The National  Memo Logo

Smart. Sharp. Funny. Fearless.

Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

@Thom_Hartmann

New Virus Variants Could Kill Thousands In Red States

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

J. R. R. Tolkien wrote, "The burned hand teaches best. After that, advice about fire goes to the heart." It's a painful truth that people in red states, and red counties in blue and purple states, are about to learn.

Here comes Donald Trump's Final Massacre.

While multimillionaire well-vaccinated Fox "News" hosts continue to sow doubt about masks and Covid vaccines to jack up the billions in revenue the channel brings in every year for the Murdoch family, the CEO of a hospital chain in Missouri is begging them to tell the truth.

"The Delta variant is in the Ozarks," tweeted Steve Edwards, CEO of hospital chain Cox Healthi n Missouri. "We have been interviewed by NPR, CBS News, MSNBC, AP, Today Show, Good Morning America, CNN, NYTimes but not @FoxNews."

This is a crisis now for Missouri because the Delta variant of the Covid virus is not only far more contagious than previous strains, but also more deadly. As Heather Hollingsworth writing for the AP notes, vaccination rates are very, very low in that state with one county clocking in at 13% and most counties "well short of 40%."

People in red counties across America are reporting on social media the same thing Louise and I saw when we visited a rural town in Oregon last weekend: nobody's wearing masks or practicing social distancing. They believe rightwing media's lies that Covid's "just like the flu" or "vaccines are experimental" or "it's all a Democrat hoax." They're following Trump's notion that masks make men look "weak."

As a result of this, Eric Frederick, the chief administrative officer of Mercy Hospital in Springfield, Missouri, tells the AP that they have been "inundated with COVID-19 patients as the variant first identified in India rips through the largely non-immunized community."

And it's not just hitting the elderly. "These patients are also younger," Hollingsworth writes, "than earlier in the pandemic — 60% to 65% of those in the ICU over the weekend at Mercy were under 40, according to Frederick, who noted that younger adults are much less likely to be vaccinated — and some are pregnant."

When the Covid virus first showed up in the United States in January of last year, then-president Donald Trump quietly told reporter Bob Woodward that it was both deadly and airborne.

"This is deadly stuff," Trump told Woodward on February 7th, 2020. "You just breathe the air and that's how it's passed And so that's a very tricky one. That's a very delicate one. It's also more deadly than even your strenuous flu."

That's not, of course, what Trump and his lackeys told the American people, as they set up the deaths of over 600,000 Americans with more to come this year. "I wanted to always play it down," Trump told Woodward a month later. "I still like playing it down…"

It's a mantra Trump carried on right through his last weeks in office when he got himself and his wife secretly vaccinated in the White House, and, according to research published by the Brookings Institution, killed at least 400,000 Americans (and sickened millions more) who could have avoided infection if they'd listened to doctors instead of Republicans and rightwing media.

But there was a method to Trump's homicidal madness. He knew what every politician who's ever run for president or studied the history of presidential elections knows: when the economy goes into the tank before an election, the incumbent always loses.

Just ask Herbert Hoover; it was over 20 years until Republican Eisenhower retook the White House, and 60 years after the Republican Great Depression before Republicans regained solid control of the House of Representatives for more than a single congressional cycle.

Trump's strategy to keep the economy on track was straightforward: keep people shopping, working and playing so our production and consumption would keep the economy going throughout the election year. No matter how many people died, especially if they were Black.

After giving in to his science advisors for a few months in March and early April, he went right back to downplaying the virus and discouraging people from even wearing masks.

That turnaround came literally the week after the day, April 7, 2020, when the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and Fox all led their news with the news that Black people were disproportionately dying from Covid relative to white people.

Suddenly rightwing media was all over the idea we must spread the virus far and wide to achieve "herd immunity," a move Trump and his people thought would largely spare Red state white people but decimate the Black community and Blue states as I documented here.

The virus beat Trump, of course; Joe Biden is now president and Democrats took control of the House and Senate, but the echo of that murderous political strategy is still killing Americans.

And with the Delta variant, which kills unvaccinated people of all ages but only rarely causes illness in people who are fully vaccinated, Covid is about to plunge Trump's devotees into a world of hurt.

As Cox Health CEO Edwards pleaded in his tweet: "Fox is the most popular cable news in our area - you can help educate on Delta, vaccines and can save lives @TuckerCarlson."

While Red states generally ignore the threat, Blue states are doing everything they can to get ready for the onslaught of the Delta variant: New York and California are rolling out digital vaccination certificates people can show on their smartphones to get into restaurants and sports/entertainment events.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, knowing which way the political winds are blown by my colleagues on rightwing talk radio and Fox, went out of his way to say they're not passports.

"I want to make this crystal clear before folks run with it," Newsom told the press. "It's become so politicized — almost everything in the state, nation — that there's no mandates, no requirement, no passports in that respect."

But vaccine passports are what will save us, particularly since the Delta variant has already spawned a new variant of its own, Delta Plus, that's "more transmissible, more easily binds to human cells, and is potentially more resistant to antibody therapy" than even the deadly Delta variant itself.

This is why more than half of Americans surveyed want vaccine passports now, as do many business owners. When it's impossible to know if the person sitting next to you on a plane or in a restaurant is vaccinated or a Trump-humper who's trusting in Jesus or hydroxychloraquine, many people are still reluctant to dine out, vacation, or go shopping the way we did before the pandemic.

Which hurts what is now Joe Biden's economy — which is exactly what Republicans want. But they are playing with fire.

Particularly given how deadly the Delta variant is, and how often it can even create "breakthrough infections" in fully vaccinated people when they're heavily exposed to the virus. As Boston's NBC affiliate Channel 10 TV noted in a recent headline, because of the Delta variant "Nearly 4,000 Breakthrough COVID Infections Have Now Been Reported in Mass." (That's a drop in the bucket, and most don't get very sick, but still…)

The original and early variants of the Covid virus required repeated or sustained exposure to become infected; the new Delta Plus variant can apparently be caught by simply walking past an infected person. A single case in an airport limo driver in Australia shows how it works, reports The Washington Post:

"Video footage shows the limo driver infecting strangers at a shopping mall and in a cafe through only fleeting contact, which scientists say proves it is possible to catch the virus simply from sharing the same airspace as an infected person."

The Post article adds, "The cluster began last week with an airport limousine driver and has grown to 36 cases…"

As the BBC reported this week:

"India's health ministry says studies showed that the so-called Delta Plus variant — also known as AY.1 — spreads more easily, binds more easily to lung cells and is potentially resistant to monoclonal antibody therapy, a potent intravenous infusion of antibodies to neutralise the virus."

And Delta and Delta Plus are just the June varieties; there are almost certainly more contagious and deadly varieties to come as evolution continues to work its magic on the virus.

The next few months will hopefully become a "Great Awakening" in America relative to the politicized lies that Trump, Fox, and rightwing media have been spewing for over a year about the dangers of Covid. And that will lead to a new wave of mask-wearing and vaccinations.

If not, it'll be the "Great Dying" for Trump followers and Fox viewers.

Thom Hartmann is a talk-show host and the author of 'The Hidden History of American Oligarchy 'and more than 30 other books in print. He is a writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute and his writings are archived at hartmannreport.com.

If Trump Loses, He May Try To Punish America

Reprinted with permission from Independent Media Institute

What could happen to America if Trump were to further, severely crash the U.S. economy the day after Joe Biden is announced as the winner of the 2020 presidential race?

As Trump tweeted on June 15, 2019, "if anyone but me takes over… there will be a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before!"

Read Now Show less

GOP ‘Relief’ Bill Rewards Corporate Greed, Not Human Need

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

It should be called the HEELS Act, not the HEALS Act.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans' price for supporting unemployment checks and other benefits for average working people has been several trillion dollars shoveled directly into corporate coffers, both through tax breaks, grants, and the Federal Reserve buying trillions worth of corporate stocks and bonds.

Read Now Show less

We’ve Reached Peak Libertarianism — And It’s Literally Killing Us

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

We have now reached peak Libertarianism, and this bizarre experiment that has been promoted by the billionaire class for over 40 years is literally killing us.

Back in the years before Reagan, a real estate lobbying group called the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) came up with the idea of creating a political party to justify deregulating the real estate and finance industries so they could make more money. The party would give them ideological and political cover, and they developed an elaborate theology around it.

Read Now Show less

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.

Read Now Show less

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.

Read Now Show less

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.

Read Now Show less

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.

Read Now Show less

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