Two weeks ago Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) made a splash when tweeting about what she thought to be $21 trillion in misappropriated Pentagon money that she claimed was enough to pay for Medicare for all. She based her conclusions on misreading a complex article in the Nation, “The Pentagon’s Massive Accounting Fraud Exposed,” by investigative journalist Dave Lindorff. It’s too bad since her misreading took the focus away from the real story, which revealed the Department of Defense’s (DOD) hugely corrupt budgeting practices.
The author of that article, Dave Lindorff, is Jeff Schechtman’s guest in this week’s WhoWhatWhy podcast. According to Lindorff, more than 25 years ago, Congress ordered DOD to submit to an independent audit. After decades of stalling, the department finally failed its first ever audit this month. Lindorf shows how they are not just cooking the books, but literally making numbers up and, in so doing, are perpetuating a massive accounting fraud on the American people.
Lindorff's investigation reveals not only why the Pentagon failed the audit, but why it resisted for so long. He explains how $21 trillion of Pentagon financial transactions, on both sides of the ledger, between 1998 and 2015 could not be traced, documented, or explained.
In this conversation, Lindorff details how the fraud worked to inflate an already huge budget, the accounting tricks being used to fund secret programs, and how clueless Congress and the American people have been about the biggest single line item in the US federal budget.
While Ocasio-Cortez got it wrong about the $21 trillion, there is no question that the Pentagon’s accounting fraud diverts many billions of dollars that could be devoted to other national needs.
President Ronald Reagan introduced a range of myths about America’s social safety net, led by his images of “welfare queens” and the implication that most recipients of public aid were African American. President Bill Clinton pledged to “end welfare as we know it,” and over the objections of many progressives, he signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996.
Our guests in this WhoWhatWhy podcast were centrally involved in the policy debates and political battles that signaled the end of President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty and reduced the Democratic Party’s focus on America’s poor. Former Rep. Lynn Woolsey, a one-time welfare mother elected to the House in 1992, shares insights and anecdotes, and laments that Clinton’s framing of the issues continues to this day with little change. While she has great affection for President Barack Obama, Woolsey says he never focused much on the poor and the social safety net.
Felicia Kornbluh has studied the issues for decades, and offers informed criticism from a feminist perspective. She reveals the collaboration between Clinton and Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose “Contract with America” allowed Republicans to take control of the House in 1994. She makes a strong case that Clinton’s vision of the “New Democrats” was driven by a desire to attract wealthy and corporate donors to fund his center/right makeover of the party.
Woolsey, who represented a northern California district for 20 years starting in 1993, speaks candidly about raising three children as a single mom and relying on welfare for several years. Kornbluh is associate professor of History and of Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies at the University of Vermont — and co-author of the new book Ensuring Poverty: Welfare Reform in Feminist Perspective. Her co-author is Gwendolyn Mink, who served as an adviser to her mother, Rep. Patsy Mink, who was a forceful opponent of Clinton’s reforms.
While President Donald Trump has used truculence, bluster, populism, and manufactured division to hide the true nature of his agenda, George Herbert Walker Bush used manners, civility, and grace to hide the truth of his and his family’s agenda.
Both are very similar in their objectives. Both have enabled the continued transfer of wealth to the upper echelons of society. Both have sought to protect the interests of corporations and rich friends. But as we witnessed this week, Bush and the Bush family were far more effective with honey than with vinegar.
To wrap up this week of seemingly non-stop hagiographic coverage of George H.W. Bush, Jeff Schechtman talks with Russ Baker about the Bush family and Baker’s blockbuster book Family of Secrets: The Bush Dynasty, America's Invisible Government, and the Hidden History of the Last Fifty Years.
Baker notes that the job of journalism is to ask questions and present facts — NOT to be co-opted by the fawning of sycophants that today turn funerals into a form of entertainment.
Amid the pomp and pageantry of a state funeral, Baker tells us of little-known and little-publicized aspects of Bush’s life and career: how he got a covert early start as an intelligence operative decades before becoming CIA director; how his father, on behalf of Wall Street, chose an unknown Richard Nixon to run for Congress; how he couldn’t remember where he was when John F. Kennedy was shot (Baker knows); and how he played a deep role in the illegal Iran-Contra affair while keeping his fingerprints off the official record.
Baker shows us that — from the most elite prep schools to the secret sanctum of Skull and Bones to the reinvention of this well-connected New England clan as Texas oilmen — for over a hundred years the Bush family has been about the protection, extension, and cohesion of America’s ruling class.
Media mogul Rupert Murdoch has made lots of money peddling slanted news as “fair and balanced” on his Fox News Channel. The man who built it, Roger Ailes, retired in disgrace in 2016 and died a year later. He changed American media in many ways, and used fear as a driving force at Fox — and earlier in campaigns for Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush.
Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes is a new documentary that debuts on December 7 in theaters and online. We talk with producer/director Alexis Bloom about Ailes’s early work as producer of The Mike Douglas Show, where he met Richard Nixon. When he worked for George H.W. Bush’s campaign in 1988, Ailes deployed the infamous Willie Horton ad in one of his early assaults on the liberals he saw as the enemies of his cause.
Bloom shares several interesting anecdotes, including how Ailes started Fox News to spite his former employers at NBC, how he gave fishing lessons to Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY) for a TV ad, and his exploitation of women on screen and off.
Alexis Bloom is producer and director of Divide and Conquer: The Story of Roger Ailes. Bloom also produced Bright Lights: Starring Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds and We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks.