to protect Ryan, this time against Randy Bryce and his already popular grassroots campaign. But Randy's put together an intrepid and experienced campaign committee that knows how to respond to establishment sabotage and won’t shy away from a fight, not even with all the powers that be inside the Democratic establishment. And... they need our help-- which is why I’ve included the Blue America congressional ActBlue thermometer on the right. Remember, there's no such thing as a contribution too small-- not when you're talking about a grassroots campaign. Please consider giving what you can. It’s a real shame about Mark Pocan though. I had such high hopes for him. We saw him as such a promising guy…

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Despite The Corrosive Effect Of The DCCC, There Is A Reason To Believe


Hard to imagine, but even today 42% of Americans still prefer to see Republicans control Congress. A new poll from NBC News and the Wall Street Journal shows that just 50% of Americans would prefer Democrats take over Congress in 2018. NBC reports “that’s the largest lead either party has held on that generic ballot question in the NBC/WSJ poll since 2013, and the first time either party reached 50 percent on that question since 2008.” But still… this is the Republican Party those 42% want in control, the GOP so eloquently described by Charles Pierce for Esquire:
Today is not the day for you to ask for my understanding as to how you're going to afford Grandma's chemo now that she's busted the lifetime cap on her insurance. Today is not the day for you to ask for my sympathy for Grandpa who's going to get his ass hoisted out of his rest home and dropped onto the couch in your basement family room because his Medicaid ran out. Today is not the day for you to moan into TV cameras about how Cousin Clyde with the opioid problem has to go back to sticking up tourists for his fix because the little hospital up by the mountain closed.

Not today. Not this particular Thursday. Maybe by Monday.

The Senate unveiled its big secret tax-cut plan on Thursday morning. It also contains some elements dealing with healthcare that will make the lives of millions of sick and elderly Americans immeasurably worse, but, since it's actually a tax-cut bill, and it actually does cut taxes for the wealthiest among us, then I guess you can say the strategy was a success. And they say the Republicans can't govern. Hah.

Of course, it's as bad as we all thought it would be. It virtually zeroes out Medicaid down the line-- letting it "die on the vine," just the way Newt Gingrich recommended 20 years ago. It forces low-income people to pay more for policies once called "street-surance" back in the day. (John Grisham should sue these guys.They stole the entire plot from The Rainmaker.) There's a lot of "handing back to the states," which can be translated as "Give Sam Brownback more money to hand out to his donors." The bill is such a transparent sham that one of its provisions, the repeal of the tax on investment income for wealthy individuals and families, was made retroactive to the end of last year. There is no reason on god's earth to make this retroactive unless your main purpose is to shove more of the nation's wealth upwards. Which is what this bill is primarily designed to do.

Let me put it in measurements that are particularly of interest to me. By 2050, it is estimated that there will be 16 million people in the United States with Alzheimer's Disease. Right now, in 2017 dollars, the estimated costs of treating and caring for AD patients is $236 billion dollars. Of that, $154 billion is picked up by Medicare and Medicaid. Tell me now how that gap is made up by a plan that virtually eliminates Medicaid entirely by the time we get to 2025. Churches? Families? Winning the Lotto?

A cure?

Fat chance.

So, yeah, suckers. This is what you voted for. In fact, this is what you've been voting for, over and over again, ever since the Death Valley Days of jellybeans and missiles to the mullahs. This bill is the pot of gold at the end of Paul Ryan's personal rainbow. This bill is everything that every young conservative brought up in the luxurious terrariums of wingnut welfare is taught to revere from the first day of his political gestation, right down to its playing-to-the-cheap-seats whack at Planned Parenthood.

So far, four GOP senators have said they cannot vote for the bill. They are Ron (Shreds of Freedom) Johnson of Wisconsin, Aqua Buddha from Kentucky, Mike Lee, the konztitooshunal skolar from Utah, and Tailgunner Ted Cruz. They can't support it (at the moment) because it isn't repeal-ish enough for them. (Translation: The bill still coddles the poor and infirm beyond the limits God intended when He wrote the Constitution.) Now, as the redoubtable Digby often points out, if they were to torpedo this plague ship, it wouldn't be the first time the wingiest members of the tribe saved the day. But my money stays on the notion that they will find enough crazy ideas in the House during reconciliation to satisfy the likes of these four. As for the vaunted Republican "moderates," I have no faith in them whatsoever. I think Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia will get bought off by an increase in the bill's stingy provisions regarding the opioid epidemic. Some version of this creature will stalk its way into law.

I'm sorry, but I can't let the suckers off the hook on this particular Thursday, not when I know in my bones that, in a year or so, there are going to be more expeditions into The Real America in which we hear sad tales about the closing of rural hospitals, and medical bankruptcies, and children who died because the insurance company denied them a life-saving treatment. There will be all kinds of reasons postulated for this terrible state of affairs. "Culture" probably will be one of them, and it will be the stupidest one of all.

What will not be mentioned is that many of these people brought their tragedies on themselves, that voting has consequences, and that using a presidential election to hock a collective loogie at "The Establishment" and at Those People is a particularly dumbass way to participate in democracy.

But, as Nick Harwood pointed out in his NBC News poll reporting “Republicans retain some important advantages as both sides look ahead to 2018. By 18 percentage points, Americans say they prefer Republicans over Democrats for dealing with ISIS; they also prefer Republicans for changing Washington (by 9 points), dealing with the economy (7 points), and dealing with taxes (4 points).”

Now, about that map up top. It shows what will happen nationally if the same swing towards Democrats and away from Republicans that happened in the Montana special election, happens across the country in 2018. Yes, the GOP will still win in Montana… a 14.5% swing won’t be enough there. But… look at Orange County, CA, look at the suburban districts around Philly, look at the “untouchable” Texas districts around Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio and Austin, all 3 Republican-held swingy Iowa seats and, finally, O.K.L.A.H.O.M.A., Oklahoma-- OK! And say buh-bye to as many as 70 Republican incumbents-- not just poor doomed schlepps in blue-leaning districts, but GOP leaders like Paul Ryan, Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Ed Royce, Virginia Foxx, Rodney Frelinghuysen, Lamar Smith… all those committee chairs flooding K Street with job applications at once! Sad!

And I’ll tell you something about that map-- it doesn’t take into account some special circumstances, like Duncan Hunter’s likely corruption indictment in a much redder southern California district or Devin Nunes’ little massive Putin-Gate problem up in California’s Central Valley.

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Is The DCCC A Racket? You Bet Your Sweet Ass It Is!


Gone-- but the stench was left behind

Last week Roll Call reported that the DCCC hit a record-breaking fundraising number-- over $9.3 million in May… and that most of it came from grassroots contributions. A DCCC robot read a prepared statement: “The huge enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans has shown up in special elections, primaries, and with record-breaking small-dollar fundraising. Democrats are unified heading into the 2018 midterms, and we will continue to channel grassroots energy towards flipping seats on the largest House battleground we’ve seen in a decade.”
According to the fundraising figures, the DCCC raised $6.55 million through its grassroots programs, with $4.5 million coming from online donations, with an average donation of $19.

…The committee also reported that over the first five months of the year it has received online donations from 167,000 first-time donors, and added 2.4 million people to its email list.

Also over the last five months, the committee has raised nearly $22.3 million in online donations, surpassing its total online donations for the entire year in 2015.
What a shame so many sincere grassroots Democrats fall prey, not just to endemic DCCC incompetence, but to the overwhelming corruption that drives the organization and determines every decision. That link goes to an exposé from 2010 that delineates DCCC corruption and how it works… and DCCC corruption has, if anything, gotten much worse in the interim. Thursday night we looked at a real-time sale of a nomination in a very winnable Orange County seat that the DCCC is willing to write off in exchange for some fat checks from an ambitious lottery winner. But that isn’t even the kind of corruption I mean. Gaius hit on it earlier on the same day here, the systemic kind of corruption which should send small dollar contributors fleeing.

Let’s take the Ossoff race for example. One of the consulting firms the DCCC saddled him with-- the kind of thing corruption organizations like them and EMILY’s List do with all their candidates-- is owned by former (and future?) DCCC staffers, Greg Berlin, Jake Lipsett, and Charles Starnes, who pocketed-- as in personally pocketed-- $3.9 million. Some of that was money I contributed! You too? Nd that was just one of the many DCCC-connected consulting firms on the Ossoff gravy train. You know all those dull and ineffective TV ads? The DCCC encourages that kind of garbage, not because they win elections-- they don’t-- but because they are commissionable and the ex/future staffers make millions off them (personally make millions, becoming very wealthy-- regardless of whether a candidate wins or loses… and most-- the vast majority-- lose).

Goal Thermometer Solution? Never, never, never, never contribute to shady organizations like the DCCC or EMILY’s List. Always and exclusively make your contributions directly to candidates who stand for the issues you want. Chances are if the DCCC solicits money by touting popular progressive agenda items-- like single payer health care, for example-- whatever money doesn’t get pocketed by avaricious staffers, goes to prop up conservatives who vehemently oppose the very policies they hoodwink donors into thinking they’re advancing. When an organization with a massive overhead like the DCCC, End Citizens United or EMILY’s List encourages you to give your money to them, rather than the candidate, that money is more likely to go towards defeating what you want than to advancing what you want. Trustworthy operations like Blue America, DFA, the PCCC, Daily Kos, etc encourage you to contribute directly to candidates for whom they make substantive cases. That’s where you should be contributing, not through rackets like the DCCC.

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Friday, June 23, 2017

Bernie Won The Wisconsin Primary, 567,936 to 432,767. Trump Won Wisconsin Too... With Just 531,129 Votes


I spent about an hour or so, spread over a couple of phone calls, with Jon Ossoff right after he declared. I was impressed with his energy and verve, his dedication to oppose Trump and the House Republicans and his eagerness to do what’s necessary to win. He didn’t come across as a Bernie Sanders or a Pramila Jayapal or Elizabeth Warren but he did come across as kind of progressive. Blue America endorsed him, I contributed some money to his campaign and we started raising money for him.

It didn’t take long before I started regretting it. It wasn’t even that he started inching inextricably towards the center really fast, as much as something else I smelled. The DCCC moved in immediately and took over with their crooked money-sucking consultants. Everything I started seeing coming out of the Ossoff campaign started looking bad to me-- the multiple e-mails with no content everyday was an immediate give-away. When I complained, they took me off their mailing list. Every time I asked Jon substantive policy questions for follow-up posts, he wouldn’t respond. By the time he said he opposed single payer, I realized I’d been had by another establishment suck-up. But I generally held my tongue and hoped he’d win just for the message it would send to Republicans wavering in their support for the Ryan-Trump agenda. That was fucked up of me. Because there was another message an Ossoff victory would have sent, one the media would have crowed about endlessly-- how the Democratic Party can only win with centrist candidates who don’t have campaigns based on strong values. Maybe Ossoff can now go off and join Jason Kander in whatever he’s doing to push backward centrism on unsuspecting Democrats.

Right after the votes were countered and people started asking themselves what happened down in Georgia, Matthew Yglesias took the opportunity to propose that this might be a good time for the Democrats to stop trying to expand their Big Tent to accommodate every Republican who isn’t a neo-Nazi and instead come up with a coherent and substantive agenda. Imagine that!
Ossoff falling short-- while coming closer than Rob Quist-- and Jeremy Corbyn’s surprisingly strong showing in the recent UK election suggest a possible synthesis of these views.

Corbyn’s electoral map, in the end, turns out to look a lot like Hillary Clinton’s. He did well in the most diverse and most educated parts of the United Kingdom and worst among older voters. Whites with college degrees, in short, weren’t secretly dreaming of socialism. At the same time, running on a bold progressive policy agenda didn’t stop him from picking up support in exactly the kind of upscale precincts that the Democratic establishment has been trying to target. And it did succeed in doing what post-Obama Democrats have failed to do-- engage young voters and encourage them to come to the polls.

But perhaps most of all, running on a bold policy agenda helped focus voters’ minds on policy rather than on the (extremely long) list of controversial Corbyn statements and associations from past years. Pundits had long expected Corbyn to get crushed at the polls, and had Theresa May succeeded in running an election focused on the Falklands War, the Irish Republican Army, and unilateral nuclear disarmament, she would have won. But instead, the UK ended up with a campaign about promises to nationalize utilities, eliminate university tuition, and raise taxes.

Ossoff’s effort to stay bland and inoffensive let hazy personal and culture war issues dominate the campaign-- and even in a relatively weak Trump district, that was still a winning formula for Republicans.

A chief of staff on Capitol Hill observed to me Tuesday morning that absolutely every faction in the Democratic Party-- from Third Way to the Berniecrats-- thinks Democrats “need a positive economic vision,” and not just to talk about Trump. The DCCC’s analysts agree.

“But when the rubber hit the road,” the chief of staff said, “we didn't produce a positive alternative on health care.”

Not exactly because Democrats don’t have any ideas of how to make the American health care system better. But because in some respects they have too many ideas-- ranging from small tweaks to improve the functioning of the Affordable Care Act to the idea of radically transforming the entire health care system by having taxpayers foot the bill for everyone’s insurance. The easiest way to maintain party unity was to stick with what Democrats could agree on-- that financing an enormous tax cut for the rich with stark cuts to Medicaid and deregulation of the insurance industry was a terrible idea.

Still, it should be sobering to Democrats that a CBS News poll released Tuesday morning filled with devastatingly bad approval numbers for the Trump administration found that only 31 percent of voters thought a Democratic takeover of Congress would make their lives better.

If your opponents are unpopular enough, it’s certainly possible to win elections this way. But especially for the party that has a more difficult time inspiring its supporters to turn out to vote, that’s an ominous sign. Right now on health care and many other issues, Democrats suffer from a cacophony of white papers and a paucity of unity around any kind of vision or story they want to paint of what is wrong with America today and what is the better country they want to build for the future. And until they do, they’re going to struggle to mobilize supporters in the way they need to win tough races.

And that brings us right to the candidates who are very much not Jon Ossoff-- not children of privilege, not bland, not malleable, not puppets. Wednesday, Will Bunch asked if a mustachioed ironworker from Wisconsin save the Democratic Party from itself. “I used to think,” he wrote, “the pain of being a Philadelphia sports fan was something unique to Philly-- until I started mulling the current state of the national Democratic Party. I mean, the Phillies have only been in rebuilding mode since 2013 or so. What can you say about a political party that’s been trying to retool, in one form or another, since 1981…if not longer? In fact, I’m starting to get confused between the agonizing rebuild of my beloved Phillies (feel free to substitute the Eagles/76ers/Flyers/Union) and the muddled state of a political party that-- for all its myriad flaws-- is the last remaining bulwark against totala-Trumpism. Why didn’t they call up Scott Kingery to run in South Carolina-05? When will Jon Ossoff learn to hit the curve ball? Why did they just reward Nancy Pelosi with a long-term contract?”
The glass is not empty for the Democrats. Their candidates in the four special elections over-performed the party’s expected norm by about 8 percentage points, and a similar showing in 2018 would-- according to the pundits-- probably be good enough to re-take the House. Districts that aren’t blood red but reddish purple-- like the seats held by GOPers Pat Meehan, Brian Fitzpatrick and Ryan Costello in the Philadelphia suburbs-- would be prime candidates for flippage 17 months from now. But the glass isn’t even really half-full… maybe closer to 40 percent full, at best. After all, partisans have been shouting from the mountaintop that Trump is an epically bad president of historical proportions-- either inept or a proto-dictator or both--and that the GOP on Capitol Hill will kill you with climate change if losing your health insurance doesn’t strike you dead first. Shouldn’t that produce a political tidal wave? So where is it?

…[T]here’s a lot of talk today that the Democrats can’t win if all the party stands for is being against Trump. That’s true-- but it’s even worse than that. In Georgia-06, the Dems didn’t even try to do much with the president’s rising disapproval numbers.

Jon Ossoff was a very sincere candidate, and he seems like a nice young man. Running for office in today’s climate is a brave thing. But I listened to an interview that he did with NPR on Tuesday morning, and by the end I practically wanted to gouge my eyes out. It was the some of the most insipid, focus-group-tested-and-consultant-approved meaningless happy talk I’ve ever heard from a Democrat, which is saying a lot. He wanted to bring tech jobs to Atlanta, and cut wasteful spending. Health care needs to be-- somehow-- “affordable.” Ossoff and the Democrats couldn’t have run a more effective “show about nothing” if Seinfeld’s Larry David had been their show-runner. No wonder voters curbed their enthusiasm.

The Democrats won’t truly emerge from rebuilding mode until they have the courage to stand for something. One role model-- sort of-- for this emerged from across the pond, in the UK’s recent national election. True, Labour’s fiery leader Jeremy Corbyn-- somewhere to the right of Che Guevara (barely) and to the left of Bernie Sanders-- didn’t win, but no one expected him and his party to do nearly as well as they did, and, given the shaky status of Tory Theresa May’s government, Corbyn may yet become prime minister sooner rather than later. They achieved this by doing something that would terrify America’s Democrats. They published a manifesto of bold, uncompromising measures that the Labour Party stood for. The party called for eliminating university tuition, raising the minimum wage, boosting spending on infrastructure, and undoing school budget cuts. Britain’s political pundits pontificated that the platform spelled doom for the left-leaning party, but the document instead energized young voters, who turned in droves for Corbyn earlier this month. And I believe a similar-style Democratic Party manifesto here in the U.S. could have the same type of electrifying effect.

I don’t think Corbyn clone would do well here-- but America doesn’t need one. We have Randy Bryce. A longtime ironworker with a solid 6-2 frame, an Army vet, with Mexican and Polish ancestry (with a mustache that looks like what you’d see if you stumbled into the wrong 1970s movie house, if you know what I mean), Bryce sent shockwaves this week by announcing his plan to challenge House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose congressional district in southern Wisconsin is not nearly as solid red as one might expect. In comparison to many mealy-mouthed Democrats, listen to what Bryce-- @IronStache on his Twitter feed that is exploding with new members-- told the Payday Report:
“Being an ironworker, I have seen some things that, unless I have seen them with my own eyes and been part of it, I would say you can’t do that-- that’s impossible,” says Bryce. “You know, you are gonna walk up on a two and half inch piece of metal, you are gonna be up three hundred feet in the air and walk across and carry something to get to a place to wield– that’s impossible…When ironworkers hear somebody say, ‘We can’t, it means ‘I won’t.’”

“Let’s trade places,” Bryce quips. “Paul Ryan can come work the iron and I’ll go to D.C.”
Now, watch his ad (and compare it to Ossoff’s spot). This is truly one of the best political commercials that I’ve ever seen-- and it casts Bryce as someone who will fight for health care and the rights of workers:

Goal Thermometer Look, I know what people will say-- that Bryce’s challenge is a political death trap, a suicide rap. If the polls show an even remotely close race, the powerful House speaker Ryan will call in every chit with every hedge-fund guru and insurance company CEO that he knows, and spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to save his job. (And, yes, Bryce has run for office before, and lost… but not with a killer ad like this). Maybe that’s not the point. The spirit of what this man called @IronStache is doing here-- taking a stand on the high ledge of politics, with no fear-- is that spirit that the Democratic Party will need in all 435 House districts and a 33 Senate races if Trumpism is to be stopped now rather than later. There’s a reason that voters in suburban Georgia fell for something-- and it’s because the Democratic Party didn’t stand for anything.

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Schumer Prepares To Throw Away A Chance To Beat Dean Heller in Nevada With Another Garbage Blue Dog


The biggest electoral battle progressives have coming up is to help the Democrats win back the House, something that would likely stymie Trump’s toxic and destructive agenda. Sometimes the DCCC makes that next to impossible, recruiting “ex”-Republican conservatives-- like Brad Ashford-- and their newest kick: anti-Choice Democrats or worthless slugs who fit some identity politics formula. But there is no other ballgame right now-- it’s the House or bust. That’s why primaries are so, so crucial-- keeping the DCCC slugs recruited by anti-progressive fanatics Cheri Bustos and Denny Heck-- away from nominations and encouraging and supporting grassroots, values-driven progressive candidates like these men and women.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Senate is out of bounds for 2018. The Democrats blew their shot for the Senate by following Schumer and Tester’s diktat that only corruptible conservatives like Patrick Murphy (FL), Ted Strickland (OH), Katie McGinty (PA), Evan Bayh (IN), Ann Kirkpatrick (AZ) and Patty Judge (IA) could win. They all lost. And those were contestable states. In 2018, fate has dealt the Democrats a bad table-- almost no winnable Senate races. No matter how unpopular Trump and McConnell are nationally, Roger Wicker, John Barrasso and Deb Fischer aren’t losing their seats in Mississippi, Wyoming and Nebraska. Instead, 11 Democrats have to defend seats in swing states or even red states-- Joe Manchin (WV), Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND), Bill Nelson (FL), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (MT), Tammy Baldwin (WI), Sherrod Brown (OH), Tim Kaine (VA), Debbie Stabenow (MI), and Bob Casey (PA).

But Trump and McConnell (and Ryan and the GOP) are proving to be even more unpopular than anyone expected. Their overreach is breathtaking and the chances that all these Democrats can hold on is looking possible-- even utterly worthless slugs like Heitkamp and Manchin in die-hard Trump bastions. Yesterday the DSCC sent out an e-mail, “DSCC Targets Three Senate Republicans with Health-Care Ads.” The letter boasts that “voters in the home states of Senators Jeff Flake (AZ), Dean Heller (NV), and Ted Cruz (TX) will be seeing updated versions of our hard-hitting “The Price” ad-- asking what their senator’s health care plan will truly cost their constituents. It’s a weak and ineffective ad but the point is that the DSCC has identified 3 states they need to win if they are too have any chance to win back the Senate: Arizona, Nevada and Texas.

Arizona has no definitive Democratic candidate yet although there’s a strong buzz that the state House’s Assistant Minority Leader, Randall Friese, will run. (Other potential candidates include far right-wing Blue Dog Kyrsten Sinema and almost-as-bad loser Ann Kirkpatrick. Mark Kelly, a retired astronaut and husband of former conservative Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, is also talking about running. If Sinema or Kirkpatrick is the nominee, any chance of the Democrats winning back the Senate ends immediately.

In Texas, the most difficult stretch by far, the Democrats have as good as candidate as they’re going to find-- cerebral, principled and charismatic El Paso congressman Beto O’Rourke, a great contrast to Ted Cruz.

Today, though, let’s take a look at Nevada, the most likely Democratic pickup. Hillary beat Trump in Nevada 539,260 (47.9%) to 512,058 (45.5%) and on the same day, Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto defeated the far better-known Joe Heck 521,994 (47.1%) to 495,079 (44.7%). The state has been trending blue and the GOP incumbent, Dean Heller, is not especially popular. A just-released PPP survey of the state’s voters shows 50% disapprove of Trump’s performance with only 44% approving. Worse yet for the GOP, Heller’s disapproval is 44% with a 31% approval. A full 25% of Nevada voters don’t know enough about him to even have an opinion. If the election were held today, though, he would lose to a generic Democrat, 46% to 39%.

TrumpCare is very unpopular and 45% of voters say that if Heller votes for it-- which is likely-- they will be “less likely” to vote for him in 2018. Only 27% of voters say they will be “more likely” to vote for him. Even among Trump voters only 61% support the direction Congress is going in in regard to healthcare-- and only a third of independents approve of TrumpCare, the swing voters who decide Nevada elections. When it comes to ending Medicaid expansion and cutting Medicaid, 59% of Nevada voters voters said they have very serious concerns-- and that includes 52% of independents and even 27% of Trump voters. It’s even worse for Republicans when voters are reminded that TrumpCare ends the guarantee of some basic services-- known as the essential health benefits-- 62% of voters have very serious concerns, including 51% of independents and 34% of Trump voters. Higher costs under TrumpCare concern 67% of voters, including 54% of independents, though just 41% of Trump voters. And not many people are happy that all these higher costs and worse service is all to lower taxes for the rich. That one concerns 62% of voters, including 57% of independents and 32% of Trumpists.

But it’s not a slam dunk. It looked like Nevada Democrats were coalescing around popular Congressman Ruben Kihuen as their nominee but now, somehow, the DSCC appears to be pushing another garbage candidate, Jacky Rosen, whose only shot of winning is if she’s swept along in an anti-Trump tsunami. To call her utterly worthless demeans the meaning of “utterly worthless.” No guts, no values, nothing whatsoever to offer anyone, Rosen is a careerist hack who joined the Blue Dogs and has run up one of the worst voting records of any Democrat in Congress. According to ProgressivePunch, her overall rating is a solid “F” and her crucial vote score is an abysmal 35.0. There are only 3 freshmen Democrats with worse scores, more Blue Dog garbage hacks Tom O’Halleran (AZ), Stephanie Murphy (FL) and Josh Gottheimer (NJ). Rosen doesn’t even deserve to be reelected to her House seat, let alone to be promoted to a Senate seat.

Politico reported that Rosen plans to announce her candidacy in “a couple of weeks.” 

The recruitment of Rosen has the strong imprint of former Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who was entrusted by the party establishment to identify the strongest candidate to challenge Heller. Reid settled on Rosen, figuring that she’s a fresh face with little political baggage and would be the most formidable opponent, according to a person familiar with the matter.

After Reid settled on Rosen, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) “closed the deal” and talked to Rosen four or five times to convince her to run, that person said. Schumer's office declined to comment.
Jackie Rosen is the whole toilet-full of crap candidates rolled into one-- all the losers who Schumer and the DSCC foisted on the Democrats last time, from Patrick Murphy to Patty Judge and Ann Kirkpatrick, candidates Schumer insisted on-- fought against progressives to get the nominations for--and then abandoned in the face of a voting population that immediately rejected each one of them. Schumer can’t learn from his mistakes; his ego is way too big and his mind in too brittle.

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The Philando Castile Case: Trevor Noah Calls Out The NRA


-by Noah

For those who don’t remember, Philando Castile was a Missouri-born American citizen who was shot at, 7 times, while sitting in his car, by St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez back on July 6, 2016.

Castile had been stopped by the police in a traffic stop as local police were looking for a pair of robbery suspects. Castile was cooperating with the police and he was merely returning home from having dinner and doing some grocery shopping.

The crime reached national notoriety, not because it was unusual, but because its immediate aftermath was streamed live on Facebook by the victim’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who had been riding with Castile and her daughter. On the Facebook clip, you can clearly hear Ms. Reynolds interacting with the police.

7 times. Clearly, officer Yanez was not merely attempting to disable or stop an assailant. Castile was not running away. He was not running towards police, weapon in hand, even though police had been told by Castile that he had a legally permitted firearm. Castile was shot in the process of handing over his wallet. He had already handed Yanez his proof of insurance and was making what he was doing very clear.

Diamond’s Reynolds’ 4-year-old daughter was sitting in the backseat as Yanez pumped 5 bullets (2 missed) into his victim from point blank range, shooting through the driver’s side window. 2 bullets pierced Castile’s heart. Both Reynolds and the girl were miraculously not physically hurt; emotionally and mentally will be another story altogether.

The police car dashcam recorder shows that Yanez spoke to Castile for approximately 40 seconds before he started shooting. 7 times. Point blank. You can see it all as part of the video at the end of this post.

After the shooting, Yanez was unable to say that he had definitely seen a gun in Castile’s hand. However, almost a year later, during the trial, he emphatically said he had. When paramedics arrived, they found the gun still in Castile’s pocket. Yanez and his partner, Joseph Kauser hadn’t even bothered to take the pistol out and place it on the floor or on the seat of the car to make their story look good, as might happen in a TV crime drama.

7 times. Point blank. 2 in the heart. Yanez was acquitted of all charges (only 2nd Degree Manslaughter and 2 counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm) last week. To the city’s credit, he was fired the same day.

The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah has addressed this tragic story, along with similar tragic stories numerous times. This story, as Mr. Noah points out, has something different about it: Philando Castile was not just deferential to the police. He was legally licensed to carry a firearm. He did everything he was supposed to do. He had a gun that the NRA says so vociferously that he has a right to bear. He threatened nobody, and, he got killed by the police in cold blood. Did the NRA wail about jackbooted cops attacking a legally armed citizen? Nope. A few days ago, Trevor Noah asked why. His 2:20 discussion, which I’ve placed at the beginning of this post, is must see TV. This is the kind of thing that makes The Daily Show special.

Trevor Noah followed up the next day. Please see below. Mr. Noah’s words are even more poignant, more moving. The laws, the lawyers, the courts, the jury; they all failed Philando Castile, and every one of us. It would be easy to make a cheap joke and say that Minnesota acted like Alabama, but, it’s much more tragic than that.

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L.A. Doesn't Allow Slavery-- Indentured Servants, Though... An Entirely Different Matter


I woke up this morning and my e-mail box was filled with messages about this report, Rigged by Brett Murphy for USA Today. I had missed it when it ran a few days ago but. My correspondents were insistent it is a must-read. And it is. It’s worth reading in full— though probably not on a full stomach. Murphy started off with the story of an immigrant trucker, Samuel Talavera Jr., virtually a modern day American slave. Or does being paid make you not a slave… even if the pay is 67 cents a week? One driver told Murphy that “We are not human. We are machines for making money for these people.” Talavera’s truck, which he was leasing-to-buy from the company he worked for, broke down in October, 2013.

When Talavera could not afford repairs, the company fired him and seized the truck-- along with $78,000 he had paid towards owning it.

Talavera was a modern-day indentured servant. And there are hundreds, likely thousands more, still on the road, hauling containers for trucking companies that move goods for America’s most beloved retailers, from Costco to Target to Home Depot.

These port truckers-- many of them poor immigrants who speak little English-- are responsible for moving almost half of the nation’s container imports out of Los Angeles’ ports. They don't deliver goods to stores. Instead they drive them short distances to warehouses and rail yards, one small step on their journey to a store near you.

A yearlong investigation by the USA Today Network found that port trucking companies in southern California have spent the past decade forcing drivers to finance their own trucks by taking on debt they could not afford. Companies then used that debt as leverage to extract forced labor and trap drivers in jobs that left them destitute.

If a driver quit, the company seized his truck and kept everything he had paid towards owning it.

If drivers missed payments, or if they got sick or became too exhausted to go on, their companies fired them and kept everything. Then they turned around and leased the trucks to someone else.

Drivers who manage to hang on to their jobs sometimes end up owing money to their employers— essentially working for free. Reporters identified seven different companies that have told their employees they owe money at week’s end.

The USA Today Network pieced together accounts from more than 300 drivers, listened to hundreds of hours of sworn labor dispute testimony and reviewed contracts that have never been seen by the public.

Using the contracts, submitted as evidence in labor complaints, and shipping manifests, reporters matched the trucking companies with the most labor violations to dozens of retail brands, including Target, Hewlett-Packard, Home Depot, Hasbro, J.Crew, UPS, Goodyear, Costco, Ralph Lauren and more.

Among the findings:
Trucking companies force drivers to work against their will-- up to 20 hours a day-- by threatening to take their trucks and keep the money they paid toward buying them. Bosses create a culture of fear by firing drivers, suspending them without pay or reassigning them the lowest-paying routes.
To keep drivers working, managers at a few companies have physically barred them from going home. More than once, Marvin Figueroa returned from a full day’s work to find the gate to the parking lot locked and a manager ordering drivers back to work. “That was how they forced me to continue working,” he testified in a 2015 labor case. Truckers at two other companies have made similar claims.
Employers charge not just for truck leases but for a host of other expenses, including hundreds of dollars a month for insurance and diesel fuel. Some charge truckers a parking fee to use the company lot. One company, Fargo Trucking, charged $2 per week for the office toilet paper and other supplies.
Drivers at many companies say they had no choice but to break federal safety laws that limit truckers to 11 hours on the road each day. Drivers at Pacific 9 Transportation testified that their managers dispatched truckers up to 20 hours a day, then wouldn’t pay them until drivers falsified inspection reports that track hours. Hundreds of California port truckers have gotten into accidents, leading to more than 20 fatalities from 2013 to 2015, according to the USA Today Network's analysis of federal crash and port trade data.
Many drivers thought they were paying into their truck like a mortgage. Instead, when they lost their job, they discovered they also lost their truck, along with everything they’d paid toward it. Eddy Gonzalez took seven days off to care for his dying mother and then bury her. When he came back, his company fired him and kept the truck. For two years, Ho Lee was charged more than $1,600 a month for a truck lease. When he got ill and missed a week of work, he lost the truck and everything he’d paid.
Retailers could refuse to allow companies with labor violations to truck their goods. Instead they’ve let shipping and logistics contractors hire the lowest bidder, while lobbying on behalf of trucking companies in Sacramento and Washington D.C. Walmart, Target and dozens of other Fortune 500 companies have paid lobbyists up to $12.6 million to fight bills that would have held companies liable or given drivers a minimum wage and other protections that most U.S. workers already enjoy.
This isn’t a case of a few bad trucking companies accused of mistreating a handful of workers.

Since 2010, at least 1,150 port truck drivers have filed claims in civil court or with the California Department of Industrial Relations’ enforcement arm, known as the labor commission.

Judges have sided with drivers in more than 97% of the cases heard, ruling time after time that port truckers in California can’t legally be classified as independent contractors. Instead, they are employees who, by law, must be paid minimum wage and can’t be charged for the equipment they use at work.

The rulings stop there. They do not address specific allegations of abuse by drivers, including whether trucking companies physically barred them from leaving work or ordered them to work past federal fatigue limits.

But allegations like those have been made in sworn testimony in hundreds of the cases, virtually all of which ended with trucking companies ordered to repay drivers for truck expenses and lost wages. The USA Today Network found that at least 140 trucking companies have been accused by at least one driver of shorting them of fair pay or using threats to squeeze them to work longer hours.

Prominent civil rights leader Julian Bond once called California port truckers the new black tenant farmers of the post-Civil War South. Sharecroppers from that era rented farmland to make their living and regularly fell into debt to their landlords. Widespread predatory practices made it nearly impossible for the farmers to climb out.

Through lease contracts, California’s port truckers face the same kinds of challenges in ways that experts say rarely happen in the U.S. today.

“I don’t know of anything even remotely like this,” said Stanford Law School Professor William Gould, former chairman of the National Labor Relations Board and one of the nation’s top labor experts.

“You’re working to get yourself out of the debt. You just don’t see anything like that.”

…Some company owners said their lease-to-own programs were a favor to truckers who might otherwise have been out of work. And there are drivers who make it through the contract to own their trucks, something that’s grown more common with time and a rebounding economy. Drivers who can't make a living aren't working hard enough, many company executives say.

“Our owner very generously went out and purchased a fleet of clean trucks,” said Marc Koenig, a vice president at Performance Team, which has lost cases to 21 drivers at the California labor commission. “That’s what really frustrated our owner. He really reached out and helped these guys.”

…California’s port truckers make it possible for the Walmarts and Amazons of the world to function. Even so, most of the two dozen retail companies contacted by the USA Today Network declined to comment, some saying they had never heard of the rash of labor violations at their primary ports of entry.

Only Goodyear said it took immediate action. Spokesperson Keith Price said in a statement that the tire giant dropped Pacific 9 in 2015, “within two weeks” of California labor commission decisions in favor of dozens of drivers.

The few others that issued statements said it was not their responsibility to police the shipping industry. Retailers don't directly hire the truckers who move their goods at the pier. They generally hire large shipping or logistics firms that line up trucking companies through a maze of subcontractors.

…For decades, short-haul truckers at the nation’s ports relied on cheap clunkers to move goods to nearby warehouses and rail yards.

With little up-front investment, drivers-- most of them independent contractors who owned their own trucks-- could make a decent living squeezing the last miles from dilapidated big rigs that weren’t suited for the open road.

In October 2008, that changed dramatically in southern California, home of the nation’s busiest ports, Los Angeles and Long Beach. State officials, fed up with deadly diesel fumes from 16,000 outdated trucks, ordered the entire fleet replaced with new, cleaner rigs.

Suddenly, this obscure but critical collection of trucking companies faced a $2.5 billion crossroads unlike anything experienced at other U.S. ports.

Instead of digging into their own pockets to undo the environmental mess they helped create, the companies found a way to push the cost onto individual drivers, who are paid by the number and kinds of containers they move, not by the hour.

There are 800 companies regularly operating at the LA ports. Almost all of them turned to some form of a lease-to-own model, some without thinking through the consequences, said industry consultant and lobbyist Alex Cherin.

“Flying by the seat of their pants and making it up as they went along,” he said of the scramble to find trucks for drivers. “Ultimately what they were trying to do was survive in a business with very thin margins.”

Truckers at dozens of companies describe the same basic scene. They were handed a lease-to-own contract by their employer and given a choice: Sign immediately or be fired. Many drivers who spoke little English said managers gave them no time to seek legal advice or even an interpreter to read the contract.

It was "take it or leave it," according to Fidel Vasquez, a driver for Total Transportation who said he couldn’t read the contract because it was in English.

Jose Juan Rodriguez owned his own truck and drove primarily for Morgan Southern, where two dozen drivers have filed claims for back pay at the California labor commission and civil court. Like many drivers, Rodriguez said he didn’t understand what he was signing, but felt he had no choice.

His wife has stage three breast cancer and his adult son has severe brain damage requiring frequent doctor visits.

“Where do I sign?” Rodriguez recalled asking right away. “The only thing I had to worry about is work, because I have a family.”

The contracts work like sub-leases. Knowing drivers could not qualify for their own loans or leases, trucking companies arranged to finance their fleets. Then they had drivers sign up for individual trucks.

Drivers gave their old trucks-- many of which they owned outright-- to their company as a down payment. And just like that they were up to $100,000 in debt to their own employer. The same guys would have had a tough time qualifying for a Hyundai days earlier.

As far back as August 2008, a trucking finance firm warned Port of Long Beach board members that 40% of drivers were likely to default on truck leases. But no one stopped the deals, which place almost all of the financial risk onto the workers.

Drivers' names were not on the truck titles. And many contracts effectively barred drivers from using their truck to work for other companies.

The companies also retained the power to decide how much work to give their drivers. They decide who gets the easiest and most lucrative routes-- and who gets to work at all.

That leaves drivers in constant fear of upsetting managers, who can fire them for any reason, or simply stop sending them business, a process some call “starving” them out of the truck.

On a five-year lease, drivers could pay in for four years and 11 months. If they got sick, fell behind on the lease or were fired in the last month, they could lose everything--as if they had never paid a dime.

“The truck was never his,” one California labor commission hearing officer noted in a March, 2014 ruling. “And he has nothing to show for all the time and money he spent.”

…Drivers who signed up for leases watched their take-home pay plummet and often had no choice but to work longer hours.

After emigrating from Nicaragua in 1992, Samuel Talavera Jr. drove a truck at the Los Angeles harbor and made an honest living. Since 9/11, all truckers working at ports of entry must be legal residents.

Talavera bought his wife, Reyna, a house and took his daughters to Disneyland.

But everything changed in late 2010, when he went into the QTS warehouse and his boss told him he needed to trade in his truck and sign a lease-purchase contract.

For the next four years, he worked mind-numbing hours to pay the bills.

To save commuting time, he slept in his truck at work. To avoid bathroom breaks, he kept an empty two-liter bottle by his side. He became a ghost to his family.

Still, he had to drain his savings to survive.

A stack of weekly paychecks he keeps in a drawer at home shows his worst weeks. He grossed $1,970 on June 3, 2011, but it all went back to QTS. After the lease and other truck expenses, he took home $33.

On February 10, 2012, he took home $112 after expenses.

The next week, he made 67 cents.

Reyna got two office cleaning jobs and a third taking care of the elderly to try to make ends meet. Even so, when her father died, she couldn’t afford to fly home for the funeral.

Talavera was working so much, she said. “We didn’t understand why there was hardly any money left over.”

Through interviews and court records, reporters catalogued more than 120 drivers who say they regularly worked past exhaustion, 12 to 20 hours straight behind the wheel.

Federal law prohibits commercial truckers from driving more than 11 hours at a time, and they can’t work at all after 14 hours, until they have had 10 hours of rest. Government studies show that for every hour past 11 that someone drives, the chances of crashing increase exponentially.

Many drivers feel they have no choice but to take that risk.

On bad weeks-- when Flores hits traffic or gets assigned a low-paying delivery-- he says he takes home $300 or less for 100 hours of work. That translates into $3 an hour, less than a third of what he could make washing dishes at California’s minimum wage.

Drivers could quit and find new work. But many, like Flores, say they’ve stayed on hoping things would improve. Then they realized if they quit, they would lose thousands paid toward their truck. “They’re captive,” Teamsters’ international vice president Fred Potter said.

Truck payments can cut so deep into wages that drivers actually owe their employer come Friday.

“Working for free,” one driver called it in a court statement.

Paychecks read instead like weekly invoices: Faustino Denova, negative $9.64. Germen Merino, negative $92.50. Jose Covarrubias, negative $280.

For some truckers, the debt stacked up week after week, until they borrowed against their house or from friends, used their savings to pay it off or until their company fired them.

“The company didn't care whether I took a gallon of milk to my home or not,” one driver testified in a civil court case. “The company would take everything.”

Enough weeks like that put truckers into a hole they can’t escape.

Like many drivers, Talavera and his wife fell behind on their mortgage, and then stopped paying it altogether. They filed for bankruptcy to save their home.

In ways that happen in virtually no other workplace in America, port trucking companies in Southern California wield enormous power over their workers.

Through interviews and a review of sworn statements, the USA Today Network identified more than 100 drivers who reported threats and retaliation. Managers punish drivers most often for turning down the lowest-paying routes, missing work or refusing to work past federal hour limits.

At least 24 companies have fired drivers outright under those circumstances, according to interviews and a review of court, NLRB and California labor commission records. In each case, the driver lost his truck and what he’d paid into it.

Arcadio Amaya said he refused to work 15 hours straight one night at Pacgran Inc. and was fired the next day. He lost $26,400 he had paid toward a truck.

Armando Logamo, a former driver at RPM Harbor Services, said he saw other drivers bribing dispatchers for better-paying assignments, so he told his supervisor. The next week, Logamo was fired. He lost the truck, along with all the payments he had put into it.

“They fired me because I was one of the ones that was speaking up,” he said. “It was pretty devastating because I was with them for two plus years.”

Eddy Gonzalez once missed a day when he was called to court to testify as a witness. As punishment, he said his boss at Seacon Logix didn't let him work the next day.

Then, a few months later, he missed a week to bury his dead mother. When Gonzalez came back, he said, his boss cleaned out his truck and fired him on the spot while he pleaded to keep his job.

“He just took the keys and left,” Gonzalez testified in court.
On Monday, Nanette Barragan, a freshman congresswoman whose district isn’t far from L.A.’s port was with the Teamsters to stand with them in solidarity on this issue. This morning she told me that her cousin is a truck driver. “I know first hand how hard our truck drivers work to make ends meet. Some of them don't even make minimum wage; this is unjust. I stand with our working families who deserve a fair and just wage."

Kia Hamadanchy is running for the Orange County congressional seat held by absentee congresswoman and Trump/Ryan rubberstamp Mimi Walters. Moments ago told us that "What's happening to these truckers is absolutely unconscionable and should have no place in any industry in this country. Companies shouldn't be allowed to trap their workers in these kinds of arrangements and situations like these are a big part of why I'm running for Congress and what I'd fight for once I get there." And the other excellent progressive running for the CA-45 seat is Katie Porter, who had the same reaction as Kia. She told us that "This is another example of how crushing, exploitive debt reveberates through people's lives and makes it almost impossible for many families to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. You should be able to work in this country to get yourself out of debt, but our financial and legal system has created an almost permanent class of debtors. Its why in Congress, I'll work to end credit checks for hiring and end employment discrimination based off consumer financial history."

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