The Undercurrent on Rachel Maddow

Last summer The Undercurrent released audio from the Koch brothers retreat on the Concerned Veterans for America and its efforts to undermine the Department of Veterans Affairs. Its leader, Pete Hegseth, talked at length about how the Koch network was responsible for creating the group and that CVA was using the VA scandal to attack Obamacare. I worked with George Zornick of The Nation, and he wrote about it here.

Last night, Rachel Maddow did a segment on how the idea to privatize the VA became politically popular for the GOP presidential candidates, using the audio from The Undercurrent. This story will have deep consequences not just for veterans, but for the state of our national healthcare system. I was convinced last year that the CVA was working in concert with Republicans towards a larger end game, and that is now bearing out.

Please watch the segment, and share it to spread the word that the VA is under attack…

Is Barack Obama Like Benito Mussolini on Environmentalism?

Myron Ebell Sinister

What do Barack Obama and Benito Mussolini have in common? A fascist agenda, of course! According to Myron Ebell, Director of the Competitive Enterprise Institute’s Center for Energy and Environment, environmentalists have a ‘sinister’ agenda akin to Italian fascism of the 1920s and ’30s. He spoke at the “Climate: What Tom Steyer Won’t Tell You” panel at CPAC, where climate deniers united to ridicule all the silly environmentalists, from Steyer to President Obama to Secretary of State John Kerry, and of course EPA administrator Gina McCarthy.

Panelists included Rep. Bill Flores (R-TX 17), who sits on the House Energy and Commerce Committee; Becky Norton Dunlop, the panel moderator and Vice President of External Relations at the Heritage Foundation; Andrew Langer, President of the Institute for Liberty; and Gary Broadbent, assistant general counsel of Murray Energy Corporation, one of largest coal mining operations in America. Ebell replaced Joe Bast of the Heartland Institute, a renowned climate denier, who had to leave the conference because, according to Dunlop, “a great scientist [and renowned climate denier], Willie Soon, is under attack by the left and he asked Joe to come up to be with he (sic) and his family.” Damn those leftists for challenging a scientist who has been funded largely from the fossil fuel industry!

Opening the panel, Dunlop charged the environmental movement with lying. Flores repeatedly decried “junk science.” Ebell was emphatic that no global warming has taken place in the last 18 years. Langer talked about the “war on conservative speech.”

And shockingly, the coal industry lawyer lamented the dying coal industry. Broadbent spent several minutes discussing the economic hardships imposed on coal miners, the elderly, and the poor — supposedly from the overwhelming regulatory costs on his industry. Talking about miners facing job losses from mine closures, Broadbent wondered how they would survive and claimed that “coal mining is their passion.” Hmm, yes, passionate about black lung. Or perhaps they are passionate about keeping jobs that pay more than 1.65 times the national average across all industries, in an economic environment of falling wages.

It was hard to choose between Ebell’s and Broadbent’s claims for most mind-boggling. But in the end, you always have to pick the corporate shill who likens activists trying to conserve the environment (in an era of unprecedented giveaways to multinational corporations), to the very form of government they are fighting. Lest we forget, the words of Benito Mussolini:

“Fascism should more properly be called corporatism because it is the merger of state and corporate power.”

Watch highlights from Ebell’s speech on the panel and my interview with him below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting. You can see the full panel here.

Republicans Debate Which “Hostage” to Take at CPAC

Obama Hostages

Hostages. Bullets. Threatening an economic crisis. You’d be forgiven if you thought these were the words of ISIS or Al Qaeda operatives. But alas, they came from senior leaders of the Republican Party last week.

At a CPAC panel on deficit reduction, Deroy Murdock of the National Review and Rep. Tom Price (R-GA 6) put forth alternative “hostages” to the Dept. of Homeland Security, like the Environmental Protection Agency and IRS, for blocking President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. I asked Price to discuss his strategy in more depth afterwards, and at one point, he referred to opportunities to take hostages as “bullets.”

In a separate CPAC event with noted immigration opposition leader Jeff Sessions, the senator referred to threatening a national debt default (refusing to raise the debt ceiling) as an “obvious opportunity for Republicans” to advance their agenda. The comment came amidst talk of a Republican messaging response to the Democratic Party’s “clean” funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security. Mind you, the DHS funding bill was nearing its first deadline that very day — the shutdown of the agency was imminent. Without apparent resolution in sight, Sessions was already on to the next standoff.

Violent rhetoric against the government is neither new nor uncommon to the Republican Party — think Grover Norquist’s notorious line: “Our goal is to shrink government to the size where we can drown it in a bathtub.” After winning the mid-terms, GOP leadership promised an end to shutdowns, but the rest of the party didn’t seem to get the memo. The manufactured crises that they seem pretty intent on inflicting, as a rule, rather than the exception, are more akin to domestic terrorism than governance.

Watch both interviews with Rep. Price and Sen. Sessions below, and subscribe to The Undercurrent on YouTube for more independent, on-the-ground reporting…

Sen. Sessions: Debt Ceiling An Opportunity to Advance GOP Agenda

Sessions Debt Ceiling Thumb

On Tuesday Speaker of the House John Boehner ended the months long showdown over funding the Department of Homeland Security, despite strident objections from Republican hardliners seeking to block President Obama’s executive orders on immigration. Though Democrats ultimately won this battle without making any concessions, there will be other opportunities for the GOP to pick a fight. One is the upcoming raising of the debt ceiling.

Congress will technically hit the debt limit on March 15, but likely will not have to act until months later because of Treasury Department maneuvering. Politico estimates a vote will come sometime between late spring and early fall.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last Friday, before the one-week DHS funding deal extension had been reached, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was already contemplating the next Republican standoff. He called the debt ceiling “an obvious opportunity for Republicans” to advance their agenda. Manufactured debt ceiling crisis here we come!

Watch the exchange below on The Undercurrent, and subscribe on YouTube for more independent, grassroots reporting…

Sen. Sessions: Lessen Donor Influence, But Don’t Limit Contributions

At the Conservative Political Action Conference last weekend, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) struck a populist tone with remarks chiding the GOP for its focus on big money donors. Tying in immigration and trade as drivers of worsening economic conditions for working Americans, Sessions said the party should remember who its constituents are — average, working and middle class voters. He emphatically declared, “Votes trump money!”

However, when I asked Sessions what he would do to lessen the influence of donors, whether he would support contribution limits, the senator demurred…

Homeland Security Showdown Is An “American Snafu”

American Snafu3 Thumb


Today, American Family Voices (an organization where I consult) released “American Snafu,” a parody of an “American Sniper” movie trailer themed around the current Department of Homeland Security funding debacle. AFV is calling on Congress to pass a clean funding bill, without the contentious Republican riders to defund President Obama’s executive orders on immigration.

Without resolution by Friday, DHS employees from Border Patrol to FEMA to the Secret Service to the TSA will be furloughed or forced to work without pay. Not only is this showdown irresponsible, but it’s also dangerous, especially in times of escalating terror threats from ISIS and increasingly extreme winter weather conditions that have triggered a State of Emergency across the country. This is neither fiscal nor defense conservatism — ideologies the Republican Party likes to preach, but not practice.

AFV and I agree with former Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Tom Ridge — the debate over immigration should not be held on the backs of DHS employees, and Congress should not be playing political games with national security. The employees of DHS deserve better, Americans deserve better.

Watch “American Snafu” below…

House Dem: Trade Rep Said “Non-Negotiable” Climate Provisions Are Negotiable

Pocan TPP Climate

One of the few areas of common ground with Republicans and thus one of the few opportunities remaining to burnish his legacy in the waning days of his administration, the Trans Pacific Partnership is a major legislative priority for President Obama. But it’s one fraught with land mines. The major one is the Investor State Dispute Settlements clause, which allows corporations to sue countries for loss of profits due to regulations. In October of last year, The Guardian counted 568 such challenges since 1993.

Should the trade treaty pass, the ISDS provision has the ability to blow up Obama’s other initiatives as well, like his historic joint effort with China to cut greenhouse gas emissions. Washington tends to view trade and climate change as separate issues and largely negotiates them as such, although the issues are clearly interdependent — carbon consumption fuels consumer economies. (Naomi Klein’s book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate is a brilliant analysis of that relationship.) If Obama really wanted to be a game-changer, he would mandate strong environmental protections within the TPP, not as an afterthought, but as a driver of the discussion in creating a new model for global trade.

At Progressive Congress, the annual summit of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I talked to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI 2) about tying climate change negotiations into the Trans Pacific Partnership trade treaty. Pocan recounted a conversation with the U.S. Trade Representative, who is the chief negotiator and adviser to the president on trade policy:

Specifically, I’ve been in meetings with the U.S. Trade Representative, where I’ve asked about some of the major provisions that we’re concerned about to have strong environmental protections, and I was told each and every time that they were non-negotiable from a U.S. perspective. However, the very next person who asked a question said, “Does that mean you won’t bring us a trade deal if they’re not included?” And the answer was, “Well, I didn’t say that.”

Presumably the congressman was referring to U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman, though he did not mention him by name. Froman’s equivocation on environmental protections further underscores the shroud of secrecy around the TPP negotiations. Watch the interview here and subscribe to The Undercurrent for more on-the-ground reporting:

Dem Rep: Party Lost From Fear to Express Progressive Values

Taking control of the Senate and increasing their majority in the House, Republicans swept the election, largely by tying Democrats to negative messaging around President Obama. Accepting the GOP message framework, Senate Democratic candidates like Alison Lundergan-Grimes, Mark Pryor, and Mark Udall took the bait. The Democratic Party failed to offer compelling economic alternatives — in many cases running as pseudo-conservatives — and suffered a drubbing as a result.

But there were progressive victories, in ballot initiatives for raising the minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, and mandating paid sick leave, and in races where Democrats were not afraid to stand on populist principles. Chief among them were Senators Al Franken, Jeff Merkley, and Gary Peters, whose races had all been considered up-for-grabs and were won with double-digit margins. Franken defended healthcare and banking reforms; Merkley spoke of the “commonsense battle between the 1% and the 99%;” and Peters supported capping student loan interest rates and expanding the social safety net.

In Philadelphia at the Progressive Congress, the annual summit of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, I spoke with Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI 2) about the path forward for the Democratic Party in the wake of its historic losses last year, and the CPC’s role in spurring a turn-around.

This interview took place on Saturday, Feb. 7, 2015.

GOP Rep Will Vote to Let Homeland Security Funding Lapse

At the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention, I asked Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC 7) if he would vote for a clean appropriations bill for the Department of Homeland Security, that is one without the Republican riders defunding President Obama’s executive order on immigration. Chuckling, the South Carolina congressman said he would vote against a clean bill. Rice was hardly alone in that sentiment, although other legislators in attendance, such as Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), were not quite as concrete in what actions they would support. While Cruz said that he was pressing his colleagues to use the “power of the purse” to fight back against President Obama’s “unconstitutional amnesty,” he stopped short of saying whether or not he would let the department’s funding lapse.

On Sunday, DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson told CNN that 30,000 workers, primarily administrative employees, would be furloughed if funding for the department is not approved by Congress by February 27. The Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) would be particularly hard hit, with approximately 80% of its staff subject to the cuts. This presents an ideological quandary for Republicans, who traditionally emphasize defense spending in their party platform.

A lapse in funding would not impact the critical operations of DHS, though. Workers with Border Patrol, the Coast Guard, and the TSA would still report to work, they just wouldn’t be receiving paychecks. So while the security threat may be low, the threat of backlash to the GOP from angry public employees is very high. Watch the video below to see Rep. Rice’s answer…

Gohmert to White House: Tear Down That Wall

Gohmert ReaganLouie Gohmert doesn’t like hypocrites, or something… Not really sure where he was going in response to my question to him regarding effective border security, at the South Carolina Tea Party Coalition Convention. But he was sounding eerily like Ronald Reagan.

According to the Texas congressman:

Either fences work, and you need to build one on our Southern border — where it would work. Or fences don’t work, and we need to tear down the fence around the White House. You can’t have it both ways. Either fences help stop people coming in illegally, or they don’t. But if they don’t, then let’s don’t be hypocrites — let’s tear down the fence around the White House.

You can watch the video clip here: