Monday, September 1, 2014

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Religion "Breaking Bad"

August 27, 2014 1:27 PM

The FBI was investigating Paul Crouch, the co-founder of Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). Crouch, who died last year at the age of 79,  was one of the world's first "televangelists." Crouch and his wife, Jan Crouch, first began their "ministry" by renting time on a local Canadian TV station, and grew their "ministry" into TBN, a multi-million dollar international TV network which the co-founded with the now infamous grifter, Jim Bakker, and his wife, Tammy Faye Bakker.

The New York Times in 2012 reported on the TBN founders who were at the forefront of the so-called "prosperity gospel," noting that in 2010 alone they took in $93 million in donations through their "ministry."

Now, thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request, investigative journalism site MuckRock "reveals the laundry list of Crouch’s activities the FBI was monitoring or even investigating."

Among the more interesting revelations is the claim that the FBI's "reports accuse Crouch and his partners as being motivated by 'anti-semitic and white supremacist,' beliefs."

In 1997 the FBI labeled Crouch "an anti-semitic, white supremacist" -- but once they identified him as a religious figure they "conducted no further investigation."


The FBI file also states that "Paul Crouch, along with Reverend Earl Paulk, [redacted] and Oral Roberts were anti-Semitic and white supremacists. Crouch and the others were supposedly receiving funds from the PLO to 'run guns.'"


Paulk died in 2009, but his Wikipedia page offers startling insights. Roberts also died in 2009.

MuckRock reports that "the FBI and IRS were working closely with the Italian GDF, essentially their Internal Revenue Service, to fully investigate Crouch’s foreign and domestic holdings."
Apparently as soon as word got out that Crouch and TBN were in the money laundering biz, the Italian mob decided they wanted in. The file mentions phone contact between TBN and the Sons of Italy Lodge in the Bronx, NY. You might be thinking that this is pretty shaky evidence to suggest Crouch was in contact with the mob, but considering the fact that the phone record was included in a subsection of the infamous Bronx mobster Vincent “Chin” Gigante’s FBI file, it’s pretty clear that the FBI was drawing some kind of connection. This probably didn’t make the GDF too happy either.
There is a possible link reported to a federal drug and money laundering investigation as well.

"Other sketchy phone calls that went in and out of TBN over the years were from a Hungarian computer programmer whom TBN sponsored for U.S. citizenship, and phone calls from a number in Omaha to the TBN line which were documented in a separate FBI narcotics transfer investigation," MuckRock charges. "Maybe someday all those little white redactions will be peeled away and we’ll know exactly what Crouch was up to."

The complete, albeit redacted, FBI file can be read at MuckRock.
In 2010, The New Civil Rights Movement reported on allegations that Paul Crouch allegedly forced a male employee, Enoch Lonnie Ford, into homosexual acts.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The New Normal

Mitt Romney coined the phrase for our time, “Corporations are people...” he said, ushering a “new normal.” Soon after, this logic gave us the Citizen's United decision whereby corporations as newly discovered citizens demanded their first amendment right of free speech and could therefore spend zillions of dollars trying to influence our public policy. I never quite understood this logic since the Congress had year after year put restrictions on real people on how much they could spend with the hope that the more affluent among us wouldn't get too much of a disproportionate influence on what is supposedly a representative Republic.

While Conservatives everywhere were fretting over the perceived pernicious power of the president, an elected official, they were just fine with billionaires, none of them elected to anything, spending rivers of cash on their pet causes – mostly themselves. All that campaign finance reform cavalierly tossed out the window by a compliant Supreme Court, most of which claim to follow the Founders intent. Maybe I didn't read all of Jefferson or Franklin's letters but I don't seem to recall them favoring the ΓΌber rich, giving them extra political power. It always seemed to me quite the opposite, that the founders thought that the ultra wealthy might be content to wield economic power and leave the public policy, well, to the public.

"They even have a cool name for it: inversion."

If we indeed are granting “people” status to corporations, there is something amiss in this new normal. Corporations are exercising their rights, but we don't hear much about their obligations. I mean, the rest of us have all these rights, guaranteed by the Constitution, but along with these rights we have obligations as citizens. Chief among them is our obligation to pay for our government. And that is where the double standard, starts to show. Corporations like to be treated as people when it comes looking for rights, but obligations, not so much. After all, they are not ordinary citizens. They are multinationals, with interests all over the globe. The thought of contributing to the country that protects their global interests is quite beneath them. After all, there are real citizens to pay for all that stuff. American corporations are always complaining about their excessive tax burden. Other countries like Canada demand less from them.

Sure they do.

You see, Canada's dirty little secret is that they can afford to give their citizens basically free health care because they don't have to spend gazillions on defense. Yup, they can rely on their good old friends farther south to protect them if the shit really hits the fan. Not that we should begrudge them, but please don't tell us that the Canadians are so generous to corporations because they are nice guys (although most of them are indeed nice people).

Corporate America's new defenders?
Same goes for other more generous taxing countries than us. I wonder if a cargo ship gets hijacked on the high seas the company whose ship it is will call on Bermuda's Navy to rescue their ship, since they have opted for a tax-friendly headquarters. Or how about the redoubtable Lichtenstein Air Force, or maybe the Swiss guards who have traditionally given security to Popes – maybe they can be called upon to defend America's business interests abroad. They look so cute in their Renaissance outfits. Maybe those nifty spears they carry would come in handy against Somali pirates, not to mention those really cool Swiss Army knives.

The latest travesty in this new normal is that American corporations are opting to go abroad looking for ways to dodge their American tax obligations. After all, corporations should maximize profits. So after they're done squeezing the taxpayers for special subsidies, squeezing their employees for as much as they dare, what else is left if you want to make larger profits?

They even have a cool name for it: inversion, they call it. Sounds innocuous enough but other names might be more appropriate, like tax dodging, or reneging on their obligations to their country who gave their employees free education, built the roads and bridges they use, built the airports and sea ports they use and so much more. And of course, the big one: National Defense. Yes, it costs a boatload of cash to maintain a military that is second to none, made up of real people who put their lives on the line to protect our country's interests, or should I say our corporate interests, because I never needed an aircraft carrier group to protect me when I travel abroad.

It has become fashionable to deride our current President as socialist, anti-business – he never ran a business so what does he know about business, blah, blah, blah, ad nauseum. Yes, sometimes these crybabies make me want to vomit. But while the corporate class and their sycophants whine away, this President is doing what every President before him has done, protect their sorry asses in spite of their hand-wringing.

So the next time you hear a corporate shill speak about corporations being people, and with the same rights as ordinary citizens, ask them why they are so reluctant to pay into their obligation to fund the biggest fighting force the world has ever seen, or do they prefer calling on their ganja smoking pals in the Caribbean to bail them out when they're in a jam.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Sing Along with Mitch

Mitch McConnell is at it again. After promising he would never be party to a government shut down again, he just recently left the door open in an interview with Politico for a forcing of more government shutdowns. In short, a doubling down of the politics of confrontation which will undoubtedly force the President to issue a spate of vetoes. It is baffling to think that the politics of gridlock, universally rejected by the American electorate, would be what the Republicans choose to end the President's term with. It seems that this kind of strategy would pretty much insure a Democratic victory in 2016 as the country will surely reject another “do-nothing” session.

Senator Mitch McConnell
And of course, at the top of the list is the Republican bogeyman, the dastardly Obamacare. After failing to repeal it some fifty times what makes them think they will get a repeal of his signature legislation while this President is in office? In 2014, there is still some residual fear of Obamacare, but by 2016, much of the fear will have been subsided as most people will either embrace healthcare reform or at least become resigned to it being the new paradigm. In 2017, under a new Democratic administration ushered in by perceived Republican intransigence, the odds of repealing Obamacare will be close to zero.

So why this huffing and puffing? The best guess is that McConnell is in the fight of his life and needs to show a backbone to be re-elected. He has to show that he is no pushover for the President, and to those inclined to vote Republican, that is what they want to hear. There is nearly half of the public that doesn't even believe that this President is legitimate, even an American citizen (as if that would be possible). It is amazing to see people's thinking on this, flying in the face of simple logic. How so many Americans have become absurdly Quixotic is a mystery beyond me. Sure, there still is the ugly specter of racism that refuses to die but I refuse to believe that so many Americans are out and out racists.

McConnell is trying to tap into what he knows to be voter pessimism and has eschewed the sunny optimism of the only successful Republican politician, the master of PR, Ronald Reagan. If Reagan were alive today he would mostly reject the politics of confrontation and division that his proud GOP has become. McConnell has become the symbol of that new GOP, a party destined to be a minority party for the foreseeable future until they come to their senses and do what they were elected to do – govern.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Tell us again why contraception and sex education doesn't work

The teen birth rate is now less than one-third what it was at its height in 1957. Back then, 96.3 out of every 1,000 teenage girls gave birth, while today it is 26.6. The drop in teen birth rates meant roughly 4 million fewer births to teenagers during the past 20 years. The largest recorded declines between 1991 and 2012 were for non-Hispanic black teenagers. According to officials, this saved taxpayers in 2010 alone $12 billion as teen mothers usually depend on food stamps, Medicaid, and other forms of welfare. Officials tied the decline to increased effective contraception like birth control, as well as less sex, potentially due to fears of HIV. "Pregnancy was often seen as the girl's problem," Bill Albert, the chief program officer of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, said. "HIV, not so much."
[from the Daily Beast]

Friday, August 15, 2014

Capitalism and Democracy

Before Zaida Ramos joined Cooperative Home Care Associates, she was raising her daughter on public assistance, shuttling between dead-end office jobs, and not making ends meet. “I earned in a week what my family spent in a day,” she recalled.

After 17 years as a home health aide at Cooperative Home Care Associates (CHCA), the largest worker-owned co-op in the United States, Ramos recently celebrated her daughter’s college graduation. She’s paying half of her son’s tuition at a Catholic school, and she’s a worker-owner in a business where she enjoys flexible hours, steady earnings, health and dental insurance, plus an annual share in the profits. She’s not rich, she says, “but I’m financially independent. I belong to a union, and I have a chance to make a difference.”

Can worker-owned businesses lift families out of poverty? “They did mine,” Ramos said. Should other low-income New Yorkers get involved in co-ops? She says, “Go for it.”

New York City is going—in a big way—for worker-owned cooperatives. Inspired by the model of CHCA and prodded by a new network of co-op members and enthusiasts, Mayor Bill de Blasio and the New York City Council allocated $1.2 million to support worker cooperatives in 2015’s budget. According to the Democracy at Work Institute, New York’s investment in co-ops is the largest by any U.S. city government to date.

Cooperatives are businesses owned and controlled by their members on the basis of one member, one vote. Given enough time, worker-owned cooperatives tend to increase wages and improve working conditions, and advocates say a local co-op generally stays where it’s founded and acts as a leadership-building force.

There is no greater medicine for apathy and feelings of living on the edges of society than to see your own work and your voice make a difference,” says a report on co-ops by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies in New York.

Selling the council on co-ops

This January, as a new mayor (who ran on combating inequality) and a progressive majority of the City Council were taking office, the Federation’s report inspired Councilmember Maria Del Carmen Arroyo to think about co ops. “A bulb went off,” she said.

Arroyo, incoming chair of the Community Development Committee, represents a South Bronx district that’s still one of the poorest in the nation, even after years of “development.” National retailers, attracted by tax breaks, typically pay low wages and squeeze out local businesses. Partly in response, the Bronx is also home to an array of co ops, from the large CHCA to the small Green Worker Cooperatives, which incubates local green businesses.

There is no greater medicine for apathy and feelings of living on the edges of society than to see your own work and your voice make a difference.” 

Among the co-op members who testified was Yadira Fragoso, whose wages rose to $25 an hour—up from $6.25—after becoming a worker-owner at Si Se Puede, a cleaning co-op incubated by the Brooklyn-based Center for Family Life. Translation at the hearing was provided by Caracol, an interpreters’ cooperative mentored by Green Worker Cooperatives.When Arroyo convened a first-of-its-kind hearing on co-ops this February, New Yorkers packed not one but two hearing rooms at City Hall.

By spreading risk and pooling resources, co-ops offer people with little individual wealth a way to start their own businesses and build assets. That said, if starting and sustaining a successful cooperative business were easy, there would probably be more of them.

As of January 2014, just 23 worker-owned co-ops existed in New York, of which only CHCA employed more than 70 people. Nationwide, according to data from the U.S. Federation of Worker Cooperatives, roughly 300 worker-owned cooperatives average 11 workers each. Lack of public awareness and funding, as well as a weak support system, holds co-ops back, researchers say, and cumbersome city paperwork doesn’t help.

A working model

CHCA is over 90 percent owned by women of color and yet (because of the co-op’s many owners) it hasn’t qualified as a minority- and women-owned business, Arroyo told the hearing. (Such businesses enjoy privileges in bidding for contracts.) “There’s no earthly reason we can’t change that,” Arroyo said.

If they are to change anyone’s life for the better, though, co-ops have to be successful businesses, and that’s hard, says Michael Elsas, CEO of CHCA.

The co-op was founded in 1985 on the premise that if workers owned their own company they could maximize their wages and benefits, and if workers were better trained and better treated, they’d offer better care to their clients. Creating the worker co-op was the first step. But to truly change life for their workers in a race-to-the-bottom industry such as health care, the founders knew they’d have to change the industry.

To better address the needs of home care clients, in 2000 they created Independence Care System (ICS), a multibillion-dollar managed-care company, which contracts with the city to work with chronically sick and disabled adults. With ICS, CHCA filled an unmet need while also creating its own primary customer to fuel the co-op’s growth. ICS is responsible for 60 percent of CHCA’s business, and the co-op has grown from 500 workers in the late 1990s to 2,300 today.To that end, CHCA worked on several connected tracks. To raise industry standards, not just for CHCA workers but across the field, CHCA started the worker-run Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute (PHI) that trains agencies across the country while also fighting for policy shifts. (PHI was instrumental in the campaign that recently expanded the Fair Labor Standards Act.)

Workers become “owners” with a buy-in of $1,000, paid over time. Of today’s 2,300, some 1,100 are worker-owners, Elsas says. The company had $64 million in revenues in 2013. They’ve raised wages, but more important to workers like Ramos are the regular hours, the family health insurance, and membership in the Service Employees International Union Local 1199. In short, respect.

CHCA occupies two floors of a new office building on Fordham Road. Peer-mentors answer caregivers’ calls at desks, with plenty of cushioned sitting-room space for talking. In the PHI training lab, there are no model plastic dummies. Workers in training learn what it’s like to be both caretaker and patient.

Wages for CHCA’s health care workers stand at $16 an hour including benefits, Elsas says. It’s not affluence, but it’s still almost twice market rate. Workers enjoy guaranteed hours—an average of 36 a week, compared to an industry norm of 25 to 30. They’re paid for business meetings, and in a state where the CEO-to-minimum-wage-worker pay ratio stands at 405: 1, the ratio at CHCA hit its highest (11:1) in 2006. Turnover stands at 15 percent, compared with an industry standard close to four times that.

If I didn’t like it here, I wouldn’t have stayed all these years,” Ramos says.

Asked about New York’s new co-ops, CHCA’s Elsas hesitates. He’s all for making it easier for co-ops to get contracts, but he’s concerned about scale.

I’m just not sure that setting up 26 new small co-ops will help change policy or practice,” he says.

Administered by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA), the city’s new funds will go to 10 nonprofits (among them, Green Worker Cooperatives and the Center for Family Life). The groups must create “234 jobs in worker cooperative businesses, reach 920 cooperative entrepreneurs, provide for the start up of 28 new worker cooperative small businesses, and [assist] another 20 existing co-ops.”Helen Rosenthal was changed by a small co-op: Her mother started one of the first nursery co-ops in Detroit, and she saw how lives improved. Now she chairs the New York City Council’s powerful Committee on Contracts, where she’s helping push the co-op legislation. “With co-ops, democracy is built into the legal DNA,” she said.

With so few co-ops in existence, creating more is better, says Hilary Abell, author of a new study from the Democracy Collaborative titled “Pathways to Scale.” More is better. Co-ops thrive in a mutually supportive ecosystem. “But the biggest need right now is certainly for larger businesses, capable of hiring 100 workers and up,” she says, adding that start-ups may not be the best path to scale: “There are 200,000 small businesses in the U.S. today, employing half of all America’s workers. Most have no succession plan.” Might some be ripe, she asks, for takeover by their workers?

After 92 years of the Federation’s fight against poverty, its leaders are clear: “Making sure that a safety net exists is not enough to help New Yorkers have satisfying lives. We needed a new approach to workforce development that would not only reduce poverty but also promote upward mobility, and that’s where co-ops can be an anchor,” says Wayne Ho, FPWA’s chief program and policy officer.

Funding for supportive nonprofits is not the only thing co-ops need from cities. In Spain, Northern Italy, Quebec, and France, robust worker co-ops benefit from laws that help co-ops access capital and public contracts. In New York, even as public dollars flow to big businesses as incentives, public spending is on the chopping block. The first city-sponsored trainings with a new, cooperative-inclusive curriculum started this summer, but passing co-op-friendly laws is going to take political power—of the sort that elected today’s progressive city leadership.

This $1.2 million won’t end poverty, but it’s a step in the right direction, says Christopher Michael of the New York City Network of Worker Cooperatives. “We have all the raw ingredients of a successful policy initiative: engaged groups, a bit of a track record and support in the city council…

This is just a start.”

Laura Flanders is YES! Magazine’s 2013 Local Economies Reporting Fellow and is executive producer, founder, and host of “GRITtv with Laura Flanders.” Follow her on Twitter @GRITlaura.