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@Thom_Hartmann

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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Wingnuts Pursue Bizarre War Against ’Tyranny’ Of Masking

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

The bizarre "conservative" idea of "freedom" has struck again.

Margaret Sullivan reported in the Washington Post on a new study that shows what we all intuited: people who get their news from Fox and right-wing hate radio—both promoting the idea that the economy is more important than your health—are less likely to understand the reality of COVID-19 and therefore more likely to get sick and cause themselves and others to die.

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Why Trump’s Promotion Of Maskless Stupidity May Cost Him Re-Election

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

Every advanced democracy in the world has their coronavirus epidemic largely under control except the United States. And we're on the verge of melting down again because a substantial minority of Americans simply don't know the basic science of how an epidemic works and why wearing masks is part of breaking the epidemic chain.

Hopefully you can help your Trumpy friends understand, by sharing this short article with them.

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Next Wave Of Covid-19 Deaths Will Be Rural, Poor, And White

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

What do you call a crisis that kills a hundred thousand Americans? It all depends on who does the dying.

At first, it seemed like it was mostly white people infected and/or killed by the coronavirus.

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Trump And GOP Are Blatantly Encouraging Foreign Dictators To Hack The 2020 Election

It looks like Donald Trump and the leadership of the GOP are encouraging other countries to hack our upcoming 2020 election.

Donald Trump is sucking up to dictators, strongman oligarchs, and autocrats around the world, while Mitch McConnell is using political brute force to prevent individual states from hardening their election systems. Why?

Looking at the entire picture in context, consider Karl Marx’s favorite question: “Who benefits?”

Who benefits when the leaders of countries with sophisticated internet hacking capabilities (North Korea, Saudi Arabia) and no democratic oversight are told by Trump that as long as he’s in office he has their backs?

Might Trump and McConnell hope they’ll intervene in our election to keep in power a political party that now disdains democracy and a free press, and embraces dictatorial behavior like calling for the imprisonment of Trump’s political rivals, and of individuals in the intelligence agencies who have investigated him and the GOP?

Who benefits when countries with world-class internet hacking capabilities and less-than-democratic (Russia) or highly corrupted and oligarch-dependent (Netanyahu, Duterte, Modi) leaders become “good friends” of Trump and/or help Trump build or brand properties in their countries?

Might they intervene in our election directly or indirectly to keep in power an administration that both openly disdains the concept of “liberal democracy” and disrespects leaders of the largely European countries that practice it?

Why would Trump joke with Putin in front of the world about the possibility of Russians hacking American voting systems in the 2020 election? Is he expecting it, or just hoping for it?

Who benefits when mostly “red” states keep their voting systems’ defenses down and continue to use 17-year-old technology running on Windows XP operating systems?

Who benefits when McConnell, Pence and Trump work together to make sure that, as CBS News reported this year, “Tens of thousands of voting machines in the United States [will continue to be] vulnerable to hacking” by refusing to fund upgrades?

Who benefits when repeated Democratic Party efforts to harden voting systems are blocked by Republican governors?

There’s no ideological argument to be made for America having easily hacked voting systems; it’s not something that conservatives like George Will or liberals like Robert Reich would reasonably disagree about.

So what could possibly be motivating Mitch McConnell and the Republicans in the Senate, other than the hope that hackers will produce another “red shift” miracle for them?

We already know that the GOP and their partisans on the Supreme Court have done and are doing everything they can to make it hard for Americans—particularly those with darker pigmented skin—to vote or otherwise participate in the political arena.

But that’s probably not enough to guarantee the reelection of a man as reviled and unpopular as Trump, and thus keep the parade of corporatist-friendly right-wing judges moving through the Senate into lifetime appointments on the federal bench. They need more—a little help from their friends.

Republicans have been caught manipulating voter rolls; engaging in now-legalized “political” gerrymandering that magically corresponds to race; running ads in social media filled with deception and outright lies; encouraging right-wing violence; and threatening treason charges against American law enforcement officials who’ve investigated foreign manipulation of our elections.

But it’s not working so far. Democrats—particularly progressive Democrats—were the big winners in the 2018 midterms. The GOP needs more help from their friends if they’re to reelect Trump and hold the Senate.

Reagan turned the GOP into the Party of the Billionaires, complete with a phony “supply-side” and “trickle-down” story about fantasy economics to sell their merger of state and corporation. But by the end of the Clinton administration, most Americans had figured out Reagan’s and the GOP’s scam and, since 2002, there’s been a curious “red shift” disconnect between exit poll results and the reported totals from hackable voting machines.

There aren’t enough really rich Americans to win elections, so Lee Atwater and his business partners Roger Stone and Paul Manafort helped Reagan and Bush bring in the white racist vote. But even with all the American racists, Trump and McConnell must think they need foreign help again.

Jerry Falwell Jr. (and his pool boy?), Franklin Graham, and other multimillionaire “Christian” hustlers brought in the people televangelists have exploited for a generation. But are there enough religiously gullible voters to tip the election to Trump and McConnell? They seem to think not.

Add the homophobes, the xenophobes, the religious bigots, and sexually insecure white men (from incels to gun fanatics), and the GOP may have almost enough votes to win a national election—but they’re still haunted by Trump losing the last election’s popular vote by 3 million; plus, they no longer have Scott Walker and Rick Snyder to throw Wisconsinites and Michiganders off the voting rolls just before the election.

Trump and the GOP will still need a little help from their overseas friends, just as Trump Jr. reached out to or tried to take help from the Russians, Saudis and Emiratis in 2016. They (and Trump’s American billionaire backers) benefited more from what President Carter correctly called Trump’s “illegitimate” presidency than anybody else in the world.

Which is why Trump and McConnell are working as hard as they can to make sure those foreign oligarchs and autocrats know how much they’ll appreciate that help, should it be forthcoming.

All they need is a little help from their friends, and they’re making sure their friends know in advance who will benefit.

 

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of The Hidden History of Guns and the Second Amendment and more than 25 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Bill Barr’s Remarkable History Of Scandalous Cover-Up

Back in 1992, the last time Bill Barr was U.S. attorney general, iconic New York Times columnist William Safire referred to him as “Cover-up General Barr” because of his role in burying evidence of then-President George H.W. Bush’s involvement in “Iraqgate” and “Iron-Contra.”

General Barr has struck again—this time, in similar fashion, burying Mueller’s report and cherry-picking fragments of sentences from it to justify Trump’s behavior. In his letter, he notes that Robert Mueller “leaves it to the attorney general to decide whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.”

As attorney general, Barr—without showing us even a single complete sentence from the Mueller report—decided there are no crimes here. Just keep moving along.

Barr’s history of doing just this sort of thing to help Republican presidents in legal crises explains why Trump brought him back in to head the Justice Department.

On Christmas Day of 1992, the New York Times featured a screaming all-caps headline across the top of its front page: Attorney General Bill Barr had covered up evidence of crimes by Reagan and Bush in the Iran-Contra scandal.

Earlier that week of Christmas, 1992, George H.W. Bush was on his way out of office. Bill Clinton had won the White House the month before, and in a few weeks would be sworn in as president.

But Bush’s biggest concern wasn’t that he’d have to leave the White House to retire back to Connecticut, Maine, or Texas (where he had homes) but, rather, that he may end up embroiled even deeper in Iran-Contra and that his colleagues may face time in a federal prison after he left office.

Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh was closing in fast on him, and Bush’s private records, subpoenaed by the independent counsel’s office, were the key to it all.

Walsh had been appointed independent counsel in 1986 to investigate the Iran-Contra activities of the Reagan administration and determine if crimes had been committed.

Weinberger, trying to avoid jail himself, was preparing to testify that Bush knew about it and even participated, and Walsh had already, based on information he’d obtained from the investigation into Weinberger, demanded that Bush turn over his diary from the campaign. He was also again hot on the trail of Abrams.

So Bush called in his attorney general, Bill Barr, and asked his advice.

Barr, along with Bush, was already up to his eyeballs in cover-ups of shady behavior by the Reagan administration.

Times columnist Safire referred to him not as “Attorney General” but, instead, as “Coverup-General,” noting that in another scandal—having to do with Bush selling weapons of mass destruction to Saddam Hussein—Barr was already covering up for Bush, Weinberger, and others from the Reagan administration.

On October 19, 1992, Safire wrote of Barr’s unwillingness to appoint an independent counsel to look into Iraqgate:

Why does the Coverup-General resist independent investigation? Because he knows where it may lead: to Dick Thornburgh, James Baker, Clayton Yeutter, Brent Scowcroft and himself [the people who organized the sale of WMD to Saddam]. He vainly hopes to be able to head it off, or at least be able to use the threat of firing to negotiate a deal.

Was the Iran-Contra criminal conspiracy limited, as Reagan and Bush insisted (and Reagan confessed on TV), to later years in the Reagan presidency, in response to a hostage-taking in Lebanon? Or had it started in the 1980 campaign with collusion with the Iranians, as the then-president of Iran asserted? Who knew what, and when? And what was George H.W. Bush’s role in it all?

Walsh had zeroed in on documents that were in the possession of Reagan’s former defense secretary, Caspar Weinberger, who all the evidence showed was definitely in on the deal, and President Bush’s diary that could corroborate it. Elliott Abrams had already been convicted of withholding evidence from Congress, and he may have even more information, too, if it could be pried out of him before he went to prison. But Abrams was keeping mum, apparently anticipating a pardon.

Weinberger, trying to avoid jail himself, was preparing to testify that Bush knew about it and even participated, and Walsh had already, based on information he’d obtained from the investigation into Weinberger, demanded that Bush turn over his diary from the campaign. He was also again hot on the trail of Abrams.

So Bush called in his attorney general, Bill Barr, and asked his advice.

Barr, along with Bush, was already up to his eyeballs in cover-ups of shady behavior by the Reagan administration.

Now, just short of two months later, Bush was asking Barr for advice on how to avoid another very serious charge in the Iran-Contra crimes. How, he wanted to know, could they shut down Walsh’s investigation before Walsh’s lawyers got their hands on Bush’s diary?

In April of 2001, safely distant from the swirl of D.C. politics, the University of Virginia’s Miller Center was compiling oral presidential histories, and interviewed Barr about his time as AG in the Bush White House. They brought up the issue of the Weinberger pardon, which put an end to the Iran-Contra investigation, and Barr’s involvement in it.

It turns out that Barr was right in the middle of it.

“There were some people arguing just for [a pardon for] Weinberger, and I said, ‘No, in for a penny, in for a pound,’” Barr told the interviewer. “I went over and told the President I thought he should not only pardon Caspar Weinberger, but while he was at it, he should pardon about five others.”

Which is exactly what Bush did, on Christmas Eve when most Americans were with family instead of watching the news. The holiday notwithstanding, the result was explosive.

America knew that both Reagan and Bush were up to their necks in Iran-Contra, and Democrats had been talking about impeachment or worse. The independent counsel had already obtained one conviction, three guilty pleas, and two other individuals were lined up for prosecution. And Walsh was closing in fast on Bush himself.

So, when Bush shut the investigation down by pardoning not only Weinberger, but also Abrams and the others involved in the crimes, destroying Walsh’s ability to prosecute anybody, the New York Times ran the headline all the way across four of the six columns on the front page, screaming in all-caps: BUSH PARDONS 6 IN IRAN AFFAIR, ABORTING A WEINBERGER TRIAL; PROSECUTOR ASSAILS ‘COVER-UP.’

Bill Barr had struck.

The second paragraph of the Times story by David Johnston laid it out:

Mr. Weinberger was scheduled to stand trial on Jan. 5 on charges that he lied to Congress about his knowledge of the arms sales to Iran and efforts by other countries to help underwrite the Nicaraguan rebels, a case that was expected to focus on Mr. Weinberger’s private notes that contain references to Mr. Bush’s endorsement of the secret shipments to Iran. [Emphasis added]

History shows that when a Republican president is in serious legal trouble, Bill Barr is the go-to guy.

For Safire, it was déjà vu all over again. Four months earlier, referring to Iraqgate (Bush’s selling WMDs to Iraq), Safire opened his article, titled “Justice [Department] Corrupts Justice”:

U.S. Attorney General William Barr, in rejecting the House Judiciary Committee’s call for a prosecutor not beholden to the Bush Administration to investigate the crimes of Iraqgate, has taken personal charge of the cover-up.

Safire accused Barr of not only rigging the cover-up, but of being one of the criminals who could be prosecuted.

“Mr. Barr,” wrote Safire in August of 1992, “…could face prosecution if it turns out that high Bush officials knew about Saddam Hussein’s perversion of our Agriculture export guarantees to finance his war machine. He added, “They [Barr and colleagues] have a keen personal and political interest in seeing to it that the Department of Justice stays in safe, controllable Republican hands.”

Earlier in Bush’s administration, Barr had succeeded in blocking the appointment of an investigator or independent counsel to look into Iraqgate, as Safire repeatedly documented in the Times. In December, Barr helped Bush block indictments from another independent counsel, Lawrence Walsh, and eliminated any risk that Reagan or George H.W. Bush would be held to account for Iran-Contra.

Walsh, wrote Johnston for the Times on Christmas Eve, “plans to review a 1986 campaign diary kept by Mr. Bush.” The diary would be the smoking gun that would nail Bush to the scandal.

“But,” noted the Times, “in a single stroke, Mr. Bush [at Barr’s suggestion] swept away one conviction, three guilty pleas and two pending cases, virtually decapitating what was left of Mr. Walsh’s effort, which began in 1986.”

And Walsh didn’t take it lying down.

The Times report noted that, “Mr. Walsh bitterly condemned the President’s action, charging that ‘the Iran-contra cover-up, which has continued for more than six years, has now been completed.’”

Independent Counsel Walsh added that the diary and notes he wanted to enter into a public trial of Weinberger represented, “evidence of a conspiracy among the highest ranking Reagan Administration officials to lie to Congress and the American public.”

The phrase “highest ranking” officials included Reagan and Bush.

Walsh had been fighting to get those documents ever since 1986, when he was appointed and Reagan still had two years left in office. Bush’s and Weinberger’s refusal to turn them over, Johnston noted in the Times, could have, in Walsh’s words, “forestalled impeachment proceedings against President Reagan” through a pattern of “deception and obstruction.”

Barr successfully covered up the involvement of two Republican presidents—Reagan and Bush—in two separate and perhaps impeachable “high crimes.” And months later, newly sworn-in President Clinton and the new Congress decided to put it all behind them and not pursue the matters any further.

Now, by cherry-picking Mueller’s report and handing Trump the talking points he needed, Barr has done it again.

The question this time is whether Congress will be as compliant as they were in 1993 and simply let it all go.

Both Trump and senior Republican leadership are already calling for a repeat of ’93; what remains to be seen is whether the press and Democratic leadership will go along with a cover-up, like they did back then.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of more than 25 books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

IMAGE: William Safire, the late New York Times op-ed columnist and former Nixon aide.

 

Indentured Servitude Gets A 21st-Century Makeover

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Indentured servitude is back in a big way in the United States, and conservative corporatists want to make sure that labor never, ever again has the power to tell big business how to treat them.

Idaho, for example, recently passed a law that recognizes and rigorously enforces non-compete agreements in employment contracts, which means that if you want to move to a different, more highly paid, or better job, you can instead get wiped out financially by lawsuits and legal costs.

In a way, conservative/corporatists are just completing the circle back to the founding of this country.

Indentured servitude began in a big way in the early 1600s, when the British East India Company was establishing a beachhead in the (newly stolen from the Indians) state of Virginia (named after the “virgin queen” Elizabeth I, who signed the charter of the BEIC creating the first modern corporation in 1601). Jamestown (named after King James, who followed Elizabeth I to the crown) wanted free labor, and the African slave trade wouldn’t start to crank up for another decade.

So the company made a deal with impoverished Europeans: Come to work for typically 4-7 years (some were lifetime indentures, although those were less common), legally as the property of the person or company holding your indenture, and we’ll pay for your transport across the Atlantic.

It was, at least philosophically, the logical extension of the feudal economic and political system that had ruled Europe for over 1,000 years. The rich have all the rights and own all the property; the serfs are purely exploitable free labor who could be disposed of (indentured servants, like slaves, were commonly whipped, hanged, imprisoned, or killed when they rebelled or were not sufficiently obedient).

This type of labor system has been the dream of conservative/corporatists, particularly since the “Reagan Revolution” kicked off a major federal war on the right of workers to organize for their own protection from corporate abuse.

Unions represented almost a third of American workers when Reagan came into office (and, since union jobs set local labor standards, for every union job there was typically an identically-compensated non-union job, meaning about two-thirds of America had the benefits and pay associated with union jobs pre-Reagan).

Thanks to Reagan’s war on labor, today unions represent about 6 percent of the non-government workforce.

But that wasn’t enough for the acolytes of Ayn Rand, Ronald Reagan and Milton Friedman. They didn’t just want workers to lose their right to collectively bargain; they wanted employers to functionally own their employees.

Prior to the current Reaganomics era, non-compete agreements were pretty much limited to senior executives and scientists/engineers.

If you were a CEO or an engineer for a giant company, knowing all their processes, secrets and future plans, that knowledge had significant and consequential value—company value worth protecting with a contract that said you couldn’t just take that stuff to a competitor without either a massive payment to the left-behind company or a flat-out lawsuit.

But should a guy who digs holes with a shovel or works on a drilling rig be forced to sign a non-compete? What about a person who flips burgers or waits tables in a restaurant? Or the few factory workers we have left, since neoliberal trade policies have moved the jobs of tens of thousands of companies overseas?

Turns out corporations are using non-competes to prevent even these types of employees from moving to newer or better jobs.

America today has the lowest minimum wage in nearly 50 years, adjusted for inflation. As a result, people are often looking for better jobs. But according to the New York Times, about 1 in 5 American workers is now locked in with a non-compete clause in an employment contract.

Before Reaganomics, employers didn’t keep their employees by threatening them with lawsuits; instead, they offered them benefits like insurance, paid vacations and decent wages. Large swaths of American workers could raise a family and have a decent retirement with a basic job ranging from manufacturing to construction to service industry work.

My dad was one of them; he worked 40 years in a tool-and-die shop, and the machinist’s union made sure he could raise and put through school four boys, could take 2-3 weeks of paid vacation every year, and had full health insurance and a solid retirement until the day he died, which continued with my mom until she died years later. Most boomers (particularly white boomers) can tell you the same story.

That America has been largely destroyed by Reaganomics, and Americans know it. It’s why when Donald Trump told voters that the big corporations and banksters were screwing them, they voted for him and his party (not realizing that neither Trump nor the GOP had any intention of doing anything to help working people).

And now the conservatives/corporatists are going in for the kill, for their top goal: the final destruction of any remnant of labor rights in America.

Why would they do this? Two reasons: An impoverished citizenry is a politically impotent citizenry, and in the process of destroying the former middle class, the 1 percent make themselves trillions of dollars richer.

The New York Times has done some great reporting on this problem, with an article last May and a more recent piece about how the state of Idaho has made it nearly impossible for many workers to escape their servitude.

Historically, indentured servants had their food, health care, housing, and clothing provided to them by their “employers.” Today’s new serfs can hardly afford these basics of life, and when you add in modern necessities like transportation, education and child-care, the American labor landscape is looking more and more like old-fashioned servitude.

Nonetheless, conservatives/corporatists in Congress and state-houses across the nation are working hard to hold down minimum wages. Missouri’s Republican legislature just made it illegal for St. Louis to raise their minimum wage to $10/hour, throwing workers back down to $7.70. More preemption lawslike this are on the books or on their way.

At the same time, these conservatives/corporatists are working to roll back health care protections for Americans, roll back environmental protections that keep us and our children from being poisoned, and even roll back simple workplace, food and toy safety standards.

The only way these predators will be stopped is by massive political action leading to the rollback of Reaganism/neoliberalism.

And the conservatives/corporatists who largely own the Republican Party know it, which is why they’re purging voting lists, fighting to keep in place easily hacked voting machines, and throwing billions of dollars into think tanks, right-wing radio, TV, and online media.

If they succeed, America will revert to a very old form of economy and politics: the one described so well in Charles Dickens’ books when Britain had “maximum wage laws” and “Poor Laws” to prevent a strong and politically active middle class from emerging.

Conservatives/corporatists know well that this type of neo-feudalism is actually a very stable political and economic system, and one that’s hard to challenge. China has put it into place in large part, and other countries from Turkey to the Philippines to Brazil and Venezuela are falling under the thrall of the merger of corporate and state power.

So many of our individual rights have been stripped from us, so much of America’s middle-class progress in the last century has been torn from us, while conservatives wage a brutal and oppressive war on dissenters and people of color under the rubrics of “security,” “tough on crime,” and the “war on drugs.”

As a result, America has 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners, more than any other nation on earth, all while opiate epidemics are ravaging our nation. And what to do about it?

Scientists have proven that the likelihood the desires of the bottom 90 percent of Americans get enacted into law are now equal to statistical “random noise.” Functionally, most of us no longer have any real representation in state or federal legislative bodies: they now exist almost exclusively to serve the very wealthy.

The neo-feudal corporate/conservative elite are both politically and financially committed to replacing the last traces of worker power in America with a modern system of indentured servitude.

Only serious and committed political action can reverse this; we’re long past the point where complaining or sitting on the sidelines is an option.

As both Bernie Sanders and Barack Obama regularly said (and I’ve closed my radio show for 14 years with), “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”

Tag, you’re it.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and author of over 25 books in print

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

The Republican Party Is Ready To Sell Off Your Internet Privacy At A Level That Boggles The Mind

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Trump’s new Chairman of the FCC, Ajit Pai, recently co-authored what is either an intentionally or naively deceptive op-ed in The Washington Post.

Pai suggested that when Republicans in the House and Senate – without a single Democratic vote in either body – voted to legalize your Internet Service Provider – your ISP – to sell your personal (and you-thought-private) browsing information and the content of your emails and video-viewing to anybody they choose, they were actually working to “protect” your privacy.  He knew this, he wrote, because critics of the GOP policy “don’t understand how advertising works.”

That claim is unadulterated BS.

He starts out saying that an ISP would never sell your private browsing\emailing\viewing history because it “would violate  ISP’s privacy promises.”  True enough, at this moment – because those privacy policies reflect the law that banned such behavior.

But anybody who’s ever bothered to read online Terms Of Service knows that such policies can, quite literally, be changed in less than a day, to accommodate new legal opportunities. To think they won’t is either naïve or profoundly disingenuous.

At the core of this debate is a simple concept that Pai’s op-ed goes out of its way to obfuscate.  It’s the question of whether the internet and access to it should be a “public” space (i.e. “part of the commons”) with a We The People government-regulated expectation of privacy, or a hypermonetized private/corporate/billionaire-regulated space where you are left to the tender mercies of giant corporations and their owners/managers.

Think of it like your phone company.

There was a time, in the early days of telephones, when there was very little privacy to a phone call. “Agnes” at the phone company (operators in the 1920s and ‘30s were nearly always women) could, as she plugged your line to your neighbor’s line to establish a connection, listen in to your conversation (a common theme in old movies). Party lines were notoriously insecure.

So, in 1934, Congress updated the laws regulating radio to include telephony, creating the FCC, and wrote Title II of the FCC regulations, which basically says that the phone system is a public utility (necessary for public safety, the public good, etc.), and that therefore the phone company couldn’t listen in to your conversations.

Imagine, instead, that the newly-formed 1934 FCC had  taken the position that Pai and his Republican allies argue for – that phone systems were purely profit machines for the companies that own them, and they could monetize them anyway they wanted based on the content of your phone calls.

Agnes could listen in and tell her boss, “He’s discussing a big business deal,” or, “He’s having an affair!”  The phone company could then sell that information to a competing company or your spouse, or buy or sell stocks based on it (a theme in several 1920s stories), thus increasing their profits. Maybe Agnes could even get herself cut into the deal.

Additionally, Agnes could (again, check out the old movies) even “censor” you, telling you you shouldn’t be having that affair, or cutting your connection just when you’re in the heat of passion or about to consummate a business deal with which she disagreed.

Can you remember any in-depth reporting on net neutrality or privacy? They’re treated as if they’re irrelevant, even though they’re at the core of most of our daily lives.

The modern version of this isn’t hard to imagine.  Giant ISP companies Comcast and Time-Warner already own MSNBC and CNN respectively, and given the near-complete absence of on-air discussion of net neutrality or the GOP’s recent anti-privacy legislation, it’s not unreasonable to assume that, at the very least, talent and producers on those networks know better than to embarrass their employers with these issues.

But now that those ISPs can read – and regulate – your browsing (remember, less government regulation means more power for billionaires and their corporations to regulate you), what happens when your favorite website runs an article critical of one of these giant ISPs?

You could find that Alternet takes minutes to load a page, whereas more corporate-friendly sites like Breitbart or others funded in part by billionaires are blazing fast. At first it would probably be a simple pay-to-play, but since censorship is already rampant on our corporate “news” channels, it’s not a stretch to expect it to come soon to your web browser.

Back in 1934, to prevent the telephone version of this sort of corporate intrusion into our lives, the FCC, through Title II, said that the contents of your phone conversations were yours – private – and other than the distance you were calling or the length of time you were on the phone, they couldn’t charge less for a call to Mom or more for a call to your stockbroker.  (Business lines could charge more, mostly for a business listing, but privacy was still intact.)

Phone service is still that way today, and when former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler put the internet under Title II, he extended those privacy protections to what are, in effect, your online activities and conversations.

Pai and his Republican buddies in Congress, assert (now successfully) that your use of the internet is not a protected communication, that the internet is not a “public good” or a “public utility,” and that everything you say or do online can and should be turned into extra revenue sources for the big ISPs that then pass big bucks along to the GOP through lobbying and campaign contributions.

This is why he argues that instead of the Federal Communications Commission overseeing the internet, regulatory power should be shifted to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). It’s not about “communications” in his mind; it’s about “trade/commerce.”

While a number of totalitarian and “raw capitalist” nations agree with Pai, every other fully functioning democracy in the world considers the internet to be a public utility like telephony.

Pai and his GOP buddies have instead moved us in the corporate-authoritarian direction of China – where the state can not only listen in on everything you do on the internet, but can censor it, while private companies can monetize it.

This is a huge contrast to Canada or the European Union, which have both declared internet neutrality a basic human right and use of the internet to be part of a telephone-like common carrier process with appropriate privacy protections enforced by governments answerable to average citizens.

As to Pai’s suggestion that, “Internet service providers have never planned to sell your individual browsing history to third parties. That’s simply not how online advertising works,” I commend to you what is probably your own experience.  Private, for profit companies already can – and aggressively do – sell your personal usage information.  It’s a robust business, in fact.

And it can be a bit disconcerting.

Five years ago when my wife had breast cancer (now gone, thankfully) and began googling the topic and buying chemo supplements, pretty much any computer she used, as soon as she signed into anything that would identify her, began popping up ads for chemotherapy wigs and other cancer accessories. (One wonders what kinds of ads follow around heavy porn users.) An overweight friend similarly has weight-loss ads following her all over the internet, from town to town, from computer to computer.

Giant search engines and a plethora of private sites enthusiastically sell your usage of their sites; it’s at the core of their business models. And, arguably, that’s not a violation of the spirit of Title II, because it wasn’t “Agnes” selling the contents of your “conversation” – instead it was the person/company to whom Agnes connected you.

Pai’s argument is basically that if Google can sell or use your information, then Comcast, AT&T, Time-Warner, etc., should be able to, too.

But there’s a fundamental difference.  If you don’t want Google to sell or use your information, you can use a search engine (like www.duckduckgo.com) or an online store that promises not to.

But your internet service provider sees everything you do on the internet, right down to the keystroke level.  They can monitor every VOIP conversation, make note of every search or purchase, and transcribe every email or IM. Just like your phone company, before Title II, could listen in on every one of your phone calls.

And, who knows?  Maybe that’s next on Pai’s agenda.

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.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

More Evidence Of Republican Disdain For Democracy

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Show up for a protest, and end up losing your home, car, and retirement account? How about losing everything over just being at a meeting or on a conference call?

Arizona State Senator Sonny Borrelli (R-AZ) has introduced an amazing bit of legislation into the Arizona senate, which has already passed—it’s in the House now. The bill would hyper-criminalize any sort of organized political dissent if any person involved with that dissent (including, presumably, agent provocateurs) were to engage in even minor “violence,” so long as that violence harms the “property,” regardless of value, of any person — including a corporation.

They’re doing this by expanding the Arizona RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) law to include conspiracy to “riot” among the offenses RICO can be used against. Not unlike parts of the Patriot Act being used against wannabe terrorists, the RICO laws are a powerful blunt instrument that have been used successfully to take down mobsters who have done a very good job of insulating themselves from their crimes.

Inspired in part by the takedown of Al Capone for tax fraud and mobster Rico “Little Caesar” Bandello, the 1970 federal law was one of the first to, in a really big way, make it possible for prosecutors to go after an entire “group” of people, rather than having to target criminals one at a time. As such, it relies heavily on previous laws that had defined “conspiracy” to be a felony.

And much like Richard Nixon used the nation’s drug laws to break the backs of the anti-war and civil-rights movements, Senator Borrelli and his Republican friends apparently want to break the back of anti-GOP, anti-Trump protests with the same type of police-state overkill.

This is merely a new twist on an old Republican strategy.

In 1999, John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s former domestic policy chief, told Dan Baum in an interview with Baum about Nixon’s war on drugs:

“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

The war on drugs was devastatingly successful, and continues to be: Nixon and his successors have locked up large parts of the African American community nationwide (leaving many unable to vote for the rest of their lives), and drug busts (often setups) were used with spectacular success at the local level against SDS and other anti-war activists in the 1960s and 1970s.

Now the power of another law (RICO) designed to deal with organized crime (and expanded in recent years to include “terrorism” and “animal activism”) is about to be mobilized in a similar fashion against anybody who supports any anti-Republican demonstrations (that cause any “property damage”) in Arizona.

As you can read in the proposed law, the realm of crimes into which RICO can now be applied has been expanded from “terrorism” (a recent addition) to “riot,” which, itself has been redefined to include: “A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which EITHER disturbs the public peace OR RESULTS IN DAMAGE TO THE PROPERTY OF ANOTHER PERSON.” (All-caps from the actual text of the proposed law.)

The new law also adds in the current Arizona “riot” law (13-2903) which essentially defines “riot” as the use of “force,” and redefines “force” as anything that “disturbs the public peace.” Using a bullhorn? Chanting?  Singing? Or merely meeting and planning to do same (“threat” with the ability of “immediate power of execution” meaning you have the ability to stand outside and sing)? You’re disturbing the public peace.

AZ 13-2903 reads: “A person commits riot if, with two or more other persons acting together, such person recklessly uses force or violence or threatens to use force or violence, if such threat is accompanied by immediate power of execution, which disturbs the public peace.”

So, let’s say the local chapter of #Indivisible or #OurRevolution or #BlackLivesMatter is planning (“threatening” under this law) to bring a group of people to the offices of Senator Borrelli or any of his GOP colleagues, or just to march through downtown Phoenix to protest Trump’s bigoted policies after a particularly outrageous Executive Order.

And let’s further imagine that somebody who wants to shut down that group has infiltrated it (be they from the police, the Klan, or the Black Block). The protest happens, and the infiltrator throws a stone and breaks a window. Or some people complain that their “peace” has been “disturbed,” even if no rocks were thrown.

And you donated $25 to the group that organized the protest (but had no idea a violent infiltrator was going to show up). Or you went to a meeting of the group. Or you were on a conference call for protest planning. Or you were in the crowd on the day the stone was thrown or the “peace” was “disturbed.”

Under the civil asset forfeiture laws, being used hand-in-glove with the new RICO law, everything you own can now be seized – instantly, and before you’re even convicted of anything. And once you’ve admitted you were a “co-conspirator” – you donated, showed up, were on the call, or even a member of the chat-room – you’re now facing serious time in prison.

So, as is usually the case with RICO prosecutions, the prosecutors bring you in and offer you a deal: help us bust the leadership, and we’ll let you go. So you end up being the stone-thrower at the next demonstration. Or you go to prison.

And, in the meantime, the local or state police department has already converted your home, car, and retirement accounts into cash and used them to buy a new tank for the police station.

And to the inevitable clueless-to-their-privilege white person who says, “Riot laws aren’t controversial and they’d never use laws like this so broadly; that would be wrong,” please talk with any person of color and ask how the “uncontroversial” drug, loitering, and, for G-d sake, even taillight laws have been enforced.

The families of Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Samuel DeBose, and Sandra Bland (among thousands of others), and increasingly in Trumpworld, anybody who looks Hispanic or Muslim, or even has a Muslim-sounding name like the son of Muhammad Ali, can tell you something about selective enforcement of the law in America.

This is not what democracy looks like.

Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host.

IMAGE: Protesters walk in the streets downtown during another night of protests over the police shooting of Keith Scott in Charlotte, North Carolina, U.S. September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake

The Perennial GOP Tax Scam

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

There’s something about taxes that elected Republicans know, but most Americans are completely unaware of. It’s the reason we keep falling for the perennial GOP tax scam, and Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and their buddies in the White House are getting ready to run this ruse on American working people all over again.

Here it is in a nutshell: Tax cuts for truly wealthy people increase their income and wealth; tax cuts for working people actually decrease their income and wealth over time.

Here’s how it works.

If you’re part of the top 0.1% – say you’re earning a million dollars a year – and you get a tax cut, you’ll keep more of the money you’re earning. The main reason is because people in those income categories 1) generally have a high degree of control over their own income; and 2) they more often than not already are working under a massive tax cut – at least a lower tax rate – called the capital gains tax. But even setting aside Part II of that, truly super-high income earners, like the banksters on Wall Street or CEOs of large corporations, have a significant measure of control – if not total control – over their own income.

For working people, it’s an entirely different story.

Let’s say for the sake of argument that I’m a super-wealthy entrepreneur and I own the company you work for. While I can set my own paycheck (within the parameters of money available to the company), I also set your paycheck. But that’s largely a “market function” – that is, I pay as little as possible for the right talent to get the work done.

So if we live in a country where working people pay, to use round numbers for example, a 50% tax bracket, and I know that you need $50,000 a year after taxes to live, and pretty much anybody who’s applying for your job will also demand at least a $50,000 take-home pay, I’ll set the wage for that particular job at $100,000 a year. At a 50% tax rate, that gives you $50,000 after taxes.

As the company owner, let’s say that I’ve set my own salary at $1 million a year, which means I’m taking home around $500,000 a year at a 50% tax rate (of course, taxes are progressive, but that’s not relevant to this argument as Republicans want to “cut taxes for all income brackets,” so for simplicity sake let’s assume the “flat tax” Republicans say they love so much).

Now, what happens if Democrats come into power and say that they want to build a national high-speed rail system, and need to raise taxes to 60% to do it. What happens to my pay and to yours?

For me, my net take-home income goes down from $500,000 to $400,000 a year, but I can easily fix that by simply increasing my pay to $1.2 million.  After all, this is a billion-dollar company, and a little bit here and there for me and my executives is no big deal.

But you – and anybody else doing the particular job you’re doing – still need $50,000 take-home pay in order to live. So if your taxes go up, and I want to keep you as an employee, I’m going to have to raise your pay by enough to keep your take-home even.

This is why when taxes go up on working people – as they did dramatically from 1913 to 1980 – pay went up dramatically, too.

This is also why high-tax countries pay higher wages (and have better public services, paid for with those taxes). In Denmark, for example, the average full-time MacDonald’s worker earns around $45,000 U.S. equivalent, although about 40% of that goes to taxes to pay for the national health-care system, one of the world’s best school systems, and high-quality high-paid police who treat Danes with respect.

On the flip side, what happens when Republicans come into power and decide to cancel the government expenditures and “return people’s income to them” by lowering taxes? Let’s say they drop the tax rate from 50% to 25% (Reagan actually dropped the top rate from 74% to 25%). What happens to me and you?

As the CEO who controls his own income, I continue to take my $1 million, but my take-home goes from $500,000 up to $750,000.  I get richer – and rapidly – and I can stash that money in a Swiss bank account.

But I still know that you can only really live on $50,000 a year, and thus are only willing to do your job for that as take-home pay.

However, with a $100,000 before-tax salary, you’ll now be taking home $75,000 – way more than I know you need.

So, what does an employer do? He cuts your pay down enough that you’re only still taking home $50,000 a year. Your $100,000 salary will – over time, and through the process of layoffs and attrition, letting go of higher-paid people, and hiring lower-paid people – drift down to around $75,000, so you’re still taking home $50K.

A 25% cut in taxes on working people will give a short-term boost to paychecks, but over a period of a few years it’ll mean working people’s before-tax wages will drop by about 25%. Employers, after all, know the minimum amount of take-home pay working people are willing to work for (aka “the labor market”).

This is why when Republicans cut taxes, wages go down or stay flat for working people, a phenomenon we’ve watched over and over again since Reagan began this process in the 1980s.

Today, when the “older” (as in, “earning the old pay scale from when taxes were higher”) workers move on or retire, they’re replaced with new lower-paid workers. Factory jobs that used to pay $30/hour or more, for example, now pay $14/hour (check out the GM contracts negotiated over the past few decades as a vivid example).

According to economist Thomas Piketty, the poorest 50 percent of Americans have seen their incomes decline by a full 1 percent since 1978— even as incomes for the top 10 percent of Americans have jumped by whopping 115 percent and incomes for the top .001 percent have skyrocketed an astronomic 685 percent.

The aforementioned progressive nature of our tax code – big changes at the top are matched by much smaller changes at the bottom – accounts for why wages have “merely” been flat or declined “only” 1% since Reagan, whereas wealth at the top has exploded under “conservative” tax policies.

Meanwhile, the larger effect of tax cuts defunding government will see the power of corporations and billionaires grow, while the ability of government to do things will shrink.

We’ve gone from NASA sending men to the moon to having to rely on private corporations to send rockets up to refill the space station. Starting with Reagan’s government-defunding billionaire-friendly tax-cuts in the 1980s we stopped building and even repairing much of our infrastructure, causing the deterioration of our nation to nearly developing-world status in many parts of the country.

So, with the GOP in power, get ready to see working people’s pay start dropping again, as it did starting in the 1980s after Reagan’s tax cut and in the early 2000s after Bush’s. Also get ready to see income inequality grow even worse, as the truly rich see a big boost in their take-home pay and thus their overall wealth, while working people and our nation’s infrastructure get screwed.

And get ready for voters who have no idea how this all works to get totally behind the GOP “we’ll cut your taxes” rhetoric, not realizing that Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Donald Trump/Mike Pence view us all as merely useful idiots.

Thom Hartmann is an author and nationally syndicated daily talk show host

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

GOP Plans To Destroy Our Safety Net Will Also Kill Democracy

Reprinted with permission from AlterNet.

Newt Gingrich openly bragged recently at the Heritage Foundation that the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress were going to “break out of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt model.”  That “model,” of course, created what we today refer to as “the middle class.”

Ever since the election of Ronald Reagan, Republicans have been working overtime to kneecap institutions that support the American middle class. And, as any working-class family can tell you, the GOP has had some substantial successes, particularly in shifting both income and political power away from voters and towards billionaires and transnational corporations.

In July of last year, discussing SCOTUS’s 5/4 conservative vote on Citizens United, President Jimmy Carter told me: “It violates the essence of what made America a great country in its political system.  Now it’s just an oligarchy with unlimited political bribery…”  He added: “[W]e’ve just seen a complete subversion of our political system as a payoff to major contributors…”

As Princeton researchers Gilens and Page demonstrated in an exhaustive analysis of the difference between what most Americans want their politicians to do legislatively, versus what American politicians actually do, it’s pretty clear that President Carter was right.

They found that while the legislative priorities of the top 10% of Americans are consistently made into law, things the bottom 90% want are ignored.  In other words, today in America, democracy only “works” for the top 10% of Americans.

For thousands of years, economists and economic observers from Aristotle to Adam Smith to Thomas Picketty have told us that a “middle class” is not a normal by-product of raw, unregulated capitalism – what right-wing ideologues call “the free market.”

Instead, unregulated markets – particularly markets not regulated by significant taxation on predatory incomes – invariably lead to the opposite of a healthy middle class: they produce extremes of inequality, which are as dangerous to democracy as cancer is to a living being.

With so-called “unregulated free markets,” the rich become super-rich, while grinding poverty spreads among working people like a heroin epidemic.  This further polarizes the nation, both economically and politically, which, perversely, further cements the power of the oligarchs.

While there’s a clear moral dimension to this – pointed out by Adam Smith in his classic Theory of Moral Sentiments – there’s also a vital political dimension.

Smith noted, in 1759, that, “All constitutions of government are valued only in proportion as they tend to promote the happiness of those who live under them. This is their sole use and end.”

Jefferson was acutely aware of this: the Declaration of Independence was the first founding document of any nation in the history of the world that explicitly declared “happiness” as a “right” that should be protected and promoted by government.

That was not at all, however, a consideration for the architects of supply-side Reaganomics, although they appropriated JFK’s “rising tide lifts all boats” metaphor to sell their hustle to (boatless) working people.

Far more troubling (and well-known to both Smith and virtually all of our nation’s Founders), however, was Aristotle’s observation that when a nation pursues economic/political activities that destroy its middle class, it will inevitably devolve either into mob rule or oligarchy.  As he noted in The Politics:

“Now in all states there are three elements: one class is very rich, another very poor, and a third in a mean. … But a [government] ought to be composed, as far as possible, of equals and similars; and these are generally the middle classes. …

“Thus it is manifest that the best political community is formed by citizens of the middle class, and that those states are likely to be well-administered in which the middle class is large, and stronger if possible than both the other classes, or at any rate than either singly; for the addition of the middle class turns the scale, and prevents either of the extremes from being dominant.”

This is how America was for the Boomer generation: a 30 year old in the 1970s had a 90 percent chance of having or attaining a higher standard of living than his or her parents.  But, since the 1980s introduction of Reaganomics, there’s been more than a 70 percent drop in “social mobility” – the ability to move from one economic station of life into a better one.

So, if our democratic republic is to return to democracy and what’s left of our middle class is to survive (or even grow), how do we do that?

History shows that the two primary regulators within a capitalist system that provide for the emergence of a middle class are progressive taxation and a healthy social safety net.

As Jefferson noted in a 1785 letter to Madison, “Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.”

Similarly, Thomas Paine, proposing in Agrarian Justice (1797) what we today call Social Security, said that a democracy can only survive when its people “[S]ee before them the certainty of escaping the miseries that under other governments accompany old age…” Such a strong social safety net, Paine argued, “will have an advocate and an ally in the heart of all nations.”

Tragically, Republicans are today planning to destroy both our nation’s progressive taxation system and our social safety net, in obsequious service to their billionaire paymasters.

Flipping Jefferson and FDR on their heads, Republicans are proposing multi-million-dollar tax breaks for the rich, with a few-hundred-dollars bone tossed in for working people.

Meanwhile, Republicans are already hard at work.

As Ian Milhiser notes, “Republicans in the House hope to cut Social Security benefits by 20–50 percent. Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to voucherize Medicare would drive up out-of-pocket costs for seniors by about 40 percent. Then he’d cut Medicaid by between a third and a half.”

If Newt, Ryan, et al succeed in destroying FDR’s legacy programs, not only will the bottom 90 percent of Americans suffer, but what little democracy we have left in this republic will evaporate, and history suggests it will probably be replaced by a violent, kleptocratic oligarchy.

Hang on tight; the ride could get rough…

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: Donald Trump meets with Speaker of the House Paul Ryan on Capitol Hill. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Thanks To The NRA And Their Lackeys In Congress, It Is Illegal to Study Gun Violence

Published with permission from Alternet.

As Black Lives Matter protests continue across the nation, a new study is complicating the debate around police violence.

The study, which comes out of Harvard, took data from a number of police departments across the country and looked at how different groups of people are treated by law enforcement.

As expected, the study found that police officers are more likely to use force when dealing with black people than they are when dealing with white people.

For example, police are 18 percent more likely to push black people against a wall, 16 percent more likely to put them in handcuffs, 19 percent more likely to draw their weapons, and so on.

These statistics are depressing for sure, but not really all that surprising given the reality of systemic racism in this country.

But what is surprising is what this study found about police officers use of lethal force, i.e. when they kill people. Contrary to what you’d expect, it found that police are just as likely to kill white people as they are black people.

Predictably, the right-wing media has jumped on this as proof—proof—that the Black Lives Matter movement is lying. For example, the Drudge Report linked to a New York Times story about the Harvard study with a headline that read, “STUDY: NO RACIAL BIAS in police shootings…”

But is this study really all that definitive?

No, it’s not.

The problem with the Harvard study is that it relies on data from just a handful of different police departments, most of which are located in big cities like Houston, Dallas and Los Angeles. This isn’t a bad idea on its own. After all, the bigger a city is, the more representative it is of the population as a whole. But in the context of studying police violence, relying on data from just a few big cities isn’t the best idea.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the past few years, it’s that some of the worst police violence occurs in smaller cities like Ferguson, Missouri or Baton Rouge, Louisiana. A truly accurate analysis of police use of force should therefore include data from these smaller cities, not just the big cities that are almost always better trained and better equipped than their local counterparts.

And that raises the question—why didn’t the author of the Harvard study use better data? Well, it’s probably not because he was trying to make it seem like there’s no racial bias in police violence. It’s because there’s not really any good police violence data out there.

Even after the reforms the FBI announced back in December, reporting of police violence to the federal government is still completely voluntary. Until reporting by police departments of their officers’ use of force is compulsory and countrywide, we’re never going to get an accurate picture of what’s going on.

But even if reporting police violence data were compulsory, there’d still be big obstacles to using that data in any sensible way. That’s because thanks to Republicans and the National Rifle Association, it’s been illegal for more than 20 years for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to conduct any research on gun violence.

That’s right—illegal!

This ban began back in the 1990s after the CDC published some good, solid research into gun violence. One of the first studies they did found a clear relationship between increases in gun ownership and increased homicide rates.

The NRA didn’t like where this was going for obvious reasons, so it started pushing its bought-and-paid-for shills in Congress to do something about those pesky scientists at the CDC. The NRA got its wish in 1996 when Republican Congressman Jay Dickey introduced what’s now known as the Dickey Amendment.

It was a policy rider attached to a spending bill and it stated that, “None of the funds available for injury prevention and control at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be used to advocate or promote gun control.”

Because it’s so broadly worded, the Dickey Amendment has had a chilling effect on gun research at the federal level.

No one wants to go to jail for doing their job, and CDC researchers live in fear that they’ll become the next Lois Lerner, dragged in front of a congressional kangaroo court and forced to testify for hours on end.

Tragically, we really need the information from good studies about police violence—but the Dickey Amendment has prevented them from being done.

Therefore, we don’t know what kind of connections there are between gun ownership and police violence, connections we should have known about years ago but haven’t because of the gun industry’s stranglehold over public policy.

The NRA, of course, couldn’t be happier with this situation. But this is just absurd. Even Jay Dickey thinks so. He’s now come out against his own amendment and thinks it should be repealed.

He’s right.

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.

Photo: Flickr user DonkeyHotey

It’s Time To Acknowledge The Immense Power Twitter And Facebook Now Have In U.S. Elections

This piece originally appeared on Alternet.

Americans don’t trust the media. In fact, studies show that we like, really, really, really don’t trust the media.

A new survey from the Media Insight Project, for example, shows that just 6 percent of Americans “say they have great confidence in the press.”

Six percent! Just for some perspective, that’s about the same number of Americans who say they have trust in Congress, which is about 4 percent.

It’s up for debate whether that reflects worse on Congress or the media, but one thing is clear: The U.S. public’s almost total distrust of the press isn’t going away anytime soon.

Public approval of the media has been declining for decades, and, according to some polls, has now reached record lows.

This shouldn’t be that surprising to anyone who’s been paying attention.

Thanks to the death of the Fairness Doctrine, the people who are supposed to report the news no longer have any obligation whatsoever to, you know, report the news. As a result, corporate media, especially corporate television media, has become almost completely indistinguishable from “infotainment.”

In many cases, it actually is infotainment.

Combine that with the fact that the press has gotten it very, very wrong on the biggest issues of our time—the Iraq War, for example—and it’s amazing that anyone trusts them to get any story straight.

So, if Americans don’t trust the traditional media, where are they getting their news?

Well, many of them, especially younger Americans, are getting it from the Internet and social media.

This is having a big, game-changing effect on our democracy.

Because of social media, politicians and activists now don’t have to worry as much about getting their message across through corporate-controlled media.

They can now actually work around traditional corporate media altogether by using sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to reach out to supporters and rally the public to their cause.

This dynamic has played a huge role in the rise of Bernie Sanders. There was a “Bernie blackout” in traditional corporate media for the first six months of Bernie’s campaign, and, at least initially, Sanders supporters could only find news about their candidate on Facebook and Twitter.

This has changed recently, but there is still an obvious anti-Bernie bias out there in the corporate press, even at supposedly “liberal” networks like MSNBC. As a result, social media has continued to play a big role in the campaign, acting as a corrective of sorts to mainstream media.

Because of its ability to “disrupt” establishment memes and establishment narratives, it’s tempting to see social media as the antidote to America’s media trust deficit.

But we should be careful.

Social media isn’t the white knight of open source information that it appears to be. It’s often just as biased as traditional media, and to make matters worse, doesn’t have the same firebreaks that make traditional media at least somewhat accountable to the public.

Take, for example, Facebook. That company is now having an internal debate about whether it has an ethical obligation to stop Donald Trump from getting elected president.

This is obviously legal and protected by the First Amendment, but it raises serious questions about how much we can rely on social media as an unbiased or at least transparent news source.

If the New York Times, for example, wanted to stop Trump from getting elected president, it would do what newspapers are supposed to do when they decide to take a side in a political campaign: It would endorse Trump’s opponent and publish editorials explaining why.

Facebook doesn’t have to do any such thing.

In fact, if it wanted to, the corporation could just start blocking any and all articles that its users post about Trump.

Again, this would all be perfectly legal.

But because Facebook doesn’t publish its internals, we would never know for sure if the sudden disappearance of Trump articles on its network was the result of a censorship campaign or just a sign that fewer people were interested in reading about Trump.

That’s really the real danger here.

People turn to social media to get news they think isn’t covered on traditional media, which is why they’re more likely to believe what they see on Facebook and Twitter is true or probably true.

But, again, this isn’t really the case. And that’s not just because there’s more information out there, and thus, a greater possibility that that information could be wrong.

No, it’s because the corporations that control social media are corporations just like the corporations that control traditional media, and they’re even less accountable to the public.

Social media is changing the way that people get their news, but it’s not a silver bullet.

We must stay vigilant.

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.

Photo: Algorithms and network effects can shift voting patterns. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic