Lever Time

On this week’s Lever Time: David discusses the “military-entertainment complex;” explores why the Biden administration is raising Medicare premiums; and interviews Elisabeth Epps, a progressive Colorado candidate facing big-money corporate opposition.

Show Notes

On this week’s episode of Lever Time: David is joined by author and professor Roger Stahl to discuss the “military-entertainment complex” as it relates to the recent success of Top Gun: Maverick (3:10). Then The Lever’s Matthew Cunningham-Cook stops by to talk through his recent piece about how the Biden administration is hiking the price of Medicare premiums and funneling the money to private insurers (35:58). Finally, in light of the national trend of corporate interests flooding Democratic primaries with campaign cash, David sits down with Elisabeth Epps — a progressive candidate running for a house seat in the Colorado state legislature — to talk about the monied interests attempting to crush her campaign (50:58). 

If you'd like access to Lever Time Premium, which includes extended interviews and bonus content, head over to LeverNews.com to become a supporting subscriber.

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Elisabeth Epps’ campaign website: https://www.elisabethepps.com/

What is Lever Time?

From LeverNews.com — Lever Time is the flagship podcast from the investigative news outlet The Lever. It’s a political commentary show done in the classic style of morning radio — but, like, better. And smarter. And hopefully funnier.

Hosted by award-winning journalist, Oscar-nominated writer, and Bernie Sanders' 2020 speechwriter David Sirota, Lever Time features exclusive reporting from The Lever’s newsroom, high-profile guest interviews, expert analysis from the sharpest minds in media, and biting political comedy.

Stop — Lever Time.

David Sirota 0:00
Hey everyone, it's another crazy week in America and another episode of lever time, aka the comedy central roast of the Joe Biden administration. I'm your host, David Sirota with me as always is producer Frank. What's up, Frank?

Producer Frank 0:23
How much David How you doing today?

David Sirota 0:24
You know, I'm living just living through another insane week here in the good ol US of A. And I'm pretty psyched about this show, because we're going to be talking taking a trip to the movies, a topic that I have been doing a lot of research on that trip to the movies, sort of with the massive success of Top Gun Maverick, we're going to be going into the unholy alliance between Hollywood and the Pentagon, something that I've referred to and others have referred to as the military entertainment complex. I can't wait for that, then we're going to be discussing a piece that the lever published this past week about how the Biden administration is reaffirming a price hike for Medicare premiums. And then we're going to look at where all of that extra money is going. I'll give you a hint, it's not going towards anything all that good. It's going towards some of Joe Biden's donors. And we'll be talking about that national trend of corporate interests, essentially buying Democratic primaries across the entire country by flooding campaigns, with cash to crush progressive candidates. Like for instance, Nina Turner, they tried to do it this summer Lee, but here's the thing. It's not just at the congressional level, it's at the local level to we're going to be talking with one candidate who is facing that right now in a very classic race. Putting those two things together should remind you this week, our paid subscribers will get a bonus segment of the best moments from our very first episode of lever live where myself the levers Julia rock, and producer Frank took questions from our listeners live on the air. You can find all of that at lever news.com That's where you can subscribe to our newsletter, you can find our live show, and you can become a paying subscriber to get all of our bonus content. I thought the live show by the way, Frank went really well less this week, I was a little nervous about it.

Producer Frank 2:27
Oh, I had so much fun because that live show it's it's much lower stakes than this podcast.

David Sirota 2:34
This is the high stakes stuff.

Producer Frank 2:35
This is the highest me well, this is like you know, it's like highly produced, it's edited. I gotta we gotta do all this work on it. Whereas the live show is like, you know, we're gonna take questions from the audience. So like, you have to kind of like release control. In that scenario.

David Sirota 2:48
I was a little nervous taking that first call. I'm first couple of calls. Now granted, I've been on talk radio for four or five years here in Denver, Colorado about a decade ago, and I love taking calls but those first few callers I was a little nervous. I was gonna get flame thrower, but it didn't it didn't happen that way. So So I hope everybody who's hearing this will join us at our next level live. I should mention their Mondays at 7pm. Eastern. Let's turn though to here to our first topic, that topic. I said I was really excited about the military industrial complex. I feel the need. Hey, the Pentagon infiltrating Hollywood. It sounds like an insane conspiracy theory, doesn't it? Frank?

Producer Frank 3:33
Ah, I mean of all of the things that I know that the Pentagon has infiltrated. This one actually isn't super surprising to me.

David Sirota 3:40
Well, it's it's very real, as shown by the new film Top Gun Maverick that blockbuster was the latest film made in close collaboration with military leaders. And when I say made, that's what I mean. I want to take you on a little history tour here. Since the army helped make the very first Academy Award winning film that was called wings. About 100 years ago, the military has been working hand in hand with Hollywood to help make pro military films and television shows and effectively deter the making of movies that question the military, and question militarism as an ideology. I began reporting on this military entertainment complex from my 2011 book back to our future. It's a hugely powerful but invisible propaganda system that really almost no one knows about. And the way it works is pretty simple. Each branch of the military has a so called Film Office, like the one that Ronald Reagan worked at way back when he was a pro union Democrat, the 40s. These offices offer movie studios, access to bases, aircraft carriers, planes, all sorts of other military hardware. But there's big catch. In exchange for that access, studios are forced to submit their scripts to be line edited, so that the films are pro military.

Producer Frank 5:13
See, that's the crazy fucked up part that I didn't know or didn't anticipate was that like how much creative control the Pentagon actually has on the content that enters these films?

David Sirota 5:25
line editing, we're not talking about general like giving you notes. We're talking about line editing. Now I can hear some folks who are listening to this saying, dude, that sounds like conspiracy theory. There's no way Come on Serota. I want you to listen to this 2006 PBS report that explains exactly how it works. Listen to this.

Entertainment industry journalist David L. Rob is the author of Operation Hollywood, a book that critically examines the relationship between the Department of Defense and the film and television industry. he's most concerned about the military's policy of script review, and its power to demand changes in characters and plot points in return for cooperation.

If you want the military's assistance, you have to give them five copies of your script. They review the script, they make changes to the script to make it conform to the kind of film that they want to see. Most Americans have no idea that the content of the films and TV shows that they're watching are being influenced by military sensors that the military or the government is telling filmmakers what to say and what not to say.

The Navy's Robert Anderson who reviews 30 to 50 feature scripts a year acknowledges his office's production clout.

If you want full cooperation from the Navy, we have a considerable amount of power, because we we it's our ships, it's our it's our cooperation, and it's done until the script is is in a form that we can that we can approve, then we don't you know the production doesn't go forward.

David Sirota 7:02
This demand for line editing has created a powerful dynamic in Hollywood. Getting access to military hardware at free or reduced rate prices is effectively a huge government subsidy to studios that agree to the military's propaganda demands. And in some cases, the Pentagon is even going out and soliciting movie projects now. Now on the flip side, being denied access means movies often don't get made because studios know they would be much more expensive to make without the military's help. The kinds of line edits we're talking about here, which, which let's be clear, are not disclosed to viewers. They run the gamut. For instance, in the 1983 film The Right Stuff, the Pentagon agreed to provide access to its facilities. In exchange for the removal of cursing between the pilots all to make sure the film would be seen by potential enlistees they didn't want it to get an R rating. In the original Top Gun. Another example, Time Magazine reported that gooses death was changed from a mid air collision to an ejection scene, because quote, the Navy complained that too many pilots were crashing in the movie, they didn't want to scare pilots away from enlisting in the military. But it's gotten way more insidious in recent years. This story boggles my mind. You have to hear the story, the story of the 2000 film 13 days you ever read that book Frank scrape book?

Producer Frank 8:34
No, but I saw it I remember watching the movie I think it like middle school, or like this is going to explain the Cuban Missile Crisis to you.

David Sirota 8:42
Yeah, in the book was RFK his book called 13 days about the Cuban Missile Crisis. So get this. The Pentagon denied access to its facilities for that film. Because military leaders objected to the Scripps dialogue between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and President John F. Kennedy. Specifically, they didn't like how bellicose the generals seemed the generals wanted basically your war. They feared it would make military leaders look like war mongers, which back then some of them like Curtis LeMay really work. Now here's the incredible part, Pentagon officials stuck to their rejection. They said to the filmmakers, you can't access our facilities, we're not going to cooperate with you. Even though the screenwriters provided them with the White House audio tapes, proving that the screenplays dialogue accurately represented the exchanges that occurred. The Pentagon also demanded this is crazy. The emission of a scene about a YouTube plane shot down over Cuba, even though the screenwriters literally provided the Pentagon with JFK, his own condolence letter to the widow of that YouTube pilot. In other words, the Pentagon denied access to public property because the filmmakers were accurately depicting the history of the military

Producer Frank 10:00
Thank God, we don't have propaganda in this country, you know, like, no state media. We're a propaganda free nation. And that's something we can all be proud of.

David Sirota 10:08
I mean, this stuff, it just goes, I mean, and then it gets to this example, one more example here. 2012 Zero Dark 30. The Pentagon had previously withdrawn support for Kathryn Bigelow, her the director of her prior film Hurt Locker, which I thought was was a great movie questioning the Iraq War. This time around, Bigelow worked hand in hand with military officials and produced a film that effectively asserted that the CIA's torture regime worked to extract information to go get the terrorists, even though that's not true. This was such an outrageous depiction that a bipartisan group of senators slammed it. They wrote a letter to the studio calling it misinformation. They should have sent the letter to the Pentagon or the CIA. Now here's the thing for its part, the Pentagon is totally open about this, this. This is the part I love to one recently surfaced memo said that Navy officials worked with the original Top Gun because the film quote, completed the rehabilitation of the military's image, which had been savaged by the Vietnam War. The head of the military's Film Office told Variety magazine quote, the main criteria we use for approval is how could the proposed production benefit the military? Could it help in recruiting? And is it in sync with present policy? Ultimately, here's the upshot. Why does this matter? Because for every anti war film there is, this is why you have 50 or 100, pro war pro military pro militarist films. Even Tom Cruise, Maverick himself once recognized this problem. This this is this is incredible. Four years after the recent release of the original Top Gun, he was starring in Oliver Stones Born on the Fourth of July, which had obviously a much different message about the military and war. And he told Playboy magazine at the time, quote, some people felt the Top Gun was a right wing film to promote the Navy and lots of kids loved it. But I want the kids to know that that's not the way war is. The Top Gun was just an amusement park ride, a fun film with a PG 13 rating. That was not supposed to be reality. That's why crew said I didn't go on and make Top Gun two and three and four and five, that would have been irresponsible. Well, that was what, like 20 years ago, 30 years ago. Yeah, Tom Cruise has changed a lot since then. I think it's safe to say he certainly has. Because now with the Pentagon's full support, he's making that Top Gun sequel since the first Top Gun. And since I reported my 2011 book about the military entertainment complex, this propaganda system has become even more insidious. And to help explain how it works in practice. We're joined now by a University of Georgia Professor Roger Stoll, whose new documentary A must see documentary on this is called theatres of war. Hey, Roger, thanks for being here.

Roger Stahl 13:14
It's great to be here with you, David, thank you.

David Sirota 13:17
Let's start with Top Gun. How involved was the US military in making in the making of the new Top Gun. And if you've got some background on how involved it was in the old Top Gun, that would be great, too.

Roger Stahl 13:30
Yeah, we have some documentation from the new Top Gun Maverick, it's been kind of a tough slog with Freedom of Information Act requests with this one, because the Navy in particular has been extremely guarded as to what kind of documents they want to release. And so we put in, you know, dozens of requests with them so far, and really have gotten only the production assistance agreement, and a few emails. But from that we can piece together a kind of timeline of how, how it worked, and what kind of assistance they were granted. I mean, it's clear from the film, obviously, that it was a teens and aircraft carriers and, and access to bases and the normal suite of equipment and, and access that that is usually granted to filmmakers. So we have emails that suggest the process by which they went to make those kinds of things available. That's not that interesting. What is really interesting from the documents, though, is probably the production assistance agreement, which is the contract that filmmakers and television producers signed with the military in order to kind of make that trade. It's a formal agreement. This is done after all the script change requests have gone to the producers and after they've made those script change requests to the satisfaction of the military. And so at that point, What the production assistants agreement suggests is that the military gets a final screening of, of the film to make sure everything's in place. And in particular, they said they would get the opportunity to weave in key talking points. This is their exact language to weave in key talking points to direct quote, key talking points. That's right from the actual contract that the Top Gun producers Bruckheimer and crew signed with the Pentagon. And we don't know exactly what those key talking points were. We have a sense of them from what Yeah, I don't know if you've seen the movie or not. But it's clear that there are certain themes with regard to recruiting with regard to US foreign policy, that, that are really prevalent in the film, particularly, you know, a key talking point that comes up over and over again, which we suspect was probably on that list was that, you know, it's not the plane, it's the pilot, which shows up about five times in the film. And, of course, the, the Air Force and the in the, in the Navy are interested in sort of managing recruitment expectations when it comes to drones, and the fact that, you know, you're gonna sign up as a pilot, you might not be flying. So this is, this is one of the things that they're managing with that film.

David Sirota 16:17
So folks are going to be listening to this and think, okay, look, Top Gun is a military movie. There's lots of military movies, these movies, in theory should reflect accurately what what the military is like, I'm just playing devil's advocate here. I think a lot of people might say, well, what's the big deal? Like, you know, the top gun guys are talking to the military, the military is helping them make it more accurate. Why should anyone be upset about this? Why is this controversial? What What's the deal? Why Why should anybody be worried about this?

Roger Stahl 16:55
Sure. Well, accuracy is, of course, in the charge, the actual directives that the military is supposed to abide by, you know, this is one of the things in addition to recruiting and, and giving a sense of, you know, the proper role of the military, if you look at those documents, the directives, this is what they are supposed to be doing that office. And I would say, if you look through the script change requests that that you see, for any particular film, about 80% of them are geared toward accurately representing the military and I would say are legitimate, but about 20% are what you'd call sort of ideological or political in nature. There, the public relations aspect of the script changes. And those are the sorts of problematic changes that I think most people if they didn't know, if they knew better wood, wood would question them.

David Sirota 17:46
So you're so what you're saying is that there are changes that are like, Okay, you have to make the plane, when you're talking about the plane's engine, you need to change it to be, you know, the Johnson rod instead of the, you know, the sprocket or whatever. And that's tow that's totally fine. But what the other 20%, you're saying are, the military is going through line by line of a script to change the message of movies to reflect the message that the military wants?

Roger Stahl 18:23
That's exactly right. So typically, it's about three or four pages of script changes that they're offering. And, like I said, about 20% of those have to do with pushing a recruiting message, pushing the sense that the military does the job and does the job well. messages about foreign policy, and historical matters, which are the most interesting to me, representing wars in the past and in military activity. Foreign current foreign policy, no getting rid of anything that's unflattering to the military, anything that's controversial. And this includes internal controversies, like racism and sexism in the ranks sexual assault is a big one. And then sort of external to the military. You know, how they're projecting power across the planet. You no mention of military bases or untoward activity, violating international law, torture, assassinations, and things of that nature. Right.

David Sirota 19:22
And this came up I remember in Zero Dark 30 where, actually it was so bad. The the ideology of it that actually actually a bipartisan group of senators got got ticked off and sent a letter to the studio. They should have sent a letter to the Pentagon and the CIA, but in Zero Dark 30 Zero Dark 30 made it seem as if torture was key to gleaning information to ultimately find Osama bin Laden, and that was completely unfounded by the fact. And the CIA was working hand in hand with With the filmmakers of Zero Dark 32, put that movie and put that message out there. So, in a certain sense, the idea of accuracy on the technicalities of the military is being mixed with, frankly, in a lot of cases, inaccuracy, with the history of what's actually going on. I mean, I, I mentioned in the, in the preamble to this, about the story of 13 days, which is unbelievable about how the military wouldn't make that work with the filmmakers of that movie, because they were accurately representing internal conversations in the White House that were literally on tape between JFK and the national security advisors of the military. So it's just a dichotomy between we you have to be accurate on how you represent, you know, day to day workings of the military. But in some cases, you have to be inaccurate, in the in what happened in history? Because, because to be accurate about that might embarrass the military. So then the question comes up, how often is this happening? Right? I mean, if this is a one off to off kind of thing, you know, maybe, you know, again, just playing devil's advocate here, Matt, you know, okay, fine. It happens once in a while, how often is the Military Working with Hollywood in such a close way? And has it increased in recent years?

Roger Stahl 21:28
The scholarly consensus until about five years ago was that there was only a couple of 100 films. And we didn't have documentation, really full documentation on this. And my small group of researchers went to work on this, and we got into do archives that have opened up recently. But mainly, this has come through full Freedom of Information Act requests. But we've found and can confirm now that since World War Two, the military and CIA have exercised direct editorial control, that is they've entered into contractual relationships to support about 2500 films and television shows. And that number is increasing. And especially in the last 10 years, I think it's this is just me observing the documents and kind of eyeballing it, it, it seems to be increasing exponentially. Largely because the military is not only involved in movies, now it's involved in all kinds of stuff, television, video games, particularly reality TV is an exploding genre. I mean, talk about numbers, you know, I can quote 2500 to you right now. But if you look at individual TV episodes, and if you count those, for example, NCIS, they approve every single episode of NCIS. And all its derivatives, were up in the range of 10,000 11,000 Productions.

David Sirota 22:52
Yeah, that's a huge amount of cultural power, cultural propaganda, being pumped into the American discourse. And this is what blows my mind. It's without disclosure, that I mean, in the fine print sometimes are sort of technical, you have to know what you're looking at whether you know, thanks to the Pentagon, thanks to military officials on this base for helping us et cetera, et cetera. But there's no real disclosure to the public to the viewer to know that what they're watching, in a lot of cases, is almost a direct from the Pentagon newsreel when they're watching movies and TV. And this is what this is just what blows my mind. Because it's one thing when you know, you're watching a political ad, or you know, you're watching propaganda, a kind of filter comes on in your mind, and you're at least like, okay, look, I'm getting the Defense Department's perspective here. It's much more insidious, when you're when you're when that filter is not there, because you don't know that that's what you're watching. I want to turn to the question, of course, about what kinds of incentives this creates for filmmakers, because the Pentagon it needs to be underscored is withholding and granting access to its hardware to its facilities to its property. And I should underscore public property. That's our property, the government's property, the Pentagon is conditioning access to this, upon filmmakers agreeing to these script changes. So what has that done? What kinds of incentives has that created systematically in Hollywood, when it comes to making TV shows and movies that are either questioning the military or simply pro military?

Roger Stahl 24:36
Well, for Hollywood and TV, this is not necessarily ideological, this is economic. And as you say, you know that these these are economic, financial gifts to the producers in exchange for control of the script. So we're talking about putting the thumb on the scale or sometimes I like to think about it as sort of tilting the field of economic opportunity. So as a filmmaker As a producer, you are making calculations about how much your movie will cost, how much bang you will get for your buck. And the military really adds a level of realistic pneus. You might call it realism. But that's a difficult word, but realistic pneus to your, to your film, and a sense of grid, you know, Michael Bay talks about this, that he can't do this kind of thing with CGI, you know, even with something like Transformers, that the military lends kind of a credibility to the film that you can't get anywhere else. And in fact, Phil Straub, who managed the main entertainment media office at the Pentagon said, at one point, you know, we're no less busy after the development of, of CGI, it doesn't make a lick of difference. And, you know, you look at a film like Top Gun Maverick, and you know, they, they're touting the fact and this is all kinds of think pieces about that this is a real movie with without CGI with real planes and real pilots.

David Sirota 26:00
So let's just let's just put, let's just put it like, into Hollywood terms here. So the director comes in, the studio comes in, and the studio says, Hey, listen, the military is gonna give us these planes for free or very cheaply for us to make a movie like Top Gun. And if we had to go out and somehow find planes that look like that, on our own, we'd have to spend a whole lot more money. And so that is the economic incentive there because the Pentagon is offering effectively a public subsidy to studios. But the catch is that the studios have to submit to the editorial control of the Defense Department, editorial control that is not really explicitly disclosed in any way to the end user, the viewer of this I mean, tell us the story, for instance, of the contract that was written between the filmmakers of the Hunt for Red October and the end the Pentagon and and what the producers of the, of the Hunt for Red October, October, actually admitted.

Roger Stahl 27:15
Yeah, we have a some evidence from filmmakers in sales who kind of go rogue and actually talk about this kind of thing from time to time. And one of them was the producer of mace Neufeld, who produced all of the Jack Ryan series, all of the Tim Tom Clancy Jack Ryan series, and a dad for Red October 1990 was the first of those.

David Sirota 27:36
And the best was definitely the best. It might Yeah, it was it was solid

Roger Stahl 27:40
film. Yeah, definitely. He was speaking to a group of naval submarine people.

David Sirota 27:46
I mean, come on Alec Baldwin is Jack Ryan. I mean, seriously, like, you know,

Roger Stahl 27:51
yeah, he's tough. He's tough. So, you know, he was talking to this group of the naval submarine people at the Naval Institute, and let it slip that he wouldn't have been able to make this film without naval cooperation. And Paramount said, you know, he had a conversation with the studio about this. And Paramount said, if you don't get cooperation, we're just not going to make the movie. And I'm going to put that in the contract. And you know, that's not an ideological decision. That's a financial decision. Because without that, I mean, it takes something like Crimson Tide, which had to be, as this is Bruckheimer and crew once again, which had to be made without military assistance. They had to make all these mock up sets. They had to, you know, kind of hang out a naval base and catch a submarine and action leaving the port. It costs a lot of money, but I think it was Jerry Bruckheimer said that Blackhawk down would have cost about three or $4 million dollars more as a film, had they not gotten support, and they might not have even been able to make the film at all because they would have had to use Huey helicopters and do all kinds of modifications on them. So you're talking about like, especially films like Top Gun, where Bruckheimer said we wouldn't have been able to make this film at all, and probably top gun to Maverick. Where, you know, a certain number of films won't get made and those that do cost a lot more.

David Sirota 29:17
Now, you in in an LA Times op. Ed, you propose some solutions to this beyond just a First Amendment Supreme Court case? What do you think in the short term could be done in a concrete way to at least if not solve this problem at least bring more, you know, sunshine to what's going on?

Roger Stahl 29:42
It really is a question of transparency. I mean, the average military movie viewer people going to the cinema are just just not going to be privy to the the level and the scope of influence. We can guess I mean, you can suggest you go to Iron Man and you should see the military vehicles in the background, you go to top gun, and obviously, you know, there's something going on there. But the scope is just not going to be available to the average cinema goer. So there's really nothing that regular people can do about this except demand that some political action be taken. And one of the things that we can do is, perhaps demand that all script change suggestions, edits the process through which these films go, be made transparent that the documents be made available. That's what I would really love to see.

David Sirota 30:34
And I want to ask you about that. Are they you mentioned before Freedom of Information Act requests? Or are they not being fulfilled? Are they are they stonewalling are the can you can, can we not get access to those edits,

Roger Stahl 30:48
there was a certain era in which I think the office entertainment office was naive about this naive about how much people would object to this kind of operation. And they were more willing, I would say, to release documents, but now you know, we make requests, and they'll give us 1000 pages that are completely redacted from start to finish, as if they're trying to send us a message and send a shot across the bow or something like that. And they'll invoke trade secrets as the reason that they can't release these kinds of things. It's

David Sirota 31:20
a trade secret. It's like a commercial trade. It's like Coca Cola is recipe or something like a secret, something so secret that the public can't see. You also mentioned some some truth, some some truth and labeling, the idea that maybe when you walk into a movie, that if the Pentagon has been involved, that there could be, for instance, a law or regulation, saying the public has to be made explicitly aware of that at the at the beginning of a movie.

Roger Stahl 31:50
Yeah, I mean, this is the very least that we can do. You know, since the 1930s, the FCC has required that commercial entities put the disclosure statement at the beginning of a production that that or at the end that says, you know, sponsored by Coke or whatever. At the beginning of a film, right by the FBI label, you can imagine, you know, this was sponsored and influenced by the Department of Defense or CIA or NSA or whatever entity had had a hand in the script negotiations. That would be the very least we could do.

David Sirota 32:19
One last question for you your documentary theatres of war, it details a lot of this. I'm just curious what your experience was in making the documentary. And after making the documentary, I'm curious if you think that that there's enough political impetus to do this, right. I mean, is it like, are we so far down the rabbit hole, that there's no way there's no way to really fix it? Nobody really cares.

Roger Stahl 32:46
Everyone I talked to everyone, regardless of political persuasion, thinks this is a problem. I've gotten very little pushback from regular people. I've gotten no pushback since making the documentary from these institutions themselves. They've been eerily silent about this. But the fit, you know, the film, theatres of war, as you just mentioned, was just released about a week ago. And it'll be interesting to see what happens. I wrote that op ed for the LA Times, and I've received lots of exposure to this idea from that particular statement. And it seems like, you know, the idea that something needs to be done about this extensive level of government influence in Hollywood at TV, that idea is sort of taking on a life of its own. So I imagine that in the coming years, you know, it might not be the documentary, it might be the conversation that develops in other ways that there's going to be enough public public discussion of this, that something will need to change. I think it's at a breaking point at this current moment. Well, look,

David Sirota 33:53
I Sir, I sure hope so. I mean, I remember researching this for my book, my book came out in 2011. And I was I got kind of obsessed with this. And I remember, I remember not only being obsessed, but then I remember being angry that I had never heard of this. I remember, I couldn't believe it. I was like, I can't believe because my book was about the 1980s and growing up immersed in pop culture. And I was like, oh my god, I was programmed as a child in my basement, by the Pentagon, but and I didn't even know I was being programmed. And my my parents definitely didn't know. And it's worth adding. It's not just movies. It's TV shows. It's not just movies and TV shows. It's also toys. It's also video games. I mean, the Pentagon video game connection, the Pentagon toy connection. It's it really is like going down a rabbit hole. And I think the term military entertainment complex, really is the best most all encompassing term to understand this. And I just want to thank you for making the documentary because I think to see it in you He's on the screen to see how it works on the screen is extremely helpful to explain why this is a problem. I mean, we are all immersed in propaganda, misinformation, disinformation. And part of the problem of all of that, on on it, on the very surface is disclosure to at least know when you're being propagandized to and so if you really start thinking about how much of this is out there without being told it's propaganda. You really, I mean, I've as I've, seriously I look back on my childhood, and I felt like I was I was, I was programmed, I was like the Manchurian Candidate style. Like I didn't even know I was being programmed. And maybe that's a little bit of an overstatement. So, so again, thank you so much for making this documentary. It's called theatres of war, Roger Stoll. Thanks so much for talking with us today.

Roger Stahl 35:50
It is a pleasure being on the show, especially with somebody who's been on the ground floor in this issue for over a decade now.

David Sirota 35:55
Thank you. Thanks a ton man. Okay, for our leverage story. Today, we're going to be joined by Matthew Cunningham Cook, who wrote a really important piece about how the Biden administration has reaffirmed the highest Medicare premium price hikes in history right before this year's midterm elections. And it's going to be taking the extra money and effectively funneling it to private insurers, private insurers, of course, their executives, big donors to Joe Biden. I'm sure it's going to work out great for those private insurers not so sure it's going to work out so great for American seniors. Matthew, great to talk to you, how's everything going? It's going all right, David. Great story this week, man. It was really, really important. And a story I should mention that no other media outlet really put the dots together on it's really important. In classic Democratic Party fashion, Joe Biden has decided effectively to reaffirm reconfirm a huge price hike for Medicare recipients. And again, in classic democratic fashion doing it right before the midterm elections. Is that about right? And if you can, if it is right, explain to us what we mean by Medicare price hikes. I think a lot of people hear Medicare that like I thought that's, you know, free health care for people. What are you talking about Medicare price hikes?

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 37:25
Yeah, I actually, when I started reporting this story, I also did not realize that there were premiums for Medicare, they're deducted from people's social security, or in some rare cases, their pension check. And, yeah, what we found is that, in June 2021, I believe Biden's Food and Drug Administration approved this untested new drug over the objections of its scientific advisory committee for supposedly treating Alzheimer's. And that resulted in the largest Medicare premium increase in history to cover that cost. But when the public found out about that, Biogen, the creator of the drug, got a lot of heat and they lowered the price of the drug. And then the the Medicare also got a bunch of heat too. And they said, well consider, we really don't know how well this drug actually works. We're going to really limit the instances under which we're going to actually cover it.

David Sirota 38:34
So I think that's an important detail that I want to unpack for a second because we at the lever talk to a guy named Aaron Kessel, Haim, who was a Harvard, Harvard scientist and a doctor who was advising the FDA and this is gonna sound in the weeds. But stay with me here for a second that Aaron Kessel. Haim was one of the people who blew the whistle on this drugs that actually they didn't test it all that well. It doesn't seem to be all that effective. Arguably, it's ineffective and dangerous and yet the FDA approved it which put put it on the Medicare's system and then Medicare essentially a in putting it on its system jacked up premiums to pay for this medicine even though the medicine is arguably doesn't work and is dangerous. So there's what's interesting about this is that there's there's sort of a these things are related that the Big Pharma has pressure on the FDA ends up trickling down to Medicare Medicare covers this drug that may be dangerous or doesn't work and then Medicare jacks up its premiums and then at the bottom of the of the situation is our seniors who are paying more for Medicare premiums. I mean, is that basically how like It's like shit rolls downhill and then the final bottom of the hill are premium increases for Medicare seniors because of a drug that may not actually work.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 39:57
Yeah, I think that's right. And then the other component, you know, reference and your earlier point is then, you know, prescription drug companies are the largest advertisers on the corporate media. And so, I mean, one of the things that, you know, I mean, we've just been talking about here at the lever is how, you know, when David and I were writing, investigate, and Andrew, were writing investigative reporting together, seven, eight years ago, you know, for, frankly, a publication that had, you know, some some real issues,

David Sirota 40:28
International Business Times, right, we are great, you know, but

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 40:31
we would routinely get, you know, really significant amounts of, of corporate media pickup that's really kind of died down. In this go around, you know, where we still get plenty of pickup on social media. But there's like a corporate media blackout on picking up our reporting. And I think that this is, to me the, you know, this, I mean, this, this story did did very well, as you mentioned, David, and we really haven't seen any pickup. And I think it's, it's such a testament to the the ways in which the overwhelming dominance of prescription drug advertising on the corporate media totally corrodes our coverage.

David Sirota 41:10
That's, that's definitely, that's definitely a piece of it. I mean, that's when we published the story. It was I was sort of shocked that, that it hadn't been covered before, and it still continues to not be covered. But let's go back to the details here. Okay. So Medicare decides to cover this drug that is controversial, to say the least in terms of whether it works in terms of pharma pressure, Medicare, then jacks up people's premiums to pay for it. But then Medicare says, Alright, we're not going to cover the drug, because the drug is too it's too expensive, or the price and the price for the drug, it's going to it's going to come down. So there are savings to be had that could be passed on to Medicare recipients. In other words, the Biden administration, in theory could have said, okay, because we're actually not going to cover this drug or the price is going to come down. We're not going to jack up Medicare recipients premiums by what we said we're going to do. But the Biden administration didn't do that. Why did they not do that?

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 42:09
Biden, they I mean that this is an administration that's totally incapable of putting the interests of ordinary people over corporate interests. That to me is kind of the the base summary here. And I think that's what the story really spoke to is, is it's a very simple story at the end of the day, which is, you know, the rich people are getting on. And, you know, poor and regular folks are getting nothing. So that that, to me, I think is really kind of what speaks to by, you know, unless he's called out on it, unless there's an organized pressure campaign, this administration is not going to do the right thing.

David Sirota 42:50
Adding insult to injury, or maybe injury to injury. Most of the new revenue from this premium increase is going to be funneled to the private insurance industry. We're going to talk about that after a quick break. Welcome back, I'm here with the levers, Matthew Cunningham Cook, we're discussing his recent reporting on the Biden administration hiking the cost of Medicare premiums, and now we're talking about where that extra money is going to go. So as I said before the break the money is ultimately, at least some of it is going to get to the private insurance industry to enrich the private insurance industry, an industry that gave $47 million to Joe Biden's campaign. So Matthew, explain how the Medicare premium increases that we've just discussed, how that extra money that will be in government coffers will now be going out to private insurance companies.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 43:49
Yeah, I mean, this is another thing that we've been tracking here, which is that the enormous growth in Medicare privatization, and so we covered it with this involuntary privatization program called ACO reach formerly called direct contracting entities. And we've been covering it with Medicare Advantage as well, where you again, you see ads all over the place. And so what we found is that Medicare Advantage received an 8.5% increase for next year. And so this is This is despite the fact that Medicare's own advisory commission, charged with overseeing Medicare Advantage. Medpac has found that Medicare Advantage provides less health care at a higher cost for Medicare recipients. So Biden hands them this huge payment increase, and then is using the increased premiums of seniors to finance that Increase and it's yeah, it's it's really shitty. Guys. I have a question here. When did Medicare were When did part of Medicare become privatized? I thought I was under the impression that Medicare was public health care. They're as close as we had, like, when did this shift happen? It's a it's an old I mean, it started with with HMOs. And so Nixon, you know, there's one of the Nixon tapes where he was like, he's like Kaiser, you know, from Oakland. He's got this great idea. Yeah. Now, this is what we should be doing. Yeah. And that was that was really the beginning. Was what were these health maintenance organizations in the 70s. But yeah, you know, I mean, just in the last few years, massive metastasis ation, we're on track by next year to have the majority of Medicare recipients be in Medicare Advantage. And there's a massive cottage industry that's emerged of people whose job it is to enroll people into Medicare Advantage plans to manipulate, you know, lonely old people into giving up their gold standard health care coverage in favor of an inferior option. And that industry is subsidized from top to bottom by the federal government.

David Sirota 46:20
Okay, let's go back to the present here. We just heard the history of how all this started back at with Richard Nixon has been going on for a long time. In late May, HHS Secretary Javier Becerra said in a statement that they'll actually be reducing Medicare premiums, but not until next year 2023. What do you make of that that total bullshit, just kind of bullshit? Is that real? What do you think?

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 46:46
I mean, you know, I mean, now that, that you're seeing more and more coverage, again, I mean, we're in a period of rising deficit hysteria. You know, we're right in that 2009, kind of sweet, sweet spot right now, where you're, you can tell that we're on the cusp of organized mass media hysteria around deficits. And I think that, that always really does it, there clearly is confirmation bias, with the high level bureaucrats who make the actuaries who make long term projections about Medicare and Social Security, because again, you know, it's like, as soon as I, as soon as you start seeing, you know, the Peterson Institute's name all over the place, all of a sudden, you know, you have these actuaries saying, oh, you know, yeah, things are actually worse than they are. And it's like, ah, didn't seem to hear about this with the tax cuts and Jobs Act.

David Sirota 47:43
Right. Right. Right. So So if what I hear you saying is, is that with hysteria about deficits, that now that the premiums are in place, generating the revenues that they're generating, which, of course, then is going out to the private insurance industry, that the deficit hysteria, oh, we have to keep getting these revenues, which could mean that the premium increases will simply stay in place in the name of quote, unquote, balancing the budget.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 48:13
Yeah, it's very hard to put the toothpaste back in the tube. And then, you know, I mean, it's right now this announcement came, you know, four months before an election, you know, it's the that's the perfect time to, to, for Biden to both do something not politically moronic for once one, and to, you know, for, you know, advocates who were asking Biden for this, this premium reduction, to hold his feet to the fire. So there there there, those two things combined means that I mean, anybody who's who's observed politics for more than a year and see, you know, could reasonably gets that insight Oh, well as to choose between rich people getting more money, and poor people having less money. Well, those are the same, but you know, as to choose between rich people having more money and rich people having less money. Oh, what's what's going to happen, you know, in January after an election, right after,

David Sirota 49:14
after the Democratic Party is likely to get absolutely shellacked, like they did in 2010. And it's worth recounting that history for for one quick second here. In 2010, after Democrats got shellac, they pivoted almost immediately to the Social Security Commission, the the so called entitlement commission to try to cut Social Security and Medicare. So we have been here before. And so this really does feel incredibly familiar. So I want to ask you the last question, if everyone in listening to this folks are interested in pushing back against this new policy or simply want to protect the seniors in their own lives, is there anything they can do?

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 49:59
Yeah, I mean, I I think that there needs to be some more education to Congress that a lot of seniors are skeptical of Medicare Advantage. I mean, that's one thing is that I clearly don't think that message is getting through, that there's a large, organized critical mass of seniors who are very skeptical about this. So I think that that's number one. I think number two is, frankly, you know, I mean, give us more money, so we can hire, you know, a dedicated Medicare reporter.

David Sirota 50:34
Right. I mean, I will say, the, the the amount that this story traveled from the lever all across social media. I mean, it was it was really extraordinary. And I think it speaks both to the fact that corporate media just isn't reporting that and therefore, there is a demand for this kind of reporting, and you really nail the story. And so, Matthew, great work on the story. Thanks for doing it. And thanks for joining us.

Matthew Cunningham-Cook 50:57
Thanks for having me, David. For our

David Sirota 50:59
final story, today, we're going to zero in on the local, we'll look at how the trend of corporate interests buying Democratic primaries to try to crush progressive candidates isn't just happening in congressional races, but also under the radar in state races. I'll be talking with Elizabeth apps, who recently won a landmark police brutality case against the city of Denver, and is now running in a hotly contested Democratic primary for a seat in Colorado State Legislature. Elizabeth is backed by Colorado's Working Families Party, Denver DSA as well as several labor unions, corporate interests have funneled big money into the race to try to defeat her. Hey, Elizabeth, thanks for being here.

Elisabeth Epps 51:44
Thanks for having me. Good to see you.

David Sirota 51:45
That's good to see you too. Let's start out with your background for any of our audience who don't know you don't know about your candidacy yet. Let you just tell us a little bit about yourself and why you decided to run for an office like state legislature.

Elisabeth Epps 51:59
Sure. So I am Elizabeth upset. I'm running to represent us in the State House and House District Six. Get to say that often. And I like it every time I get to. I wasn't born in Colorado, but I got here just as soon as I could. I came out here after law school to be a public defender with a grand vision of helping my folks get free and stay free, which is still the work I'm doing. I'm an abolitionist, which short version of that is it means that I believe, just as a guiding principle that everyone deserves to be healthy, safe and free. And so I commit to doing the policy work that gives people that which they need to be healthy, safe and free. And terms of this race for the state legislature, I've seen firsthand, and anyone who's paying attention has seen examples of really good things coming out of state legislatures in recent years, and some pretty terrifying disastrous things coming out of state legislatures. So a lot of power at the State House and in the State Senate. That's where I want to keep getting work done. And last year, when it was clear that there's going to be an open seat, where I'm living, a lot of community members, including the current incumbent, encouraged me to run asked me to run voluntold me to run. And I agree.

David Sirota 53:07
So before we get to the details of the race, I also want to talk a little bit about your historic legal victory in this police brutality case against the city and county of Denver, because I think that's important for people to know also more about who you are, and the kind of work you've done. Just tell us what happened briefly in that case and what the outcome was

Elisabeth Epps 53:30
certainly so it's actually pretty close to exactly two years ago, that just a couple blocks from where I am now at the state capitol. I and others were tear gas shot with rubber bullets shot with so called less lethal projectiles while we were peacefully protesting police brutality, around the murders of breonna, Taylor, George Floyd and others. And in a demonstrable, repeated way, my constitutional rights were violated First Amendment, Fourth Amendment. And so we did what you what one of the things you can do, we filed a lawsuit took two years for that case to come to trial. You mentioned it being historic the case is upset all versus city and county of Denver at all. It's historic in a few ways. It's historic, because it's while there were many lawsuits filed in the summer of 2020, or in the months that followed, this is the first one as far as I know, I'm pretty confident that the first one that actually went to trial went to verdict as opposed to settling out of court. We wanted that proverbial day in court, we wanted to an open trial where all of Colorado could see exactly what the Denver Police had done to us. And and we want we prevailed at trial. There were 12 plaintiffs in our class action case. My My name is the lead name, but there's 12 of us. We were awarded a jury verdict. What's what's a bigger deal about that, um, the total award was was $14 million. What is a big deal about that? Is that Well, I'll speak for myself, it was never about the money for me. What I wanted my city to do was to change practice. It was very clear that we weren't just harmed by rogue one off officers who were acting And outside of their training to the contrary, right at the heart of our lawsuit, it's called them Enel claim the heart of that lawsuit is saying, officers did exactly as they were trained to do. They did exactly what they were prepared to do what they were funded to do what they were armed and equipped, and guided to do. How do we know it? Both? Because so many of them did it. But David, the other reason we know it is because they weren't disciplined after, right. So had had the city thought they were wrong. The city would have intervened at some some sooner point. So in my work in the work of helping our neighbors be healthy and safe and free, I tend to come to it from three lenses, direct action, litigation and legislation. And each of these is equally important in their way. And so the lawsuit EPS versus Denver is that is that litigation prong. I'm, of course, thrilled with the verdict. It's hard to sit through day after day of trial, particularly when you're trying to run a campaign or off the campaign trail trail for three weeks. But it was worth it.

David Sirota 55:50
So you're toggling between the campaign trail, you're toggling between the campaign trail and trial and a certain point in your campaign. You're like literally, in the in the courthouse about a police brutality case. And then you're leaving and you're knocking doors and in a state legislative race, right.

Elisabeth Epps 56:08
That's literally literally what happened in 15 of the toughest days to be out of circulation. You can't make calls. You can't have coffee with voters. I was was in federal court from sunup to sundown, but it was worth it. Right. It's it's it's important to me singularly as a plaintiff, but it's also important as a representation of my community in the same way that I stand up for myself, and that I stand up for protesters, and those whose rights have been violated is exactly the same energy and commitment and discernment that I'm going to bring to the state legislature.

David Sirota 56:35
So So in your race now for state legislature, there is a lot of money flowing into this race. And and to be clear, I it's it's a small race in the sense of I mean, look, my wife is a state legislature legislator. i What i mean by small is it's a relatively somewhat small district, in comparison to a whole state, or in comparison, even to a congressional district. It's a big race. It's important here in Colorado, but the amount of money that has flowed into this one sort of comparatively small state legislative race is kind of incredible and has become a local media story unto itself. We've, we've reported here and talked a lot about the national effort by big money interests to come into congressional races to try to buy Democratic primaries. And it seems to me that this is a local or municipal version of the same thing. I would ask you, can you tell us a little bit about what kinds of money where the sources of money are from that are flooding into this race? I mean, we I've seen it referred to as there may be a half a million dollars spent against you in a democratic primary for state legislature. So I want to hear from you about where you think this money is coming from, what do you think it's motivated by?

Elisabeth Epps 57:50
So So the beautiful thing about certain aspects of public records and in Colorado we have tracer is that I don't even have to tell you what I think about where it's coming from. I can tell you because I know, right, I can tell you what I can see and what I can read. You make a good point, when you talk about how you more often report on the federal level, the national level money flowing into these congressional races. It's important to be clear about where that bench comes from, though, right? Where's the pool of people who are picked from to be appointed for it to be our next congress, folks and Senators, they tend to very often our former state legislators, right, so that that pipeline to that accepting that money is one that starts early, where the money is coming from in my race, and use the phrase half a million or $500,000 Spin against me. That's accurate, I think is probably a low estimate. But but it's important that we name it's not just against me, right? It's it's $500,000 or more against progressive values. It's a half a million dollars against working folks against renters against organized labor. That's who it's against, right against teachers and public school children. That's who that money is coming in against who it's coming in from our groups that are the how do I say it delicately. It's coming in from the groups who are the biggest impediments to progress on the issues that most voters in HD six in Denver and Colorado care about specifically, right. One of the most alarming to me is the Colorado the statewide Chamber of Commerce. In their history, the Chamber of Commerce has never weighed in on a primary. They certainly endorse and support candidates in general elections, but they've never endorsed before in primaries, and in this instance, they have endorsed 11 candidates statewide, seven Republicans and four Democrats. And one of the one of them so called Democrats is the one who's running against me, their money is outside and they don't do that because they just have a favorite. They do that because of a vested interest in the outcome. In Denver, where affordable housing to call it a crisis is that is an understatement of epic proportions. But people are being priced out. People with working folks, much less folks who are already on the margins economically, right with rent increases of 30 and 40 and 45%. Just astronomical numbers. And the biggest impediment to that there's several corporate interests, but one is absolutely the the the Denver and the statewide apartment lobby, right. That's a group that's given 10,007 Your dollars the absolute maximum that you can to my opponent. I don't know how my opponent may personally feel about affordable housing. But I know how she's free to vote or not in this case. So you ask about those groups. When you look at, for example, the Chamber of Commerce, this isn't about this isn't about people that work at these organizations and individuals. This is I invite anyone to look at the Colorado Chamber of Commerce's website, look at their policy positions, look at their successes that they brag about, right, that they're proud to have intervened and stopped paid family medical leave, they're proud to interrupt regulations being put in place around greenhouse gases, they're proud to to interrupt and impede collective bargaining rights. And this is the money that is pouring in, not against me as an individual, right. I'm feeling the brunt of it in some practical ways, but it's against all those things that are, should be a part of the Democratic agenda. And what it really the nature of those groups, when and how deeply they are playing in what it really amplifies for us, right, is that there are certain interests who need the status quo, right? It is working just fine for them. Right. But for working folks, folks, like myself and my family and my neighbors, and most people truly in Denver, Colorado, those special interests, what they represent, are representing a way of life that is not working for us, we're being priced out, we're being driven out and the fact that it will be a small, it will be a low estimate if it comes in at around half a million dollars. And can I just add one thing about that is that as I'm a Democrat, I've been a Democrat for a long time. And there's something really special that we talk a lot about as Democrats holding majorities, and the importance of majorities in the House and the Senate. Of course, I agree with that. And I agree with that deeply. But it becomes really curious to look in, in my seat. And in a race where it's a plus 70, or something like that democratic seat, a seat where the woman who wins is going to have this job for the next eight years if she wants it, to see the money that is pouring in, in this race, in opposition to a progressive candidate, me and an opposition to progressive values. If what we cared about truly as Democrats was holding our majority statewide, well, that's a half a million dollars that my future colleague in the mountains could really use. Right, that's a half a million dollars that down on the, you know, the southern part of the state or on the eastern plains, in communities where they're fighting to hold a democratic seat. Imagine what that half a million dollars could have gotten to do if what we really cared about was a Democratic majority. And access next suggests that there's too many people in my party who are concerned about a Democratic majority. They're concerned about a conservative, moderate centrist majority.

David Sirota 1:02:25
And I think it's important to point out, not only is it a Democratic district you're running in but it is, at least for now, it is considered a relatively blue state, a democratic state, there are democratic majorities in the legislature, there's a Democratic governor, and I am in my view, I think corporate interests understand that they that while a state may be democratic, they have a vested financial interest in keeping a kind of status quo Democratic majority in the legislature as opposed to a progressive or change oriented Democratic majority in a democratic state. In other words, that the just because the state is blue, or a district is blue, or a state legislature is blue doesn't mean that that that big money interests aren't playing. I mean, you can look at New York, for instance, like, you know, all the corruption that comes out in New York, which is a blue state. And it's the same thing playing out here in Colorado, it's the same thing playing out all over the country. Now, I want to ask you about the local media coverage of this, in the congressional races that this same dynamic is playing out in because it's their congressional races, they are higher profile, the local media covers them somewhat. There's relatively little local media about your race, just like in other races like this, where the same dynamic is playing out at the state legislative level or the city council level, same thing, not very much media. But this race has now finally generated at least some attention because it's such a contested primary, so much money is coming in. And I want to play a clip from the local Denver news to give folks an idea of how they're framing this race,

NEWS CLIP 1:03:59
Epps, the farther left of the two left candidates would add to a growing roster of progressives at the state capitol, a far left wing of the Democrats who have at times fought their own party as well as Republicans.

David Sirota 1:04:11
So I want to ask you about this. They that was Nine News, the NBC News affiliate here. They are framing what you're pushing as quote far left. I want to hear your reaction to why they're you think they're calling you a quote, far left candidate not just left but far left. And whether you think that attack or that framing is fair, whether you think it could hurt your candidacy, what do you make of that? I mean, I know my thoughts on it, but I want to hear yours.

Elisabeth Epps 1:04:44
Well, it's not gonna surprise you to learn that I have a couple of thoughts about that. In that same piece. I appreciated that in the written companion piece. The intro sentence describes us quite starkly as myself being the progressive and my opponent being the centrist. I appreciate But that was completely accurate. So this this framing of far left, right, there's a couple of things. I will say that before running for office. And now the framing itself doesn't offend me, right, these labels are somewhat arbitrary to me, if it is considered far left to believe that your access to health insurance should not be dependent upon your employment status. Okay. Right, if it is far left to believe that you should have access to abortion care and reproductive justice rights, regardless of where you live in the state or whether or not you're employed, sign me up, right? If so, and I'm much more interested in in what they're attaching to it. Because these labels shift over over time, even just the course of this, this campaign, we saw my opponent and those who oppose me framing themselves as the middle and the ones who could work across the aisle. And once they're listening to HD six voters in hearing the HT six voters have saying maybe you should be a little less bipartisan, maybe since we have a majority, we should get things done. Now the framing is that they're attempting to say that I'm less progressive and just more far left. So I'm not offended by it on its own. It's superficial level, I think that the voters particularly in a, in a relatively, you know, confined area, that is Denver are going to be smart enough and nuanced enough to do going to Google and to to do their own work about that. I think that what's what's more important, right is recognizing for what's as important as recognizing that, you know, insert lecture about what happens when you have a duopoly in a political system, right? We can't go too far into that here. But we can recognize and you're a scholar of these things, and know that in Canada and France and the UK, and many places in the world, my opponent, I wouldn't even be in the same political party. Right. In no world, would we any more than then, you know, Representative Ocasio Cortez and President Biden would be in the same political party. So for my my vantage, right, as a Democrat who's working hard every day to win a Democratic primary, I'm glad that we have this big tent to the extent that it means that are what they want to call far left values, which are progressive values, which are, you know, the values I hold that they have a chance and that they're winning. And you know, we're winning, because they're dumping in half a million dollars, at least have money to crush it. So the framing, perhaps it should bother me more than it does. But I think I have a lot of confidence in people's ability, particularly at this level, to think past those labels and not be scared. You know, the status quo isn't working. So well. It's not my favorite framing, I think a more accurate one is that I'm a progressive democrat from the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party. I recognize that where exactly that is right now, is that where it would have been 10 years ago, and it'll shift in 10 years. So I'm definitely more interested in what policies are attached. And I guess I would just add to that, that, I certainly get asked to a version of this question right as HD six ready for fill in the blank and someone will suggest something about, you know, being too far left, and I'll invite them to tell me tell me what is the specific policy you're concerned about? Like which thing that I'm talking about health care drug policy? Which which of the things are you concerned is too far left? And often when I get a response, my suggestion is just well, Have you have you visited? And I know you haven't. But have you visited the Denver Democratic Party platform recently? Or have you visited the Colorado State Democratic Party platform, the things I'm advocating for and not just advocating for, but you know, achieving on things we're getting done in the legislature and community are the things that we as Democrats say we want. We say we don't want to return to a war on drugs. We say we support labor unions, we say we support renters rights and tenants rights. So it's a curious framing to suggest that to follow through on one's promises is itself far left.

David Sirota 1:08:15
I mean, I kind of triggered by the far in Far left in the sense of I feel like that is a term that kind of corporate legacy establishment uses to try to marginalize people, right? I actually don't believe that centrists are actually in the center of where public opinion. And I think this is all kind of linguistic, Orwellian linguistic framing, to try to marginalize What are broadly speaking, very, very popular positions and popular policies. And by the way, I don't think I know the reporter who who framed you that way, Marshalls Ehlinger, he's NBC reporter, he's a he's a good reporter. He's, you know, I don't think it's conscious. I don't think it's it's bad faith or motivated out of any conscious desire to insult you or anyone else who were where that term is used. But I think it's almost subconscious, like folks who want something like Medicare for all or folks who want really affordable housing programs, those are on the fringe on the far left, as opposed to it being a mainstream position. And it's also a reflection of what of what we consider to be mainstream. Now, I want to ask you, just so people understand how vicious these races can get, and again, we're talking about, you know, big money interest trying to buy Democratic primaries in and it should be added in democratic areas where the winner of the primary is going to be the presumptive winner of the general. There was this push poll controversy. A few weeks ago, there was a group, a business group, an independent expenditure committee. It did a push poll targeting primary voters that included some not so veiled shots at your political history at your character was very personal. Some have accused the poll of being again, a push poll, not only a push pull but overtly racist and including outrageous falsehoods. I just curious if you can explain what the hell happened, what you think that whole episode showed about the larger point we're talking about here about how, you know, big money interest coming into a local community to try to put the thumb on the scale of an election.

Elisabeth Epps 1:10:28
So so I'm going to gladly answer this question because it's posed from you. And I will tell you that when I've been asked about this in recent months, I'm quick to ask the the asker. If they're asking my opponent about it, right, she's the one who should be asked about it. Right. Her supporters should be the ones who were asked about it. But that said, I do have some thoughts. So here's the thing right in the framing of a push poll, and I had to talk a few people down from the ledge who were really upset who received this, it's not a this thing that they said is not a poll at all, I did see some screenshots of it. The simplest way to not know that it's not a real poll is if the question is posed, and it said, If you learned this fact about this candidate, would it make you write the options are, would it make you much less likely to vote for them, less likely to vote for them or no change? The poll didn't even include options of what it makes you more likely. So it's just like, superficially, like, they're not even trying. They're just skirting the boundaries of defamation law and being not nice people. So that's sort of number one. Number two is, I have not actually seen it and seen seeing the site seen the things Association. I've seen the screenshots that people people set, and I basically have a safety plan with my with my team, which is, you know, I'm like, if there's something about my family or something that I need to see you let me know, otherwise, y'all handle it. Let me run my race. That said, here's some things that we know, right, the very things, some of the very things that make me most fit for this job, right, which is overwhelmingly things of having survived, having overcome, having gotten through, you know, systems of racist policing, having been over prosecuted having been over policed, having been oversight over surveillance, to survive them and be upright and coming to claim what is ours as progressive leaders. Right, that is offensive to certain folks, his sensibilities? Right. So I understand that, that that shakes them. They've been used to buying elections, without it being this much work for a really long time. Not all elections, and not all candidates. But that that has been what they've been doing. The few things I saw, it's laughable to me, I understand why as journalists, folks would need to, but to suggest that something like might be racist, when No, it's just racist. It's just racist. Right? It's, that's it, I think about the low meme with the little boy who's like, that's racist. Like, that's exactly what I'm thinking about. In that case. It's, I want to say that it's okay, what and by this, I don't mean that it doesn't hurt or that it's not temporarily momentarily distracting, right? I'd rather be talking with you about this with another issue. But it's, it's a recognition that when folks, and I've just got to flatten the issue a little bit, when they cannot challenge you on actual experience. And when they cannot, for example, my opponent refuses to debate me, right? When you cannot actually challenge on substance or on fitness or on preparation, you're going to do the things we learned in you know, high school name calling. And and it's, it's, it does hurt like I can't pretend that it's me. I'm human, and I'm vulnerable. And it doesn't feel good. But it doesn't scare me. I believe that my neighbors are much sharper than this. I'm disappointed that this is still the way folks behave. And I'm disappointed that as Democrats I'm there's certain folks who have really missed an opportunity here to live their values, right? They walk around with their pride flags and their their Black Lives Matter pins. But like when a black queer woman is publicly under attack for things that are blatantly racist and homophobic and other things, they're conveniently silent. So that's okay. Okay, in the sense that it's not going to be the thing that derails us. But it's certainly unfortunate. And I think that one thing that's really important to point out, David is, is the attachment to the financial, just the financial issue. Right, right. Well, one of the least popular things, but most important things I'm going to work on in the legislature, least popular amongst my colleagues, some of my colleagues, I should say, but very popular amongst the electorate is true, meaningful, deep, substantive campaign reform, campaign finance reform at the state level. And you in leading into this last question you mentioned about, like your reaction to the word far left, and to me that's connected to this issue, the push poll that the negativity and the funding in this way, when I say my being not offended by the the phrasing of far left, I should have clarified, I think it's a not inaccurate representation of where certain elected officials are. Right. So as a progressive, if you are progressive, and you are unapologetically on the side of working folks and renters and teachers unions, you are in the relative far left of the 65 members of the State House of Representatives, right of those 65 people, right, that's gonna put me there's gonna be four of us over there right with it with a good cadre of a dozen, right, who are fighting to get in our ranks and move welcome and then, but you're absolutely right that amongst the electorate, it's not far left at all to believe that people shouldn't be evicted because they lost a job during COVID Right There's not far left at all amongst actual voters and community members to think that you should have health care even if you can't produce labor for a company. And so in connection to the poll, and while it is, it's hurtful, write things that are hurtful. It also is something that it's not going to be the thing that derails us and the folks who are responsible for it, I'll let them sit down with me at lunch and apologize. And we can still do good things. They can write, and we can still move, you know, we can do good things for Colorado. So that's how I see it.

David Sirota 1:15:26
And a good segue, this is a good segue to the to the last question that I have for you, which is, as with the experience of dealing with something as an example, like that push poll, or dealing with this flood of money, and all of the ways that it vilifies and demonize as a candidate like you, again, you're you're alone in this in this particular race, but you're among other people, everyone from Nina Turner, Summerlee. I mean, I could just go through the list of candidates right now, Democratic candidates in democratic areas who have faced big money attacks in blue districts in blue states, etc, etc. And I want to ask a personal question, which is, what would you tell people who are listening right now? What would you tell them about the personal experience? And how difficult it is to get involved in politics in the way you've gotten involved in the sense of running for office? putting yourself out there? I mean, what are the takeaways? What are the things you think people either don't understand enough about the process itself? And how difficult it can be?

Elisabeth Epps 1:16:36
So I hope that you will invite me back on and in July or August, I get through this, and I think I'll have a more nuanced answer. I recognize that in thinking about what I would say to someone who not just someone who's considering but someone who I would want to consider, right, because I think about that person. Very often, I am told by supporters online and off, they'll say warm versions and things like that. I'm just I don't mean to be not humble. But this is what they say. They'll say, first person running for office that I've trusted in a long time, or the first time I've donated since Baroque, or the first time I've knocked door since whoever and I and they're excited. And they're talking in a singular way. And what I remind them is, no, there's some fighters in our capital, I know him, I can name them. There are fighters that are capital, they need backup. They need backup, they need cover, they need support amongst their colleagues and amongst community. And so I too, right, I'm not putting any cart before that proverbial horse, but we get through this next three weeks and win this election, right to win the primary election. And then on to the general, I'm already thinking ahead, because the policies that we're going to work to implement when I'm in office are going to be ones that are going to need more progressives coming up behind. So that's my intro to say, there's an emotional part of me that says, Ron, don't do this. It's ridiculous. And there's a self interested part that says, if you are called, and you can do it, try, right, because there are more than us, of them. And by us, I mean, folks who have these, these values that you so rightly point out are not that far left at all, right? In this Democratic primary, you mentioned, folks folks taking issue with my past commentary about my beloved political party, right, the party is not gonna save us, right? I'm a Democrat, and I'm proud, I can't say the word proud to be a Democrat, but the party itself is not going to save us, we're going to save us, right? We need independence and unaffiliated to win our races, right to help us guide policy. And so my advice to someone who is considering is, please do because we need you. But I also recognize that I'm just gonna phrase this as delicately as I am, as I as I enable is my path to being this position. The fact that at this point in the race, both my the other side, and I have both raised about At last report something like $160,000 Each, where mine is with an average donation of $45, something like that, and no PAC money, right? No, no corporate PAC money, no, no special interest, hers is half of it is that money, my path to being able to do this is not terribly replicable. So I recognize that the organic way that I came to this isn't necessarily everyone's path. But I think what it does represent is a very strong indication that when community selects one of our own community surrounds and community donates, and community knocks, doors and community pours into you emotionally, and we'll get it done. So part of my work in the next two years is to help find and mentor and and help those people get get to where I plan to be. And I will say that, you know, folks, not unlike a legislator, you know, well have been there when I've needed to cry and get through it. And we've got a lot of heads. So it's a long winded way of saying I don't know that in good faith. I could tell particularly a black woman that I could tell her she needs to do this because I think she doesn't owe us anything. But if there's a way that she safely and bravely and navigate it has the emotional fortitude that I want her to know that I'm going to be one of the people holding her hand and helping her through to the other side.

David Sirota 1:20:07
Well, I can just tell you, our family, when we went through a primary like this a couple years ago, it was probably the hardest thing our family our entire family ever went through. And it was Emily. And I just I'm even thinking back to it, I'm getting a little bit choked up because it was it was like all the gray hair on my head is from that race. I mean, I think I aged like five years on that campaign, or 10 years. It's, it is a brutal, brutal process when it's a super contested primary like it is. And I just, you know, I want to thank you for, for being in the arena, if you will, and being willing to do it. And I should I should add one last thing. Where can our audience that's listening? Where can they go find you and support your campaign?

Elisabeth Epps 1:20:46
Well, please do and I need you to. And so we've got just a few weeks to win this and we will together my website is Elizabeth epps.com. Just my first and last name. nosey. Don't go, I don't know who the Elizabeth within z is. But e li sa B E th e PP. s.com. And it has the ways to get involved. We are canvassing every single day, right. We've talked a lot in our time together about about the opposition and their outsized corporate funding and outside money. But we have what they don't have, right we have people use the word grassroots like we are that we have people power, we have volunteers, and we are winning. And that's why they're so scared. So we need everyone who can to sign up both to volunteer and to donate. Donating helps us get our message out these last few weeks. And even in terms of volunteering. If you're in Denver, I want you with me on doors. If you're not in Denver, you can help us phonebank remote text and do other things to support the campaign. This truly is people powered and it is very much what has corporate interest Chuck because they can't outspend that. So appreciate any help that folks can give.

David Sirota 1:21:45
The primary is June 28. Here in Colorado, Elizabeth Epps Good luck to you. Thanks so much for taking time today.

Elisabeth Epps 1:21:51
Thank you so much. Appreciate you.

David Sirota 1:21:55
That's it for today's show. As a reminder, our paid subscribers who get lever time premium get to hear our bonus segment. This week was the best of lever live where we took questions from our listeners live on the air. You can join us every Monday night at 7pm. Eastern for lever live. Go to lever news.com/lever Live for all the details. listeners can subscribe to lever time premium by heading over to lever news.com. When you subscribe you get when you subscribe. You also get access to all of the Levers website, our weekly newsletters and our exclusive live events. And that's all for the criminally low price of just eight bucks a month or 70 bucks for the year. One last favor. Please be sure to like subscribe and write up a review for lever time on your favorite podcast app. And make sure to head and make sure to head over to lever news.com and check out all of the reporting our team has been doing. Until next time, I'm David Sirota rock the

Unknown Speaker 1:22:52

Transcribed by https://otter.ai