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Blowing Up The Billionaires’ Big Con — And Its Connection To Covid-19

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

About 75 percent of Americans trusted the federal government to "do what is right" when polled during most of the last years of the Eisenhower administration and early years of Lyndon B. Johnson's presidency.

In 2019, when the Pew Research Center released its most recent poll of public trust in the government, only 17 percent of Americans trusted their government. It's so bad that armed protesters have shown up nationwide to protest the "tyranny" of having to wear masks during a pandemic… and have been cheered on by the president of the United States and Fox News.

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An Open Letter Of Thanks To Trump Voters From The Billionaires

Dear Joe,

Sorry, if your name isn’t actually Joe, Joe. But that’s what we call anyone who isn’t in the top 1 percent. “Joe the Plumber” liked it so much that he still lets us call him that, even though his first name is Samuel. “Samuel the Plumber” sounds like a character from kids’ book about a precocious yet handy mouse. Joe got that. He’s a good Joe and so are you, Joe.

Anyway, we just wanted to say a quick thanks for voting for Donald Trump without paying nearly any attention to what his actual policies would be. It’s the least we can do, given that you’ve already done so much for us.

Whether we enjoy restoring natural coal-flavoring to river water or seeing the cabinet stocked with our fellow billionaires and buddies from Goldman Sachs, it’s the little things — like being allowed to destroy the climate so we can be a tiny bit richer — that we appreciate so very much.

We get it, Trump voters. It’s not easy to be a minority, as our housekeepers might insist if we let them learn English. But you approximately 70,000 voters in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan deserve a big thanks and a tiny tax break that will ultimately make sure you never get to retire.

Well played, as our caddies say, each and every hole.

Now we have to make a confession, even though confession is a tool we generally use to keep the powerless indebted to us: We didn’t think you’d actually do it.

We knew the problem with Romney was that he was too poor, too nice to Mexicans and actually paid some taxes? Mitt got crap for his binders full of women, so we never imagined that the solution was nominate a beauty pageant owner known for “wandering” in on Miss Teen USA contestants while they were changing.

As our new Secretary of Energy Rick Perry would say, “Oops.”

We spent decades and hundreds of millions of dollars spreading the idea that rich people are geniuses who if left unmolested would make you a working-class millionaire or at least protect you from the government, which only cares about helping “them.” But we thought we needed a smiling Reagan or a cuddle-bug Rubio who didn’t inherit his life or brag about grabbing women in their baby spot to pull it off.

You may know that Trump never quite fit in with us billionaires. He always stood out like a sore thumb, which is the name of the toner he uses to get that unusual skin color. But we didn’t think that his penchant for stiffing contractors and workers, and trading in a wife each decade, as if there were some sort of lease, would make him more relatable to you.

We honestly thought that Trump’s dependence on government bailouts, and his refusal to pay taxes or veterans’ charities, would end up costing us the House. Little did we know that if we put a rich guy at a board-room-table TV set, and let him fire Flavor Flav, he would look like a genius, at least compared to Mike Pence.

Now look what we have: a delicious tax break for us, dressed up as a health care reform plan. We billionaires in the richest/best 400 families get a $7 million a year tax break. You? You get a chance to pay more for worse health insurance!

We admire your willingness to sacrifice so that our service animals never have to worry about flying anything but private.

Trump and the GOP figured out that the reason you hate the individual mandate is that the tax penalty goes to the government and too few people pay it. So very soon 30 million Americans will be able to pay a mandate penalty directly to the insurance companies (which will make us richer, too).

And that’s not all!

AARP estimates that a 64-year-old who makes $15,000 a year could see an $8,400 hike in premiums, before you add in copays. That and a chance to deport immigrants who want to pay taxes, and ban Muslims who want to flee ISIS,  is what your generation gets for backing Trump by a nine percent margin!

Your generosity toward us, the billionaires who need it least, will not be forgotten. In fact, we’re going to put a fair share of this tax break and the other tax breaks Trump is planning for us right back into the system. We’re going to invest in elections in all 50 states until we’ve made it so hard to vote that only seniors — the good kind with IDs — who have all day to wait in line (and people with limo drivers to hold their place) can do it.

Then as we’re gutting Medicaid and later Medicare, we’re going to show our appreciation by not laying a finger on Social Security, until Trump’s second term or late in his first — depending how this Russia stuff pans out.

You believed in Trump, despite his willingness to lie about his crowd size, his anatomy, and anything else that could possibly be considered phallic. So now we know that anything is possible.

You thought Mexico was going to pay for the wall? Uh, no.

You thought Trump would punish China? Instead he’s opening the door for it to dominate the Western hemisphere.

You thought he cared about you? Well, he could! Just pay Mar-A-Lago’s $200,000 annual membership fee.

So thanks again, Joe. If there’s ever anything we billionaires can do for you, please don’t hesitate to let Donald Trump know about it. Surely, he’ll get to it after he releases his tax returns and finishes suing the women who accused him of sexual assault.

Hearts,

The Real Billionaires

IMAGE: President Donald Trump (L) watches as Vice President Mike Pence (R) swears in Steve Mnuchin as Treasury Secretary in the Oval Office, February 13, 2017. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

 

It’s Time To Take America’s Billionaire Class Head On

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Combatting defeatism may be our single most important psychological objective in the wake of the election. We need to revive the spirit embodied in Barack Obama’s vague but hopeful campaign slogan in 2008 — “Yes We Can.” At the federal level this is a time to expose, to educate, and to resist. But at the state and local level we can act proactively to fashion strategies that both embrace progressive values and directly benefit those who mistakenly voted for Donald Trump as an economic savior. This is the first in a series of pieces focusing on what can be done.

The Giveaway

Over the next 6-12 months Congress will almost certainly give the richest 1 percent of the population an income tax gift totaling some $75-150 billion. The 1 percent, with annual incomes averaging $1.3 million, will capture 47 percent of the tax cuts for an average annual tax saving of $214,000 each, the non-partisan Tax Policy Center estimates based on Trump’s proposal, which does not differ dramatically from that of the House Republicans.

The top 0.1 percent, a population comprised of only 117,000 taxpayers who earn, on average, $37 million a year, will see their tax bill slashed by $1.3 million. The top .001 percent of taxpayers, fewer than 1,400 individuals, who earn a dizzying $160 million annually, may see their bank accounts swell by some $10 million.

Profligacy is reserved for the few. For the many this administration and Congress will be downright tightfisted. The bottom 20 percent of the population, some 80 million low-income and working-class people, will receive on average a $100 income tax reduction. By one estimate, given the whole package of proposed changes, almost 9 million families could actually see their taxes increase.

Adding insult to injury, the Trump tax plan would not only give the wealthy far larger dollar benefits, but it actually reduces taxes on the wealthy by a greater percentage.

The Response

It will be virtually impossible to stop this unprecedented giveaway. But states can fight back. They can raise state income taxes on the rich in proportion to the reductions at the federal level, diverting as much of the massive federal tax gift as possible from the pockets of the 1 percent into public investments, public services, and support for the 99 percent.

State-based campaigns that focus on progressive income taxes will illuminate the dangers of the increasing concentration of private wealth and its relationship to the increasing impoverishment of public services, wage stagnation and widespread privation. They can address fundamental questions. How are we connected? Do we have a responsibility to one another and to future generations?

Class Matters

Those who now run Washington insist the “me” should take precedence over the “we,” that the private is superior to the public. Michigan Republican State House Speaker Tom Leonard, who proposes eliminating the state’s income tax, already the lowest in the country, justified his stance by invoking a common meme, “This is the people’s money, not ours.” We need to make clear that, given the current distribution of tax breaks and the unprecedented concentration of wealth, the attitude of the 1 percent might more accurately be summarized as, “This is our money, not the people’s.”

Despite the election of Donald Trump, a clear message of this election was that the American people believe that class matters. They are outraged that the top 1 percent have captured 99 percent of all new income generated since 2009 and amassed more wealth than 95 percent of the population. They understand the inherent unfairness and danger when 400 individuals have more wealth than 150 million Americans.

Bernie Sanders emphasized this unfairness and promoted a steep increase in taxes on millionaires and came within a whisker of being the Democrats’ nominee. Hillary Clinton favored raising taxes on the rich and won nationally by almost 3 million votes. And at least one pre-election survey by the Rand Corporation found that over half of those intending to vote for Trump supported increasing taxes on the wealthy.

The Consequences

The tax gift to the rich will demand real sacrifice from the poor and the middle class—more closed state parks, fewer health services, overcrowded classrooms, more prison unrest. The House tax plan will reduce federal revenues by $3 trillion in the first 10 years; Trump’s plan will reduce them by $9.5 trillion according to the Tax Policy Center. The administration appears to agree with the higher estimate given that Trump’s staff proposes federal spending cuts of $10.5 trillion over the next decade.

The brunt of these cuts will occur in the non-defense part of the discretionary budget. Spending on Medicaid, science, veterans’ benefits, food stamps, job training, health research, disaster assistance, housing assistance, national parks, roads and transit will suffer disproportionately. Indeed, Trump proposed during the campaign an increase in military aid to be “fully offset” by reduced spending on social insurance and public works.

These reductions will put even more pressure on already strapped state and municipal budgets. Federal government spending comprises, on average, 30 percent of state revenues. This varies from a high of 43 percent in Mississippi to a low of 21 percent in Hawaii. Red states, where politicians rail against federal spending, are more dependent on Washington than blue states. A recent Associated Press survey found that 33 states are currently dealing with a budget shortfall or expect to confront one in the coming fiscal year.

Why Raise State Income Taxes?

The premise of state-based campaigns focusing on fairness and the obligations of citizenship is that the major problem is not a stagnating economy. The economy is growing. The problem is that all the benefits of that growth are going to a tiny portion of the population while the rest of us experience stagnating wages, declining benefits, and dwindling public services.

Within states the income dynamic mirrors that of the nation as a whole. According to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) in Arizona, the top 1 percent increased their incomes by 73 percent while the bottom 99 percent saw their incomes drop by 6 percent. In Washington the difference was 142 percent to 1 percent; in Wisconsin it was 120 percent to 4 percent and in Indiana 76 percent to zero.

Raising state income taxes and thereby diverting federal tax breaks to the wealth into state spending will arguably benefit not only that state, but also the nation. The majority of federal discretionary spending goes to the military, and in the future its proportion will likely increase. Meanwhile all state spending goes to health, education, welfare, and transportation. The economic impact of military spending is far less than that of non-defense spending. Each military dollar grows the economy by 60-70 cents, according to research by Robert Barro and Charles Redlick. On the other hand, each federal dollar spent on food stamps grows the economy by $1.74 and by $1.36 if spent on general aid to state governments, according to Moody’s Mark Zandi.

State campaigns can also make a strong case that giving money to the rich is an ineffective and inefficient way to boost the economy.

Giving money to the rich has a similar low-yielding dynamic to spending it on the military. Since the rich spend much less of a tax cut than those of lower incomes tax cuts for high earners boost employment less than those for low earners. An analysis of the 2008 Bush stimulus cuts found that for every $1 in cuts, high income households spent 77 cents while low income spent $1.28. (The authors explain that a stimulus can increase average total spending by more than its own value, if it tips the balance for enough people to make large purchases like computers or cars that are purchased on credit.)

Taxing Labor and Capital

Congress wants to cut the tax on capital, which because of past tax cuts, already is taxed at about half the rate as income from labor. Most of us earn our income by working. The rich are different. They earn most of their money from capital, not labor. In 2007, wages and salaries accounted for only 40 percent of the income of the richest 1 percent, according to Professor Alexander Hicks. Sixty percent came from profits, dividends, interest, rent, and capital gains. For the richest 0.1 percent, the figure is almost 70 percent.

Those who favor even further cuts in taxes on capital argue this will increase private savings, which will increase investment. The evidence is that it will do neither. Indeed, the Congressional Research Service has examined the issue from the opposite direction addressing the question, “What would be the impact of increasing capital gains tax rates?” It concludes that doing so “appear(s) to increase public saving and may have little or no effect on private saving. Consequently, capital gains tax increases likely have a positive overall impact on national saving and investment.”

Most states tax income from capital at the same rate as income from labor. Thus raising the state income tax will raise the state tax on capital gains. In a state like California, the top tax rate on income from capital, at 13.3 percent, nearly that of the federal rate, if Republican tax proposals become law.

The False Benefit of State Tax Cuts

State tax cuts do not stimulate economic growth. They generate deficits, which because of the states’ constitutional requirement to balance their budgets, results in reduced public spending, which itself reduces economic growth. According to economist Robert Lynch, “there is little evidence that state and local tax cuts—when paid for by reducing public services—stimulate economic activity or create jobs…”

Researchers at the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution conclude, “We find that states have no good reasons to believe that cuts in income tax rates will bring the desired benefits. Yet, states continue to erode their tax bases in the name of economic growth during a time when few states can afford to cut services, such as education and infrastructure repair that are critical for both businesses and households.”

As Michael Leachman and Michael Mazerov of CBPP point out, the historical evidence is compelling. In the 1990s states with the biggest income tax cuts experienced job growth during the next economic cycle at an average rate only one-third as large as states with less significant or no cuts. From 2000 to 2007 four of the six states that reduced personal income taxes significantly saw their share of national employment decline. (The other two states are major oil and natural gas producers.) Since 2010, four of the five states that have enacted the largest personal income tax cuts have had slower job growth afterwards than has the nation as a whole.

Kansas is the poster child for this dynamic. After its legislature slashed personal income taxes in 2012, state revenue decreased by $1 billion a year. Newly elected Governor Sam Brownback insisted, “Our new pro-growth tax policy will be like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.” Instead, since December 2012, Kansas experienced job growth of 2.4 percent compared to 6.9 percent in the rest of the nation.

Some argue that raising taxes on the rich will lead them to leave the state, resulting in a net loss in state revenue. The empirical evidence contradicts that argument. An analysis of New Jersey, a good test case because the tax increase there was large (from 6.37 to 8.97 percent) and many New Jersey residents can easily move to neighboring states New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut without changing where they work, found little movement. Charles Varner and Cristobal Young of Stanford found that only 80 of the roughly 40,000 people who earned over $500,000 a year left New Jersey. Professor Varner observes, “the loss in revenues … is very small compared to the revenue gain.”

After an extensive review of the literature, Mazerov concludes, “No state has ever lost revenue by raising taxes on rich people.”

A state-based campaign could personalize the impact of inequitable tax cuts and the resulting inequitable spending cuts. It could focus on the meaningless of additional money for billionaires and the centrality of money for a growing number of us.

Consider what has happened in Oklahoma. Oklahoma reduced its income taxes, resulting in over $1 billion a year in reduced state revenues. The wealthiest 1 percent of households cumulatively received nearly the same share of the tax cuts as the bottom 80 percent. The median Oklahoma household saw tax reductions of $228, compared to $15,519 for the average household in the top 1 percent. The bottom 20 percent of households received an average of just $4 per year.

While gaining virtually nothing from the tax cuts, the vast majority suffered from the accompanying spending reductions. The state’s Medicaid agency eliminated dental services for low-income adults.

More than 7,300 families are on a waiting list for home and community-based services for those with developmental disabilities, and the wait has extended to 10 years. The number of teachers decreased, class sizes grew, and class offerings and programs were eliminated. An acute teacher recruitment and retention crisis has forced districts across the state to issue emergency certifications to under-qualified teachers or leave positions unfilled. Oklahoma’s correctional facilities are operating at more than 10 percent above inmate capacity but with 30 percent less staffing, creating threats to the safety of staff, prisoners, and the public.

State Income Taxes: The Lay of the Land

In the 1970s, on average, states raised their income tax rates. In 1980 they were two times higher than sales tax rates. Beginning in the 1980s, however, states consistently lowered income taxes while raising sales taxes. Today, according to Elizabeth McNichol of CBPP, the median state sales tax rate is equal to the median state top income tax rate.

The result has been to make state and local taxes, on the whole, regressive. The share of income paid by the poorest 20 percent is twice that of the richest 1 percent. Unsurprisingly, the disparity is widest in states without an income tax. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy reports that Washington’s working class pays seven times more taxes, as a share of income, than its super-wealthy. Maine and Minnesota’s tax structures come closest to treating the poor the same as the rich. In fact, Maine’s recently passed income tax surcharge on the wealthy may make it the only state that has a progressive tax system when all state and local taxes are included.

Typically, personal income taxes generate one third of state revenues in states that have an income tax. As noted above, federal spending accounts for another 30 percent of state revenues.

Forty-three states impose an income tax. Seven impose no income taxes (AK, FL, NV, SD, TX, WA, and WY). Eight states have flat taxes (CO, IL, IN, MA, MI, NC, PA, and UT).

Top marginal tax rates for states imposing an income tax vary by a factor of three, ranging from a low of 4.25 percent in Michigan and 4.54 percent in Arizona to 10.15 percent in Maine and 13.3 percent in California.

A History of Failure and Success

Can a campaign focusing on fairness, equity, and responsibility win? The signs are mixed.

Between 2000 and 2009 10 states raised income taxes on the wealthy. Between 2005 and 2015 about a dozen decreased them. In some cases the same state both raised and lowered income tax rates. New York, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Maine fall in that category.

In 2012, by a wide margin, Californians voted to raise top tax rates by 30 percent. (Only 3 percent of taxpayers are affected.) In 2016 they voted to extend that tax hike.

In 2016, the people of Maine voted narrowly to approve a 40 percent hike in their top tax rate despite the opposition of the governor and most political leaders. The increase will raise $142 million the first year and $12 million additionally each year thereafter.

Both California and Maine’s initiatives dedicated the new money to education.

On the other hand, in 2010, Washingtonians decisively defeated an initiative to introduce a state income tax for the first time, initially imposed just on the rich. In 2011, Colorado voters just as decisively rejected an initiative to raise the income tax despite the increased revenue being dedicated to education. (In 2016, an initiative petition, targeting a modest income tax increase restricted to the rich wasn’t submitted in time.)

Constitutional barriers will pose high barriers to progressive tax reform in some states. This appears to be the case in Illinois and may be the case in Colorado. Michigan’s 1963 state constitution flatly states, “No income tax graduated as to rate or base shall be imposed by the state or any of its subdivisions.” Louisiana, Oklahoma, and California require a two-thirds favorable vote in the legislature to raise taxes, although the question can be put on the ballot by petition.

The Changing Landscape

State campaigns may be aided by the changing landscape of tax reform. In the face of deteriorating roads and overcrowded schools, even those who ideologically favor reducing taxes are conceding that increased revenues are needed. And drastic cuts in federal aid will exacerbate the problems faced by state legislators. Currently they almost always favor increasing sales taxes. For example, in recent years some 20 states have raised gas taxes to pay for sorely need infrastructure. Nevertheless, once the conversation focuses on how to tax rather than whether to tax, the discussion, but once the tax taboo is overcome, the conversation about equity and the income tax may be facilitated.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is promoting a tax hike for millionaires to pay for the state’s $3.5 billion budget deficit. Montana’s Governor Steve Bullock similarly proposes a tax hike on the wealthy. Washington Governor Jay Inslee advocates a tax on capital gains. Alaskan Governor Bill Walker raised the possibility of a new state income tax to pay for that state’s large budget deficit, although he recently backed off from that proposal.

Voters may be showing their dissatisfaction with continual tax cuts that result in deteriorating public services—even in Red states. In November 2016 the Republican voters of Kansas declared their frustration with state policies that consistently cut public services to reduce deficits caused by tax giveaways to the rich. The Atlantic summarized some aspects of that dissatisfaction, “Moderate Republican candidates ousted 14 conservative state legislators allied with the governor in primary elections across the state, while anti-Brownback contenders won nominations for open seats in another seven races.”

People who ideologically oppose taxes often change their minds when their car hits a deep pothole. Or when the response time for 911 calls significantly lengthens. Or when their kids can no longer attend after school activities. Or when state parks are closed.

Private splendor and public squalor has never been more evident. While the recent election gave federal power to those who would widen the gap, state and local governments, the governments closest to the people, are where increasing needs, the perilous state of public services, and the growing disparity between the super-wealthy and the rest of us may offer fertile ground for progressive strategies that largely benefit those who voted for Trump.

David Morris directs The Public Good Initiative at the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

IMAGE: A street sign is seen in front of the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street in New York, February 10, 2009. REUTERS/Eric Thayer

The Corporate Media Isn’t Coming Close To Holding Trump Accountable

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

One of Donald Trump’s first official acts as president was to sign an executive order that will make it more expensive for first-time and low-income homebuyers to buy and keep their homes. His second act was to, among other possible effects, tell the IRS to quit trying to collect the Obamacare tax from people with incomes over a million dollars a year (and begin taking the Affordable Care Act apart in other ways).

But the big media story?

“Trump claims the media lied about the size of his inaugural crowds.”

Increasingly, it appears that the media are simply compliant patsies to whomever is in power, with a higher commitment to sensationalism than to issues that impact everyday Americans.

Throughout the primaries and the general election we finished last November, the media were committed to “issues-free” coverage (except when Bernie came on and took them to task). No discussion of climate change. No discussion of GOP efforts to destroy the social safety net. No discussion of Republican candidates (or, for that matter, Democratic candidates) who were in the pockets of particular billionaires or industries. No discussion of net neutrality (the companies that own our big media are unanimously opposed to net neutrality, so their millionaire News Stars never, ever discuss the topic). No discussion of corporate consolidation or control over Congress. No discussion of the role of billionaires in the election.

Instead, we got a reality show, filled with drama and name-calling, and devoid of information necessary to know who’d govern on behalf of whom.

The average person watching the news would never know that the billionaires almost certainly got a big tax cut (ultimately at the expense of poor working people on Medicaid/Obamacare) while first-time homebuyers just got screwed with two of Trump’s first official acts in office. And Fox News viewers, of course, will probably never know such things.

Throughout the campaign season, Donald Trump (and team) displayed both their contempt for and their domination of the corporate media in America. Whenever things started to get serious in ways that might actually bring up issues, Trump was off with another new tweetstorm, and the millionaire TV News Stars ran, stampede-like, to cover it.

There’s a simple reality here: The Republican Party is the wholly owned front for billionaires and transnational corporations. The Democratic Party, since the creation of Al From and Bill Clinton’s DLC, have aspired to become the same only for the “white collar top 10%” (as Thomas Frank so brilliantly documents in his new book Listen Liberal!) – although there are still Democratic politicians who are relatively or entirely independent of corporate/billionaire control.

But the press won’t ever tell you this. Why?

Why won’t the press point out that our national debt is also the principle place for private savings to be safely parked – but Wall Street banksters want competition for a place to put savings ended by ending the national debt? Why don’t they even bother to note that the one and only time the national debt was paid off and thus the only place private savings could go was to the banks, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, brought us the longest and deepest depression in our nation’s history?

Why won’t the press point out that the same Wall Street banksters (at least five of them within Trump’s inner circle) also want all retirement savings to be in their hands via the privatization of Social Security? Wall Street looks at the $2.7 trillion in the Social Security Trust Fund, thinking that if they could just skim even 1% or 2% in fees off the top, that they’d be soooooo much richer, and nobody in the press thinks it’s even worthy of mention.

Similarly, there’s no mention whatsoever in the media about the role Big Pharma and the health insurance banksters (they only handle money; no “insurance” company employee ever treated anybody medically) play in skimming hundreds of billions of dollars out of our economy. Even Democratic senator Corey Booker recently voted on the side of Big Pharma, one of his major campaign contributors, and while the vote was noted, the money he’s taken was rarely mentioned in the mainstream media.

The Republican Party is largely a racket controlled by big industry and a few hundred very, very wealthy people. This same cancer has similarly infected the Democratic Party, although it’s at least salvageable.

The reason the corporate media isn’t pointing out what, in previous eras was called “political corruption,” is because the media is part of the same corrupt system. Between Reagan and Clinton (Fairness Doctrine and Telecommunications Act of 1996), the media has gone from literally over 10,000 owners all across the nation to a mere dozen or so. And, public companies all, their interest is not in having an informed public, but in making the most money they can.

Today’s corporate media bears little resemblance to our Founders’ notion of a free press – which they argued was necessary to a functioning democratic republic – for the same reason our legislators make laws that benefit the top 1% with consistent regularity, but largely ignore the bottom 90%’s needs and desires altogether.

This is not the result of “bad people” in either party or in the media. It’s cooked into the system, thanks in large part to Lewis Powell and our Supreme Court.

A year before Richard Nixon put Lewis Powell on the Supreme Court in 1972, Powell authored the now-infamous (although largely unread) “Powell Memo” to his friend who ran the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

That memo urged business – which at that time was largely apolitical – to get actively involved in every dimension of American life.  Create “think tanks” to get the “pro-business” (and pro-billionaire) point of view embedded into everything from our media to our schools. Privatize everything possible.

In The Crash of 2016 (a book about how the Powell Memo has flipped the entire nature of our nation), I pointed out:

As Powell wrote, “Strength lies in organization, in careful long-range planning and implementation, in consistency of action over an indefinite period of years, in the scale of financing available only through joint effort, and in the political power available only through united action and national organizations.” Thus, Powell said, “The role of the National Chamber of Commerce is therefore vital.”

In the nearly 6,000-word memo, Powell called on corporate leaders to launch an economic and ideological assault on college and high school campuses, the media, the courts, and Capitol Hill.

The objective was simple: the revival of the Royalist-controlled so-called “free market” system.

Or, as Powell put it, “[T]he ultimate issue…[is the] survival of what we call the free enterprise system, and all that this means for the strength and prosperity of America and the freedom of our people.”

The first area of attack Powell encouraged the Chamber to focus on was the education system. “[A] priority task of business—and organizations such as the Chamber—is to address the campus origin of this hostility [to big business],” Powell wrote.

What worried Powell in 1971 was the new generation of young Americans growing up to resent corporate culture. He believed colleges were filled with “Marxist professors,” and that the pro-business agenda of Harding, Coolidge, and Hoover had fallen into disrepute since the Great Depression. He knew that winning this war of economic ideology in America required spoon-feeding the next generation of leaders the doctrines of a free-market theology, from high school all the way through graduate and business school.

At the time, college campuses were rallying points for the progressive activism sweeping the nation as young people demonstrated against poverty, the Vietnam War, and in support of civil rights.

So Powell put forward a laundry list of ways the Chamber could retake the higher-education system. First, create an army of corporate-friendly think tanks that could influence education. “The Chamber should consider establishing a staff of highly qualified scholars in the social sciences who do believe in the system,” he wrote.

Then, go after the textbooks. “The staff of scholars,” Powell wrote, “should evaluate social science textbooks, especially in economics, political science and sociology…This would include assurance of fair and factual treatment of our system of government and our enterprise system, its accomplishments, its basic relationship to individual rights and freedoms, and comparisons with the systems of socialism, fascism and communism.”

Powell argued that the civil rights movement and the labor movement were already in the process of rewriting textbooks. “We have seen the civil rights movement insist on re-writing many of the textbooks in our universities and schools. The labor unions likewise insist that textbooks be fair to the viewpoints of organized labor.” Powell was concerned the Chamber of Commerce was not doing enough to stop this growing progressive influence and replace it with a pro-plutocratic perspective.

“Perhaps the most fundamental problem is the imbalance of many faculties,” Powell then pointed out. “Correcting this is indeed a long-range and difficult project. Yet, it should be undertaken as a part of an overall program. This would mean the urging of the need for faculty balance upon university administrators and boards of trustees.” As in, the Chamber needs to infiltrate university boards in charge of hiring faculty to make sure only corporate-friendly professors are hired.

But Powell’s recommendations weren’t exclusive to college campuses; he targeted high schools as well. “While the first priority should be at the college level, the trends mentioned above are increasingly evidenced in the high schools. Action programs, tailored to the high schools and similar to those mentioned, should be considered,” he urged.

Next, Powell turned the corporate dogs on the media. As Powell instructed, “Reaching the campus and the secondary schools is vital for the long-term. Reaching the public generally may be more important for the shorter term.”

Powell added, “It will…be essential to have staff personnel who are thoroughly familiar with the media, and how most effectively to communicate with the public.”

He then went on to advocate that same system used for the monitoring of college textbooks be applied to television and radio networks. “This applies not merely to so-called educational programs…but to the daily ‘news analysis’ which so often includes the most insidious type of criticism of the enterprise system.”

Prior to 1976, giving money to politicians or political action committees or their equivalents was considered a “behavior,” which could be regulated.  From the George Washington administration until 1976, money in politics was repeatedly tightened and loosened (invariably by or after “bribery” scandals).

But in 1976, in a Supreme Court case titled Buckley v. Valeo, Lewis Powell succeeded in laying the foundation for changing virtually all the rules governing money in politics.

Attacking legislation passed in the wake of the Nixon scandals (which included Nixon taking bribes), Powell and his colleagues wrote in the Buckley case:

The Act’s contribution and expenditure limitations operate in an area of the most fundamental First Amendment activities. Discussion of public issues and debate on the qualifications of candidates are integral to the operation of the system of government established by our Constitution. The First Amendment affords the broadest protection to such political expression in order ‘to assure (the) unfettered interchange of ideas for the bringing about of political and social changes desired by the people. …

A restriction on the amount of money a person or group can spend on political communication during a campaign necessarily reduces the quantity of expression by restricting the number of issues discussed, the depth of their exploration, and the size of the audience reached.

Within a decade, an explosion of now-familiar right-wing/pro-corporate, pro-billionaire think tanks and groups had formed, and they’ve largely shaped the contours of our American political dialogue. Using Buckley as its basis, the Court then extended the logic – blowing open the doors to corporate and billionaire money – in 2010’s Citizens’ United case.

Given that Trump will almost certainly appoint to the Supreme Court justices who will extend and expand “corporate personhood rights” and “billionaire rights” to own politicians and political parties, perhaps for the next generation or more (and given that these “rights” have never, ever been put into law by any legislature), it’s unlikely the deep, systemic corruption of our government by petro-billionaires and their friends will be uprooted. Thus, it’s similarly unlikely that Congress or the president will do anything to push our “news” organizations back to covering the news, instead of providing us with bread-and-circus infotainment.

Which leaves us with only one option: organize, with the ultimate goal of reclaiming political power.

As legendary talk show host Joe Madison loves to point out, we have to take this “moment” and turn it into a “movement.”

Now is not a time to tune out or move to Mexico. It’s time to organize, speak out, and take control of the Democratic Party, and build a broad and deep progressive grass-roots infrastructure outside the Party as well.

Show up. Volunteer. Bring your friends.

Although President Jimmy Carter told me last year on my radio show that American is now “an oligarchy, with unlimited political bribery,” there are still shreds and remnants of democracy left in our society.  It’s up to us to bring them back to life.

Tag, you’re it.

Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host. His newest book is “The Crash of 2016: The Plot to Destroy America — and What We Can Do to Stop It.

IMAGE: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump points at the gathered media during his walk through at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, U.S., July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Rick Wilking