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Edward Erikson, 202-420-9947, Edward.Erikson@gmail.com
Led by Free Speech For People, the Divest Trump SoHo campaign claimed a big victory last week when CIM Group LP confirmed that they will buy out the Trump Organization and terminate its agreement with Trump International Hotels Management to market and manage the troubled condo/hotel years before the contract expires.
Over the past four months, thousands of Californians and New Yorkers from all walks of life have joined the Divest Trump SoHo campaign to hold CalPERS and the New York State Comptroller accountable for an investment that was funneling millions in retiree funds to the Trump Organization in violation of the Domestic Emoluments Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Through petitions, letters, and public comments, thousands urged CalPERS' Board of Directors and the New York State Comptroller to protect beneficiaries from this corruption.
On October 30, 2017, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) and 11 of his fellow members of the California congressional delegation wrote a letter urging CalPERS to take immediate action to remedy serious legal and ethical issues regarding indirect payments to the Trump Organization by pressuring the fund manager to liquidate the Trump SoHo, terminate the arrangement with the Trump Organization to market and manage the Trump SoHo, or divest from the fund altogether.
The letter was signed by Rep. Lieu, Rep. Waters, Rep. Cardenas, Rep. Gomez, Rep. DeSaulnier, Rep. Khanna, Rep. Lee, Rep. Bass, Rep. Huffman, Rep. Swalwell, and Rep. Lofgren.
"This is a tremendous outcome that will end the illegal payments from state pension funds to the President," says Shanna Cleveland, Senior Counsel at Free Speech For People. "It shows the power of people to end corruption by shining a light on it."
Free Speech For People is a national non-partisan non-profit organization founded on the day of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Citizens United v. FEC that works to defend our democracy and our Constitution.
"This violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in California," said one California lawmaker. "We stand in strong support of our LGBTQ+ community. Diversity and inclusion is our strength, and our schools WILL remain welcoming to all."
Far-right fascist groups and homophobic parents instigated violent clashes outside a local school committee meeting in the town of Glendale, California on Tuesday evening which resulted in defenders of the district recognizing June as Pride Month being punched, kicked, pepper-sprayed, and thrown about as police failed to maintain a peaceful situation.
While the Glendale Unified School District board met inside to hear from community members and parents prior to a vote, the overflow crowd that gathered became increasingly confrontational.
Footage taken from above the protest showed the moment when protesters broke a police line and the fighting between the opposing factions ensued:
\u201cAnti-LGBT protestors attack Pro-LGBT demonstrators outside of a Glendale, CA schoolboard meeting.\n\nThe schoolboard is voting on recognizing June as Pride month.\u201d— Brennan Murphy (@Brennan Murphy) 1686100986
Local reporters estimated that 500 people—which included local parents opposed to recognizing the dignity of LGBTQ students as well as others identified as "traveling fascists" and outside agitators without students in the district, like the far-right Proud Boys and other fascist groups—had gathered outside the meeting.
A large group of parents and others who gathered to approve of the Pride recognition vote and support the LGBTQ+ community in Glendale were also in attendance, carrying signs that said "Dads Against Proud Boys" and "Stop Threatening Educators."
\u201cMultiple anti-LGBTQ protestors push against police officers, eventually some push past police and fight with LGBTQ.\n\nAn LGBTQ supporter who is tackled and beaten on the ground by protestors ends up arrested by Glendale police.\u201d— Sergio Olmos (@Sergio Olmos) 1686100997
In a statement, the police said, "While most of the protest was peaceful, a small group of individuals engaged in behavior deemed unsafe and a risk to public safety."
According to local ABC affiliate Channel 7 Eyewitness News:
The school board was set to adopt a resolution recognizing Pride Month, which has been done for the last four years. However, a shelter-in-place order disrupted the meeting as a brawl happened outside.
Board members later unanimously adopted the resolution to declare June as Pride Month.
Many in the crowd opposed to LGBTQ+ rights and recognition wore t-shirts that read: "Leave Our Kids Alone."
The Republican Party and other far-right political actors have increasingly targeted local public schools in their effort to gin up opposition to trans youth and promote a culture war that seeks to equate common-sense love and acceptance of LGTBQ+ children and adults with some kind of leftist "indoctrination" that should be opposed.
\u201cThis violence is unacceptable and will not be tolerated in California. We stand in strong support of our LGBTQ+ community. Diversity and inclusion is our strength, and our schools WILL remain welcoming to all.https://t.co/hRsD2dzDAT\u201d— Buffy Wicks (@Buffy Wicks) 1686114833
One parent of a queer middle school student in the district who was at Tuesday's meeting told the Los Angeles Times that her child had faced discrimination growing up.
The woman said she was grateful for the commitment by the GUSD board in protecting LGBTQ+ acceptance. "I've never spoken before," she said, "but as an actual parent, I felt that I had to be here because a lot of the opposing people don't believe that I exist."
"These health insurance CEOs have been so successful not because they have improved the health and well-being of Americans, but rather because they have sustained financial returns for Wall Street investors."
The United States' healthcare system is the worst in the developed world, delivering the highest death rates for treatable conditions, the highest infant and maternal mortality rates, and the lowest life expectancy at birth.
But a system that is failing patients, often in catastrophic ways, has been a massive boon for the executives who run the few private companies that dominate the nation's healthcare sector.
Last year, the CEOs of CVS Health, UnitedHealth Group, Cigna, Elevance Health, Centene, Humana, and Molina Healthcare—the top seven publicly traded health insurance giants in the U.S.—brought in a combined $335 million in compensation, STAT recently reported.
The outlet emphasized that "high-flying stock prices again fueled a vast majority of the gains," which mark a new record. Joseph Zubretsky, the CEO of Molina Healthcare—a company whose revenue comes entirely from taxpayer-funded programs such as Medicaid—took home a staggering $181 million in 2022.
As former Cigna executive Wendell Potter noted Tuesday, "these health insurance CEOs have been so successful not because they have improved the health and well-being of Americans, but rather because they have sustained financial returns for Wall Street investors."
"Not much has changed in how insurer CEOs are compensated since I left Cigna in 2008. Except they're making way more," wrote Potter, who is now the executive director of the Center for Health and Democracy.
In a new analysis of the latest CEO pay figures, Potter observed that "had it not been for their companies' share buybacks"—which help boost the price of their stock by reducing the number of shares outstanding—"they wouldn't have banked nearly that much money."
"My analysis of how much the companies have used our premiums and tax dollars to buy back shares of their own stock showed that combined they spent $141 billion on share repurchases between 2007 and 2022," Potter wrote. "Keep in mind that that is $141 billion that otherwise could have been used to reduce our premiums and deductibles–and keep an untold number of American families out of bankruptcy and away from GoFundMe–but was used instead to increase the wealth of their shareholders and top executives."
\u201c(1/6) LATEST: CEOs from the 7 big health insurance companies pulled in $335 million in just 2022 alone.\n\nHow did they do it?\n\nBy imposing high out-out-pockets requirements and premiums; stock share repurchases; and by gaming the Medicare and drug supply chain.\u201d— Wendell Potter (@Wendell Potter) 1686067073
Potter argued that the CEOs' exorbitant pay packages are "especially alarming when you consider that they are getting more and more of it from us as taxpayers" as tens of millions of Americans go without insurance, struggle to afford their prescription medicines, and drown in medical debt.
In an analysis released earlier this year, Potter estimated that government programs are the source of around 90% of the health plan revenues of Molina, Humana, and Centene.
Centene CEO Sarah London brought in more than $13 million in total compensation last year, and Humana chief Bruce Broussard took home more than $17 million. Both companies are major providers of Medicare Advantage—a privately run, publicly funded, and fraud-ridden program that is a growing source of insurance company revenues.
"Keep all of this in mind the next time you go to the pharmacy counter and are told that even with insurance you'll have to pay a king's ransom for your meds because your insurer—through its pharmacy benefit manager (PBM)—has once again jacked up your out-of-pocket requirement," Potter wrote. "Or the next time you notice how much has been deducted from your paycheck for your health insurance–and Uncle Sam."
Fresh outrage over the pay of insurance industry CEOs, which surged during the coronavirus pandemic as millions lost health coverage and got sick, comes amid a renewed Medicare for All push in Congress.
Last month, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and others reintroduced Medicare for All legislation in both chambers, with more co-sponsors than ever before—though the bill has no chance of passing the divided Congress.
The legislation would virtually eliminate private health insurance and provide comprehensive care to all for free at the point of service, a transformative change that would likely save tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars each year.
"In America, your health and your longevity should not be dependent on your bank account or your stock portfolio," said Sanders. "After all the lives that we lost to this terrible pandemic, it is clearer now, perhaps more than it has ever been before, that we must act to end the international embarrassment of the United States being the only major country on earth to not guarantee healthcare to all."
"PGA Tour leaders should be ashamed of their hypocrisy and greed."
In an agreement that will end years of acrimony and litigation, PGA Tour, DP World Tour, and the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF)—which owns LIV Golf—surprised the world of golf and beyond by announcing Tuesday that they are merging into "a new, collectively owned, for-profit entity."
"Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA."
Human rights advocates excoriated Monahan and the deal. Terry Strada, who chairs the 9/11 Families United coalition and whose husband Tom died in the attack on the World Trade Center, said in a statement that "Monahan co-opted the 9/11 community last year in the PGA's unequivocal agreement that the Saudi LIV project was nothing more than sportswashing of Saudi Arabia's reputation."
\u201cJay Monahan changed his tune considerably after telling the media and players his concerns with the Saudi-backed LIV Golf tour. \n\nPart 1 \ud83d\udc47\u201d— Awful Announcing (@Awful Announcing) 1686093488
"But now the PGA and Monahan appear to have become just more paid Saudi shills, taking billions of dollars to cleanse the Saudi reputation so that Americans and the world will forget how the kingdom spent their billions of dollars before 9/11 to fund terrorism, spread their vitriolic hatred of Americans, and finance al-Qaeda and the murder of our loved ones," Strada continued. "Make no mistake—we will never forget."
"Mr. Monahan talked last summer about knowing people who lost loved ones on 9/11, then wondered aloud on national television whether LIV golfers ever had to apologize for being a member of the PGA Tour," Strada added. "They do now—as does he. PGA Tour leaders should be ashamed of their hypocrisy and greed. Our entire 9/11 community has been betrayed by Commissioner Monahan and the PGA as it appears their concern for our loved ones was merely window-dressing in their quest for money—it was never to honor the great game of golf."
\u201cNothing is more American than the PGA vilifying golfers who took hundreds of millions of dollars to play for an immoral, murderous undemocratic, anti-American regime...\n\nThen partnering with that immoral, undemocratic, anti-American murderous regime.\n\nhttps://t.co/NBIrZbCKxb\u201d— Michael Harriot (@Michael Harriot) 1686065123
Some members of U.S. Congress—a body that responded to 9/11 by voting overwhelmingly to authorize an open-ended war that experts say has claimed millions of lives—welcomed the PGA-LIV Golf merger, among them Reps. Jim Clyburn (D) and Nancy Mace (R), both of South Carolina.
"Obviously Saudi money being involved... you know, I'd have some concerns over that," Mace, who chairs the Congressional Golf Caucus, toldHuffPost. "But look at my district—we've got over 30 golf courses."
Former President Donald Trump—whose golf courses have hosted LIV Golf events—called the deal "big, beautiful, and glamorous" for the sport.
Other lawmakers—mostly Democrats—condemned the merger.
\u201cA merger of this size & weight deserved a vote from the PGA Tour Players -- another reason why player unions matter. \u00a0Golf is one of the only major professional sports leagues in the US without one.\u201d— Ro Khanna (@Ro Khanna) 1686070295
"Hypocrisy doesn't begin to describe this brazen, shameless cash grab," Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) tweeted. "I'm going to dive into every piece of Saudi Arabia's deal with the PGA. U.S. officials need to consider whether a deal will give the Saudi regime inappropriate control or access to U.S. real estate."
Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) accused the PGA Tour of paying "lip service" to uplifting the game of golf, which will be used "unabashedly by [Saudi Arabia] to distract from its many crimes."
\u201cSo weird. PGA officials were in my office just months ago talking about how the Saudis' human rights record should disqualify them from having a stake in a major American sport.\n\nI guess maybe their concerns weren't really about human rights?\u201d— Chris Murphy \ud83d\udfe7 (@Chris Murphy \ud83d\udfe7) 1686066929
Ruled for generations by the House of Saud under Wahhabism, a fundamentalist form of Sunni Islam, Saudi Arabia perennially scores near the bottom of most international human rights indices. Women, religious and sexual minorities, and political dissidents are especially repressed. "Crimes" including apostasy—renouncing Islam—blasphemy, witchcraft, prostitution, and even adultery are punishable by death, often by public beheading.
Abroad, Saudi Arabia leads a U.S.-backed coalition intervening in Yemen's civil war, in which nearly 400,000 people have been killed. Despite pledging to make Saudi Arabia a "pariah" during his 2020 presidential campaign, U.S. President Joe Biden has, like his predecessors going back to the first half of the 20th century, continued friendly and highly lucrative relations with the monarchy.
\u201c\u201c[Saudis] are scary motherf-ckers to get involved with. We know they killed [Jamal] Khashoggi and have a horrible record on human rights. They execute people over there for being gay.\u201d - Phil Mickelson. Within a day, he apologized to the Saudi Royal Family for these comments.\u201d— Dave Zirin (@Dave Zirin) 1686081241
According to U.S. intelligence agencies, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the 2018 kidnapping and brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist with permanent U.S. residency. Biden angered many human rights advocates by moving to protect the crown prince from accountability.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is currently in Saudi Arabia, where he met with bin Salman in Jeddah Tuesday. Blinken said the pair "discussed deepening economic cooperation, especially in the clean energy and technology fields," while emphasizing that "our bilateral relationship is strengthened by progress on human rights."