Cashing in Big on the Opioid Epidemic

Recovering from Rehab – Work-Based Drug Treatment

Al Jazeera (2019)

Film Review

This documentary reports on an investigation into Cenikor drug rehabilitation centers in Texas and Louisiana that offer so-called “work therapy.” Instead of receiving individual and group therapy, clients are sent out to do unpaid work for private corporations. Some work seven 12 hour days a week as Cenikor pockets their paychecks as payment for their “treatment.”

Some clients work for Walmart distribution centers and others in dangerous jobs for chemical companies or the oil/gas industry. Those who are injured on the job are kicked off the program unless they continue to work. About half, referred by judges, risk being sent to prison if they leave Cenikor.

Only 8% successfully complete the 18 month program. According to a Department of Labor Official the filmmakers interview, Centikor “work therapy” violates federal labor law.

Their  website identifies Cenikor as a non-profit foundation. Their 2017 annual report reveals “program revenues” (ie the wages their clients earn) of nearly $18 million – representing over 80% of their 2017 income.

 

Corporate Welfare: How Billionaires Enrich Themselves at Our Expense

 

Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)

By David Cay Johnston

Penguin Group (2007)

Book Review

This book is an encyclopedia of the complex system of taxpayer-funded subsidies government grants the business elite to curry their political support. This support occurs in three main ways: as campaign contributions, as jobs (at the end of a civil servant’s government career) and outright bribes. According to Johnston, corporate welfare is as old as capitalism itself. Adam Smith (who Johnston quotes frequently) refers to corporate subsidies as “bounties.” He warns against them in his 1776 Wealth of Nations.

The author, who views corporate welfare as a major cause of America’s growing inequality, details a number of examples in which federal and state subsidies transformed ordinary entrepreneurs into billionaires.

  • Sports stadiums – between 1995-2006 sports team owners persuaded state and local authorities to build more than 50 new major league stadiums and countless minor league stadiums. In many cases, the state or city seize private land via eminent domain on which to build the stadium. Johnston maintains that running a sports team is always a money-losing proposition – in nearly every case any profit is almost identical to the size of the subsidy. Former president George W Bush made his first millions by buying the Texas Rangers and using his father’s influence to pressure the city of Arlington to seize 200 acres of private land via eminent domain for a sports stadium.
  • Walmart – founder Sam Walton built his retail empire by hiring lobbyists (Johnston calls them “bounty hunters”) to grant him free land via eminent domain, to “gift” him the sales tax he collects from customers and allowing him to raise capital via low cost government-sponsored industrial bonds. In total, Walmart has been granted more the $1 billion of government subsidies in 1/3 of their stores and distribution centers. In addition, as of 2007 they had (legally) avoided $4 billion in property and state income taxes.
  • Health Maintenance Organization (HMOs) – Nixon launched the first non-profit HMOs in the early seventies. His goal was to reduce health care costs by enrolling patients in repaid care in where doctors worked on salary. In 1981, Reagan phased out the federal loans and loan guarantees Nixon enacted to help subsidize HMOs and allowed them to become for profit businesses.All over the country, CEOs sold and traded shares in HMOs built at taxpayer expense.The CEOs of non-profit hospitals and Blue Cross plans quickly followed suit. Johnston calls it the greatest legalized theft of public assets in US history.

The UN’s Shocking Report on US Poverty

This Al Jazeera news feature highlights the recent report by UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston on extreme poverty levels in the US. Panelists include Alston himself and antipoverty activists from Alabama and Skid Row in Los Angeles. A Guardian reporter accompanied Alston on his tour of American communities. The photos are heart wrenching.

Alston points out the US is very different from other poverty-stricken countries he visits. Other countries have large indigent populations because their governments are too poor to assist them. In contrast, the US has just awarded $1.5 trillion to its most wealthy citizens.

According to Alston, the US has 40 million people living in poverty and many of them are employed. During his investigation, he spoke to WalMart employees who can’t afford to feed their families without federal food stamps. The US government provides $6 billion in food stamps to WalMart employees.

Bribery and Corruption: The Clintons are a Textbook Case

Narrated by author Peter Schweizer, Clinton Cash explores how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton granted special concessions to wealthy investors and foreign leaders in return for donations to the Clinton foundation and humongous speaking fees (for her husband Bill).

Examples include

  • State Department approval for Joe Wilson’s mining company to cut a mineral deal with Sudanese warlords in return for large donations to the Clinton Foundation.
  • Waiver of US sanctions against Democratic Republic of Congo – enabling Swedish oligarch Lucas Lundin to access their mineral reserves – in return for a $100 million donation to the Clinton Foundation.
  • State Department reversal of sanctions President Bill Clinton initiated against India for violating the nuclear anti-proliferation treaty – in return for big donations to the Clinton Foundation, millions in speaking fees and illegal donations to Hillary’s senate campaign.
  • Approval of the sale of 50% of America’s uranium deposits to Uranium One, putting 20% of US uranium production under Russian control – in return for millions of Clinton Foundation donations from Uranium One shareholders and a half a million dollars in speaking fees.
  • A favorable State Department environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL Pipeline – after TD Bank, one of Keystone’s major investors, paid Bill for ten speaking engagements.

The film also details the massive corruption associated with the Haiti Reconstruction Commission, which the Clintons headed after the 2008 Haiti earthquake. Instead of being used to rebuild homes and roads, most of the international aid ended up in the pockets of Clinton corporate benefactors. This includes hundreds of millions for luxury hotels and for a company with no gold mining experience to build the first Haitian gold mine in sixty years. The Clintons also authorized Caracol, a new textile factory in northern Haiti (the earthquake occurred in southern Haiti), which pays sweatshop wages to produce clothing for the Gap, Target and Walmart.

 

Anatomy of Modern Corruption: The Clinton Foundation and the Superdelegates

What Hillary Clinton Really Represents

Empire Files (2016)

Film Review

This early 2016 documentary is a virtual encyclopedia of Clinton family corruption. Based entirely on publicly verifiable information, it reveals how Hillary, especially, has based her political career on supporting legislation that specifically benefits her corporate and foreign donors. It also explores the identity of some of the 700 Democratic “superdelegates” who helped deny Bernie Sanders the Democratic nomination – despite overwhelming support he received from voters.

The Clinton Foundation was founded in 1997 with the alleged purpose of providing humanitarian relief after international disasters. Its real purpose, however, was to engage in “crisis capitalism,” a term coined by Naomi Klein in The Shock Doctrine. Following a disasters, such as the 2001 earthquake in India, the Clinton Foundation would waltz in and create a variety of for-profit projects enabling further exploitation of third world resources and labor by Clinton Foundation donors.

Major donors to the Clinton foundation included Exxon, Walmart, Pfizer, Dow, Monsanto, General Electric (GE), Fox News, the Soros Foundation, Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae. As senator, Clinton rewarded the latter two donors by supporting deregulation that would lead to their bankruptcy in 2008 and a massive taxpayer bailout.

As Secretary of State, Clinton would grant similar favors to Boeing and GE by facilitating overseas sales of their military hardware and to Exxon by heavily promoting the spread of fracking throughout the world.

Countries such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, United Arab Republic and Qatar were also big donors to the Clinton Foundation. In all 181 Clinton Foundation donors lobbied Clinton as Secretary of State and most were successful in getting the policies they advocated enacted.

Many of the 700 superdelegates appointed by the Democratic National Committee (to help ensure their hand picked candidates won the Democratic primary) were also corporate lobbyists hoping to benefit financially from a Clinton presidency: among others, the corporate lobbies represented included the Excel pipeline, the private prison industry, Big Pharma and the four main Wall Street banks (City Group, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase).

Organizing Bangladeshi Sweatshops

Udita (Arise)

Rainbow Collective (2015)

Film Review

Udita is an inspirational film about the unionization of the female garment workers in Bangladeshi sweatshops (see The Ugly Side of the Fashion Industry) over the last five years.

In addition to exposing the deplorable living conditions of these women and their children, the documentary also profiles two disasters that significantly increased union membership: the 2012 fire in the Tazreen factory that killed 57 workers and the collapse of the Rana Plaza factory in 2013 that killed 1021 workers.

Udita differs from other sweatshop documentaries in that in focuses minimal attention on the western brands (Walmart, Gap, etc) that reap obscene profits from employing third world women in conditions of virtual slavery. This film is more about the lives of the workers, who are often single mothers abandoned by their husbands.

The film begins by profiling one organizer who first tried to form a union in 2010, when the minimum wage in the garment factories was $22 a month. Deducted from this was the $13 a month a typical garment worker paid to live in a one room shack with shared bathroom facilities.

Overtime was compulsory, with workers only getting only one day off a month. They were also subject to beatings and/or firing if they complained about maltreatment or non-payment of wages (it was common for paymasters to dock their pay for non-existent infringements). One of the early grievances the National Garment Workers’ Federation (NGWF) won was the case of 250 workers who hadn’t been paid for three months.

NGWF members grew significantly following the Tazreen fire. The main reason the fatality rate was so high was because workers were doing compulsory overtime on a big Walmart order and the doors and gates had been locked to keep them from leaving. Following the 2012 fire, NGWF held a number of large protest marches and forced the government to increase the minimum wage to $64 a month.

The documentary also profiles a woman forced to assume custody of her two grandchildren after both daughter and a son-in-law are killed in the Rana Plaza disaster. Because she had no money to pay their school fees, both children were kicked out of school (public schooling is virtually non-existent in Bangladesh).

The film ends with a humongous 2014 protest march, in which the woman and her grandchildren participate. The principal demand is compensation from the factory owner for the 1121 deaths.

What Would Jesus Buy?

reverend billy

photo credit: wikipedia

What Would Jesus Buy?

By Robert van Alkemade (2007)

Film Review

What Would Jesus Buy? is a documentary highlighting the crass commercialization of Christmas in western society. Its main focus is the 2006 Christmas tour of Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir. Reverend Billy is one of the culture jamming performance activists featured in the 2001 movie Culture Jam: Hijacking Commercial Culture.*

What Would Jesus Buy? intersperses scenes from the tour with grisly photos of frenzied Black Friday stampedes and interviews with avid consumers as they indulge their compulsive need to shop.

High points include the attempt by Reverend Billy and the Choir to “exorcise” the Walmart home office, their visit to Mall of America in Minnesota (the largest shopping mall in the world) and their appearance at Disneyland on Christmas day. Disney managers (who are world-renowned for their viciousness) had Reverend Billy arrested, and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir held an overnight vigil outside the Anaheim jail.

Reverend Billy’s website is http://www.revbilly.com/

In October he and the Church of Stop Shopping Gospel Choir will open for Neil Young for his tour of the Pacific Northwest.


*Culture jamming is a tactic used by anti-consumerist social movements to disrupt or subvert media culture and its mainstream cultural institutions, including (but not limited to) corporate advertising. The term is credited to Kalle Lasn, founder of Adbusters magazine  and author of the 1999 book Culture Jam: the Uncooling of America.