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8 People Who Owe Their Lives to Obamacare

Mother Jones

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President Donald Trump has vowed to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA)â&#128;&#138;—â&#128;&#138;a move that could leave some 30 million Americans without health insurance. ACA literally sustains millions of livesâ&#128;&#138;. Without the health insurance it provides, many people wouldn’t have access to medicine and procedures that they need to survive. When we asked people on Twitter and through healthcare advocacy organizations to share their stories of how ACA keeps them alive, we were overwhelmed with responses. We heard from people waiting for organ transplants, from cancer survivors, from people with debilitating mental illness, and more. They told us about the toll that disease has taken on their lives: Before the ACA, some were forced to skip treatments because of the price; others couldn’t get insurance at all because they were already sick. Here are a few of their stories.

Claudette Williams

Claudette Williams, 58, Orlando, Florida: I lost my job in 2005. After that I decided to purchase a policy. I found them online. They had a gentleman come to my house, and we talked about my blood pressure medications. The insurance was almost twice what they had quoted me because of the medication, and also because of my condition. I eventually couldn’t afford it any more. I was uninsured, except for one year when I qualified for Medicaid. I ended up in the emergency room on a few occasions for heart trouble. I also developed diabetes. I couldn’t afford to have regular mammograms. In 2014 I signed up for Obamacare. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of last year. The lumpectomy alone was billed at $40,000. I have four more chemo sessions to go, and after that, I have to do radiation. Luckily my cancer is only a stage one, so my prognosis is pretty good. But it is really scary thinking about my insurance being taken away. This is a fight for my life.

Charis Hill

Charis Hill, 30, California: When I was 25, in 2012, I had a series of unexplained and undiagnosable respiratory challenges that felt like the flu or bronchitis or pneumonia. Doctors just couldn’t figure out what was wrong with me. My condition got worse and worse. I visited urgent care a few times. I thought I was having a heart attack once. They tried to blame it on anxiety.

Eventually reached out to my dad, who was estranged from me. I knew that he had a severe health condition. The first words out of his mouth were, it sounds like you have what I have, which is ankylosing spondylitis (AS). I knew that I would need health insurance to be treated. But if I were to get a diagnosis before getting health insurance, I would have the preexisting condition working against me. So I got the cheapest plan that existed. I wasn’t getting all the tests done or getting all the treatments. Then, ten months later, the ACA was implemented, and because of my income, I was eligible for a subsidy to purchase health insurance on the exchange in California. I got a better plan for less than I was paying before, which meant that I could access more treatment and not skip medication.

I have infusions of a drug every eight weeks. I have to go to an infusion center for 2.5 hours. There’s no generic. There’s no way to get those treatments unless I have insurance. They slow down the progression of my disease. I also take anti-inflammatory medications orally. AS is a severe inflammatory condition. It primarily affects the spine. It causes a lot of pain and fatigue from the body trying to fight that inflammation. I’m permanently disabled. I was a college athlete, and now I’m not even able to run. I use a wheelchair sometimes. As hard as I fight to be healthy, I’m never going to be healthy, and I’m always going to have to rely on the medical system to keep me alive.

John Weiler, 27, Oakland, California: I got HIV when I was 19. When I was in college, I was on my parents health insurance, so when I started meds when I was 21, I took it for granted that I was going to have insurance that would cover it, because it was so easy. When I went to grad school, I naively accepted a position without asking any questions about how the insurance was structured. When you do a science PhD, it’s typical for the school to pay your tuition, pay your health insurance premium, and give you a stipend. In my program, the stipend is about $30,000 a year. So when I enrolled and started to look at my insurance situation, I realized the policy offered to students provided up to $10,000 worth of prescription coverage per academic year, and that was it. But in 2013, the student government got together and petitioned the university to change across the UC system. The students basically said, ‘We don’t care if our insurance premiums are higher, we don’t want these things that the ACA offers to not be part of the insurance plan for the school.’

I was on a med cocktail called Complera, and that one was $22,000 a year. HIV meds are super expensive. I switched to a different medication since then, called Stribild, and I don’t know exactly what it is this year, but if I remember correctly, that one was closer to $27,000 a year.

I’m about to graduate and find a job, and, let’s say worst case scenario, first Congressional session they manage to totally gut the ACA and revert to how things were before. If that were to happen and I were to get a job, it would be totally legal for an employer to be like, ‘Hey, yeah, we’re not covering this.’ I’d be looking at close to $35,000 a year in medical expenses just for maintenance, let alone if I got sick.

Ruth Linehan

Ruth Linehan, 26, Portland, Oregon: I graduated college in May 2012. I was 22. About a month later, I started an internship as a software developer at a Portland startup. Thanks to ACA I was on my parents’ insurance. After four months I was offered a full time job, but the insurance didn’t start until 6 weeks after my first day as an employee. On my first day I was diagnosed with Burkitt’s Lymphoma. I looked like I was 7 months pregnant. I started chemo the day after I was hospitalized. This is an incredibly fast-growing cancer. I was in the hospital for seven weeks. I received about four rounds of chemo. After four months I was declared in remission. I continue to be in remission. The hospital bills were about half a million dollars. I only had to pay about $10,000 because I was on my parents’ insurance.

If I lose my job and the cancer comes back, what am I going to do? I worry about illness down the road. I’ve had cancer at a very young age and a lot of very harsh chemo. I worry that I won’t be able to get affordable insurance, or get insurance at all.

Larry Sterlingshires, 35, Tennessee: I have a condition called hidradenitis surruptiva—look it up, do not look at pictures, because it’s not a good time—it’s a chronic skin condition that’s ultimately debilitating. As it progresses, it causes tissue degradation on the skin layer that doesn’t heal, like normal wounds do. Sometimes it creates lesions that don’t heal for a year and half. It’s debilitating because it’s painful—the tissue underneath is exposed without that protective layer, so it bleeds regularly. You have to keep everything patched and bandaged, and it easily gets infected. But because of the ACA, I can have medication that can’t completely undo the symptoms, but it seems to have halted its progression, and even promoted some healing. Complications related to the tissue damage and infections can be fatal.

The medications I’m on right now, in addition to just my normal medications for diabetes and hypertension, will help me survive longer. This lets me afford something called Claravis, and another medication called Humira. Humira runs approximately $7300 a month, and the Claravis is about $4000 a month. Those basically keep me functional without being completely disabled. That’s no exaggeration. If you check the disability schedule, it’s so painful and considered debilitating enough that you can qualify for full disability with it. The Affordable Care Act covers all of that medication in full. I come from poverty, I’m just now getting used to having insurance for the first time in my adult life, and now that seems like it might evaporate.

Debbie Lynn Smith, 59, Las Vegas, Nevada: I was a TV writer and producer. In 2000 I was diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans. It’s also called popcorn lung. I got it from buttered popcorn. When you work in TV, you work 15 hour days. They provide snacks and things. Microwave popcorn is one of the things they give you. I ate a lot of it. It just so happened that I was susceptible to this disease.

I was in remission for 16 years, but I was living with 50 percent of my lung capacity. I couldn’t do TV anymore, couldn’t put in those long hours. I really had a hard time working and being reliable because I would get sick. So I couldn’t get insurance through work. I had insurance through the high-risk California program and I was paying $2,000 a month for that. My husband was on it, too, he had prostate cancer. We moved to Nevada. When the ACA came around we were ecstatic. We were both out of work at the time, so we went on ACA.

This year, in April, my disease came out of remission. I am now down to 30 percent of my lung capacity and waiting for a lung transplant. So you can imagine the fear I have—being so close to getting a transplantthat they might repeal the ACA right away, and I will no longer have access to insurance, and I won’t be able to get my transplant. I am extremely stressed. I was so stressed before the election that I could not take anything else. I was working for Hillary and I ended up in the hospital.

Michele Munro

Michele Munro, 64, Southern California: I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 1997. I was 44. I was a single mom with two boys. I had Kaiser insurance. It wasn’t a bad cancer, and we caught it early. Then seven years later I was diagnosed with a different type of breast cancer. That was 2004. I also had a hip replacement. The Kaiser premium doubled, so I went without insurance for the first time in years. I was working as a freelancer, and insurers told me I was uninsurable. In 2011, ACA started to kick in. It was not allowing insurance companies to consider preexisting conditions. I applied and was accepted into Aetna. The first thing I did was go for a mammogram, and, sure enough, I had a triplenegative tumor. Very aggressive. It was small and early, so we caught it just in time. I had a double mastectomy and chemotherapy and breast reconstruction, all covered through ACA. I went into the hospital seven times total for infections. The billing was $900,000. Aetna settled and paid out $180,000.

I’m feeling really good right now because December was the fifth anniversary of being cancer-free. I exercise a lot. I’m doing everything I can on my end. But there is only so much you can do. I’m scared for myself, and also for my children. My parents had to claim bankruptcy for health insurance reasons. They were not covered for a medical emergency.

Suzanna Moore, 29, Fairfield, Iowa: When I was a baby, I had a stroke. I recovered well, but I would always have issues afterward. Throughout my childhood, it always a concern if I would have proper health care. I grew up in a pretty poor family in New England. With Obamacare, I went to an orthopedist for the first time in forever and got a prescription for orthotics to alleviate chronic pain in my knees and ankles on one side, because my right side was affected more from the stroke than my left side. The pain built up for a while, but basically throughout my twenties, I was never able to get it addressed, because I was living on my own in Tennessee and was unable to focus any money toward my personal health care.

I also had a meniscus tear during that time. Had I had surgery on that on my own, it would have been like $15,000 or more. With Obamacare, we still had to prioritize, but we didn’t go in debt over it.

My husband has a rare condition called achalasia, which means the muscles in his throat stopped working the way they were supposed to, so he had trouble swallowing and eating. He had to force food down his esophagus with air and water. After a while, it got so painful that he was eating less and he was losing weight rapidly. It was hindering his quality of life, and, left untreated, it could contribute to throat cancer. So he had to have surgery about eight months after I had my knee surgery. We were able to afford all of it. We wouldn’t have been able to do that without Obamacare.

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8 People Who Owe Their Lives to Obamacare

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Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

Mother Jones

Scott Pruitt will almost certainly be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma attorney general’s nomination is expected to sail through Senate—possibly as soon as Friday—despite Democrats’ protests that he is unfit to lead an agency that he has repeatedly sued. The administration has already imposed a freeze on the EPA’s social media, halted its rulemaking, and reportedly mandated that all agency research be reviewed by a political appointee before being released to the public. But next week, once Pruitt is sworn in, the real frenzy will begin.

According to Reuters, President Donald Trump plans to sign between two and five environmental executive orders aimed at the EPA and possibly the State Department. The White House is reportedly planning to hold an event at the EPA headquarters, similar the administration’s roll-out of its widely condemn travel ban after Defense Secretary James Mattis took office. While we don’t know what, exactly, next week’s orders will say, Trump is expected to restrict the agency’s regulatory oversight. Based on one administration official’s bluster, the actions could “suck the air” out of the room.

Trump may have hinted at the forthcoming orders in his unwieldy press conference on Thursday. “Some very big things are going to be announced next week,” he said. (He didn’t make clear whether or not he was referring to the EPA.)

Former President Barack Obama’s array of climate regulations, including the Clean Power Plan limiting power plant emissions, are certainly high on conservative activists’ hit list. So too is the landmark Paris climate deal, in which Obama agreed to dramatically cut domestic carbon emissions and provide aide to other countries for clean energy projects and climate adaptation. The EPA’s rule that defines its jurisdiction over wetlands and streams is also a prime target. As attorney general, Pruitt launched lawsuits against a number of these regulations.

“What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump’s main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty,” said Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition and recently returned to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an email to Mother Jones.

H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow the Heartland Institute, which rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, says Trump could start by revisiting the Obama administration’s efforts to calculate a “social cost of carbon“—and by forbidding its use to determine costs and benefits of government regulations. He also wants to see broader restrictions on how the EPA calculates costs and benefits. In particular, Burnett hopes Trump will prohibit the agency from the considering public health co-benefits of regulations—for example, attempts by the EPA to argue that limits on CO2 emissions from power plants also reduce emissions of other dangerous pollutants.

Or Trump could take a cue from Republican Attorneys General Patrick Morrisey (W.V.) and Ken Paxton (Texas), who recommended in December that Trump issue a memorandum directing the EPA to “take no further action to enforce or implement” the Clean Power Plan. (The Supreme Court halted implementation of the rule a year ago while both sides fight it out in federal court).

The holy grail for conservatives would be reversing the agency’s so-called “endangerment finding,” which states that greenhouse gas emissions harm public health and must therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The endangerment finding is the legal underpinning for the bulk of Obama’s climate policies, including the restrictions on vehicle and power plant emissions. Undoing the finding wouldn’t be an easy feat and can’t be accomplished by executive order alone. The endangerment finding isn’t an Obama invention; in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses if it found they harmed public health. Pruitt said during his confirmation hearing that the administration wouldn’t revisit the finding, but he also launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against it in 2010. Neither Ebell nor Burnett expects to see Trump to tackle the endangerment finding just yet.

Environmentalists are already planning their response. Litigation is certainly an option, but it would of course depend on the details of Trump’s executive actions. Several groups, including EarthJustice and Natural Resources Defense Council, have already sued to block Trump’s earlier executive order requiring that every new regulation be offset by scrapping two existing regulations. Their case: The administration can’t arbitrarily ditch regulations just because the president wants fewer of them on the books.

They could be making a similar case soon enough. “A new president has to deal with the record and evidence and findings,” EarthJustice’s lead attorney, Patti Goldman, said. “If you take climate and the endangerment finding, that is a scientific finding that is upheld by the court. That finding has legal impacts. If there’s a directive along those lines, there will have to be a process.”

Of course, anti-EPA Republicans disagree about what is constitutional, which is one reason the agency is in for a tumultuous ride over the next four years. For many conservatives, no EPA at all—or at least one that has no regulatory powers—is the best option. “I read the constitution of the United States, and the word environmental protection does not appear there,” said Heartland’s Burnett. “I don’t see where it’s sanctioned. I think it should go away.” A freshman House Republican recently introduced a bill to do just that, but there’s no sign that it’s going to pass anytime soon.

And while Burnett acknowledges that the EPA probably won’t be vanishing in the near future, he’s been happy with the direction Trump has taken so far. He’s pleased with the president’s moves to restart the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and he’s hopeful that the administration will move toward an EPA with “smaller budgets and a smaller mission, justified by the fact that you’ll have fewer regulations.”

Depending on what Trump does next week, that could be just the beginning.

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Trump Expected to Sign Executive Orders Hitting the EPA

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Minnesota Cop Who Killed Philando Castile Is Charged With Second-Degree Manslaughter

Mother Jones

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The suburban police officer who shot and killed Philando Castile during a Minnesota traffic stop is being charged with second-degree manslaughter, John Choi, Ramsey County’s top prosecutor, announced on Wednesday.

Castile, 32, was shot by officer Jeronimo Yanez last July. According to Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, who was also in the car along with the couple’s young daughter, the officer fired his weapon as Castile reached to get his ID, after Castile informed Yanez he had a (legally permitted) gun. Reynolds live streamed the aftermath on Facebook, and her video sparked weeks of protests in Minneapolis and nationwide.

Officer Yanez’s use of deadly force “was not necessary, was objectively unreasonable, and was inconsistent with generally accepted police practices,” Choi said. “No reasonable officer—knowing, seeing, and hearing what Officer Yanez did at the time—would have used deadly force under these circumstances.” Yanez’s discharge of his firearm also put Reynolds and her daughter at risk, Choi added. The officer will be charged with two counts of reckless discharge of a firearm as well.

The charging documents revealed new details about the incident: Through the driver’s side window, Yanez asked Castile for his driver’s license and insurance information. Castile provided Yanez with an insurance card and then informed Yanez that he was carrying a weapon. Yanez said “okay” and told Castile not to reach for it. Castile—apparently still reaching for something—responded, “I’m not reaching for it.” Yanez yelled, “Don’t pull it out!” Castile’s girlfriend assured Yanez that Castile wasn’t reaching for the gun. Yanez again ordered Castile not to pull his gun out, and seconds later, he fired seven shots. Castile died on the scene soon after.

Another document, made public by the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department, showed that Castile had a legal permit to carry a firearm.

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Minnesota Cop Who Killed Philando Castile Is Charged With Second-Degree Manslaughter

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The Billionaire Creator of the Power Rangers Has Invested Millions in Hillary Clinton. So What Does He Want?

Mother Jones

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On August 22, a convoy of blacked-out Suburbans, flanked by police escorts, sped west along Sunset Boulevard and then headed north into the Hollywood Hills. The motorcade finally pulled up to the gated entrance of Beverly Park, an exclusive enclave that is home to an array of famous actors, rockers, and other Los Angeles A-listers. Hillary Clinton’s destination that evening was the palatial compound of Univision chairman Haim Saban, a billionaire most famous for creating the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Saban’s sprawling mansion was built in the style of a French country manor, and the meticulously tended grounds, in which he took special pride, were modeled on the gardens of Versailles.

Clinton Cash

No Democratic megadonors have opened their wallets to the Clintons like Haim and Cheryl Saban. Leaving aside the lucrative fundraisers, the Sabans have given upward of $27 million to assorted Clinton causes and campaigns.

Clinton Foundation:

$15 million

Clinton Global Initiative:

$260,000

Priorities USA:

$10.3 million

Hillary ’16:

$10,800

Hillary ’08:

$13,800

Hillary Senate campaigns:

$33,400

Hillary Victory Fund:

$1.4 million

Over a late dinner, Clinton regaled Saban, his wife, Cheryl, and 100 guests—including Disney CEO Bob Iger, DreamWorks Animation founder Jeffrey Katzenberg, and basketball legend Magic Johnson—with war stories from the campaign trail. “Well, the latest one they have on me is that I’m dying,” she said, referring to the elaborate conspiracy theories about her health ginned up by conservative media. “That’s a new one.” The price of admission to the Sabans’ fundraiser—their second for Clinton during the 2016 race—was $100,000 per couple. After a few hours of mingling, Clinton had raised more than $5 million—one of the most lucrative hauls of her campaign.

Saban, who is solidly built with slicked-back wavy black hair, is worth an estimated $3.5 billion, earning him the 453rd spot on Forbes‘ ranking of the world’s richest people. The 72-year-old holds dual Israeli-American citizenship, and his office—which occupies the top floor of a 26-story tower in LA’s Century City—is a testament to his divided loyalties. An Israeli flag and an American flag adorn his conference room, next to photographs of Abraham Lincoln, David Ben-Gurion, Theodor Herzl, and John F. Kennedy. A framed Golda Meir quote in the lobby (“We will only have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us”) greets visitors. There’s also a mock version of Monopoly called Haimopoly on display. The play money bears the Power Rangers logo, and the properties on the board include some of Saban’s current and former business interests—the Paul Frank designer brand, TV network Univision, the Israeli telecommunications company Bezeq.

Saban has the self-made mogul’s way of both downplaying and reminding you of his clout. In one breath he’ll name-drop “Angela” (German Chancellor Angela Merkel) or “Bibi” (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu); in the next he’ll describe himself as a mere “former cartoon schlepper” or “just a guy.”

But there is one subject on which Saban does not hold back: his relationship with Bill and Hillary Clinton. No single political patron has done more for the Clintons over the span of their careers. In the past 20 years, Saban and his wife have donated $2.4 million to the Clintons’ various campaigns and at least $15 million to the Clinton Foundation, where Cheryl Saban serves as a board member. Haim Saban prides himself on his top-giver status: “If I’m not No. 1, I’m going to cut my balls off,” he once remarked on the eve of a Hillary fundraiser. The Sabans have given more than $10 million to Priorities USA, making them among the largest funders of the pro-Hillary super-PAC. In the lead-up to the 2016 presidential campaign, he vowed to spend “whatever it takes” to elect her.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was the featured speaker at the 2003 dedication of the Saban Research Institute in Hollywood, California. She joined Cheryl and Haim Saban, who made a $40 million contribution to support and stimulate pediatric medical research at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The donation is believed to be the largest single gift of its kind to a children’s hospital in North America. Bob Riha Jr./WireImage/Getty

The ties go beyond money. The Clintons have flown on the Sabans’ private jet, stayed at their LA home, and vacationed at their Acapulco estate. The two families watched the 2004 election results together at the Clintons’ home, and Bill Clinton gave the final toast at one of Cheryl Saban’s birthday parties. Haim Saban is chummy enough with Hillary that he felt comfortable telling her that she sounded too shrill on the stump. “Why are you shouting all the time?” he says he told her. “It’s drilling a hole in my head.” Clinton campaign emails released by WikiLeaks in October contain dozens of messages to, from, and referencing Saban. And they show that he has no qualms about pressing Clinton and her aides on her position toward Israel. “She needs to differentiate herself from Obama on Israel,” he wrote in June 2015 to Clinton’s top aides. “It can easily be done w/o criticizing the President, and this so that she can recapture the 11% lost between 2012 and 1992,” he added, referring to the drop in Jewish support at the ballot box.

Like any political benefactor, Saban has an agenda. Unlike many, however, he is startlingly transparent about what he wants and how he intends to get it. “I’m a one-issue guy, and my issue is Israel,” he has said. A supporter of the late Yitzhak Rabin, the Israeli Labor Party leader and pro-peace prime minister, Saban has drifted rightward in recent years. “In general, he’s taking a harder line,” says former US Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk. Saban says he still believes in a two-state solution, but his all-consuming concern is defending Israel and fortifying its relationship with the United States. “For me,” he said several years ago, “bringing the American president closer to the people of Israel is a life goal.”

RELATED: Meet the New George Soros

One year at the Saban Forum, an annual conference featuring top officials and public figures from the United States and Israel (with the odd Arab leader), the mogul outlined his three-pronged approach for influencing American politics: fund political campaigns, bankroll think tanks, and control the media. In addition to the Saban Forum, he funded a Brookings Institution research center focused on US-Israeli relations. He has tried for years to buy media outlets in the United States and Israel; it wasn’t a profit he was after, per se, but “a return with influence,” as he once told a journalist.

When it comes to the Clintons, Saban has already seen a healthy return on his investment, in the form of access to top US and foreign officials; he’s also received timely help from them with his global business dealings. But the election of Hillary Clinton would give Saban more juice than ever before—and there is no question he would bring that clout to bear on his top issue, Israel, and on rebuilding US-Israeli relations after the low points of the last eight years and the public schism between President Barack Obama and Netanyahu.

For Clinton, her relationship with Saban gives her a back channel to Israeli leaders and a proxy who is beloved in Israel. (“Our rich uncle,” an Israeli TV host once called Saban.) But it also comes with complications. In contrast to Clinton’s call for the rich to pay their fair share in taxes, Saban routes his business ventures through the Cayman Islands and other tax shelters; his tax avoidance practices were once scrutinized by a Senate committee. His hardline tone on the Middle East—defending Israel at all costs, calling for tighter screening of Muslim immigrants (a comment he later walked back), and saying of Iranian fundamentalists that he would “bomb the living daylights out of those sons of bitches”—is out of sync with many Democratic voters. Last year, he even teamed up on pro-Israel causes with Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson, who says the Palestinians are “an invented people.”

“When it comes to Israel, we’re absolutely on the same page,” Saban told Israel’s Channel 2 in June 2015 with Adelson at his side. “Our interest is to take care of Israel’s interest in the United States. Period. Over and out.”

Hollywood power brokers tend to come in three varieties: the company men and women who ascend the corporate ladder until they reach the C-suite; the heirs to movie- or music-making dynasties like Casey Wasserman, the grandson of the late MCA chief and Democratic donor Lew Wasserman; and the scrappy comers who—through ruthlessness, grit, or a combination—claw their way to an empire.

Saban is in the third category. He was born in Egypt in 1944. His father worked in a toy shop and his mother was a seamstress. Animosity toward Jews in the run-up to the Suez War in 1956 forced the Saban family—like many Jewish Egyptian refugees—to resettle in Israel, where they found an apartment in a rough neighborhood in Tel Aviv, sharing a communal bathroom “with a hooker and her pimp,” Saban likes to say.

As a teenager, Saban enlisted with the Israel Defense Forces and served during the Six-Day War in 1967 and the Yom Kippur War in 1973. While in the IDF, Saban discovered a knack for concert promoting and was on his way to earning a small fortune when the Yom Kippur War broke out. He nearly went bankrupt after fronting hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring 40 Japanese harpists to Israel—only for their concerts to be canceled at the war’s onset.

Saban moved to Paris and carved out an obscure yet lucrative line of work. When popular American shows of the era such as Starsky and Hutch or Dallas were broadcast overseas, the foreign networks needed new title songs and credits music. With his partner, an Israeli composer and musician named Shuki Levy, Saban offered to create theme music and provide it to TV networks for free. The catch: Saban and Levy would keep the rights to the music, which they later packaged into hit singles and albums. Within seven years, Saban’s company had 15 gold and platinum records and $10 million in annual revenue.

By 1983, Saban’s ambitions had outgrown music copyrighting. He moved to LA to pitch TV shows of his own, driving from meeting to meeting in a white convertible Rolls-Royce Corniche with the vanity plate “RSKTKR.” He scored modest hits with NBC’s Kidd Video, an MTV-style show aimed at young children, and the Samurai Pizza Cats, but his big breakthrough came in 1993. On an earlier trip to Japan, Saban had stumbled upon Kyoryu Sentai Zyuranger, a TV show that featured a team of karate-fighting superheroes in brightly colored spandex suits. He bought the US rights and sought to Americanize the show. After eight years of getting laughed out of pitch meetings, he finally convinced an executive at Fox Children’s Network to buy what came to be known as the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers.

The show was an instant hit, and it established Saban’s reputation as a canny businessman. He had extracted such favorable terms on the sales and licensing of the show’s wildly popular toys that he effectively rewrote the rules of the merchandising business. He also became known for his hard-nosed approach to business, with the Screen Actors Guild briefly ordering its members not to work for him because of his company’s alleged “economic exploitation of children”—many of the shows Saban produced used child actors—and failure to pay adequate wages and health benefits. Saban fiercely denied the charges, and the two sides resolved the dispute with an apology from the SAG and a new union agreement for Saban’s actors.

It was around this time that Saban first met Bill Clinton, whose administration had taken on violence in kids’ TV shows and movies. Vice President Al Gore—whose wife, Tipper, was leading the crusade against obscenities in music—held up Saban’s Power Rangers as an example of what was wrong, criticizing the show for “too many hai-ya’s.”

In the fall of 1995, at the invitation of a New York investment banker, Saban attended one of Clinton’s now-infamous White House kaffeeklatsches—informal meetings with potential donors intended to raise money for his 1996 reelection bid. “You want to have breakfast with the president?” the banker asked Saban. “Why would he want to have breakfast with me?” Saban replied. “So you can be a trustee,” the investor said. (“Trustee” was the Clinton White House’s moniker for a major donor.) Saban and other TV executives eventually succeeded in heading off a government ratings system; standards were created by the industry’s lobbying group instead.

Saban was smitten by Clinton, and he showed it by writing checks totaling $240,000 to the Democratic National Committee, which ran Clinton’s reelection fund. Saban’s success in Hollywood—the Wall Street Journal described him as “the Walt Disney of the 1990s”—mirrored his ascent in Democratic politics. In 1998, Saban hosted a crucial fundraiser that raised $1.5 million for the DNC. The event not only helped to fuel the party’s shock success in the midterms, with an incumbent president’s party gaining seats for the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt, but also cemented Hollywood as a key source of support for Clinton. “Clinton did not have a large, prosperous home base; he’s from Hope, Arkansas,” says Donna Bojarsky, an LA-based Democratic consultant. “When he came out here, LA became his home base as a fundraising city.”

Saban stood by Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, defending him in the media and maxing out to Clinton’s legal defense fund. Clinton returned the favor with tickets to state dinners, overnight stays in the Lincoln Bedroom, and an appointment to the President’s Export Council, which offers advice on international trade policy. Their bond continued well after Clinton left office. Saban even assisted Clinton in building his presidential library, via a $10 million unsecured loan to the Clinton Foundation on which he later forgave the interest.

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Yet it appears to be Saban who got the most out of his relationship with the president. In 2001, he cut a deal to sell the Fox Family Channel (with which he’d merged his entertainment company in the late ’90s) to Disney. Various international governments had to approve the sale, and the slow-moving Brazilians were jeopardizing the deal. According to a 2010 New Yorker profile of Saban, the mogul turned to Clinton for help. The former president called the Brazilian president, and the deal went through. (Saban declined to be interviewed on the record for this story and did not respond to a detailed list of questions, including about the sale of Fox Family.) Disney paid $5.3 billion in cash for Fox Family. Saban’s cut totaled $1.5 billion—at the time, the largest cash payday for a single person in Hollywood history.

Saban began looking for ways to translate his financial windfall into more political clout. In 2001, he donated $7 million to rebuild the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters on Capitol Hill—at that time, the largest donation ever recorded. He gave $5 million to Bill Clinton’s presidential foundation. He toyed with the idea of buying a major US news outlet like Newsweek or the Los Angeles Times. And he met with Martin Indyk, who had recently joined the Brookings Institution after serving as US ambassador to Israel under Clinton, to discuss funding a think tank of his own. Indyk suggested Saban start his own organization within Brookings, and together they drafted a plan to form the think tank’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy. Once again, Saban’s giving set a record: His $13 million pledge over seven years was the largest in the think tank’s history.

After the launch of the Saban Center, the billionaire began pouring more and more of his fortune into Israeli causes. He donated $10 million to support the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and funded the construction of hospitals in Israel. He also made seven-figure gifts to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the hawkish Israeli lobbying group, and underwrote AIPAC’s twice-annual conference for student activists, now known as the Saban Leadership Seminar. As Israeli politics began to shift rightward, so did Saban. He struck a hardline stance on national security issues—the Patriot Act, he told the New York Times, was “not strong enough”—and foresaw a bleak outcome in the Israel-Palestine conflict. “I think that any resolution will have to go both on the Palestinian side and Israeli side to some form of civil war,” he said. “It’s not going to be without spilling blood.”

In 2006, Saban featured prominently in two high dramas in Washington. First, various news outlets reported that AIPAC had asked Saban to withhold campaign money from House Democrats unless then-Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi agreed to appoint Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat who was strongly pro-Israel, as the chair of the Intelligence Committee if Democrats regained the House. (Harman didn’t get the job; Saban donated to House Democrats the following year.) Saban was also named in a Senate subcommittee investigation that found he’d avoided paying an estimated $225 million in taxes from the sale of Fox Family through questionable accounting tactics. Saban, testifying before the Senate, cast himself as the victim of fraudulent tax advisers (they would eventually go to prison) and vowed to repay the back taxes, which he did.

One ally Saban could always count on during this period was the junior senator from New York, Hillary Clinton. Though it was 3,000 miles from her constituents, she attended the opening of the Saban Research Center at the Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, funded by a $40 million gift from the Sabans. She has attended every Saban Forum starting in 2004. Saban has said he urged Clinton to run for president in 2004. Four years later, when she did enter the race, he maxed out to her campaign—and fast became one of Clinton’s largest fundraisers.

Clinton’s defeat in ’08, Saban has said, was “my greatest loss.” Wary of Barack Obama, Saban even reportedly considered backing Sen. John McCain in the general election. After Obama was elected and chose Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, Saban remained cool to the new president, criticizing him early on for visiting Cairo and Saudi Arabia but not Jerusalem.

“To say I don’t sleep easily with the current administration’s relationship to Israel would be an understatement,” he told an Israeli TV station in 2010. “They are leftists, really left leftists, so far to the left there’s not much space left between them and the wall.”

At the outset of the 2012 campaign, Saban said he had no plans to donate to Obama’s reelection. People close to him told me that he felt slighted and ignored by the Obama White House, which seemed to take pride in distancing itself from big-money supporters. But facing a tough reelection fight against Mitt Romney and the prospect of being outspent by groups created after the Citizens United decision, Obama’s aides set about bringing Saban back into the fold. Visitor logs show that he was twice invited to the White House after his critical remarks—once in December 2011 to meet with Chief of Staff William Daley, and again in June 2012 to attend a dinner at which Obama awarded then-Israeli President Shimon Peres the Presidential Medal of Freedom. “What Haim probably needed to be assured of was Obama’s understanding of the special nature of the relationship between Israel and the United States, which he surely was and is,” says David Axelrod, a former senior aide to Obama. “Once that became clear, it probably cleared the way for him to embrace the president fully.”

A few weeks after attending the dinner, Saban donated $1 million to be split among the three super-PACs dedicated to reelecting Obama and winning back majorities in the House and Senate, and he made the maximum individual contribution ($2,500) to Obama’s campaign. Saban also penned an told the interviewer, according to a translation by The Hill. “She has an opinion, a very well-defined opinion. And in any case, everything that she thinks and everything she has done and will do will always be for the good of Israel.” According to the Clinton campaign emails released by WikiLeaks, Saban’s comments didn’t go unnoticed by top Clinton aides. When Huma Abedin, Clinton’s top deputy, raised questions about the interview (“Did you guys talk to anyone in comms about this,” she emailed a Saban aide), Saban replied that his comments had been mistranslated. “The Hill needs to go the sic Hebrew lessons if they want to quote Hebrew interviews,” he wrote, noting, “All questions that I am asked about policy I simply answer ‘I don’t know’…and I just praise her experience courage persistence tenacity etc.”

That fall, Clinton endorsed the Obama administration’s accord, under which Iran will gradually wind down its nuclear capabilities in exchange for US and UN sanctions relief. Her support flew in the face of her largest benefactor—but by then Saban had seen the writing on the wall. Believing it was a fait accompli, he eventually offered his tepid support for the deal.

People who work on Middle Eastern issues told me that this episode is important to understanding how Saban operates. He knows just how far he can push before he jeopardizes his access to power. In fact, after the Iran deal was announced in July 2015, Adelson pressed Saban to spend some of the political capital he’d banked with the Clintons by leaning on Hillary to oppose it. But rather than risk his relationship with her, according to a source with knowledge of the episode, Saban pulled out of his joint initiatives with Adelson.

President Barack Obama participates in a conversation with Haim Saban at the 10th annual Saban Forum, ”Power Shifts: US-Israel Relations in a Dynamic Middle East,” on December 7, 2013, in Washington, DC. Pete Marovich/DPA/ZUMA

People who know Saban say he is fiercely competitive—especially when it comes to his role as a Clinton friend and benefactor. “The best way to get Haim Saban to give $5 million is to tell him Jeffrey Katzenberg’s giving $2.5 million,” one Democratic fundraiser told me. On May 7, 2015, just weeks after Hillary Clinton made her White House bid official, Saban organized a fundraiser for her that was considered the Hollywood debut of her campaign. When Saban learned that Katzenberg was being billed as a co-host, he flew into a rage and demanded the campaign and anyone else describing the event make clear that this was his event. “Hollywood is all about who gets top billing, whose names are on the marquee and whose names are below the line,” says a person familiar with the planning of the fundraiser. While Katzenberg’s name wasn’t dropped from the event, Saban’s aides worked the phones to ensure that the press coverage played up Saban’s leading role above all others.

Saban and the Clintons kept in close contact during the Obama years. During Hillary Clinton’s stint as secretary of state, Saban wrote to Clinton at her private email address with warm notes about get-togethers (“Tx again for today. Love u”) and passing along get-well wishes from former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert days after Clinton fainted and suffered a concussion. In 2009, Saban had also tried to hire Bill Clinton as a consultant at his private-equity firm, Saban Capital Group, but lawyers at the State Department nixed the arrangement, noting in a legal memo that Saban “is actively involved in foreign affairs issues, particularly with regards to the Middle East, which is a priority area for the secretary.” Saban’s foundation continued to give lavishly to the Clinton Foundation—$3.5 million in 2010 and again in 2011, and a $10 million pledge in 2013, the year Cheryl Saban joined the board. In May 2015, Univision paid Bill Clinton $250,000 for a 15-minute Q&A at a promotional event for the network. And after Hillary Clinton stepped down as secretary, Univision entered a partnership with the Clinton Foundation focused on early childhood development. The network’s promotional material for the Pequeños y Valiosos (Young and Valuable) initiative prominently featured Hillary Clinton in a gauzy, positive light, as did a rollout event for the partnership at a Head Start classroom in East Harlem.

The materials soon disappeared from Univision’s website, but not before questions were raised about the network’s close ties to Clinton. Saban and a group of investors had bought Univision for $11 billion in 2007 and transformed it into the dominant Spanish-language TV channel, with ratings often rivaling the established broadcast networks. While Saban has denied exerting any influence on Univision’s news coverage, the network has championed the cause of comprehensive immigration reform and warred with prominent Republican politicians including Marco Rubio and Donald Trump. It has also organized a voter registration drive with a goal of signing up 3 million Hispanic voters—a nonpartisan effort that nonetheless will help Democratic candidates. Saban, despite past remarks about using a media outlet to promote his political and foreign policy interests, says all he cares about is ratings and revenue at Univision; in 2014, he and his fellow investors tried to sell the network for more than $20 billion with no luck. Now, it appears Saban may have designs on taking the company public in the near future.

The WikiLeaks emails pointed to an even stronger connection between Saban, Univision, and the Clinton campaign than previously known. In March 2015, a month before Clinton launched her campaign, Tina Flournoy, an aide to Bill Clinton, wrote to soon-to-be Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta that Univision had proposed—via Saban—a joint speech with Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to be hosted by Univision anchor Jorge Ramos. (The event never came off.) In July 2015, Saban and his staff contacted multiple campaign aides about what he saw as Clinton’s lackluster response to Donald Trump’s toxic rhetoric on Hispanic immigration. “Haim thinks we are under reacting to Trump/Hispanics,” Podesta wrote to several colleagues. “Thinks we can get something by standing up for Latinos or attacking R’s for not condemning.” Abedin, the top Clinton lieutenant, chimed in: “Haim hit all of us. Called me yesterday afternoon with same message. I told him she had said something but he says he’s only heard her talk about immigration. And if Haim is raising it, it means he’s hearing it from his Univision colleagues.” Everyone on the email agreed that Clinton should more forcefully call out Trump in an upcoming speech before the National Council of La Raza, which she subsequently did. “It was appalling to hear Donald Trump describe immigrants as drug dealers, racists and criminals,” she said. “I have just one word for Donald Trump: Basta! Enough!”

On June 29, 2015, the month after hosting the Hollywood rollout of Hillary Clinton’s campaign, the Sabans donated $2 million to her super-PAC Priorities USA Action. Three days later, Clinton sent what could be perceived as a thank-you note to Saban; she issued an unusual public letter addressed to the billionaire in which she announced her opposition to the growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement targeting Israel.

That Clinton came out in opposition to BDS surprised no one, but choosing to do so in the form of an obsequious letter to her biggest donor stunned Middle East watchers. “I know you can agree that we need to make countering BDS a priority,” the letter reads. At the bottom is a handwritten note from Clinton herself: “Look forward to working with you on this—Hillary.”

“If she wanted to take a position against BDS, just issue a press release,” says James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute who advised Sen. Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign. “But sending a letter to Haim Saban and then making it public? It’s boneheaded, and it’s brazen.” (A campaign spokesman declined to comment about the Saban letter, but said Clinton and Saban have “a deep respect for each other.”)

Internal emails show how the Clinton campaign and Saban worked together to strategically leak the BDS letter in order to allay any concerns among Jewish supporters about Clinton’s support for Israel in anticipation of her backing the Iran deal. “Let’s def give (the letter) to someone,” campaign manager Robby Mook wrote to senior campaign aides. “I see zero downside to a story. Then we can circulate around right away (hopefully) in advance of Iran.” Another Clinton staffer, Christina Reynolds, replied, “If Haim’s going to give it to the Jewish media, I think that solves our problem. Once they write, we can make sure it gets picked up by some of our beat guys.” Three days later, Saban released Clinton’s BDS letter and an accompanying statement of his own through a New York-based PR agency that specializes in Jewish affairs.

By August 2016, the Sabans had poured an additional $8 million into Clinton’s super-PAC, bringing their total investment to $10 million. Saban had given another $1.4 million to the joint fundraising committee supporting Clinton’s campaign and the national Democratic Party.

When asked to consider Saban’s influence on a Clinton administration, think tank wonks, former diplomats, and other analysts in the United States and Israel predict that a President Clinton would begin to quietly shore up the US relationship with Israel—and end her predecessor’s habit of publicly chiding Israeli hardliners such as Netanyahu—and they can foresee Saban playing an unofficial role in those efforts. And if Clinton took a position in conflict with Saban’s beliefs? People who work on pro-Israel issues with Saban say they would expect him to put up a fight, as he did on the Iran deal, but they would be shocked to see him rebuke his longtime friend and ally. “He is a one-issue guy, but the issue isn’t Israel,” one prominent right-of-center activist told me. “It’s Hillary.”

Saban helps Hillary, and Hillary helps Saban. If he once again attempts to sell Univision or seeks to take the company public, a friendship with the president of the United States can only help should hurdles to the transaction arise. Similarly, Saban’s sterling reputation in Israel and deep connections with its political leaders could pave the way for warmer relations with the Israeli governing coalition, if not a renewed peace process. Now that would be a return with influence—for Haim Saban and for Hillary Clinton.

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute.

Photos used in the above illustration: Haim Saban and Hillary Clinton: Bob Riha Jr./WireImage/Getty; Bill Clinton: Ron Sachs/CNP/ZUMA

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The Billionaire Creator of the Power Rangers Has Invested Millions in Hillary Clinton. So What Does He Want?

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Big Labor has an identity crisis, and its name is Dakota Access

A growing rift has split the country’s biggest union federation, the AFL-CIO. Many labor activists and union members are outraged that Richard Trumka, the federation’s president, threw the AFL-CIO’s support behind the Dakota Access pipeline project earlier this month.

The AFL-CIO’s statement backing the pipeline was announced a week after the Obama administration put construction on hold. Trumka acknowledged “places of significance to Native Americans” but argued that the more than “4,500 high-quality, family supporting jobs” attached to the pipeline trumped environmental and other considerations.

That move rankled many in the AFL-CIO’s more progressive wing, highlighting strains within the federation of 56 unions representing 12 million workers. Recent tensions within the AFL-CIO have deepened a long-running divide between a more conservative, largely white, jobs-first faction and progressive union members who are friendly to environmental concerns and count more people of color among their ranks.

Grist interviewed five staffers at the AFL-CIO and its affiliated unions on the condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to speak to the press. Trumka’s public support for the pipeline caught these senior-level and mid-level staffers by surprise, they told Grist — especially because he had recently taken progressive positions on on Black Lives Matter, immigration, and criminal justice.

A call to Trumka’s office was not returned. The federation’s policy director, Damon Silvers, who is said to have helped write the statement, also did not respond to an interview request.

Union opponents of the pipeline project and their advocates quickly responded on social media with satire. One post on Twitter likened Trumka’s position to helping the wrong side in Star Wars.

Other frustrated union members and staffers placed calls to Climate Workers, an organization of union workers focused on climate justice, to vent. Brooke Anderson, an organizer at the group, says she fielded dozens of calls from members upset about the AFL-CIO’s position.

For those members, Anderson says, working in a federation means more than collecting a wage — it means being part of a broad movement for justice. Anderson says she thought that Trumka’s statement undermined efforts by groups like hers to protect the environment and jobs.

Trumka’s statement came out the day after one branch of the federation, the Building and Construction Trades, sent a private letter to Trumka complaining about AFL-CIO unions that opposed the pipeline.

In the weeks before Trumka’s public statement, four of the federation’s major unions – the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), National Nurses United (NNU), and the American Postal Workers Union (APWU) – came out in support of the Standing Rock Sioux Nation’s battle against the pipeline project. All four are part of the so-called Bernie Unions, given their support of former Democratic Presidential candidate Sanders. The AFL-CIO endorsed Hillary Clinton in June, shortly before Sanders had conceded his candidacy, marking another fissure in the federation.

In a five-page letter to Trumka provided to Grist by union sources, Sean McGarvey, president of the Building Trades, argued that these four unions were partly to blame for Obama’s suspension of the pipeline. He wrote that union workers employed to build the pipeline have had “their lives placed on hold, their employment prospects upended and have been subjected to intimidation, vandalism, confrontation, and violence both on their job sites and in the surrounding community.”

The letter offers an anecdote to support these allegations. One unnamed worker was reportedly scared for his or her life by protestors “coming towards us.” The workers jumped in their cars and fled, according to the account, but there’s no mention of anyone getting hurt or even touched. (The Standing Rock Sioux Nation has called for protests to remain peaceful as the movement to stop the pipeline has grown.)

McGarvey blames unions opposed to the pipeline for hastening “a very real split within the labor movement at a time that, should their ceaseless rhetoric be taken seriously, even they suggest we can least afford it.”

Progressives within the labor movement describe the Building Trades as being whiter and more conservative than their counterparts. McGarvey’s letter contains what some of them consider dog-whistles. It mentions “outside agitators,” “environmental extremists,” and takes a jab at “theories of the 21st century labor movement.”

McGarvey declined an interview request from Grist, writing in an email that “[The letter] was an internal communication and we don’t comment on those!”

AFL-CIO union members who oppose the pipeline are now making their frustration public. A handful of labor activists picketed the AFL-CIO’s office in Washington, D.C., last week. And the Labor Coalition for Community Action, an alliance of groups representing women, people of color, and LGBT union workers within the AFL-CIO, released a statement in solidarity with those opposed to the pipeline.

“As organizations dedicated to elevating the struggles of our respective constituencies, we stand together to support our Native American kinfolk – one of the most marginalized and disenfranchised groups in our nation’s history – in their fight to protect their communities from further displacement and exploitation,” it says.

Although the statement makes no direct mention of the AFL-CIO’s position on the pipeline, nor of McGarvey’s letter, it calls on “the labor movement to strategize on how to better engage and include Native people and other marginalized populations into the labor movement as a whole.”

Anderson from Climate Workers, who is a rank-and-file member of the CWA, says the dispute over the pipeline represents a historic moment for the AFL-CIO. Rather than issue a statement and ignore the fallout, she says Trumka needs to participate in a crucial conversation with a wide variety of people about how the federation will balance race, labor, and the environment.

“Some of the questions [in that conversation include]: Whose land? Whose water? Whose lungs are going to suffer first? It’s communities of color and lower paid workers of color – and they’re also our brothers and sisters.”

Originally posted here:  

Big Labor has an identity crisis, and its name is Dakota Access

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