Welcome to Truth Against The Machine

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In October 2015, I was ready to call it quits. On year 10 of dead-end, soul-sucking corporate media jobs, I realized I couldn’t lead a fulfilling life making so little impact and simply serving as part of the problem.

I’d worked inside the belly of the beast, having booked guests and produced segments at RNC television—I mean Fox News (one day I’ll write a book)—followed by a year-long stint at MSNBC. After three-and-a-half years in cable news, I knew I couldn’t spend the next 20-30 years pushing false narratives and substanceless drivel.

After a 2-year-hiatus in the non-profit world (hence my distaste for all things meetings and bureaucracy), I took a major risk at 27, leaving a comfy digital producer position in favor of becoming a full-time writer.

The $25,000 pay cut was a tough pill to swallow, but it was now or never.

Over the next two years, I wrote about media and politics for TVNewser.com and then TheWrap.com, but again, I was trapped in the bullshit-substanceless-clickbait-drivel vortex.

I knew I had a unique voice and determination within—I just couldn’t find the platform to unleash it.

Then one November night in 2015, I pushed through the flu to go watch Cenk Uygur give a talk about his career in New York City.

We spoke after as I groveled at his feet for a janitor job at The Young Turks.

As if the universe was finally ready to stop fucking with me and throw me a bone, Cenk called me a month later to offer me a first for The Young Turks—a reporter job, covering the presidential campaign.

A year and a few months later—and a whirlwind campaign mixed with witnessing corruption and searing injustice nationwide—I can honestly say I’m the luckiest journalist in America.

In a country with very few left.

What drapes TV screens and fills up newspapers and websites on a daily basis isn’t journalism—it’s infotainment (and frankly, not very entertaining).

I remember spending a day in a Portland, Oregon houseless community, covering the growing population of working people who get paid such poverty wages, they can’t even afford to put a roof over their head.

But when I turned on the TV in the hotel, CNN was having a “debate” over the latest series of tweets from then-candidate Donald Trump.

Yup, I know.

This plays out every single day: real issues, real struggle, REAL stories lay silent as overpaid, glorified PR-spinsters put on makeup, hold up a microphone, and claim to be “holding the powerful accountable”.

The only thing they are holding is a fat wallet and a meaningless career.

And when I say real stories, I’m not simply talking about what I personally think is important.

I mean life and death situations that without the proper spotlight, can get people killed: faulty big oil pipelines; communities with toxic water they don’t even know about and the media ignores; banks STILL illegally tossing families on the streets; politicians voting against making life-saving prescription drugs cheaper.

The list goes on (and doesn’t even touch on the military industrial complex and total propaganda “journalism” that launches us and keeps us in perpetual war, crippling our families, economy, and very way of life).

So, if you’ve read this far, you probably agree with me (or at least have an open mind).

Experiencing all this injustice up close and personal has both drained me, at times depressed me, and at times—made me extremely hopeful.

The hope appeared from the dozens of aspiring, fearless independent journalists I’ve met: in Standing Rock, Flint, East Chicago, and dozens of other cities and communities I’ve covered over the last year or so.

These folks have the potential to do great, impactful things, but due to the digital diarrhea we currently live in, they’re often crowded out or have their work buried underneath all the clutter.

So why not bring everyone together in one place?

That’s my concept for Truth Against The Machine.

The name is simple. Everything in me starts with truth. I’m a no bullshit, keep it real kind of guy. I don’t believe in talking or acting one way when the camera rolls and another when it’s off.

I also believe that if we’re going to be depended on for facts and truth, we have to make sure we have the facts right. Sure, sometimes we’ll mess up. We’re human. When it happens, we will correct it and move on.

Against the Machine represents my healthy dose of anger and determination toward the revolving door that has hijacked our country: the corrupt cabal of banks, big corporations, lobbyists, corporate media, and politicians, all working together in one, big, corrupt circle-jerk.

Together, through a collection of independent journalists telling the stories happening in their communities—ones the local and national media won’t touch with a 10-foot pole because it might make the powerful or moneyed interests look bad—I truly believe we can create a thriving journalistic platform that creates the REAL journalism stars of today and tomorrow.

And if we do it right, maybe even change.

Because make no mistake about it: makeup doesn’t make you a journalist. An iPhone or a microphone doesn’t either. And having a nationally popular media outlet behind you doesn’t mean you are some type of journalistic icon.

To me, a journalist is everything those old, stuffy journalist 101 professors told you NOT TO BE.

I’m NOT neutral. I’m a progressive who believes rich people should not run our country and money should not be hoarded by them. My BIAS is for justice, truth, and equality (economic and social).

I didn’t get into journalism to simply tell you what one side says vs. the other. Find a stenographer for that.

I got into journalism to CREATE CHANGE.

And if this site does anything, my hope is it gives other talented, hungry journalists the platform to do so.

This will be a total community effort. If you believe in our purpose and the stories that are being told, please DONATE what you can!

With my full-time reporting job keeping me very busy, I’ll have dedicated folks running the website, editing, vetting stories, doing social media, etc.

Also, call me old-fashioned, but I believe in paying folks. Won’t be much (unless you surprise me and donate millions!), but I’d like to contribute to the journalists contributing here.

In the end, this country has a very long way to go and it’s not going to get turned around by faux progressives tossing out platitudes. It’s certainly not going to be turned by corporate media giving them the endless platform to do so unchallenged. And, of course, those super duper awesome “job creators” Republicans love to fantasize about aren’t running toward us with relief.

It’s going to get turned around by you, me, and us.

Today is a bit of a soft-launch. Click on dispatches and video to see what we have so far and some of the faces who’ll be bringing stories to you.

Please join me to wage Truth Against The Machine.

Sincerely,

Jordan Chariton

Beto O’Rourke: No PACs, Just People. But You Have To Pay $500+ To Talk To Me

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Beto O'Rourke
Beto O'Rourke

I have gone to four Beto O’Rourke events at this point. The only times I have been able to talk to him is either by asking him a question at a town hall in front of hundreds of people, or by taking a photo with him. I used the chance to take a photo with him as a chance to get him on  camera promising to review the bills on the People’s Platform. I’m not so sure he’s actually going to do that, but at least he’s on film promising to do so. Beto has only cosponsored two out of eight bills on the People’s Platform at the current time.

I understand that this man is busy campaigning, but it’s very troubling that as a journalist, I have yet to be able to talk to him one on one for more than 20 seconds. The only time I was able to talk to him one on one, it was to take a picture. The only way I can really communicate with him is through his campaign staff.

Kim Olson is running for Texas Commissioner of Agriculture. She is also traveling to every county in the state. However, unlike Beto, she had absolutely no problem taking about ten minutes talking to me and putting it on film. Because of my youthful appearance and lack of professional equipment, Kim Olson thought I was merely a student doing a project. Still, Olson had absolutely no problem allowing me to interview her.

Similarly Jeffrey Payne, candidate for governor, took a substantial amount of time to talk to me. We talked for a good forty five minutes. Just like Kim Olson and Beto O’Rourke, Jeffrey Payne is traveling to every single county in Texas many times over.

President of Our Revolution, Nina Turner, was on an incredibly tight schedule and had a long line of people trying to talk to her. Turner was traveling across the country. But, she still agreed to a short 2 minute interview.

At the most recent Harris County Democratic Party event, I asked six or seven different candidates running for local offices if they would like to be interviewed. They all said yes, except for one. The only person that said no was simply because she was unfamiliar with Truth Against The Machine.

All of these candidates were collecting signatures so that they could be on the ballot in the upcoming primary on March 8, 2018 and they were fairly busy. But still, they were all very happy to answer my questions and be on camera.

Two other candidates for congress running in Texas 2nd congressional district, J. Darnell Jones and Ali Khorasani both took time out of their day to talk to me extensively. J. Darnell Jones in particular manages his time very well and has been very busy campaigning.

Side note: All of these other interviews will be uploaded soon!

At the Harris County Democratic Party Friendsgiving event, I found the room Beto was in. Beto was in the room talking to people and taking pictures with them. I thought to myself “finally, I may be able to actually ask him a few questions on camera one on one.”

When I asked the kind lady in front of the room with a sign  sheet if I would be able to get in she said “this is the VIP room.” When I asked her how I get into the VIP room she said “I believe you have to be a donor, an elected official, or something like that.” When I asked her how much I had to donate to get into the VIP room she said “I believe at least $500.”

Five. Hundred. Dollars. In order to speak one on one to the man that wants to represent you for more than thirty seconds, you have to donate over FIVE. HUNDRED. DOLLARS. Beto has been emphasizing how he has had “over 61,000 individual contributors, averaging $44 each, while taking no PAC money. Most of it from within the state of Texas.”

Beto has also been emphasizing how he out-raised Ted Cruz in the last quarter with small dollar donations.  

The fact that Beto does not take any PAC money, and that most of his money comes from small dollar donations, means absolutely nothing if he gives preferential treatment to the people who have donated a large amount of money to his campaign.

It also makes Beto look like a complete and total liar for telling me that he “doesn’t know who his donors are.” Beto spends more time with his large donors than he does with his small donors. Beto gives them “VIP Access.” Beto is not a celebrity. Beto is a public servant and a politician!

To be fair, Beto is not the only politician that does things like this. In fact, most high-profile politicians do this. However, Beto is making a point out of, and constantly emphasizing, that he does not take PAC money and that he is among only a handful of politicians to do so.

The entire point of a politician not taking PAC money is so that they are not beholden to the interests of wealthy donors. If a politician takes more time to talk to the people that have donated large amounts of money to their campaign it REALLY makes it look like they are going to be beholden to the interests  of their more wealthy donors. No politician should be the main focus of an event where a voter has to spend a large amount of money to speak with them one on one.

Spending more time talking to wealthy donors is probably going to corrupt politicians without them even realizing it. If someone has donated a large amount of money to a politician’s campaign and the politician is aware of this fact, the large donor’s opinion is almost automatically going to matter to the politician more than the opinion of the average voter.

If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Collin and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!

Campus Bigotry Exemplifies UCSD Racism Problem

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Geisel Library, the main hub of student studying on the La Jolla campus.
Geisel Library, the main hub of student studying on the La Jolla campus.

University Of California San Diego (UCSD) students trying to study for their Web Client Languages midterm learned just how much of a problem with racism that the university has. Upon opening the online study guide, where students could anonymously contribute to the page, the students were greeted by 86 different uses of the n-word throughout the document.

A screenshot from the study guide.
A screenshot from the study guide.

Students like Raymond Arevalo, who was interviewed by the local ABC affiliate, were alarmed, but not surprised by this blatant act of racism. Arevalo stated to the ABC reporter that he was: “Mad because this wasn’t the first time this has happened before.”

The university did not respond to comment on the instance, instead opting to provide ABC with a link to their Principles of Community, which, among other things, serves as an affirmation to their commitment to students from marginalized communities.

However, this recent act of racism calls to question as to whether or not USCD is willing to adhere to these principles. Just last month, a white supremacist group hung up racist banners and fliers around the campus, which received a very minimal response from the university.

For a university that advertises itself as a campus that promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion, the lack of action is cause for alarm. Despite the fact that taking a course in the previously stated principles are a requirement for graduation for students from all six colleges, students have the ability to take their chosen course to be taken as Pass/No Pass, rather than requiring the students to take the course for a letter grade. This simply means that there is minimal incentive for students to try hard and to learn the content in these courses.

Last month, white supremacist group, Identity Evropa, hung banners reading:“Carry on Citizen” and “No Amnesty! End DACA”
Last month, white supremacist group, Identity Evropa, hung banners reading:“Carry on Citizen” and “No Amnesty! End DACA”

A bare minimum of effort is not enough action on the part of the university. In a campus where traditionally minority students are the majority, UCSD can not adhere to the white centric narrative that is being pushed by the current presidential administration, as well as the campus’s Federal Representative. UCSD has a mission statement of diversity, equity, and inclusion to uphold. Without it, instances of bigotry like these will likely continue to be faced future incoming classes.

If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Jacob and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!

Alabama Democrat Might Win Because Roy Moore is Insane, But He’s Not Progressive

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Doug Jones
Doug Jones

By now most of us are well aware of how batshit insane Roy Moore, the Alabama Republican nominee to replace Jeff Sessions, truly is. He stated Keith Ellison shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress because he’s a Muslim. He was removed from his post as the chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court not once, but twice. The first time for refusing to have the ten commandments removed from in front of a court house. The second time for instructing Alabama county courts to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same sex couples. He believes homosexuality should be illegal. He said that 9/11 was “punishment for US turning away from God.” Additionally Moore faces credible sexual assault allegations: he is accused of sexually molesting a fourteen year old girl when he was thirty two.

Moore is the epitome of a hypocritical right-wing nut job. But that doesn’t necessarily mean his opponent, Doug Jones, deserves to win the Senate seat. Not being Roy Moore doesn’t merit anything.

What does Doug Jones actually stand for?  What policy positions does he advocate? What does he want to accomplish for the American people? What injustices does he want to address? Is Doug Jones a man of high moral character?

If you look at the issues section of Doug Jones website, you don’t find that much substance with the exception of the criminal justice section. That is probably because he was the District Attorney for Northern Alabama for four years. Other than that, he appears to be another standard corporate centrist Democrat

Doug Jones stated that he “wants to bring integrity back to Washington.” That is a very very vague statement. What does that mean? That he’s not going to be corrupt? He stated that we “are all tired of politicians who have been bought and paid for by special interests.” So is he going to close his door to lobbyists?

Doug Jones hasn’t taken an oath of no taking PAC money. In fact, he has taken taken $41,700 from PACs. To be fair, this is only 2.53% of his total contributions. But that’s still troubling – we don’t know where that money came from – and we don’t know if there were any strings attached to those donations.

When it comes to criminal justice, Jones does advocate some good ideas: repealing the three strikes rule. The three strikes rule sends people to prison for life if they are have been convicted of one violent felony, and have two other previous convictions. It was signed into law by the incredibly progressive president Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

Jones also advocates re-implementing the sentencing reform efforts put in place under president Obama. Jones also supports “increasing rehabilitating those in the justice system instead of ending all of them to prison at a high cost to their families and taxpayers.”

Why doesn’t he just come right out and say we need to stop entrenching non-violent drug offenders in the criminal justice system and end the war on drugs? Why not come out in support of recreational marijuana?

On the economy Jones said, “we must invest sufficient resources to ensure that our educational system provides the skills, knowledge and tools necessary for our children to succeed in a 21st Century economy.

There is nothing about creating a new new deal or a green new deal, college free tuition for all, taking steps to reduce income and wealth inequality, universal basic income, ending anti-union right to work laws, re-implementing Glass-Steagall, or raising taxes on the wealthy.

Jones says he supports the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and making the minimum wage a living wage, but he has not come out in support of a $15.00/hr minimum wage or said what he believes a living wage would look like.

When it comes to the environment, Jones advocates is “rejoining the Paris Climate Accords.” Jones also advocates “encouraging investment in renewable energy” and believes the unchecked use of fossil fuels has been harmful to our health. Jones advocates clean air and clean water.

Strangely, Jones blames environmental regulations for the loss of coal jobs. In the place of coal jobs he advocates a “safety net of health care and job retraining for these workers. Why not just come out and say “These regulations were needed for us to have clean air and clean water. We need a green energy new deal: this will provide us with clean energy for the future and plenty of jobs.”

When it comes to healthcare, Jones opposes repealing the Affordable Care Act. Jones has also stated that he is open to the idea of a public option. It would appear that Doug Jones opposes Medicare-For-All.

Personally, as a progressive, I’m not very impressed by Doug Jones. Even if he wins, it would only be because Roy Moore is absolutely awful. All it would take for Jones to be unseated in the next election cycle is a Republican that doesn’t say crazy things or have a history of sexual assault.

If Jones begins to advocate for clear and popular policy proposals like Medicare For All, College For All, a $15.00/hr minimum wage, legalizing marijuana, ending the war on drugs, ending private prisons, creating a new new deal and revitalizing our infrastructure, addressing climate change, getting big money out of politics he would have a much better chance of winning.

If I lived in Alabama, I would vote for Jones simply because he is actually better than Roy Moore, but I wouldn’t go out and volunteer my time or donate to get him elected. The only thing that distinguishes Jones is that he prosecuted two of the perpetrators charged with the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing. Democrats need to stop running these types of candidates — they only stand a chance of winning if their opponent is absolutely batshit insane or terrible.

If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Collin and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!

Dark Money & Common Core Sink Official in NY Suburbs

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Rob Astorino

A rising Republican star named Rob Astorino just blew his reelection in the New York suburbs, compromised by the presence of swampy dark money donors, including billionaire Robert Mercer who is now enmeshed in an ugly racism scandal. It may have been Astorino’s reversal on Common Core tests, however, that enabled his opponent to rocket past him by 14% points.

Astorino’s bid for a third term as Westchester County Executive got major financial backing by billionaires and dark money PACs who support school privatization and expanding charter schools based on Common Core test scores. John Thain, former CEO of Merrill Lynch during the financial crisis was one pro-charter donor, but not the largest.

Astorino had over $1 million spent on his behalf by “consultant” Scott Howell, a disciple of Nixon’s infamous dirty trickster Lee Atwater who later worked for Karl Rove on the Bush/Cheney campaign. In this cycle, Howell’s ad agency was used to anonymize the wealthy donor actually supplying the money.

The Racist Problem

We do know at least $400,000 was spent attacking Astorino’s opponent by billionaire hedge funder Robert Mercer, a Trump campaign donor and strategist who proved crucial to Trump’s victory. Mercer also runs a charter school network.

A blockbuster Buzzfeed article recently revealed that Mercer along with his daughter Rebekah were funding the “alt-right” website Breitbart.com, run by Steve Bannon, while author Milo Yiannopoulos was collaborating with white supremacists and other hate groups. Since the revelations, Mercer issued a terse statement, describing a weeks-long process of trying to sever ties with Yiannopoulos:

Did Mercer’s ongoing tax avoidance and white nationalist scandals derail Astorino’s campaign? Or was it perhaps because Astorino stopped speaking out against Common Core?

Westchester County has some of the best schools in New York state, so when Astorino first came out against the state testing mandates, he quickly raised his profile. Trying to unseat Governor Andrew Cuomo in 2014, Astorino’s campaign became surprisingly competitive when he announced his three school-aged children would “opt out” of Common Core testing.

Cuomo had imposed the nation’s most draconian standardized testing regime, leading to a statewide boycott that saw one in five New York families opt out. Astorino gained traction on this issue, starting up a third party called “Stop Common Core,” to ensure those words were printed on every ballot in the state.

Cuomo survived the 2014 election, but the unexpectedly close 54-41% victory put Astorino on the map and made Common Core a political third rail. Almost every state had committed to the controversial Common Core standards, forcing them into U.S. classrooms in exchange for a chance to win federal grants and obtain waivers from the bungled, unachievable federal regulations of No Child Left Behind.

During the 2015 Common Core testing, Astorino would again send his kids to school with refusal letters, publishing op-eds that accurately blasted Common Core as “experimental, conceived in secrecy, with no public hearings” and “developmentally inappropriate.”

A year after this, Astorino again made headlines denouncing the 2016 tests. By now NY state had invoked a moratorium on the tests, banning their use in student or teacher evaluations, but Astorino said the changes were merely “window dressing.”

Twisted Logic

Astorino did support charter and voucher schools to replace “failing” public schools, but this begged the question – how can someone simultaneously boycott the tests and also use them to rank and compare schools?

When we asked New York’s #2 Republican, State Senator John DeFrancisco, he said he also supported the opt-out parents, but he simultaneously supported the use of Common Core tests for comparing charter schools to public schools. One wonders, did they think this through?

The Trump Effect

Throughout his 2016 campaign, Donald Trump vowed repeatedly he would “put an end to Common Core.” Trump knew, or should have known, that the decision to continue using Common Core standards and aligned testing shifted to the states as of December 2015. So was Trump lying or ignorant?

This video suggests he was lying, to deceive the many opt-out parents. Trump said he will “terminate Common Core out of Washington” when no such authority existed. Once elected, Trump shifted his focus to expanding charter schools and private vouchers, but in states like New York, higher-than-average Common Core test scores are the #1 marketing tool used to justify more charter schools, manufacturing a widely believed “public schools are failing” narrative.

After Trump won, he tapped Betsy DeVos for Secretary of Education, who was a huge Common Core supporter. To date, Trump has reneged on his vow to end Common Core, dropping the issue entirely. And just like that, Republicans around New York state also forgot their stances on the issue.

Astorino forgot, falling totally mute after yelling from the mountaintops in 2014, 2015 and 2016. He did not tell the papers whether or not his kids opted-out of Common Core tests in the Spring of 2017. Astorino’s website, which proudly railed against Common Core tests was scrubbed of any mention.

His opponent never let go of the standardized testing issue, prominently opposing Common Core on the landing page of his website. State Senator George Latimer spoke out in support of “opt-out parents” for years, and throughout his primary as well. Astorino was trounced 57-43% by Latimer, surprising pollsters who had the race in a dead heat.

Only days after Astorino’s defeat, a public school teacher and anti-testing activist has announced she will be running for Latimer’s vacant State Senate seat in Westchester. Kat Brezler, who teaches second grade in the Bronx, seeks to bring forward the opt-out issue in a special election, following the lead of Christine Pellegrino, a Long Island teacher and “opt-out mom” who won an Assembly seat in a deep red district this past May.

Another outspoken Common Core critic Democrat Todd Kaminsky won a seat in the New York State Senate, gaining popularity by sponsoring legislation to sharply scale back the use of Common Core at the state level. Long Island has an astounding 50% opt out rate.

When Common Core tests were an Obama policy and Hillary Clinton was favored to beat Trump, Rob Astorino told Westchester’s opt-out parents “this issue should not go away.” But then Trump won. The issue went away.

Following a resounding loss, Astorino has announced he will not run for governor next year. Echoing Trump, Astorino promised an “end to Common Core” at the state level, but went radio silent after Trump broke his promise to eliminate Common Core at the national level.

If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Jake and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!

Justice Democrats’ Vetting Process Hinders Progressive Candidates

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https://www.justicedemocrats.com/

I don’t want to be too critical of Justice Democrats because I love the organization, and I respect and admire its two co-founders, Kyle Kulinski and Cenk Uygur. As much as I love the Justice Democrats, something happened within the organization that was simply wrong. Not just once, but twice. Something is HORRIBLY WRONG with the Justice Democrats’ vetting process. Justice Democrats passed up two excellent candidates: one to take on California Senator Dianne Feinstein, David Hildebrand, and another to take on Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Irasema “Sema” Hernandez.

California: David Hildebrand

Most progressives agree: Dianne Feinstein has got to go! Simply perusing her record on Wikipedia gives you an idea as to why. She supported the Patriot ACT; voted for Mike Pompeo to head the CIA (who said Edward Snowden should be executed..); supports the death penalty; vetoed a city council ordinance as mayor of San Francisco that would have given spousal benefits to employees that have same-sex spouses; supports the drug war, including keeping marijuana criminalized; opposes single payer; voted to fast track the TPP; voted for the Iraq War resolution DESPITE believing the CIA had provided insufficient intelligence to conclude Hussein had WMDs; voted for the Bush tax cuts; the list just goes on and on.

David Hildebrand
David Hildebrand

A couple weeks ago, Justice Democrats announced that they had a primary challenger to Dianne Feinstein: Alison Hartson. Hartson was (and still is?) the national national director of Wolf PAC; an organization dedicated to getting money out of politics. As director of Wolf PAC, Hartson lead the effort (and succeeded) to get money out of politics in California. Hartson is definitely a progressive and a good choice to oust corporate Democrat Dianne Feinstein, but there is another progressive that may have been a better choice: David Hildebrand. Hildebrand informed Truth Against The Machine that his supporters have nominated him to run as a Justice Democrat on numerous occasions months prior to their announcement of Hartson’s candidacy.  

Side note: If you would like to connect with Hildebrand, follow this link to his website or this link to his Facebook.

Hildebrand told Truth Against The Machine he has been advocating for single payer for over a decade and that he has been a legislative analyst for six years. Hildebrand’s political positions include (but are not limited to): single-payer health care (obviously), a $15/hr minimum wage, banning fracking & combating climate change, ending “right to work laws” and strengthening unions, tuition-free public universities and colleges, a new glass-steagall, rent control, a tax on wall street transactions, raising taxes on the wealthy and big corporations, ending wars of aggression and implementing an end to regime change wars, a non-interventionist foreign policy. The list of progressive policies Hildebrand has come out in support of is very long. Hildebrand has been campaigning in California and gaining name recognition since March. Hildebrand really does seem like the perfect person for Justice Democrats to endorse. So, why in God’s name didn’t they?

Well… because he’s a man.

“We are not going to run another man against her [Diane Feinstein],” Sandy Menor from Justice Democrats explanation for not endorsing David Hildebrand. “We want another woman in the senate but a younger woman with ideas to help this country out of the hole that has been dug by this administration and this Congress.”

Very, very strange. It’s an eerie reminder of when Democrats and the DNC kept saying we should support Hillary over Bernie because she is a woman.

Kuklinski, one of the founders of Justice Democrats, spoke out against the staffer for precluding Hildebrand based off his gender. However, Kulinski stood by Justice Democrats’ decision to endorse Hartson stating:

“David previously worked in transportation. Alison’s experience was crucial to our decision. Simply, we think she’s the best candidate and can win.”

“[Hartson] is a one-issue candidate that has been a salaried employee of a Super PAC controlled by Cenk for the last two years. I have worked for 6 years as a legislative analyst on transportation policy, and have been active in healthcare and labor policy for years,” Hildebrand responded to Kyle.

Just for clarification, WolfPAC is a PAC not a super PAC.

I believe Kulinski when he says Justice Democrats didn’t pick Hartson based off of her gender: he was constantly pushing for Bernie over Hillary last year. Kulinski also voted for Jill Stein in the general election. Kulinski does genuinely promote whoever he believes is the best candidate.

Despite all of that, it seems very strange to me that Justice Democrats didn’t endorse Hildebrand. Hildebrand has a history of advocating everything on their platform, he’s been campaigning for 8 months now, and he was interviewed by Jimmy Dore on TYT.

It was also very strange that Dore was sitting across the table from Uygur as he announced Hartson was going to be running against Feinstein, but never mentioned the fact Hildebrand was already in the race.

What’s done is done now, both Hartson and Hildebrand are leagues better than Feinstein. Hopefully one of them ousts her in the Democratic Primary.

Texas: Irasema “Sema” Hernandez

In Texas many on the left are eager to oust incumbent Ted Cruz. I don’t think I even need to list the reasons we want him gone like I did with Feinstein. I’ve written about why I believe the Texas Democratic Party establishment’s choice, Beto O’Rourke, is not the right guy for the job. I support his primary opponent, Sema Hernandez. I know Hernandez personally, so just know what I’m about to say came out of her mouth.

Side note: you can connect with Hernandez by following this link to her website, or this link to her Facebook.

Sema Hernandez
Sema Hernandez

In March of 2017, Hernandez was actually nominated, and vetted, to be a Justice Democrat candidate. Hernandez passed the vetting process, and was told she would be running against Gene Green (who recently announced his retirement from congress) in Texas’ 29th congressional district. Hernandez was not happy about this because she wanted to unseat Ted Cruz, not Gene Green.

Hernandez was told that they could not back her in a race between Ted Cruz because Texas was a big state and would sap all of their resources. Justice Democrats also expressed skepticism to Hernandez that Texas could be flipped from red to blue. Justice Democrats also suggested that Hernandez run as a Republican to challenge Ted Cruz, which didn’t make any sense to her. Hernandez declined Justice Democrats’ suggestion to run for the Texas 29th’ congressional district.

Recently, one of the founders of Justice Democrats, Cenk Uygur, interviewed Beto O’rourke on TYT. Uygur has come out in favor of Beto O’Rourke. When I messaged Justice Democrats directly through Facebook, they informed me that they had not endorsed Beto because he has not cosponsored H.R. 676. When I informed them Uygur appears to have endorsed Beto, they stated Uygur is allowed to support whoever he likes and that Uygur was not involved in the day to day activities of Justice Democrats. Kulinski has also expressed a favorable view of Beto O’Rourke.

While Justice Democrats has not endorsed Beto, its two co-founders have come out in favor of his candidacy. Further, Uygur expressed that he would like to see, and has encouraged, Beto to join the Justice Democrats. Uygur stated that Beto “hadn’t joined yet.” (he said this at about the 8:00 mark in the Hartson interview). Given that Uygur wants Beto O’Rourke to join the organization and Kulinski has a favorable view of him, it only seems like a matter of time until he does.

Justice Democrats not endorsing Hernandez because Texas is too big of a state doesn’t make any sense now that they have endorsed Hartson for the California Senate. California’s population is 39 million compared to Texas’ 28 million. It also makes no sense for Justice Democrats to not to try to win Texas because it is such a conservative state. Texas is actually within the grasp of Democrats.

Justice Democrats has endorsed Paula Jean Swearengin in West Virginia to unseat the most conservative Democrat in the Senate, Joe Manchin. West Virginia is a much redder state than Texas, having gone to Donald Trump in 2016 by over 40%. West Virginia has just been getting more and more red with each passing election cycle while the opposite is true for Texas. Donald Trump won here by 9%.

All that being said, Justice Democrats passed up and refused to endorse two people that will fight for their platform relentlessly. They may end up endorsing Beto O’Rourke, who has only cosponsored 2 out of 8 bills on the People’s Platform at the current time. It appears neither Kyle Kulinski nor Cenk Uygur is aware of Hernandez’s candidacy because they are not involved in the day to day activities of Justice Democrats. The vetting process for Justice Democrats’ candidates needs to be reformed and improved.  

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Texas Can Be Key to Democrats’ Future Success If They Don’t Blow It

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It’s a frequent media narrative for Texas to be framed as a deep red state. Not just a deeply red state, but a conservative state as well. The narrative is that outside of Travis county (home to Austin, Texas), liberals have no place in the Lone Star State. Ongoing demographic transitions will soon challenge this narrative. At this point it is not a matter of if, but when Texas will turn blue; but that is only if Texas Democrats don’t blow the opportunity.  

If Texas became a democratic state, Republicans would have almost no possible path to the presidency. At 38 electoral college votes, Texas is easily the biggest electoral prize in Republicans “safe” column. Further, only 11 out of 36 house representatives from Texas are Democrats. If Democrats managed to make that 18-20 seats, the implications at the national level would be huge.


The margin of victory for Donald Trump in Texas significantly diminished compared to Romney’s in 2012. This runs contrary to the national trend, where 42 states overall shifted to the right in some manner. Thirteen red states became much more red. Five states won by Obama in 2012 flipped from blue to red in 2016. Nine blue states became significantly less blue. Overall, twenty two states shifted by five percentage points or more in the Republican Party’s direction.

Texas Urban centers are becoming bluer and bluer with each passing election cycle. Until 2008, Harris County consistently went red. Democrats have been increasing their margins of victory with each passing presidential election cycle: from a 1.7% win in 2008 to a 12.4% win in 2016. Similar trends can be found throughout the state. Dallas county: 15.3% in 2008 to 25.9% victory margin in 2016. Travis county: +16% in 2004 to + 38.7% victory in 2016. Bexar county: +5.5% in 2008 to +13.3% in 2016.

All election results can be verified here.

All of these numbers are indeed promising for Texas Democrats. But the truth is that Texas should already be a Blue state. Texas is a minority-majority state: only 42% of Texans are non-hispanic whites. Texas whites are also not nearly as conservative as white in the deep south (Georgia, South Carolina, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana), of whom nearly 9 in 10 consistently vote Republican. In Texas 25% to 35% of whites tend to vote for Democrats. 61% of Hispanics in Texas voted for Hillary Clinton. All of this added together demonstrates Texas Democrats could and should be at least a purple state.

The reason Texas hasn’t turned blue yet is simply a problem of low voter turnout. Whites tend to go out and vote more than people of color do. Additionally, Republican leaning Latinos in Texas vote more consistently than Democratic leaning Latinos. Governor Greg Abbott carried 45% of latinos in 2014 compared to Donald Trump’s 34% in 2016. 2014 was a year of extremely low voter turnout in Texas.

Why was 2014 such a low year for voter turnout in Texas? If you ask me, it’s simply because Democrats didn’t do much to excite their base. Democrats ran Wendy Davis. When I think of Wendy Davis, the first thing I think of is “the abortion lady.” While I do support a woman’s right to choose, making that the number one issue you run on is not wise in Texas. It will get women’s rights advocates to vote for you, but who else? Texans are about evenly split on the issue of abortion, so it’s not going to be an electoral winner. Democrats need to give people more of a reason to get out and go vote.

In 2014, 55% of Texans supported raising the minimum wage to $10/hr. That was at a time when raising the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour was considered the standard Democratic position. Lately, that has been moving in the direction of $15/hr. Support for raising the minimum wage has risen substantially since then. We just don’t know by how much in Texas specifically.

In 2015, 70% of Texans believed in universal healthcare. 42% of Texans wanted single payer health care provided by the government. A lesser amount in 27% believed in universal healthcare, but just provided by employers. From 2014 to 2017, we have seen a substantial rise in the amount of people who believe healthcare should be provided by the government.

A majority of Texans believe that recreational marijuana should be legal. Most Americans, including a majority of Republicans and Texans, believe we need to do more to take action on global warming.

How do Texas Democrats think Texans would react if began to inform them that 4% of death row inmates are innocent? It suddenly starts to make a lot more sense to ban the death penalty when you realize innocent people are being killed en masse.

How would Texans react if they found out Texas has the third most regressive Tax system in the country? Low income Texans pay almost 13 percent of their income in Taxes, while Texas top 1% of earners only pay about 3% of their income in taxes. Transforming Texas tax laws from a regressive system to a progressive system will be extraordinarily popular very quickly.

How would Texans react if they found out nearly four in ten jobs could be lost to automation by the year 2030? How would Texans react if they found out it’s not just low skilled jobs that will be affected by job automation? Suddenly the case for Universal Basic Income (UBI) starts to become a lot more compelling.

All of this is just scratching the surface. Texas Democrats have simply not been fighters on a large variety of popular progressive causes. Texas Democrats are not making their case to Texans. I’m a progressive because I believe the evidence actually substantiates my beliefs. If you’re a progressive Democratic politician, shouldn’t that be the case for you as well? Why aren’t Texas Democrats putting their money where their mouth is and actually promoting ideas that are popular? Why aren’t Texas Democrats making their case about opinions they have that are unpopular?

When I listen to a Texas Democratic politician speak, I know that they’re pro-choice. But that’s about all I really know they stand for. I shouldn’t have to ask a Democratic politician if they’re for raising the minimum wage or Medicare-For-All, I should be able to tell that just by listening to them. It should be spelled out very clearly. I should know not only that they’re pro-choice, but for Medicare-For-All and a living wage as well.


Texas Democrats have a demographic advantage and an advantage on the issues. There is no reason why Texas shouldn’t already be a blue, or at the very least a purple state. The manner in which Greg Abbott made significant inroads with Latino voters in 2014 demonstrates demographics alone is not enough for Texas to turn blue. If Texas Democrats want to turn Texas blue,  they actually need to make the case for, and fight for progressive causes. Not being Donald Trump is not going to be enough in the long run. Unless Democrats actually fight for progressive causes, the political pendulum will swing back and forth with Democrats consistently getting their asses kicked at all levels of government.

If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Collin and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!

Connecticut City Rejects Former Mayor for City Council

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Former Mayor Joseph Santopietro
Former Mayor Joseph Santopietro

Waterbury voters rejected their former mayor Joseph Santopietro, who was running for alderman, city council, in district one. Santopietro was arrested during his reelection campaign in 1991 and served six years in federal prison. Republicans nominated Santopietro even though he was convicted on fifteen charges of corruption and tax evasion for crimes he committed while he was the Mayor of Waterbury. Santopietro attempted a political comeback relying on his popularity in the Town Plot neighborhood and the new alderman by district rules. He finished fourth place in his district.

The city was more forgiving to Republican candidate George Noujaim, giving him a seat on the board of alderman once again in district four. Noujaim was on the board of alderman, Waterbury’s city council, in 2013, until he failed to show up for meetings and was forced to step down. The timing of his absence wasn’t missed by Mayor Neil O’Leary.

“This is the budget, and we are in crisis, and he is not here,” O’Leary said. “It’s one of the most important things an alderman does, and he is missing it. It’s a grave disservice.”

Noujaim said at the time, he couldn’t make it to the meetings because he was working in Florida.

“This was an unexpected opportunity I couldn’t turn down, not in this economy,” Noujaim said. “It won’t last forever. I am staying informed. I am participating. I am doing my part.”

I spoke with Margaret O’Brien outside a voting location in the east end. She ran as an Independent candidate for the Board of Education. O’Brien said the Independent Party had a lot of traction this election and was pleased in the number of candidates.

“We need to get new people in,” O’Brien said.

The low voter turnout had O’Brien skeptical about that happening. Even though 15 Independent Party candidates were on the ballot, not one was elected.

The voters stayed home. Waterbury had a 14% voter turnout in Tuesday’s election according to unofficial returns. Voters did not show up as hoped, despite attempts by candidates and community organizations to engage with the public.

Project Clean Water hosted a public debate for aldermanic candidates on Oct 30, 2017. One of the topics discussed by the candidates was voter turnout. Tuesday’s voter participation was described as “dismally slow” by State Rep. Stephanie Cummings, R-74th District.

Three years ago alderman by district was voted into effect, forcing candidates to engage with neighborhoods they represent. This election was the first time alderman had to run without a mayoral candidate at the top of the ticket and appeal to specific neighborhoods. Last election, voters changed the mayor’s position to a four year term, leaving alderman with two-year terms. Every two election cycles will include a Mayor on the ballot, so it might be normal to have lower participation on the off years, but 14% is still a disappointing number.

Waterbury election results:

http://www.rep-am.com/election-results/waterbury-ct/
http://www.rep-am.com/election-results/waterbury-ct/
http://www.rep-am.com/election-results/waterbury-ct/
http://www.rep-am.com/election-results/waterbury-ct/
http://www.rep-am.com/election-results/waterbury-ct/
http://www.rep-am.com/election-results/waterbury-ct/

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(Highlights) Fighting for Social Justice Panel

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This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office.

The Fight for Social Justice: Protecting the Rights of Marginalized People in the Age of Trump. Featuring Issy Allison (BNC President), TATM Journalist Paula Martinez-Benge, Anthony Clark (candidate IL-07), Cori Bush (candidate MO-01), and Vanessa Asia Candidate (TX-12)

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Brand New Congress (BNC) Presents a Post-partisan Progressive Congress

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Candidate stump speeches from (L-R) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Chardo Richardson (FL-07), Paula Jean Swearingen (WV Senate), Marc Whitmire (TN-02), and David Benac (MI-06).

The 2018 elections will hold a strategic significance for the DNC, Democratic voters, and those who affiliate themselves with resistance to the Trump Administration. Conversations assigning blame for the last presidential election continue and the left is divided on the path forward. Brand New Congress (BNC) chose to resist by filling Congress with a new breed of Democrats and Republicans pledged to a Progressive platform. At the Brand New Summit in Washington, DC on Monday, November 5, BNC showcased 20 of their candidates set to run in Federal races for the House and Senate next year.

BNC are one of the groups that splintered off of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ 2016 Democratic Primary Campaign. They intend to run, and fundraise for 400 candidates in 2018. Candidates must all pledge themselves to a Progressive platform which includes medicare for all, criminal justice reform, and the protection of voting rights. In return they will receive $5000 from the organization, which will allow the candidates to focus on voter engagement over fundraising.

More than 30 candidates have already been chosen to run on their platform. On Monday, these candidates and speakers from other political organization met on the American University campus for a series of stump speeches and panels on current issues.

A panel on post-partisan politics with (L-R) BNC Press Director Zeynab Day, Jenny Marshall (NC-05), Robb Ryerse (AR-03), Roza Calderon (CA-04), and John Heenan (MT-At Large).

The majority of the candidates are running House races with six coming from Texas. There are also two candidates each from California, Illionois, Florida, and Washington on the website. Republican Robb Ryerse from Arkansas’ District 3 has also pledged himself to the Progressive platform. He told me that BNC will announce more Republicans soon.

Two months ago,  progressive third parties met for the People’s Convergence Conference in the exact same building as the Summit. The Draft Bernie organization and BNC were founded by former staffers from Sanders’s campaign. In a simplified sense, the Draft Bernie campaign represents the #DemExit strategy, where BNC represents #DemEnter, or technically #EnterDuopoly considering Robb Ryerse and the other Republicans to be announced.  

The slate on their website only includes one Senatorial candidate. Paula Jean Swearingen is running for a Senate seat in West Virginia against the Democratic incumbent, Sen. Joe Manchin. “The coal industry is his top donor,” said Swearingen about her opponent, “his second top donor is Mylan Pharmaceutical and his daughter is the CEO.”

The Manchin family was wrapped in controversy last year when Mylan raised the price of the EpiPen. In 2012, before the price-increase, Gayle Manchin, the Senator’s wife, had enacted policy that made schools buy more epinephrine pens while she was President of the National Association of State Boards of Education.

Swearingen announced her candidacy in May. In conversation, she often returned to the health ailments common among her neighbors in coal country. The characters that brought her to announce a senatorial campaign were surrounded by poor health and death in their communities. She told me about the young daugher of her neighbor in Lester, WV with cancer; the WV Democratic governor and coal baron, Jim Justice, who poisons the lungs of her children, “with silica dust every day;” and her father, her grandfather, and her stepfather who were all besieged by a mixture of black lung, heart disease, and cancer.    

“I’ve been a social and economic justice activist for years here in West Virginia, the reason I started that path was I’m a coal miner’s daughter and granddaughter, and most of my family worked in coal mining,” she said.

When Swearingen moved to Lester around 2001 her neighbor’s eight-year-old daughter got cancer. She said, “They were closing her school several times for a funny smell and the Board of Education wouldn’t offer any answers.” This lead Swearingen to the connection between MTR and public health in her community.

She found out that the local MTR mine was pumping a “toxic soup” of chemicals into the ground, and that no studies had been done to find out if there was a connection between mining practices and the high incidence of cancer in Lester and other communities with MTR mining sites. “I could go around two blocks and pick out eight houses where people have cancer,” she said, “And these are not isolated incidences, like a community called Prenter Hollow, very small community, people have alarming rates of brain cancer, their gall bladders were removed, respiratory issues, and their water supply was polluted by a slurry impoundment over their head and they still today deal with water issues.”

Swearingen responded to these tragedies proactively. She said, “I got mad and so I decided to become an activist.” This decision eventually brought her together with the organizers at Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats.

Ryerse defined BNC as post-partisan. He told me that he is on board with a progressive platform because, “The Republican party used to be the progressive party in the United States, if you look at the Republican platform of 1956 it called for equal pay for women, it called for increasing healthcare, a number of things.” In 1956 the Republicans chose Dwight D. Eisenhower as their candidate and Nat King Cole spoke at the convention. This platform and convention showed a different GOP to the obstinate group we are used to today.

The keynote speaker at the conference was the Honorable Arthur L. Burnett Sr., the first African American Superior Court Judge. In his remarks he praised the paths of the candidates by saying, “It’s not enough just to be demonstrating and protesting. I tell my law school classes and my teachers and professors, get your feet on the ground, get a little experience and at 30, 35 years, like the candidates here, get inside your mayor’s office, city council, change things from within. Be action oriented. Put money on the table.”

Throughout the panels and speeches, the candidates referred to their group as a family. They used the language of, “Having each other’s backs.” As the 2018 elections approaches, the organization intends to add hundreds more candidates to the family. Follow them here or on their website at brandnewcongress.org.

 

Watch interviews, panels, and speakers from the summit below:

 

Raheela Ahmed: Prince George’s County School Board, New Leadership Project

This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. Raaheela Ahmed of the Prince George's County School Board and the New American Leaders Project. Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

Robb Ryerse (AR-03)

This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. Robb Ryerse is running against Rep Steve Womack in Arkansas' 3rd district.Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

Paula Jean Swearingen (WV. Senate)

This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. Paula Jean Swearingen is running for a West Virginia Senate seat.Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14)  

This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. We are talking to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She's running in the 14th district of NYC against Joseph Crowley.Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

Amy Vilela (NV-04) & her staff

This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. We are talking to Amy Vilela. She's running in the 4th district of Nevada against Ruben Kihuen.Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

Holly Lynch, attendant, considering running in NYC

This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. We are talking to Holly Lynch who's attending #brandnewsummit and considering running in NYC.Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

Social justice panel w/ Vanessa Adia (TX-12), Cori Bush (MO-01), Anthony Clark (IL-07), and TATM’s own Paula Martinez-Benge; followed by remarks from Ronald Stubblefield, a Baltimore Corps Fellow

LIVE NOW—The Fight for Social Justice: Protecting the Rights of Marginalized People in the Age of Trump. Featuring Issy Allison (BNC President), TATM Journalist Paula Martinez-Benge, Anthony Clark (candidate IL-07), Cori Bush (candidate MO-01), and Vanessa Asia Candidate (TX-12)This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from #BrandNewSummit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. Swatch the Fighting for Social Justice panel with Antony Clark from IL-07 and Cori Bush from MO-01.Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

Keynote from the Honorable Arthur L. Burnett Sr. and closing remarks from BNC President Isra Allison

This is Rhys Baker reporting for TATM News from Brand New Summit in Washington D.C. The conference is a showcase of 20 candidates selected by Brand New Congress to run for Federal Office. Join us for panels on current political issues, interviews with the candidates and organizers, and conversations on the 2018 election. Skip the overpricedcoffee and support TATM and our independent journalists! Visit http://truthagainstthemachine.com/index.php/donate-2/to donate $3

Posted by Truth Against The Machine on Monday, November 6, 2017

 

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The Kinders: Example of Big Money Influencing Houston’s School District

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Houston, Texas, Independent School District has a governing body of nine individuals known as “trustees.” These trustees, along with the superintendent, make the executive decisions affecting Houston ISD’s students. Houston ISD is the seventh largest school district in the nation and the largest in the state of Texas, with nearly 216k students enrolled in the 2015-2016 school year.

These individuals serve four-year terms and possess a large amount of power; their decisions will affect the lives of hundreds of thousands of Houston families, along with the future of Houston’s next generation. This election, in particular, is very important, because Houston ISD could potentially lose its autonomy to the Texas Education Agency (TEA).

There are six trustee spots on the ballot for the election on November 7th, 2017: district one occupied by Anna Eastman; district five occupied by Mike Lunceford; district six occupied by Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca; district seven occupied by Anne Sung; district nine occupied by Wanda Adams; and district three occupied by Jose Leal.  

Candidates include: Gretchen Himsl, Monica Richard, and Elizabeth Santos for district one; Kara deRocha, Sean Cheben, Sue Deigaard, and Susan Shafer for district five; Daniel Albert, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, and Robert Lundin in district six; John Luman, and Anne Sung in district seven;  Wanda Adams (incumbent) and Karla Brown in district nine; Carlos Perrett, Jesse Rodriguez, Rodolfo Reyes, and Sergio Lira in district three.

HISD trustees are politicians. Just like all other politicians, they must run campaigns, and to run a campaign, you have to raise money. These campaigns typically have an operating budget of around $10,000.00 to $30,000.00. Because these campaigns are relatively inexpensive to run,  the desires of the person making contributions have the potential to influence the decision making of elected trustees very easily.

This is particularly concerning when taking into account individuals who own or work as a high-ranking executive for an organization that does business for Houston ISD can contribute to trustee campaigns. Houston ISD has an operating budget of roughly $2 billion. A $2,000, $1,000 or even $500 contribution can affect the decision making of those controlling that massive budget. These campaign contributions have the potential to affect other things: policy decisions, and even the naming of a school.

In 2019 HSPVA, a well known local high school, will be moved from its home campus in Montrose to downtown. Along with the new building will comes a new high school name: The Kinder High School for the Performing and Visual Arts. The Kinders are the wealthiest couple in the Houston area. Richard Kinder, chairman and CEO of Kinder Morgan, has a net worth of 6.4 billion. The Kinder Foundation made two financial commitments to the construction of HSPVA’s new school building: the first in the amount of $5 million and the second in the amount of $2.5 million.

The Kinders issued an ultimatum the HISD board of Trustees, telling them to either accept the terms of the contract that day or the offer was off the table. This effectively forced the school board into accepting the terms of the contract, and thus the name change of HSPVA. This left little room for discussion, and no room for the school board to negotiate the terms of the contract.  

Further, the Kinders donated $2k to three trustee candidates. These trustee candidates, if they win, would be inclined to retain the agreement to change HSPVA’s name to the Kinder High School For The Performing and Visual Arts or KHSPVA. 

Renaming HSPVA to Kinder HSPVA can be reversed. Sarah Terrell started Kinder Give it Back, an organization dedicated to retaining HSPVA’s name.

In April, 2017, in response to a petition asking the Kinders to please give back the name and take a theater name instead, Richard Kinder sent a letter to HISD. Decrying the “controversy which could negatively impact the institution,” he wrote that the name was “not the primary reason for our gift.” He then offered to release HISD from the naming rights provision of the contract.

It is this legal offer, virtually unacknowledged by HISD, that keeps the contract in play, even as the Kinder Foundation and HISD both continue to refer to the new school as Kinder HSPVA on their websites. Sarah explains more below.

How did the Kinders get the naming rights to HSPVA?

“In October 2016 the Kinders presented the board with a completed contract, exploiting a never-used policy allowing for the sale of names of facilities, but not intended for renaming established schools. They announced the name change six days before the next HISD board meeting, surprising the public and a majority of trustees. On the day of the vote, to prevent the issue being tabled, the Kinders issued an ultimatum, saying they would withdraw the funds if the board did not vote. The offer ‘expired’ that day. HISD was not involved in negotiating the contract.” —Sarah Terrell

And the Kinders have what you might call an insurance policy, to try to make sure the institution does in fact get renamed after them?

After our petitioners asked the Kinders to give back the name, they sent HISD a letter offering to rescind the naming rights but still provide the funds. They have never actioned it or offered any compromise, such as their name on a theater. It seems the offer was just for PR value, and the trustees have never even acknowledged the letter. Now they donated $2,000 to each of three candidates in this school board election: Gretchen Himsl in District One, Sue Deigaard in District Five, and Holly Flynn Vilaseca in District Six. These candidates are potentially the front runners. If they win, the Kinders will have three people on the school board with reason to favor retaining the Kinder name on HSPVA.” —Sarah Terrell

Why did the Kinders pay $7.5 million if the school only needed $5 million for opening day?

“The Kinder naming rights contract provides $5 million to the construction of the new school,  less than 5% of the total cost of the school including the valuable downtown land near Discovery Green. The other 95% comes from taxpayers, who are also responsible for all ongoing costs—teachers, building maintenance, etc. The Kinder contract provides for an additional $2.5 million for unspecified purposes to be paid in 2018.  HSPVA doesn’t need the money for the building, but it was needed by the Kinders—to reach the minimum amount in the naming rights policy for consideration of a name. The Kinders would never demand the Museum of Fine Arts change its name to the Kinder Museum of Art.  And they would never tell the MFAH board, here’s the contract, take it or leave it, it’s non-negotiable and you have six days to decide.  Why do they treat the general public so differently from their peers on the MFAH board of trustees?” —Sarah Terrell

But why is it a big deal to have the building renamed after the Kinders?

“The name of the school is valuable intellectual property, and not the same at all as the name of a building.  Would Disney sell its name? Among public schools, at least in Houston, HSPVA’s name is at a Disney level.  It’s the only HISD school with long-standing national name recognition.  Under the Kinder contract, everything must say Kinder, the building near Discovery Green, diplomas, theater tickets, radio announcements, official documents, social media handles, website, EVERYTHING will say Kinder.  And this contract awards the name permanently. Even if the school is rebuilt in another location, the contract requires must continue as Kinder HSPVA.” – Sarah Terrell

We are currently awaiting to hear back from the Kinders for comment. If you would like to sign Sarah’s petition to reclaim HSPVA’s name, click this link.

Further articles about the Trustee Elections and money Trustees have accepted, alongside issues facing Texas students will be written and released in the near future.

If you want more independent reporting like this, please support Collin and TATM with a donation– Every $1 helps us grow!