The US Is No Longer A Democracy. Here’s How It Happened.

Last year, a study from Princeton and Northwestern universities, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” concluded that the US government no longer represents the interests of the majority of the nation’s citizens. Instead, it panders to the rich and powerful.

In other words, the US has become an oligarchy defined as a government by the few, a small group that exercises control especially for corrupt and selfish purposes.

More recently, President Jimmy Carter, commenting on how big money has subverted our elections, said, “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 being the essence of getting the nominations.”

The US didn’t become an oligarchy by accident. We got here as the result of a long list of political decisions designed to pander to the wealthy and the powerful. Here’s how:

During the 1800s, the US went from a largely agrarian society to a society based on the industrial revolution. This created some extremely wealthy individuals often referred to as the “Robber Barons,” who took advantage of cheap labor created by the influx of immigrants. They paid little and subjected their employees to horrific working conditions. During this so-called Gilded Age, the wealthy chose the candidates and ran the nation until the masses began to rebel.

In the early 1900s, the Gilded Age ended when workers began to unionize. The wealthy responded by hiring the police and ex-military (the American Legion) to break the labor strikes by bashing some heads. In reality, it was America’s second civil war.

When the Great Depression struck, the nation moved even further toward socialism which caused the wealthy to try to arrange the assassination of President Franklin Roosevelt. In fact, many of the industrialists wanted the nation’s government to reflect the fascist governments of Italy and Germany. Their agenda was interrupted with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, World War II and the revelations of the Nazi death camps. And they were forced to accept the will of the masses until the 1970s when President Richard Nixon and Vice-President Spiro Agnew attacked the new media in order to deflect criticism of their policies.

By raising questions about the objectivity of the media which were embraced by conservatives, it set the stage (intentionally or not) for the Reagan administration and its economic policy of “Trickle Down” theory. This was nothing more than a return to the “Horse and Sparrow” economics of the gilded age, during which government policies were carefully crafted to benefit the wealthy under the theory that if you feed enough oats (money) to the horses (the wealthy) enough will fall on the road to feed the sparrows (the masses).

Reagan portrayed the government and its regulation of industry as the enemy. He attacked labor unions. He lowered taxes for the wealthy. He increased the amount of money exempted from estate taxes. He deregulated the media by eliminating the Fairness Doctrine which held media accountable to serve in the public interest. And he lowered capital gains taxes, which allowed the wealthy to keep more of their primary sources of income – interest and dividends from investments.

With the wealthy allowed to accumulate more money, labor unions on the defensive and an emasculated press, the table was set for the oligarchs. All of this was made worse by Grover Norquist, Jack Abramoff and Ralph Reed who showed the Republican National Committee that it could thrive by eliminating compromises from our political discussions and treating politics as war – a blood sport. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich took congressional dysfunction a step further by transforming the GOP into a parliamentary-style party in which the entire Party is unified on every vote. If you dare to break ranks with Party, you are punished in the next primary and election.

Add to all of this the more than $28 billion lobbying industry, which is financed almost exclusively by the rich and the powerful, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which writes laws on behalf of its corporate sponsors then hands them to its conservative members to sponsor in their state legislatures where the bills are often passed with little discussion or examination, and the George W. Bush administration which cut income taxes for the rich by 4.6 percent and all but eliminated the estate tax.

The last major player is the conservative majority on the US Supreme Court, which by 3 decisions (Buckley v Valeo, Citizens United v FEC and McCutcheon v FEC) unleashed a torrent of money in campaign donations from the oligarchs. So much so, that candidates should have to wear NASCAR-style uniforms with labels of their sponsors. Indeed, of the nearly $400 million donated to presidential candidates so far this year, nearly half has come from fewer than 400 families!

Given all of this, no election in our history has been as critical as next year’s. We can either continue further down the road of oligarchy by electing candidates who try to divide us over social issues while pandering to the wealthy. Or we can elect candidates of change – real change. Candidates who will put the power of the government back in the hands of the people.

That’s why I support Bernie Sanders.

The Ongoing Bloodless Coup.

Prior to the Great Depression, the world’s financial institutions and industrialists had most everything going their way. Still living in the gilded age, they had been able to stave off labor unions by exercising all of the power their money could muster. But when the stock market crashed and Herbert Hoover failed to right the ship of state, things changed. Franklin Delano Roosevelt and Vice President Henry Wallace, led a new movement intended to help the common men and women who were out of work and out of money. This didn’t sit well with the wealthy financiers on Wall Street who had visions of turning America into a fascist government based on those of Germany and Italy.

Even before FDR’s inauguration, they struck.

Though ties to the nation’s elite were never proven, it seems clear that they had hired a lone assassin to shoot the president-elect at a public speech. But, thanks to a woman in the crowd who spoiled the shooter’s aim, FDR escaped unharmed as the bullets struck five members of his party, eventually leading to the death of the mayor of Chicago.

Then, when FDR abandoned the gold standard at the behest of manufacturers whose foreign customers could no longer afford their products, Wall Street went nuts. They believed their wealth and investments would be devalued. Almost immediately, they began seeking new ways to remove FDR from office, eventually settling on the so-called “Business Plot” involving an army of 500,000 veterans under their employ. The army was recruited from the right-wing American Legion that had already been used to beat back (quite literally) the labor union movement. The plan was for Wall Street’s army to march to the White House where it would capture FDR and replace the democratically-elected government with a business-friendly government that would mirror Mussolini’s fascist government of Italy.

Seriously!

The fact that Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh were Nazi sympathizers has been long established. But they represented just the tip of the iceberg. Other fascist supporters included the leader of the American Legion and many of J.P. Morgan’s allies, including Prescott Bush (father of George H.W. Bush and grandfather of George W. Bush and Jeb Bush), George Herbert Walker (Prescott Bush’s father-in-law), Irenee du Pont, and many others. And, though Bush and Walker escaped the embarrassment of an investigation and trial, it seems clear that they helped finance the Axis war machine even after the US declared war following Pearl Harbor.

As outrageous as it may seem, the Business Plot likely would have succeeded had the plotters not sought the help of Major General Smedley Butler. A lifelong Republican and loyal patriot, Butler played along with the plotters only long enough to take names before exposing the plot. Of course, many later dismissed the plot as a hoax, but the fact remains that the final report from a congressional committee stated: “There is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient.” Further, the report stated that “the committee was able to verify all the pertinent statements made by General Butler, with the exception of the direct statement suggesting the creation of the organization.” However, that statement was later corroborated in written correspondence from one of the plot’s leaders, Gerald C. MacGuire.

Yet, even though the plot was acknowledged to be a real threat, congressional hearings on the matter refused to release the names of the conspirators revealed by Butler, and Congress dragged out the proceedings long enough to allow Wall Street’s propaganda machine to gloss over the coup attempt.

Although details and the names of those behind the coup attempt were eventually exposed, and FDR was re-elected two times, it appears that the idea of a hostile takeover of our government never faded from the minds of some of America’s wealthiest families. But, instead of relying on an army of veterans to help them pursue their goals, it seems that the fascists have chosen, instead, to rely on something more familiar and trustworthy…money.

I’m referring, of course, to the global industrialists who profited from the Nixon administration, the large manufacturers who were able to beat back labor unions with help from the Reagan administration, and the interests of Big Oil, military contractors and private equity firms that profited handsomely during the Bush/Cheney administration. Of course, these big money interests had a setback in 2008 and 2012 when President Obama defeated their preferred candidates. But they most certainly haven’t given up.

They not only have a sympathetic majority of the Supreme Court, which ruled that money equals free speech, that corporations have the rights of individuals and that there should be no limits on political donations. They have control of the American propaganda machine, otherwise known as mass media. And thanks to the billions in dark money laundered through a complex network of non-profit “education” organizations, they have retaken control of Congress where Teapublicans are gleefully working to pay back their masters by attempting to deregulate Wall Street, defund the Consumer Financial Protection Agency, gut the Environmental Protection Agency and nullify the Dept. of Labor. They even want to eliminate the Dept. of Education (likely on the premise that an educated and informed citizenry is a threat to their rule).

There’s an old adage that tells us the best way to uncover corruption is to follow the money. That’s especially true when it comes to politics.

For more information about the Business Plot, check out the link to a segment on National Public Radio.

United Corporations Of America.

Now that Congress has been bought by large corporate interests and billionaires, you can clearly see the GOP agenda intended to pay back campaign donors.

Some of the very first bills brought forward by the GOP include a bill demanding that President Obama and the State Department approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The stated goal is to “create jobs.” But given the fact that the pipeline would only create 35-50 permanent jobs (aside from the temporary jobs needed to build it and those who would be needed to try to clean up the toxic leaks), it’s really a blatant payback to the Koch brothers for supporting GOP candidates.

Of course, we’ve seen yet another Repeal Obamacare bill intended to throw red meat to the right wing base.

The GOP-led Congress has also passed bills intended to, once again, deregulate Wall Street and to eliminate the Consumer Protection Agency. Of course, this is a nod to the GOP’s big Wall Street donors and right wing billionaires. If signed into law, the result would be to unshackle too-big-to-fail banks and investment funds to fleece ordinary investors of their IRAs, 401ks and pension funds.

We’ve seen attempts to withhold funds from the Environmental Protection Agency. This, of course, is another bill to pay back the Koch brothers and large corporations, freeing them to extract resources without regard to the environment. And once the resources have been harvested, the public will be left to clean up the corporate mess.

And let’s not forget the other kind of GOP payback to which we have become so accustomed. The GOP is blocking confirmation of Loretta Lynch as Attorney General in an attempt to force Democrats to sign a well-intentioned human trafficking bill that has been amended to further restrict a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion. This is the same kind of nonsense we’ve seen since President Obama took office in 2009…a period that has thus far seen the GOP block dozens of cabinet and judicial nominees along with 375 bills, including 7 jobs bills and 2 bills for veterans’ benefits. (Indeed, half of the filibusters in US history have come during the Obama administration.)

Yet, instead of replacing the bums with people who might actually represent their constituents, a low voter turnout resulted in the GOPstoppers picking up control of the Senate!

And lest you think that this generation of GOP politicians is particularly disgusting, remember that others in the GOP have done worse. For example, Richard Nixon resorted to treason by undermining President Johnson’s peace talks with the Vietnamese in order to win a close election with Hubert Humphrey. Ronald Reagan intentionally aligned himself with racist Southern Christians (the KKK has long been associated with Christian believers) to defeat Jimmy Carter. And George W. Bush relied on his brother to suppress thousands of votes in Florida in order to steal the presidency from Al Gore.

Although GOP cheating was less obvious in 2004, there is considerable evidence of widespread voter fraud in Ohio, the state that allowed Bush to defeat John Kerry.

More recently, Teapublicans have gerrymandered congressional districts to make it impossible for Democrats to win. They have passed restrictive voter ID laws to prevent minorities, the poor and the elderly from voting. They have cut early voting hours and the number of polls in Democratic-leaning areas to make voting more difficult. They have skirted, or outright ignored, campaign finance laws that forbid cooperation between campaigns and PACs or so-called “education” groups. And their hand-picked conservative Supreme Court Justices have acted to strike down decades of precedent in order to open the floodgates of corporate and special interest money in support of GOP candidates. In doing so, two of those “justices” (Thomas and Scalia) refused to recuse themselves from the cases despite the fact that they personally stood to benefit from their own decision – a breach of ethics that would not be tolerated at any other level of the justice system.

As a result, things are only going to get worse.

Democracy Lost.

In recent years, much has been written about growing inequality. It is, indeed, one of the most important issues of our time. And the effects of big money on our democracy have been devastating.

Sure, you may still be able to vote to elect those who are supposed to represent you. But that, alone, does not constitute democracy. Not only are the choices of candidates limited to two individuals – the only two who were able to climb their way up the political ladder in order to receive their parties’ blessings and, more important, their campaign funds. All too often, those who are elected are promised large campaign donations by corporations and industries in exchange for political favors. It is not necessarily quid pro quo, but the expectation for a return on the investment is there. So, too is the pressure.

In reality, such high stakes lobbying has long been a part of politics. But, over the past 35 years, things have gotten even worse.

In the late seventies, large US corporations began to see their hold on the world economy slip. New, lower-priced, high-quality imports – many of them made with robotics – from Japan and Germany began to push aside American-made products. US corporations responded by relocating manufacturing – first to the South, then off-shore – in search of lower-priced labor.

Perhaps, the most destructive response was the move to tie CEO compensation to the value of the companies’ share prices. This ushered in an era of ever-increasing CEO salaries and even more lucrative stock options for CEOs – a legalized form of insider trading. The result was for US corporations to seek ever lower-priced labor in countries where there is no regulation and no employee benefits. At the same time corporate profits have soared, employee salaries and corporate investments in the future have diminished – almost guaranteeing that the future will belong to foreign-based corporations. But why would our CEOs care? They and their money will be long gone before it matters.

Our corporations have used the threat of off-shoring jobs to extort our state and city governments. In exchange for their extortion, those governments have assumed many of the risks of corporate relocation or expansion by paying for needed infrastructure, cutting regulations, and delaying or eliminating corporate taxes.

Now these corporations are attempting to extort the federal government.

Unwilling to pay US income taxes on profits made off-shore, these corporations are stashing cash in foreign banks until the federal government agrees to “repatriate” the money at a greatly reduced tax rate. Of course, they’re justifying the extortion by saying that “repatriation” will lead to greater investments and more jobs in the US – the great “trickle down” fraud.

In reality, the money is more likely to be doled out to CEOs and other executives in the form of bonuses (as a reward for robbing ordinary taxpayers) and stock options.

In the meantime, corporations and billionaires have been working to rig the system. Realizing that buying Congress and our state legislatures is cheaper than paying lobbyists, people like the Koch brothers have stuffed the pockets of candidates willing to do their bidding. To pave the way, they pushed conservatives to stack the Supreme Court with ideologues such as Alito, Roberts, Scalia and Thomas. That inevitably led to favorable court rulings giving corporations the rights of people and all but eliminating limitations on political donations. They got the IRS to change its rules allowing “non-profits” to fund political campaigns. When they won control of legislatures, they gerrymandered congressional districts making it all but impossible for anyone but “their people” to win office. And they introduced Voter ID laws to suppress the votes of minorities and the poor.

In 2014, their efforts finally came to fruition. Having already bought the House in 2010, they now own the Senate. It’s no coincidence that the first bills to reach the House and Senate floors were to repeal “Obamacare” and to build the Koch…er…Keystone XL Pipeline. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has also made it clear that issues such as raising the minimum wage, equal pay for equal work, unemployment insurance and student loan costs will be pushed aside in favor of gutting regulations on health care and financial services and eviscerating the EPA.

If you’re still worried about the effects of so-called “dark money” on our democracy, don’t. Last year, our democracy officially became an oligarchy.

MLK Day: An Update.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Day, it seems appropriate to look at King’s legacy in the area of civil rights. By the time Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, he and his movement had made great strides. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 had been signed into law making it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex or national origin. In addition, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 had been enacted guaranteeing all citizens the right to vote as protected by the 14th and 15th Amendments to the Constitution.

It seemed that segregation and racism in the United States were coming to an end. However, that has not been the case.

According to recent studies, the US is more segregated today than it was in 1968. The white flight from the inner cities to the suburbs and the end of forced busing of school children has led to nearly lily white, well-funded suburban schools and mostly black, underfunded schools in the inner cities. More and more children from wealthy white families have been enrolled in virtually all-white private schools. And, to further accelerate segregation, Teapublican legislatures and Congress have passed new laws authorizing the redistribution of funding from public schools to charter schools, private schools and religious schools.

With regard to voting rights, Teapublicans have enacted restrictive voter ID laws in numerous states to suppress the black vote. They have limited polling hours making it more difficult for poor, working people to find time to vote. They have reduced the number of polling stations in poor, black neighborhoods creating long lines of voters. And the conservative-dominated Supreme Court has eviscerated the Voting Rights Act to make it more difficult for the Justice Department to prevent voter suppression.

On the positive side, the GLBT community has won the right for same sex marriage in 36 states. Yet, with the Supreme Court agreeing to review a lower court decision to uphold same sex marriage bans in four states, the gains in other states are now in limbo.

The opportunity for poor black students to have access to a college education is also in doubt following a 2013 Supreme Court ruling which limits affirmative action. Yet another Supreme Court decision has created special rules for religious organizations, and numerous state legislature bills have opened the door for further religious discrimination as if it isn’t already bad enough. (A recent study found that atheists are marginalized and subjected to discrimination. For Muslims, the situation may be even worse.)

Finally, racism is on the rise, made worse by the events in Ferguson, Missouri, Cleveland, Staten Island, the Bronx and elsewhere. And the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, has noted a tremendous rise in the number of hate groups since the election of our first black president.

It’s clear that much of what Martin Luther King, Jr. lived for and died for is in jeopardy. It’s up to all of us to ensure that he did not die in vain.

Scandals That Weren’t.

Since Teapublicans took control of the House in 2011, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Paul Gosar and other extremists have conducted a barrage of hearings with the intent of exposing the misdeeds of the Obama administration. They began by examining government loans made to administration “loyalists” at Solyndra, a start-up manufacturer of solar panels. They moved on to the failed ATFE “gun-running” program in Arizona. After that it was Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, interrupted briefly by IRS scrutiny of conservative “non-profits.” Finally, they turned to the Ebola crisis.

After dozens of hearings, numerous investigations and millions of dollars in expenses, here’s what they found:

The loans to Solyndra were initiated during the George W. Bush administration and finalized during the first year of the Obama administration. The company failed when faced with competition financed, in part, by the Chinese government. And, instead of losing millions as Teapublicans claimed, the government actually made a $5 billion profit on the sale of Solyndra’s assets.

Though Issa and his Teapublican investigations found that Fast & Furious resulted in hundreds of guns being trafficked across the border into Mexico; and though Teapublicans blamed the Department of Justice, calling for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder; the facts show that the blame was entirely misplaced. Yes, the ATFE allowed guns to cross the border with hopes of tracking them to the leaders of Mexican drug cartels. But, thanks to Arizona’s loose gun laws, guns have been trafficked across the border for decades. Fast & Furious was created out of frustration with the courts’ refusal to allow charges against so-called straw buyers. The hope was that, by tracking the guns, the ATFE would be able to disrupt the pipeline of illegal weapons.

With regard to Benghazi, contrary to an endless stream of Teapublican propaganda, 7 non-partisan investigations have found absolutely no wrongdoing by the administration or anyone else. There were no orders for rescuers to stand down. And absolutely no evidence of an administration cover-up. It was simply an unexpected and spontaneous attack by terrorists resulting in the deaths of 4 Americans…the kind of attack that led to many more deaths in American embassies under previous administrations. Yet, despite the findings of 7 investigations, Teapublicans are still insisting on spending millions more for yet another investigation by a “select” committee of Teapublican fools.

As for the IRS scandal, there is little evidence of wrong-doing. Yes, Lois Lerner and her IRS colleagues compiled a list of watch words indicating a political committee disguised as a charitable non-profit in order to ferret out those intent on skirting election laws to flood political campaigns with dark money. Yes, that list included numerous words used by Teapublican groups. And, yes, more Teapublican groups were subjected to extra scrutiny by the IRS. But it is also true that, thanks to the Koch brothers and other right wing billionaires, more Teapublican groups had applied for non-profit status than Democratic groups. Moreover, following a series of questionable Supreme Court decisions, Lerner’s IRS department was overwhelmed with such requests. And none of the groups affected were denied such status.

Finally, the Teapublican’s weakest attempt to scaremonger was the Ebola “scandal.” So far, only two people have died of the disease in the US. And though it appears that the Dallas hospital was ill-prepared to deal with the disease, the CDC and NIH quickly responded. There have been no further events and no “epidemic” despite the fact that Teapublicans dramatically cut the budget for the Center for Disease Control, making it unable to conduct necessary research.

And what were the Obama administration’s failures in all of these scandals? None. Yet, thanks to Teapublican control of Congress, the investigations, and the propaganda, will continue.

UPDATE: It is estimated that the direct costs of investigations by Issa’s committee have exceeded more than $26 million to date. The indirect costs of the time needed to provide thousands of documents in compliance with the committee’s demands may have exceeded $1 trillion.

The Not-So-United States.

It’s the day after Veteran’s Day. After flying the Stars and Stripes one last time to honor those who served our nation, Arizona citizens and businesses should be folding up their American flags and storing them away. Or, for the few who still pledge allegiance to the flag, they should remove the star representing Arizona. At the very least, they should cut the star in half.

Why?

Because, in our most recent election, Arizona voters passed Proposition 122. This new law, which will go into effect on January 1, 2015, makes it illegal for any Arizona state employee to enforce a federal law or regulation which our nincompoop-dominated legislature deems unconstitutional. Why trust the already far-right-dominated Supreme Court to make such decisions? Why pay attention to the Constitution’s federal supremacy clause?

Arizona’s legislators know best.

This brilliant piece of legislation, which legal experts have pronounced blatantly unconstitutional, was written by the late Tea Party Senator Chester Crandell and co-sponsored by other Tea Party legislators in response to the armed standoff by Cliven Bundy and his militia buddies against the Bureau of Land Management’s attempts to make Bundy pay more than $1 million in back fees for grazing his cattle on federal lands. Despite the fact that other ranchers pay the fees without complaint, the militant Tea Party seems to view the government’s attempt to collect the fees as blatant government over-reach. Arizonans certainly wouldn’t want the evil BLM to try to collect bills here.

In reality, Prop 122 is secession-lite.

The Arizona Tea Party “Patriots” would really like to secede from the United States (apparently nothing says patriotism like lifting a middle finger to your nation’s government and all those who have fought and died for it), but the state simply can’t afford to secede. After all, Arizona is a “taker” state. According to the most recent data, it receives approximately $1.50 in federal subsidies for every dollar the state’s citizens contribute to the federal government in taxes.

So we have Prop 122, instead, created by our legislature, passed by our voters and supported by Arizona’s governor-elect and attorney general-elect. That means Arizona’s citizens should be prepared to, once again, be the laughing stock of late night TV and the Comedy Channel. Moreover, Arizona taxpayers should be prepared to spend tens of millions in legal fees in a futile attempt to defend the state’s actions against the federal government. But, hey, enough of those taxpayers voted for the bill to allow it to pass by the slimmest of margins…slightly more than one half of the 44 percent of registered voters who actually made the minimal effort to vote.

It’s difficult to have much sympathy for Arizonans. The state that brought you the racist SB 1070 and the legalized discrimination SB 1062 has now fired the first salvo in secession. It’s as if the state has denounced its status of statehood and set the way-back clock to 1911 when Arizona was still a territory.

How Teapublicans Cheat. Let Me Count The Ways.

1 – Lies: People tend to think that all politicians lie. To some degree, that’s true. In order to make a point that can be used as a 20-second sound bite in the news, most politicians stretch the truth or take things out of context. But a recent study shows that Republicans lie much more than Democrats. And many of their lies have absolutely no basis in reality. By comparison, Democrats are more likely to simply stretch the truth than blatantly lie.

2 – Fear: Every election cycle Teapublicans raise issues intended to generate fear. In 2010, it was “death panels,” “dangerous criminals” crossing our southern border, our “out of control” national debt and ACORN. In 2012, it was again brown people entering our country illegally in addition to “Benghazi,” “Obamacare,” “bankrupt” Social Security and Medicare, election fraud, and the “takers” who make too little to pay income taxes. In 2014, it’s immigration, ISIS and Ebola. Be afraid…very afraid…and remember only Teapublicans can save you!

3 – Divisiveness: Teapublicans delight in turning different groups against one another. The “job creators” versus the “takers;” corporations versus environmentalists; the rich versus the poor; whites versus African-Americans and Latinos; pro-life versus pro-choice; men versus women; Christians versus Muslims; the old versus the young; the uneducated versus the educated; rural versus urban…the list is very long.

4 – Religion: Teapublicans have co-opted Christianity for political gain. Beginning with the anti-abortion movement, they have fomented paranoia (particularly in the South) that Christianity is under attack. They have led the devout and the gullible to believe that religious freedom only pertains to Christians. And contrary to Christ’s teachings, they are intolerant of others, especially the weak and the poor.

5 – Gerrymandering: In the early half of the 20th century, Democrats changed legislative and congressional districts to make it easier for their candidates to be elected. But as Republicans were elected in southern states, beginning in the 1970s, they took the art of gerrymandering to extremes. In states with Republican-controlled legislatures, they’ve created district maps that look like a Rorschach test. Areas with a preponderance of Democratic voters have been so divided they can no longer elect candidates representing their own views.

6 – Voter Suppression: In an increasing number of states, Jim Crow is back. In 2000, Florida’s governor, Jeb Bush ordered his Secretary of State to purge voter lists of felons. If a John Smith was a felon, all those named John Smith in the state were purged from the voting rolls. As a result, more than 10,000 voters in Democratic districts were denied the right to vote. In 2014, Teapublican-controlled legislatures have implemented strict voter ID laws intended to suppress the votes of minorities, college students and the elderly. In Texas alone, it’s estimated that 600,000 voters will be denied their constitutional right.

7 – Intimidation & Dirty Tricks: If Nixon and his campaign staff perfected political dirty tricks, the rest of his party must have been taking notes. For example, in many minority districts, the number of polling locations have been reduced and early voting times cut, making it more difficult to vote. Since 2004, some minorities have had to stand in line for up to nine hours to vote. In some areas, armed white Teapublican bullies calling themselves “poll watchers” have challenged minority voters with the intent to prevent them from voting .

8 – Dark Money: The Supreme Court cases which ruled that money equals free speech and that corporations have the same rights as individuals were initiated by Teapublicans. Why? They knew that the conservative court would open the floodgates of political contributions from corporations and billionaires benefiting Teapublican candidates. They have created an enormous network of non-profits with which to launder money and funnel it to Teapublican campaigns. To make matters worse, the three Republicans on the Federal Election Commission have blocked any and all attempts to control it. As a result, dark money groups have been able to run ads for candidates and attack their opponents without fear of reprisal.

9 – Absentee Voter Fraud: Though it has been proven that in-person voter fraud is virtually non-existent, fraudulent absentee ballots have long been an issue. In the 2000 presidential election, an estimated 10,000 unsigned absentee ballots were counted for Bush…more than enough to change the outcome of the election. Interestingly, the strict voter ID laws pushed by Teapublican legislatures do not cover absentee ballots. Wonder why?

10 – Dysfunctional Governance: Republican author P.J. O’Rourke famously said, “The Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work and then they get elected and prove it.” That has certainly been the case since 2011. Republicans in the Senate have used the filibuster to bring Washington to a standstill. They have blocked every Democratic initiative while offering few of their own. And the Teapublican-controlled House has done little else than vote more than 50 times to repeal “Obamacare.” The result is to make Congress less popular than cockroaches. Yet they stand to benefit from their sabotage because they can count on uniformed voters to vote for change, not realizing who is responsible for the problem in the first place.

11 – Hate Radio: Since the end of the Fairness Doctrine, more than 92 percent of talk radio has been devoted to conservative hate. The constant drone of attacks against the government and Democrats has had the effect of hundreds of millions of dollars in political advertising promoting Teapublicans.

12 – Corporate Media: While the so-called “mainstream” media are not so blatantly political, they have contributed to the Teapublican cause by leading with crime and fear. They have blown the threat of Ebola out of proportion while ignoring issues that have a real impact on our citizens. Worse, they tell us what we want to know…which celebrity is screwing who…versus telling us what we need to know. The media’s willful ineptitude has played into the hands of Teapublican strategists by magnifying the issues of fear and divisiveness.

Yes, Democrats are guilty of some of the same things. But saying both parties do it is a false equivalency. Teapublicans have mastered the art of lying and cheating. Of course, they wouldn’t be so successful at it if not for Democratic incompetence. Though I believe that Democrats are generally better at governing, especially for ordinary working people, the party is woefully overmatched when it comes to marketing and communications. The party is so diverse that it has difficulty taking a stand on anything, except that they don’t like Teapublicans.

Worse, few Democratic candidates have the strength of conviction to stand up for what they’ve accomplished. One need only look at how Democratic incumbents have run away from their votes on “Obamacare,” the 2009 economic stimulus, and Dodd-Frank, despite the fact that these things were needed and highly successful.

A Simple Way To Reform Political Advertising.

Since the Supreme Court decisions in Buckley v. Valeo, Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC, there have been numerous initiatives to reform election campaigns. Most involve asking Congress to pass Constitutional Amendments that would control election finance or require publicly-funded elections. Though these attempts are admirable and necessary, I think they have little chance to succeed. Instead, I propose a much simpler way to reform political advertising that would not, in any way, infringe on the right to free speech.

All we need to do is hold political advertising to the same standard as advertising for products and services.

When a large corporation produces an ad for a product or service, it subjects the ad to legal compliance before placing the ad on television. That compliance process makes sure that any claims can be substantiated and defended in court. If the claims cannot be substantiated, the company may still run the ad at its own risk. (Indeed, even those ads that have passed legal compliance may be the center of a lawsuit.) But the company, the advertising agency, the writer and often the production company can all be held accountable for damages in ensuing lawsuits by numerous organizations such as the corporation’s competition, the Federal Trade Commission, the BBB, state Attorneys General and industry regulatory groups. This process ensures that ads tell the truth.

For example, when I began my career in advertising, I was recruited to write advertising for a product that promised to give your car better gas mileage and performance. Although I had been given a copy of an independent research report, I was still skeptical of the promises. So I asked the clients to sign an affidavit that the information I had been given was true. After the ads ran, the state Attorney General filed a multi-million-dollar lawsuit naming the company, the art director and me. Thankfully, when I presented the affidavit to the AG, the art director and I were dropped from the lawsuit. The lawsuit was settled out of court with the company agreeing to pay a large fine, to return money to customers who requested refunds and to cease sales of the product.

The system worked. But there is no such system for political advertising.

Political campaign committees have long been free to say and do whatever they want. If an opponent sues over false and misleading advertising, the issue seldom comes to court until after the election. By that time the damage has been done; the entity that is the campaign committee no longer exists and usually no longer has funds to pay any fines. Only rarely are individuals held accountable and, if they are, the settlements take place much later away from the public eye.

The Federal Elections Committee could easily solve the problem by demanding that candidates and campaign managers sign affidavits that the claims made in their advertising are true and not misleading. Ads could be submitted to the FEC and bi-partisan state election committees for compliance. More important, all of the individuals would be held liable even beyond the election. (Yes, the system might require more federal and state funding. But isn’t the process of choosing an elected representative more important than choosing a laundry detergent?)

This would make the standards for political advertising almost identical to the standards for product advertising. As a result, this system should impose no undue hardship for politicians.

As for dark money groups (PACS, Super PACS, 501c4s) funded by billionaires and corporations which now sponsor the majority of our political ads, they can be held accountable by a one word change in the IRS code governing non-profits. Instead of the code requiring that non-profit groups be “operated primarily for the promotion of social welfare,” the code should be returned to its pre-1959 wording which required that non-profits be “operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare.”

The only real problem with this proposal is that Teapublicans simply don’t want to make changes. The FEC commissioners are split with 3 Teapublicans and 3 Democrats, and the Teapublicans have blocked every proposal to reform elections. They are content with dark money, with attack ads and with lies. In fact, they are quite good at it. Recent studies have shown that the preponderance of political lies come from Teapublicans. But aren’t these the same people who demand accountability from others? Adding an independent FEC commissioner would end the stalemates and make the FEC relevant again. These relatively minor changes would make all politicians accountable and likely make most political campaigns civil again. More important, it would make them more fair by requiring candidates to tell the truth and it would eliminate dark money from the process.

Who could be against that…other than liars and cheats, of course?

Further Evidence That Television News Is A Joke.

It was recently revealed that, before NBC News selected Chuck Todd to host Meet The Press, it tried to convince Jon Stewart to be the host. Yes, that Jon Stewart…the comedian. The same Jon Stewart who currently hosts The Daily Show.

That speaks volumes about the quality of television journalism today.

Stewart is one of the best interviewers on the planet…unafraid to ask tough questions; unwilling to settle for canned statements; determined to get at the truth. And Stewart isn’t the only example. Stephen Colbert and John Oliver are just as good. Unlike most TV “journalists” who have become lazy and partisan, these TV hosts are seeking the facts about government and politics in addition to laughs. After all, these things are often one in the same.

Like the legendary journalists of yesteryear…Edward R. Murrow, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley, David Brinkley…these are people who ask insightful questions; who demand real answers; who continue to press until the interview subject reveals something of consequence. Stewart, Colbert and Oliver are intelligent, informed and curious. They can use humor to draw information from their interview subjects. They are entertaining. More important, they are credible.

In other words, they represent everything that television journalism used to be and should be again.

The Supreme Court is, at least, partly responsible for the decline. Its decisions to equate free speech with money and corporations with people have unleashed a multi-billion dollar bonanza of political advertising for TV networks and broadcast stations. To make matters worse, most of the media are now owned by a few corporations. There are no longer impenetrable firewalls between programming, advertising and the newsrooms. For example, Fox “News” president, Roger Ailes, was a media consultant for Presidents Nixon, Reagan and Bush. To make certain that his Fox “News” hosts stay on message, he supplies them with a memo of GOP talking points at the beginning of each day.

In order to continue their financial windfall from political advertising, media owners are not inclined to rock the boat. They will not permit their news operations to report on the evils of dark money in politics or the buying of political favors for fear that they will lose their share of the money. And it’s not just television journalism that is failing.

A similar phenomenon has taken place in radio and print. More than 90 percent of the hosts of radio talk shows are right wing hacks who are peddling hate. Newspapers have long delivered a partisan slant to the news (often the newspapers’ leanings are indicated in their mastheads, i.e. The Republic, The Democrat, The Independent, etc.) and news magazines are struggling financially. As a result, some of the best investigative journalism today is being done by freelance reporters and what were formerly entertainment magazines…Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, Vanity Fair, etc.

It’s ironic that, in the so-called “Information Age,” we are facing a crisis of knowledge.