That was the simple question I wanted to answer when I began researching this piece. Id flippantly doubted that the American Camp Association would pay $225K for a speech and was corrected by kossack northleft that the actual amount was $260K. Intrigued by the notion that Hillary Clinton knew anything about camping, I soon found myself exploring a much deeper set of issues.
On March 19, 2015 Hillary Clinton made the last of a series of paid speeches to the Tri-State Chapter of the American Camp Association (ACA). Twenty-four days later she would declare her candidacy for the presidency. While much has been made of her behind-closed-doors speeches to Goldman Sachs, the ACA speech and its follow-up Q&A session with former NY Democratic Party Chair Jay Jacobs, who owns Timber Lake, an overnight camp in the Catskill Mountains, was available right here on Daily Kos.
The Clinton speech was a departure for the ACA, which typically presents keynotes by child development experts and professionals associated with camp-related issues. It was a light and conversational 26 minutes that touched on politics only to the extent that Clinton facetiously suggested that the adults in Washington would do well to go to a bipartisan camp. It was Blue Cabin meet Red Cabin fluff, which got a couple of good laughs. The Q&A session lasted 36 minutes. So who was she talking to?
The American Camp Association is a national non-profit 501c3 that has 10,000 members and three regional affiliates that represent 2,500 summer and day camps throughout the U.S. It provides professional development and educational opportunities for the camp industry and among its top public-policy priorities lobbies for the Camp Counselor and Student Work Travel (SWT)  categories of the J-1 visa program administered by the U.S. State Department.
State Department J-1 Visa Program Advocacy
According to the ACAs own advocacy materials, 25,000 individuals were placed in ACA camps through the State Departments Exchange Visitor Program in 2011 20,000 from the specific Camp Counselor category; and 5,000 from the SWT category. Both categories of student workers are facilitated by a network of 49 State Department-approved sponsors. In effect, these are staffing agencies that work with feeder organizations in dozens of countries that recruit international students and workers to come to the U.S. for a four-month cultural/work experience.
The SWT program grew dramatically from 20,000 participants in the early 1990s to a peak of 153,000 workers in 2008. It is currently capped at 109,000 workers after public outrage over widespread abuses of working conditions, accommodation, compensation and a non-existent cultural component.
Participants pay significant fees to the sponsoring agencies ($1100 to $2000) in the hope they will experience America and make some money while they are here. In reality, the experience is often far removed from the exciting marketing materials on sponsor web sites. Sixty to eighty-hour weeks of making beds, flipping burgers, working the night shift and sleeping four, six or eight to a room in poor accommodations for minimum wage are all too common.
Employers in such resort towns as Ocean City, Maryland, employ thousands of these SWT workers for a variety of reasons divorced from any notion of cultural exchange. For starters, they save 8 per cent over the cost of employing domestic workers because they dont have to contribute to Social Security, Medicare or Federal Unemployment Insurance.
The Camp Counselor program which the ACA fully embraces, offers similar advantages to employers. State Department rule changes in 2012 sought to draw a clearer distinction between counselors and SWT staff roles but tremendous ambiguity and virtually non-existent enforcement remain.
Those sponsoring agencies that do present an accurate picture of the job explain that counselors work 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week during a nine-week camp placement. Sponsoring agencies describe compensation as a stipend and an ACA 2013 FAQ as pocket money. Even using the high end of the stipend range ($1800), you get abysmal compensation: $1800 for nine 72-hour weeks, works out to $2.77 an hour.
Undoubtedly there are some cultural benefits for young campers exposed to international counselors, but it would be naive to think that the obvious financial incentives for the camp owners are not front and center in the decision to hire staff from abroad. For arguments sake, if we simply distributed the 20,000 counselors and 5,000 SWTs that the ACA claimed were employed in its 2,500 camps during 2011, each camp would have employed eight J-1 visa counselors and two J-1 visa SWT workers. In other words, the camp industry relies heavily on this cheaper international labor force.
Major Problems with the J-1 Labor Pipeline
In 2014, The Southern Policy Law Center (SPLC) presented a report titled Culture Shock: The Exploitation of J-1 Cultural Exchange Workers, which argued
Bernie Sanders, during debate on the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill S.744 , called the program a scam.
In response, the ACA lobbied to keep the program alive. Quoting from its 2014 annual report, it argued that the ACA successfully mobilized the community to advocate for the continuation of the government program that allows for international visitors to serve as camp staff, thereby providing amazing cultural exchange programs for American kids and foreign nationals. This program was at risk during the Congressional debates regarding immigration reform.
Daniel Costa, Director of Immigration Law and Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute, summed up the disastrous state of the program exactly one year to the day before former secretary of state Clinton delivered her American Camp Association speech.
Placing a $260,000 Bet on Favorable Executive Action
Consider the final paragraph, on the final page of the ACAs FY2014 financial disclosures (New York Section), which I might add are not available currently on the ACA NYNJ site (as of 2/21/2016). It took some digging to find the information on charitiesnys.com.
Returning then to my original question: Why does a non-profit spend 10 per cent of its annual budget, ten times what it would normally pay for a keynote speaker, increase its annual total expense line item for speaker presentations from $102,784 to $350,619 for a high-profile politician and present her to an audience probably split in its political loyalties?
The answer is obvious. It was a strategic calculation on the associations part to secure future consideration for the J-1 visa programs the industry relies on. As a near-term-future president the former Secretary of State would have tremendous discretion in rule-making given both her familiarity with the subject and the likelihood that immigration reform in a partisan Washington may be achievable only through piecemeal executive action.
There can be no doubt that Hillary Clinton was and is aware of the industrys focused immigration interests. Of course you can make the default argument that this is just the way things are done in American politics and that there is no proof that any quid pro quo will ever take place, but it appears even more cynical to accept $260,000 from this organization in the context of these immigration and economic issues than the bottomless pockets of Goldman Sachs.
Its disappointing that even this innocuous paid speech, the last in series of speeches rife with high-profile question marks, has a lousy backstory upon closer inspection.
Daily Kos w/Links
1 - New York Section of American Camp Association 2014 Financials
2 - Daily Kos Diary containing full video of Clinton speech to American Camp Association
3 - US State Department J-1 Visa - Camp Counselor
4 - US State Department J-1 Visa - Student Work Travel
5 - Camp Counselor Stipend
6 - Camp Counselor "Pocket Money"
7 - Southern Poverty Law Center - Culture Shock: The Exploitation of J-1 Cultural Exchange Workers
8 - Bernie Sanders Comments on J-1 Visa Workers During S.744 Immigration Debate
9 - American Camp Association Lobbies for J-1 Status Quo 2014 Annual Report, pg 9
10 - Daniel Costa, Economic Policy Institute Article J-1 Program Poorly Regulated my emphasis
11- New York Section, ACA financial disclosure Notes to Financial Statements June 30, 2015 and 2014
12 - 2016 Tri-State American Camp Conference Closing Keynote,
Dr. Angela Duckworth (Speaking Fees)
Let's not forget Clyburn's effort to help Obama strike a Grand Bargain with Republicans to cut Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.
He sold the people out long, long ago and it's no surprise he's campaigning for Hilly.
At a White House press conference, Press Secretary Josh Earnest defended Bernie Sanders against the Clinton campaign claim that Sanders had continuously attacked President Obama.
More lies confirmed for team Hillary. I guess these dont count when she said shed never lied to the American people just two days ago?? Hmmm.
Our primary is March 1st and we are an open primary state. I know several Republicans in my very red county, who will be crossing over and voting for Bernie. Never thought I'd see such a thing in these parts, but he does appear to be doing well in many rural parts of America.
Virginia has been trending blue since 2008.
This is an excellent piece on the Superdelegate issue and hope it allays a few of the fears I've seen expressed. Here is just a part of it:
Q: From everything youve told me so far, I cant understand why youre calling Superdelegate votes irrelevant. It seems to me like they have the same voting power as a normal delegate, and this puts Sanders in a tremendous hole from the word go.
A: Heres why it doesnt matter: Superdelegates have never decided a Democratic nomination. It would be insane, even by the corrupt standards of the Democratic National Committee, if a small group of party elites went against the will of the people to choose the presidential nominee.
This has already been an incredibly tense election, and Sanders voters are already expressing their unwillingness to vote for Clinton in the general election. When you look at the astounding numbers from Iowa and New Hampshire, where more than 80 percent of young voters have chosen Sanders over Clinton, regardless of gender, its clear that Clinton already finds herself in a very tenuous position for the general election. It will be tough to motivate young supporters, but any hint that Bernie was screwed by the establishment will result in total abandonment.
Democrats win when turnout is high, and if the DNC decides to go against the will of the people and force Clinton down the electorates throat, theyd be committing political suicide.
The important thing to know here is that Superdelegates are merely pledged to a candidate. We know who they support because theyve stated it publicly, or been asked by journalists. They are not committed, and can change at any time. If Bernie Sanders wins the popular vote, he will be the nominee. End of story.
Q: But its not the end of the story, is it? Hasnt the DNC pulled some shady shit already?
A: Oh yeah. They totally rigged the debate schedule to limit Sanders exposure, and now that hes gaining ground on Clinton, theyre desperate to add more. Sanders probably won the popular vote in Iowa, but the party elite there are refusing to release popular vote totals, even though thats exactly what they did in 2008. Its been an embarrassment of Clinton protectionism from the very beginning.
However, that doesnt mean theyll overthrow the will of the people when it comes to the presidential nomination. Assuming Sanders wins the popular vote nationwide, and assuming the Superdelegates put Clinton over the top, lets consider the consequences:
1. Sanders supporters abandon Clinton completely, cutting off a huge portion of her base.
2. Massive protests at the convention, and a party split in half.
3. Republicans have the easiest attack in presidential election history: Her own party didnt even want her!
4. The perception that Clinton is a dishonest politician grows wings, and even if people are reluctant to vote for the GOP nominee, an independent like Bloomberg could strip away an awful lot of votes.
All of this spells disaster for the Democrats. It may not be too corrupt for the DNC to imaginetheyve got good imaginationsbut its too transparent to execute. The winner of the delegate count from state primaries and caucuses will win the nomination, and the Superdelegates will fall in line. Just as they have in every single election since the system was implemented. (Including in 2008, when this same concern was raisedwould Superdelegates cost Obama the nomination?)
Even the Democratic power structure isnt so short-sighted that it would cut off its nose to spite its face.
Senator Jeff Sessions Republican, Alabama
Senator Jack Reed Democrat, Rhode Island
Senator Richard Burr Republican, North Carolina
Senator Roger Wicker Republican, Mississippi
Senator Sherrod Brown Democrat, Ohio
Hes good at building coalitions.
Senator John Mccain Republican, Arizona
Senator Chuck Schumer Democrat, New York
Senator Jack Reed Democratic, Rhode Island (again)
It was a great testament to his skill as a legislator.
You constantly hear about how Bernie Sanders is disliked by his colleagues but this is simply untrue.
A simple Google search will reveal otherwise, and the fact that the media portrays him in such a different light says far more about them, and the lack of substantial journalism in this country, than Bernie Sanders himself.
He is excellent at building coalitions, compromising, and getting things done.
He is well-liked and well-respected by other senators, and has often worked with them to bring real change to the American people ( Sanders passed the most amendments of any representative serving alongside him while in the House).
Actually kind of big news here. Elizabeth Warren in her interview with IBTimes defended Bernie Sanders from Goldman Sachs criticism. Heres a couple of snippets of what she said in the interview:
Warren, a Democrat, disputed that notion in harsh terms, telling IBT that such statements show why American voters should focus on Wall Streets power during the 2016 election.
This is about who he put in charge, who he chose to head up those agencies, she said. Over at the Department of Labor or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, there have been really strong people who have leaned forward. In enforcement, it hasnt been that way. On the enforcement side, its been very different.
The result, she asserted, is a two-tiered justice system.
In a time when literally thousands of people are being locked up every year for non-violent drug offenses or stealing a car, the CEO of a giant bank can help engineer the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars and he gets a raise, she said. The executives of anotherbank can help organize the money laundering for drug cartels, and they dont even get charged with a crime, while an addict [who] buys a few pills can land in jail for a year. This is two criminal justice systems.
This is the best eight minutes you will spend today. Look at what Bernie's Grassroots are producing! Check out their Grassroots For Sanders Facebook page, after you watch the best Sanders video to date, bar none.
One of my favorite writers on Daily Kos is Dallasdoc and he has outdone himself with a recent diary called Enough. Here is a tiny sliver of that piece, but please go to the diary and read in its entirety. It has close to 700 recs which is pure awesomeness.
This seemingly obvious point has been ignored because of the fact that in order to wield the weapon of corruption as an issue, you have to be perceived as not tainted by it yourself. This requirement has left it unused in our political culture. Bernie Sanders is one of the very few politicians in national politics who has not been generally corrupted by Washington. Just like Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption, he swam through a river of shit and came out clean. Bernie can wield the weapon of corruption, and has been doing so to increasing effect. Even Donald Trump has been able to swing it a few times, despite his obvious deep involvement. Apparently to Republican voters, its better to be a buyer than a seller at the politician market. Nobody else in the race has a chance of using corruption to their advantage as an issue.
Hillary Clintons long record (the downside of experience is that it leaves a record) leaves her defenseless against the weapon of the corruption issue. And Republicans know it. Donald Trump has already fired a shot across her bow by mentioning her association with him. It is not unlikely that one of the reasons the Republican establishment has begun cozying up to the Donald is that they see a possibility he can beat Hillary. If theyre right, corruption will no doubt be the main feature of their general election campaign. Another endless round of accusations and scandals surrounding a Clinton, this time with a lot more evidence than was available to those pushing the Vince Foster conspiracy nonsense. Should Clinton win, the drumbeat would continue as long as she maintained office. Anybody who remembers the Nineties should be tingling in anticipation of that prospect.
We cannot roll back the corruption of our political system with more corruption.The Democratic party can only win a corrupt contest by trying to be just as corrupt as the Republicans, but they have more billionaires than we do. The only way to win is with asymmetric warfare, by not playing according to their rules. Hillary Clinton cannot do this. Bernie Sanders can. The American people have had enough with the corrupt status quo. Anyone who calls him or herself a Progressive should not tolerate it, for historical reasons if nothing else. Who will fight this corruption if we dont?
OK, perhaps I have a little too much time on my hands.
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