Wednesday, April 25, 2018

How much has Goldman Sachs donated to Congressional Democrats?

Money to congressional candidates, 2018 cycle:

Democrats: $752,374

Republicans: $693,777

That’s right. According to OpenSecrets, a nonpartisan source that tracks money in politics, Goldman Sachs has donated more to Congressional Democrats than Congressional Republicans so far this cycle.

Koch Exposed

The Koch Coup

 Jim Hightower

The Koch Brothers believe that their great wealth entitles them to rule over the many – so, for decades, they’ve been running a surreptitious assault on the rules that protect the majority of us from their abuse. From whacking our voting rights to busting unions, their plutocratic intent is nothing less than to pull a coup on democracy, installing a government of, by, and for the super-rich.

They’ve enlisted a secretive cadre of other billionaires who share their extreme kleptocratic belief that 1) property rights of the rich are more important than the people’s political rights, 2) that majority rule is not a good form of governing, and 3) that the “Makers” (as the billionaires dub themselves) should be able to overrule collective actions of the lower classes (whom they call “Takers”). They’ve created a complex, sophisticated web of right-wing front groups that have already corporatized a slew of our most basic laws and institutions, and they’ve gained a chokehold on nearly every level of government (including our courts and whole states like Wisconsin, North Carolina, and Texas). To carry out their attacks, they’ve essentially taken over the Republican party.

Even more shocking than the arrogance of this unprecedented power grab by the conspiracy of billionaires is its quiet success. The Koch Coup crept up on us because it abhorred publicity and couched each move as an independent effort by a separate group. Then the conspirators backed the Supreme Court’s outrageous 2010 Citizens United decision, decreeing that unlimited corporate spending is allowed because it’s “free speech.” Only did Americans begin waking up to the reality that the Kochs were making an assault on democracy itself.

This is Jim Hightower saying… To learn more, check out the extensive Koch web files at the Center for Media and Democracy:

Why the DNC Is Fighting WikiLeaks and Not Wall Street

Exactly 200 days before the crucial midterm election that will determine whether Republicans maintain control of Congress, the Democratic National Committee filed a 66-page lawsuit that surely cost lots of money and energy to assemble.

Does the lawsuit target purveyors of racist barriers to voting that block and deflect so many people of color from casting their ballots?


Well, perhaps this ballyhooed lawsuit aims to ensure the rights of people who don’t mainly speak English to get full access to voting information?

Unfortunately, no.

Maybe it’s a legal action to challenge the ridiculously sparse voting booths provided in college precincts?

Not that either.

Announced with a flourish by DNC Chair Tom Perez, the civil lawsuit—which reads like a partisan polemic wrapped in legalisms—sues the Russian government, the Trump campaign and operatives, as well as WikiLeaks and its founding editor, Julian Assange.

It’s hard to imagine that many voters in swing districts—who’ll determine whether the GOP runs the House through the end of 2020—will be swayed by the Russia-related accusations contained in the lawsuit. People are far more concerned about economic insecurity for themselves and their families, underscored by such matters as the skyrocketing costs of health care and college education.

To emphasize that “this is a patriotic—not partisan—move,” Perez’s announcement of the lawsuit on April 20 quoted one politician, Republican Sen. John McCain, reaching for the hyperbolic sky: “When you attack a country, it’s an act of war. And so we have to make sure that there is a price to pay, so that we can perhaps persuade the Russians to stop these kind of attacks on our very fundamentals of democracy.”

Setting aside the dangerous rhetoric about “an act of war,” it’s an odd quotation to choose. For Russia, there’s no “price to pay” from a civil lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. As the DNC well knows, any judgment against such entities as the Russian Federation and the general staff of its armed forces would be unenforceable.

The DNC’s lawsuit amounts to doubling down on its fixation of blaming Russia for the Democratic Party’s monumental 2016 loss, at a time when it’s essential to remedy the failed approaches that were major causes of Hillary Clinton’s defeat in the first place. Instead of confronting its fealty to Wall Street or overall failure to side with working-class voters against economic elites, the Democratic National Committee is ramping up the party leadership’s 18-month fixation on Russia Russia Russia.

After a humongous political investment in depicting Vladimir Putin as a pivotal Trump patron and a mortal threat to American democracy, strategists atop the Democratic Party don’t want to let up on seeking a big return from that investment. Protecting the investment will continue to mean opposing the “threat” of détente between the world’s two nuclear superpowers, while giving the party a political stake in thwarting any warming of the current ominously frigid relations between Moscow and Washington.

In truth, the party’s Russia fixation leaves significantly less messaging space for economic and social issues that the vast majority of Americans care about far more. Similarly, the Russia obsession at MSNBC (which routinely seems like “MSDNC”) has left scant airtime for addressing, or even noting, the economic concerns of so many Americans. (For instance, see the data in FAIR’s study, “Russia or Corporate Tax Cuts: Which Would Comcast Rather MSNBC Cover?”)

But even some of the congressional Democrats who’ve been prominent “Russiagate” enthusiasts have recognized that the lawsuit is off track. When Wolf Blitzer on CNN asked a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Jackie Speier, whether she believes that Perez and his DNC team “are making a big mistake by filing this lawsuit,” the California congresswoman’s reply was blunt: “Well, I’m not supportive of it. Whether it’s a mistake or not we’ll soon find out.” Speier called the lawsuit “ill-conceived.”

The most unprincipled part of the lawsuit has to do with its targeting of Assange and WikiLeaks. That aspect of the suit shows that the DNC is being run by people whose attitude toward a free press—ironically enough—has marked similarities to Donald Trump’s.

Early in his presidency, Trump proclaimed that news media are “the enemy of the American people.” Of course, he didn’t mean all media, just the outlets providing information and analysis he doesn’t like.

What Perez and the DNC crew are now promoting via the lawsuit is also harmful, though more camouflaged. The lawsuit’s key arguments against WikiLeaks are contrary to the First Amendment, and they could be made against major U.S. newspapers. Unauthorized disclosures are common, with news outlets routinely reporting on information obtained from leaks, hacks and various forms of theft.

Just as the government’s criminal prosecutions for leaks are extremely selective, the DNC position is that a media outlet that’s despised by a powerful party could be sued for potentially huge sums.

But—unless it’s functionally shredded—the First Amendment doesn’t only protect media outlets that powerful interests believe are behaving acceptably. That’s why the Nixon administration was unable to prevent The New York Times and Washington Post from publishing the Pentagon Papers in 1971.

Now, the DNC lawsuit’s perverse “logic” for suing WikiLeaks could just as easily be applied by any deep-pocketed group that wants to strike back at a publisher for revealing “stolen” information that harmed the aggrieved party.

In view of the national Democratic Party’s deference to corporate power, we might see why the DNC is taking the current approach. It would be a much steeper uphill challenge to actually champion the interests of most Americans—which would require taking on Wall Street, a key patron of both major political parties.

Nor would it be easy for the Democratic Party to advocate for U.S.-Russia détente that could reduce the risks of nuclear conflagration. Such advocacy would enrage the kingpins of the military-industrial cartel complex as well as most of the corporate-owned and corporate-advertised news media.

How much easier it is to make some political hay by targeting Russia with a civil lawsuit. How much more convenient it is to show utter contempt for the First Amendment by suing Julian Assange and WikiLeaks.

A loud and clear message from the Democrats’ 2016 election debacle is that hoping for working-class votes while refusing to do battle against corporate exploiters of the working class is a political dead end. “The mainstream Democratic storyline of victims without victimizers lacks both plausibility and passion,” says an independent report, “Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis.” Six months after the release of that report (which I co-authored), the DNC still is unwilling to polarize with elite corporate interests, while remaining extra eager to portray Russia and WikiLeaks as liable for the 2016 disaster.

So, unfortunately, this assessment in the “Autopsy” remains all too relevant: “The idea that the Democrats can somehow convince Wall Street to work on behalf of Main Street through mild chiding, rather than acting as Main Street’s champion against the wealthy, no longer resonates. We live in a time of unrest and justified cynicism towards those in power; Democrats will not win if they continue to bring a wonk knife to a populist gunfight. Nor can Democratic leaders and operatives be seen as real allies of the working class if they’re afraid to alienate big funders or to harm future job or consulting prospects.”

Willingness to challenge Wall Street would certainly alienate some of the Democratic Party’s big donors. And such moves would likely curb the future earning power of high-ranking party officials, who can now look forward to upward spikes in incomes from consultant deals and cushy positions at well-heeled firms. With eyes on the prizes from corporate largesse, DNC officials don’t see downsides to whacking at WikiLeaks and undermining press freedom in the process.

Wall Street Admits Curing Diseases Is Bad For Business

APR 24, 2018

Goldman Sachs has outdone itself this time. That’s saying a lot for an investment firm that both helped cause and then exploited a global economic meltdown, increasing its own wealth and power while helping to boot millions of Americans out of their homes.

But now Goldman Sachs is openly saying in financial reports that curing people of terrible diseases is not good for business.

I wish this were a joke. It sounds like a joke. In fact, I’ll show you later that it used to be one of my favorite jokes. But first, the facts.

In a recent report, a Goldman analyst asked clients: “Is curing patients a sustainable business model?” Salveen Richter wrote: “The potential to deliver ‘one-shot cures’ is one of the most attractive aspects of gene therapy. … However, such treatments offer a very different outlook with regard to recurring revenue versus chronic therapies. … While this proposition carries tremendous value for patients and society, it could represent a challenge for genome medicine developers looking for sustained cash flow.”

Yes, a Goldman analyst has said outright that curing people will hurt their cash flow. And he said that in a note designed to steer clients away from investing in cures. Can “human progress” have a bottom? Because if so, this is the bottom of so-called human progress—down where the mud eels mate with the cephalopods. (Or at least that’s how I picture the bottom.)

This analyst note is one of the best outright examples I’ve ever seen of how brutal our market economy is. In the past, this truth would not have been spoken. It would’ve lived deep within a banker’s soul and nowhere else. It would’ve been viewed as too repulsive for the wealthy elite to say, “We don’t want to cure diseases because that will be bad for our wallet. We want people to suffer for as long as possible. Every suffering human enriches us a little bit more.”

We’re circling the drain in the toilet bowl, and as you know, the contents speed up as they near the end, the event horizon. We are beginning to see more and more how disgusting a profit-above-all-else economy really is. When Donald Trump bombed Syria, the stocks of weapons contractors shot up. That spike in stocks is a spike in the gravity of capitalism, pulling people toward death and destruction. Profit has power. And its power is exerted on the society as a whole.

Furthermore, there is no debate about this on your mainstream outlets. There is no discussion as to whether war profiteering is what we really want out of our society. None. You tell me: How many perfectly coiffed CNN or Fox News hosts stated: “Weapons contractors benefited from our bombing. Isn’t that revolting? Doesn’t that just make you gag in your soup? Doesn’t that mean we’ve created an upside-down system that rewards barbaric bullshit?”

You will not hear that discussion. You’re more likely to hear them discuss the best blind pingpong player to ever star in a short film about self-harm. Hard news topics do not see the light of day on our suffocated corporate airwaves.

And believe it or not, the Goldman note gets even worse. The analyst says, “In the case of infectious diseases such as hepatitis C, curing existing patients also decreases the number of carriers able to transmit the virus to new patients. …”

Decreases the number of carriers? Goldman Sachs … is in a financial partnership … with fucking infectious diseases.

Let that sink in. Sit with that and decide whether you want to keep your seat on spaceship earth. I’ll wait.

When I first read about this—after I stopped choking on my tongue—I realized it made more sense than I first thought. I’ve always felt Lloyd Blankfein had a striking resemblance to Hepatitis C. But it turns out he just works with Hepatitis C. They’re just really close friends and business partners. (But I heard Ebola is the godfather to his kids.)

Our aggressive strain of unfettered capitalism has blasted beyond satire in many ways. In one of my favorite Chris Rock specials, “Bigger & Blacker,” which I first saw when I was a teenager, he had a joke that blew my mind. He said something like, “They ain’t never gonna cure AIDS. They ain’t nevergonna cure AIDS. There’s too much money in it. The money’s not in the cure. The money’s in the comeback! The money’s in the comeback.”

And I found that bit hilarious. I loved it. Because I thought it was a joke. Now, I see—it ain’t no joke. He’s goddamn right. They aren’t even trying to cure infectious diseases that make them piles of cash. Instead, the moneyed interests are complaining to their clients that they need to avoid curing these diseases. Because not only do they lose money on the patient who no longer needs meds, they also lose money because that patient won’t pass the disease onto others.

I swear these drug companies are roughly two weeks away from just going, “Hey, what if we send Bruce—that guy in the copy room—out to stab people in the back of the neck with infected needles? Is that over the line? Because that would increase our cash flow. And not only do we make money from the newly infected person, but they’re likely to pass it on to other people. How great is that?”

A profit-driven world creates a disgusting reality with a contorted value system. A world where oil companies view oil spills that destroy whole coastal communities as the price of doing business. In fact, they even declared it’s good for the local economy. A world where millions of animals abused for their entire lives is just the price of doing brunch. A world where massive hurricane destruction is a business opportunity rather than a tragedy. “Honey, check the weather report. Are there any 155-mile-per-hour business opportunities ripping through any Caribbean islands?”

And now corporations no longer fret over government interference—because they own the government. For them to worry about that would be like you worrying that your carpet might stop you from going out to a movie this evening. I think we’ve established what the carpet does. It lays there. Corporations now spew forth their true goals and motivations without much concern for the backlash. They can do things like use attack dogs on protesters at Standing Rock and not worry about the consequences. Who cares? The worst that could happen to them is they pay a fine—a “sorry we bit you with vicious man-eating dogs” fine.

We have a value systems disorder. A large percentage of our society now views this Goldman Sachs-style thinking as acceptable. It should be viewed as equally grotesque as beating someone over the head and then selling them bandages. Now imagine that’s your company’s business model. And you get investors to help you achieve it. Next to a glowing PowerPoint presentation you say, “You guys help me pay for the baseball bat. I’ll beat people over the head with that bat. My bat-swinging skills are well documented. I then sell the bloodied victims our top-shelf bandages. And with little effort on your part, you get a cut of the profits. It’s a rock-solid investment.”

That’s how we need to view what Goldman Sachs is saying in this analyst note.

The only way a system ends up at this point—with our values this far upside down—is with endless advertising in a profit-driven society. This is a system built on the exploitation of others for gain. There was no time when that was not true. And that’s why we need a revolution of the mind.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Law Enforcement Has Quietly Backed Anti-Protest Bills in at Least 8 States Since Trump’s Election

And that may be the tip of the iceberg.


MINNEAPOLIS POLICE UNION PRESIDENT LT. BOB KROLL told In These Timesthat he lobbied Minnesota lawmakers to advance a statewide law clamping down on protests—legislation that civil liberties advocates say targets Black Lives Matter.

The pending bill, HF 390/SF 676, would significantly increase fees and jail time for protesters who block highways, a common civil disobedience tactic, including at protests against police killings. According to the ACLU of Minnesota, the proposed legislation “chills dissent” and constitutes an “attempt to silence Black Lives Matter movement.”

“I knew they were trying to pass it last year, and I encouraged them to do it again,” Kroll told In These Times. 

Kroll has faced numerous accusations of racism for, among other comments, likening protests against police killings to “the local version of Benghazi” in 2015 and calling Black Lives Matter a “terrorist organization” in 2016.

His acknowledgement of the lobbying by his union, Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis, raises concerns that law enforcement is pressuring legislators to clamp down on protests—and specifically, on protests against police violence. “Cops are going to keep pursuing ways to keep themselves above the fray and unaccountable for the things they do,” says Tony Williams, a member of the MPD150, a police abolitionist project that recently released a “150-year performance review of the Minneapolis Police Department. “It's a naked case of self-interest more than anything else.”

Minneapolis police aren’t alone: According to research conducted for In These Times in partnership with Ear to the Ground, law enforcement in at least eight states—Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and Wyoming—lobbied on behalf of anti-protest bills in 2017 and 2018. The bills ran the gamut from punishing face coverings at protests to increasing penalties for “economic disruption” and highway blockage to criminalizing civil protests that interfere with “critical infrastructure” like oil pipelines.

Emboldened by the Trump administration, at least 31 states have considered 62 pieces of anti-protest legislation since November 2016, with at least seven enacted and 31 still pending. The full scope of police support for these bills is not yet known. As in the case of Kroll, police support often takes place in private meetings, far from the public eye.

That police are playing any role in this wave of anti-protest legislation is raising alarm among organizers and civil liberties advocates. Traci Yoder, director of research and education for the National Lawyers Guild, a progressive bar association, is the author of recent report on the forces behind the wave of anti-protest bills, which include conservative groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council, corporations like as Energy Transfer Partners (the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline) and state Departments of Homeland Security.

“We are deeply concerned about the role of law enforcement agencies and leaders supporting the current wave of anti-protest legislation,” Yoder tells In These Times. “We see this as a direct response to the success and visibility of recent movements of color such as Black Lives Matter and #NoDAPL. The collusion we are seeing between law enforcement, lawmakers and corporate interests is undemocratic and designed to deter social movements for racial and environmental justice.”


Following uprisings in Ferguson, Standing Rock, Baltimore and elsewhere, the policing of protests became a hot topic at law enforcement conferences and within law enforcement publications. But law enforcement like Lt. Bob Kroll are not merely discussing how to apply the law to protests, but actively lobbying for new laws curbing public action.

According to research by In These Times and Ear to the Ground, police associations, police unions, district attorneys or officers in leadership positions lobbied in favor of “protest suppression” laws in 2017 and 2018 in at least eight states: Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Washington and Wyoming.

One bill was signed, two passed but were vetoed, and a 2018 Iowa bill to protect “critical infrastructure” has passed, but still awaits its governor’s signature. Four are still pending, and the rest died or were voted down.

In other states, top sponsors of protest suppression legislation had close ties to law enforcement. In Tennessee, for example, the main sponsor of a bill that was signed into law in 2017 was a member of Blue Lives Matter Tennessee.

These state-level efforts appear to be compounding the repressive national political climate, where the Trump administration has aggressively prosecuted more than 200 Inauguration Day protesters, and the president has openly endorsed police brutality.

Support for state-level anti-protest laws extends far beyond police departments, as showcased in Minnesota, where an action item to require “prosecution of protestors who impede emergency traffic” was approved by the Republican Party Convention in 2016.

And the cozy relationship between Minnesota state lawmakers extends far beyond anti-protest legislation. Representative Zerwas and Minnesota State Senator Tony Cornish, who have advanced the anti-protest legislation, have also advanced law enforcement’s agenda on a number of other issues, including body worn cameras, school police and new protections for police dogs.

As highway-blocking protests continue, some in Minneapolis remain skeptical that police are—or will ever be—on the public’s side.

“Police officers and police unions try to portray themselves as nonpartisan enforcers of laws,” says Williams. “But if you look at the history of police departments in Minneapolis and across the country, there's a documented history of that not being true. Police have an agenda.”


Speaking over the phone with In These Times, Kroll elaborated on his role in lobbying for the Minnesota bill. “We have ongoing meetings with politicians, and one of them, Nick Zerwas, we encouraged him to bring it again,” Kroll explained.

State Rep. Zerwas—who did not respond to a request for comment—is author of and principle force behind the bill, which would make the obstruction of an interstate or a major roadway to an airport punishable by up to $3,000 and a year in jail. Zerwas first introduced the bill in January 2017, then tried to work the language into an omnibus spending bill, but was thwarted by Gov. Mark Dayton. In March 2018, Zerwas revived the original bill. Like those of all Minnesota state representatives, Zerwas’ communications are exempt from the state’s sunshine law.

Ben Feist, legislative director of the ACLU of Minnesota, was surprised to learn of Kroll’s comments. “This is the first I’ve heard” of police support for either iteration of the bill, he says.
“In all of the hearings that have occurred last session and this session, law enforcement and their usually very vocal lobby have been silent. Lawmakers have not said that law enforcement has asked for this.”

But not everyone was surprised. Williams tells In These Times, “There is a long history of police advocacy groups, specifically police unions, using their cultural capital as police to convince legislators to pass policy on their behalf.” Williams points out that in 2012, for example, the Minneapolis Police Federation successfully pressed lawmakers to pass a law that reduces the power of a statewide panel tasked with investigating police misconduct.

When he spoke with In These Times for this story, Kroll again denigrated protests against police killings of Black Minnesotans, including 24-year-old Jamar Clark and 32-year-old Philando Castile.

“They impede normal people's travel plans, holidays, you name it,” Kroll said of the protests, which have been used across the country by Black Lives Matter organizers responding to police killings. “They keep working people away from their destination, from childcare. These are a group of people funded by a radical left-wing organization that disrupts the lives of normal people.”

Asked to clarify who he believes is funding these groups, Kroll replied: “George Soros … He's a big funder of things like that. The groups that we're talking about take part in blocking freeways and airports, disrupt vehicle traffic in and out of the Super Bowl.”

In response to Kroll’s latest remarks, Williams said, “A vast majority of people who have protested police brutality in Minneapolis or around the country are not funded or even supported by resources in that work at all. Certainly not to the level of a group like the police union is.”

“What groups are fundamentally demanding is a way to keep our communities safe from police officers,” Williams continued. “It’s not a radical thing to want our community to be safe. But the police union and Bob Kroll have shown themselves to be radical far-right individuals with ties to white supremacy.”

In a 2016 interview, Kroll admitted he is a member of City Heat, a motorcycle club that has been denounced by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) for its tolerance for white supremacy (the ADL often collaborates with police departments). When asked about this affiliation, he abruptly ended his interview with In These Times. 

SIMON DAVIS-COHEN is editor of the Ear to the Ground newsletter, an exclusive “civic intelligence” service that mines local newspapers and state legislatures from across the country.

SARAH LAZARE Sarah Lazare is web editor at In These Times. She comes from a background in independent journalism for publications including The Intercept, The Nation and Tom Dispatch. A former staff writer for AlterNet and Common Dreams, Sarah co-edited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War.

India's Far-Right PM Modi Meets Protests in London