Category Archives: Congress

You Can’t Vote Out National Security Bureaucrats: And They, Not Elected Officials, Really Run The Show

Mike Masnick writes for Techdirt:

‘A year ago, we noted a rather odd statement from President Obama, concerning some of the Snowden leaks. He more or less admitted that with each new report in the press, he then had togo ask the NSA what it was up to. That seemed somewhat concerning to us — suggesting that the administration wasn’t actually aware of what the NSA was up to until after it leaked to the press. Combine that with our more recent story of how James Clapper is basically ignoring the substance of President Obama’s called for surveillance reforms, and you might begin to wonder who really runs the show when it comes to surveillance. And, indeed, according to a guy who knows quite well, the national security bureaucracy basically calls the shots, and the President has little to no power. That’s the basic summary of an interview with Michael Glennon under the title Vote all you want. The secret government won’t change in the Boston Globe.

Glennon is the author of a new book called National Security and Double Government, as summarized by the Boston Globe.’

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The Special Interest Problem: How AIPAC and the NRA Came to Rule American Politics

Lawrence Davidson writes for CounterPunch:

‘The problem of special interests or lobbies was one of the foremost concerns of the Founding Fathers of the United States. In their day they were called factions. James Madison, who is considered the architect of the U.S. Constitution, devoted the entire tenth Federalist Paper (1787) to the problem. He defined a faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority … actuated by some common … interest, adverse to … the aggregate interests of the community,” and believed that within the context of liberal republicanism, they could never be eliminated. However, he did feel they could be controlled. To this end he sought to create representative bodies with high numbers of delegates and a wide diversity of interests in the hope that they would counterbalance each other.

When George Washington delivered his famous Farewell Address in 1796, he too noted the problem. Washington warned of “combinations and associations” which attempt to “direct, control, counteract and awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities” and thereby substitute their own desires for the “delegated will of the nation.” As Washington’s continued concern implied, James Madison’s approach to controlling special interests or factions never proved adequate.’

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Vote all you want, the secret government won’t change

Jordan Michael Smith writes for The Boston Globe:

‘[...] Why did the face in the Oval Office change but the policies remain the same? Critics tend to focus on Obama himself, a leader who perhaps has shifted with politics to take a harder line. But Tufts University political scientist Michael J. Glennon has a more pessimistic answer: Obama couldn’t have changed policies much even if he tried.

Though it’s a bedrock American principle that citizens can steer their own government by electing new officials, Glennon suggests that in practice, much of our government no longer works that way. In a new book, “National Security and Double Government,” he catalogs the ways that the defense and national security apparatus is effectively self-governing, with virtually no accountability, transparency, or checks and balances of any kind. He uses the term “double government”: There’s the one we elect, and then there’s the one behind it, steering huge swaths of policy almost unchecked. Elected officials end up serving as mere cover for the real decisions made by the bureaucracy.’

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Ebola Fears Turn Into an Epidemic of Racism and Hysteria

Andrew Jerell Jones wrote for The Intercept:

‘[..] Far more contagious here has been a new virus of hysteria — and of the sort of ignorant discrimination that immigrants in general and Africans specifically have endured for decades.

People are being shunned and mocked for having visited, or even for simply having been born in, Africa — and anywhere in Africa will do, afflicted with Ebola or not. Others face discrimination simply for living in the same neighborhood where a single Ebola patient once lived. Politicians and pundits have seriously discussed closing our borders to entire nations. Panic is dividing the country at a time when the U.S. and indeed the whole world needs to pull together to solve a viral health crisis.’

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Public trust in U.S. has dwindled with rise in income inequality

Science Daily reports:

‘Trust in others and confidence in societal institutions are at their lowest point in over three decades, analyses of national survey data reveal. The findings are forthcoming in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Compared to Americans in the 1970s-2000s, Americans in the last few years are less likely to say they can trust others, and are less likely to believe that institutions such as government, the press, religious organizations, schools, and large corporations are ‘doing a good job,'” explains psychological scientist and lead researcher Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University.’

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Whistleblowers: IRS officials behind ‘fraudulent’ multi-billion dollar corporate tax giveaways

Nafeez Ahmed writes for Raw Story:

IRSArt‘A 10-year veteran Internal Revenue Service (IRS) attorney has demanded a Congressional audit of the IRS to investigate the agency’s alleged role in allowing American corporations to illegally avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes at the same time the agency is cracking down on individuals and small businesses.

In a letter to Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, IRS commissioner John A. Koskinen, and IRS chief counsel William Wilkins, Jane J. Kim, an attorney in the IRS Office of the Chief Counsel in New York, accused IRS executives of “deliberately” facilitating multi-billion dollar tax giveaways. The letter, dated October 19, will add further pressure on the agency, which is under fire for allegedly targeting conservative and Tea Party groups.’

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Joe Biden’s Son Hunter Kicked Out of Navy for Cocaine

NBC News reports:

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (R) points to some faces in the crowd with his son Hunter. (Reuters/Carlos Barria )‘Vice President Joe Biden’s son was booted from the Navy Reserve because he tested positive for drugs, it was revealed on Thursday.

A U.S. official told NBC News that Hunter Biden was kicked out of the Reserve earlier this year after he failed a drug test.

The official said Biden failed the test in 2013, but he was not kicked out until Feb. 14 of this year. Senior U.S. officials told NBC News that Biden, 44, tested positive for cocaine. The Wall Street Journal first reported the incident.’

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Obama and Republican hawks are in perfect agreement about Pentagon spending

Jonathan Bydlak writes for Rare:

Fotor01010161359‘At the Pentagon earlier this week for a national security update, President Obama doubled down on his calls for ending sequestration, labeling it “draconian” in a time of increased demands on the military.

Yet as recently as 2011, the President was on record as saying, “I will veto any effort to get rid of those automatic spending cuts to domestic and defense spending. There will be no easy off-ramps on this one.”

What a difference a few years makes. The sequester, a collection of discretionary spending caps, ended up becoming law after the so-called “Super Committee” failed to enact cuts in return for raising the debt ceiling. And perhaps unsurprisingly, it wasn’t long before the President changed his tune.’

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How Corporate Executives Are Purchasing U.S. States, One Governership at a Time

Jim Hightower writes:

‘[...] The corporate purchase of Washington is pretty widely reported, but — keep up now — the kleptocratic stinkiness fast consuming our statehouses as well. The Republican Governor’s Association has devised a layaway purchase plan allowing brand-name corporations to make secret donations of $100,000 or more a year to the RGA in support of the corporate-friendly agenda of various GOP governors. And a lot of execs have been buying.

These are chieftains of brand-name corporate giants who have secretly funneled millions of their shareholders’ dollars into the “dark money” vault of the Republican Governors Association. In turn, the RGA channels the political cash into the campaigns of assorted right-wing governors. This underground pipeline has been a dream come true for corporations, for it lets them elect anti-consumer, anti-worker, anti-environment governors without having to let their customers or shareholders know they’re doing it.

But — oops! — the RGA made a coding error in its database of dark money donors. So in September, a mess of the GOP’s secret-money corporations were suddenly exposed, standing buck-naked in front of customers, employees, stockholders and others who were startled and angered to learn that the companies they supported were working against their interests.’

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Inside the Koch Brothers’ Toxic Empire

Tim Dickinson writes for Rolling Stone:

‘The enormity of the Koch fortune is no mystery. Brothers Charles and David are each worth more than $40 billion. The electoral influence of the Koch brothers is similarly well-chronicled. The Kochs are our homegrown oligarchs; they’ve cornered the market on Republican politics and are nakedly attempting to buy Congress and the White House. Their political network helped finance the Tea Party and powers today’s GOP. Koch-affiliated organizations raised some $400 million during the 2012 election, and aim to spend another $290 million to elect Republicans in this year’s midterms. So far in this cycle, Koch-backed entities have bought 44,000 political ads to boost Republican efforts to take back the Senate.

What is less clear is where all that money comes from. Koch Industries is headquartered in a squat, smoked-glass building that rises above the prairie on the outskirts of Wichita, Kansas. The building, like the brothers’ fiercely private firm, is literally and figuratively a black box. Koch touts only one top-line financial figure: $115 billion in annual revenue, as estimated by Forbes. By that metric, it is larger than IBM, Honda or Hewlett-Packard and is America’s second-largest private company after agribusiness colossus Cargill. The company’s stock response to inquiries from reporters: “We are privately held and don’t disclose this information.”

But Koch Industries is not entirely opaque. The company’s troubled legal history – including a trail of congressional investigations, Department of Justice consent decrees, civil lawsuits and felony convictions – augmented by internal company documents, leaked State Department cables, Freedom of Information disclosures and company whistle­-blowers, combine to cast an unwelcome spotlight on the toxic empire whose profits finance the modern GOP.’

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James Traficant, colorful Ohio congressman expelled by House, dies at 73

Matt Schudel reports for The Washington Post:

‘James A. Traficant Jr., an iconoclastic nine-term Ohio populist in the House of Representatives who was convicted on corruption charges in 2002, becoming the second member of Congress to be expelled since the Civil War, died Sept. 27 at a hospital in Youngstown, Ohio. He was 73.’

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After Five-Week Recess, U.S. Congress Takes a Seven-Week Vacation

Chomsky: The U.S. behaves nothing like a democracy

AlterNet has republished a recently delivered speech by Noam Chomsky from Bonn, Germany at DW Global Media Forum:

Chomsky: The U.S. behaves nothing like a democracy‘[...] According to received doctrine, we live in capitalist democracies, which are the best possible system, despite some flaws. There’s been an interesting debate over the years about the relation between capitalism and democracy, for example, are they even compatible? I won’t be pursuing this because I’d like to discuss a different system – what we could call the “really existing capitalist democracy”, RECD for short, pronounced “wrecked” by accident. To begin with, how does RECD compare with democracy? Well that depends on what we mean by “democracy”. There are several versions of this. One, there is a kind of received version. It’s soaring rhetoric of the Obama variety, patriotic speeches, what children are taught in school, and so on. In the U.S. version, it’s government “of, by and for the people”. And it’s quite easy to compare that with RECD.

In the United States, one of the main topics of academic political science is the study of attitudes and policy and their correlation. The study of attitudes is reasonably easy in the United States: heavily-polled society, pretty serious and accurate polls, and policy you can see, and you can compare them. And the results are interesting. In the work that’s essentially the gold standard in the field, it’s concluded that for roughly 70% of the population – the lower 70% on the wealth/income scale – they have no influence on policy whatsoever. They’re effectively disenfranchised. As you move up the wealth/income ladder, you get a little bit more influence on policy. When you get to the top, which is maybe a tenth of one percent, people essentially get what they want, i.e. they determine the policy. So the proper term for that is not democracy; it’s plutocracy.’

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How John McCain Wound Up Canoodling With Terrorists

Justin Raimondo writes for Antiwar:

ISIS-McCain‘Did Senator John McCain, a leading advocate of arming Syria’s Islamist revolutionaries, meet with members or allies of the Islamic State in al-Sham [the Levant] (ISIS) during his trip to Syria on May 27 of last year?

McCain and his defenders deny it, and McCain’s longtime advisor, Mark Salter, is accusing Sen. Rand Paul – who, in a recent interview with the Daily Beast, said McCain had met with ISIS – of “smearing” McCain and indulging in “conspiracy theories,” rendering him “unfit” for the office of the presidency. The Washington establishment, unsurprisingly, is siding with McCain, one of their own: theWashington Post’s Glenn Kessler, in a scathing piece, gives Sen. Paul “four Pinocchios,” and regrets that’s the maximum allowed. Josh Rogin, of the reliably neoconnish Daily Beast, joined in the pile-on with his colleague Olivia Nuzzi, ex-aide to Anthony Weiner, who accused Paul of “repeating a thoroughly debunked rumor.”

Now, however, it’s time to debunk the “debunking,” because the truth is finally coming out – and it’s worse for McCain than even Sen. Paul imagined. It turns out the frenetic Arizona warmonger met with members of the Northern Storm Brigade – the group that handed US journalist Steven Sotloff over to ISIS as he crossed the border into Syria.’

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Is it over for ALEC? Interview with Jane Carter

Koch foundation proposal to college: Teach our curriculum, get millions

Dave Levinthal reports for The Center for Public Integrity:

‘In 2007, when the Charles Koch Foundation considered giving millions of dollars to Florida State University’s economics department, the offer came with strings attached.

First, the curriculum it funded must align with the libertarian, deregulatory economic philosophy of Charles Koch, the billionaire industrialist and Republican political bankroller.

Second, the Charles Koch Foundation would at least partially control which faculty members Florida State University hired.

And third, Bruce Benson, a prominent libertarian economic theorist and Florida State University economics department chairman, must stay on another three years as department chairman — even though he told his wife he’d step down in 2009 after one three-year term.’

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Senate Republicans gave a big fat “no” to taking money out of politics

America’s Billionaires Political Power Index

Darrell M. West has produced a list of  America’s top billionaires with the most political power  for a upcoming book called Billionaires: Reflections on the Upper Crust. According to the author he “examines the political use of great wealth, including campaign expenditures, activism through nonprofit organizations and foundations, holding public office, media ownership, policy thought leadership, and behind the scenes influence.” You can learn more about it by clicking on the image below:

State Republican Party Official Resigns After Suggesting Women On Welfare Should Be Sterilized

Bryce Covert reports for Think Progress:

Former Arizona State Sen. Russell Pearce‘Former state Sen. Russell Pearce (R) resigned his position as first vice chair of the Arizona Republican Party late on Sunday evening amid criticism of comments he made on his radio show about women on welfare.

[...] His ideas are far from being on the fringe. They in fact help inform our policies. The Nixon administration pushed through funding for serializations in the 1970s aimed mostly a low-income people, usually women of color, and many were done involuntarily. And while it may sound like long-ago history, the practice of sterilizing low-income women hasn’t been entirely done away with. Between 2005 and 2013, 39 tubal ligations were given to women in California’s prison system without full consent. The majority of those were performed by Dr. James Heinrich, who has said of the practice, “Over a ten-year period, that isn’t a huge amount of money compared to what you save in welfare paying for these unwanted children — as they procreated more.” The state is now considering banning inmate sterilization.’

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Despite Obama’s Pledge to Curb It, NSA Mass Surveillance Wins Rubber Stamp

Dustin Voltz reports for The National Journal:

Took them long enough.‘In the face of congressional inaction, a federal court on Friday renewed an order allowing the government to collect phone records on virtually all calls within the United States.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved the Justice Department’s request for another 90-day extension of the National Security Agency’s controversial mass surveillance program, exposed publicly last summer by Edward Snowden and authorized under Section 215 of the post-9/11 Patriot Act. The spying authority is next set to expire on Dec. 5.

[...] The extension marks the third of its kind since President Obama pledged in January to reform how the NSA spies on Americans during a major policy speech delivered amid withering scrutiny of the nation’s intelligence-gathering practices. Obama outlined a series of immediate steps to reform government surveillance and boost transparency, but noted he would wait for Congress to deliver him a bill before ending the bulk collection of U.S. call data.’

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Super Wealthy Spread Money, Politicians Spread Ass Cheeks

America Can’t Pay for Its Wars, Analysis Says

Paul D. Shinkman reports for US News & World Report:

‘America can no longer afford all of its wars and military adventures abroad. That’s the argument put forward by a nonpartisan budget analysis expressing concern over an apparent disconnect between the Defense Department, which has submitted its new budget for fiscal year 2015, and Congress, whose inability to balance a budget and agree on deficit levels has triggered automatic cuts that have slashed military spending to the bone and beyond.’

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Obama Informs Congress of Iraq Airstrikes Under War Powers Act

Jason Ditz writes for Antiwar:

‘President Obama formally notified Congress today [Sept 1st] of the beginning of airstrikes against the Iraqi town of Amerli, as required under the War Powers Act. Administration officials say the attack was “consistent with the military missions we have outlined to date in Iraq.”

Under the War Powers Act, the president is allowed only to launch such unapproved operations in the case of “a national emergency,” which would be a difficult case to make in Iraq, and also he can only continue the war for 60 days without a Congressional authorization for the use of military force.’

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Mitch McConnell under fire for comments to Koch brothers summit

Alexandra Jaffe reports for The Hill:

‘Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is taking heavy fire from Democrats for comments he made during a private strategy conference hosted by billionaires Charles and David Koch, outlining his strategy to oppose Democratic pet proposals if Republicans take the Senate.

Local and national Democrats decried his promise to drop “all these gosh-darn proposals” that Democrats have been pushing, like minimum wage and extending unemployment benefits, as “staggering and beyond deplorable,” as Kentucky Democratic Party Chairman Dan Logsdon put it.

But McConnell’s campaign stood by his remarks, noting his opposition to such proposals is nothing new and highlighting a portion of his comments in which he pledges to go after the Environmental Protection Agency as evidence of his commitment to fighting for Kentucky’s coal industry.

The comments went public late Tuesday night, when progressive magazine The Nation published a recording it had obtained of McConnell’s session at the June conference of conservative lawmakers, donors and strategists.’

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Congress Members Who Approve Militarization of U.S. Police Receive 73% More Money from Defense Industry

From Washington’s Blog:

‘Americans of all stripes oppose the militarization of U.S. police forces.

For example:

  • A new Pew research poll shows that a plurality of people think that the police have gone too far in Ferguson, Missouri

So why does Congress continue to approve militarization? For the same reason that Congress members vote for NSA spying on Americans and go easy on Wall Street criminals: money.’

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Is the United States Even a Democracy?

Matt Peppe writes for Just The Facts Blog:

‘Every one in the world knows that the government of the United States is a democracy, and that the United States stands for promoting democracy around the world. How do we know this is true? Because the government says so, all the time.

“Democracy and respect for human rights have long been central components of U.S. foreign policy,” claims the State Department. “Supporting democracy not only promotes such fundamental American values as religious freedom and worker rights, but also helps create a more secure, stable and prosperous global arena in which the United States can advance its national interests.”

Idealists would say this is a very benevolent sounding notion. Realists might say it is vacuous and inane. But the media, textbooks, even human rights organizations choose to propagate the idealistic version and claim as an article of faith that the United States does not just practice democracy, but embodies the very idea itself.

Democracy is used as a justification for everything the government does – domestically and abroad. Since the U.S. is the embodiment of democracy and democracy is good, then everything the U.S. does is good, by definition.

But it’s not very often that anyone bothers to actually analyze this. Other than being an abstract concept, what actually is democracy and how does the U.S. fit this definition?’

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Former Clinton advisor: How Democrats lost their way chasing Wall Street cash

Bill Curry, former White House advisor to Bill Clinton, writes for Salon:

My party has lost its soul: Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and the victory of Wall Street Democrats‘[...] In the late ’70s, deregulation fever swept the nation. Carter deregulated trucks and airlines; Reagan broke up Ma Bell, ending real oversight of phone companies. But those forays paled next to the assaults of the late ’90s. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 had solid Democratic backing as did the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999. The communications bill authorized a massive giveaway of public airwaves to big business and ended the ban on cross ownership of media. The resultant concentration of ownership hastened the rise of hate radio and demise of local news and public affairs programming across America. As for the “modernization” of financial services, suffice to say its effect proved even more devastating. Clinton signed and still defends both bills with seeming enthusiasm.

The Telecommunications Act subverted anti-trust principles traceable to Wilson. The financial services bill gutted Glass-Steagall, FDR’s historic banking reform. You’d think such reversals would spark intra-party debate but Democrats made barely a peep. Nader was a vocal critic of both bills. Democrats, he said, were betraying their heritage and, not incidentally, undoing his life’s work. No one wanted to hear it. When Democrats noticed him again in 2000 the only question they thought to ask was, what’s got into Ralph? Such is politics in the land of the lotus eaters.

The furor over Nader arose partly because issues of economic and political power had, like Nader himself, grown invisible to Democrats. As Democrats continued on the path that led from Coehlo to Clinton to Obama, issues attendant to race, culture and gender came to define them. Had they nominated a pro-lifer in 2000 and Gloria Steinem run as an independent it’s easy to imagine many who berated Nader supporting her. Postmortems would have cited the party’s abandonment of principle as a reason for its defeat. But Democrats hooked on corporate cash and consultants with long lists of corporate clients were less attuned to Nader’s issues.

Democrats today defend the triage liberalism of social service spending but limit their populism to hollow phrase mongering (fighting for working families, Main Street not Wall Street). The rank and file seem oblivious to the party’s long Wall Street tryst. Obama’s economic appointees are the most conservative of any Democratic president since Grover Cleveland but few Democrats seem to notice, or if they notice, to care.’

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From Public Service to Lobbyist: The Revolving Door Is on Auto Pilot

David Dayden writes for The Fiscal Times:

‘Political debate between the two parties often boils down to whether citizens benefit from government actions. But one group of people always make out handsomely. In his book The Payoff, former lobbyist and Senate chief of staff Jeff Connaughton called them “The Blob,” the army of hangers-on and glad-handers who rotate between government and industry, getting rich off their past associations and trading on their influence and relationships, sometimes in particularly corrupt fashion.

This shadow sector of government has grown more bloated than ever, and if ever an issue existed where Democrats and Republicans could come together to eliminate administrative waste, this is it. Just take a look at some examples from the past couple weeks.’

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Kid Makes App That Exposes Sellout Politicians

Hannah Ewens reports for Vice:

‘With US politics swimming in so much corporate money that it’s pretty much an oligarchy, it can be hard to keep track of which particular set of lobbyists is trying to milk more cash out of health care, fossil fuels, and other very important issues from one week to the next.

But thanks to 16-year-old Nick Rubin, keeping track of just how much politicians have sold out has become a lot easier. He created Greenhouse, a new browser plug-in that operates under the motto “Some are red. Some are blue. All are green.” The plugin aims “to shine light on a social and industrial disease of today: the undue influence of money in our Congress.”‘

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America Is Ripe For Authoritarianism

CJ Werleman writes for AlterNet:

‘America is on the precipice of a fascist uprising. While liberals have consistently leveled the f-word against opponents on the right, much the same way conservatives have appropriated socialist or Marxist against those on the political left, there is now data showing that proto-fascist movements are on the rise. The kindling for the fire of fascism has already been lit. While the Republican Party holds at least one branch of the federal government, America will never be able to deal intelligently and earnestly with the economic policies that have destroyed the working class and all but decimated the middle class. A GOP congress guarantees that Democratic efforts to raise the minimum wage, reform the tax code and repair our crumbling infrastructure will be thwarted, all in the name of protecting the rich from paying their fair share.

Long-term unemployment promises to be the norm, as well stagnant and poverty-level wages, foreclosures, crippling personal debt and bankruptcies, the evaporation of savings and retirement funds, the outsourcing of jobs, the continued dilapidation of our schools, hospitals, roads, bridges, and airports, and the regulations that safeguard our food, water, and clean air. All this comes courtesy of obscene profits, bonuses, taxpayer subsidies, tax breaks and compensation being doled out to our corporate overlords. “It [USA] is very similar to late Weimar Germany,” says Noam Chomsky. “The parallels are striking, and the United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen.”’

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