Category Archives: Patriotism

News Spin … From the other side

A few months ago, after writing about disingenuous spin at a major TV news network I became aware of another news source that also seemed to peddle in lies. More and more reddit posts hitting the front page were coming from The Independent (independent.co.uk)
Even as I write this, they have the top post on reddit’s front page:
 
A few months ago, I wondered whether independent.co.uk was legit. The logo, layout and the name seemed professional. But were they truly based out of the UK, and who owned them?

Owned by a Russian Oligarch

What I discovered surprised me.Independent.co.uk turned out to be based out of the UK as expected.  However, it’s not British owned; it’s owned by Alexander Lebedev … a Russian oligarch.

Now, this ownership, in and of itself, is not necessarily a bad thing. But given what I’ve learned about soviet era propaganda and Putin era propaganda tactics, I don’t want to get my news from a Russian oligarch – no matter his political leanings. Whether motivated by advertising dollars, or by some politician’s agenda, I want no part in that agenda. But I still wanted to know – was The Independent’s news real, or fake?

Fake News

The Independent’s headlines felt just a little too curated, their stories just a bit too perfect.

The first story I looked into was an allegation that Trump passed Angela Merkel a joke invoice for Nato in March 2017.

I looked to see if other trusted news outlets had reported the same thing. Reuters? Nope. AP?  Nah. I only found other news sources citing the Independent article.
Then I found stories citing a statement by Merkel’s press secretary saying there was never any fake NATO invoice. The white house said the same. So it looks like that headline was fake news. Months later, the story is still up – probably garnering page clicks – and no retraction has been issued.
Sweet Lies
This is but one of uncountable sweet lies being told by the myriad ‘news’ sources on the internet. It’s further evidence that headlines coming across your newsfeed can’t be trusted out of hand – even when these headlines push your confirmation bias buttons. It’s on us to choose trustworthy news sources, and corroborate stories coming at us. It goes against our cognitive inclinations. But if you’re going to let yourself be influenced at all by the media, it’s on you to do your due diligence.

News Spin … One Famous Example

Have you ever seen a news channel present a specific narrative that doesn’t capture the whole story?  Here’s one famous instance of a news channel doing just that. In this case, we catch a news organization red handed – not only acting in bad faith, but deliberately lying.

Compare the two news clips below to see for yourself.

Original Testimony – Unedited

On April 24th, 2009, Al Gore testified before Congress about global warming. Representative Marsha Blackburn (R Tenn) rightly wanted to know if Gore would personally profit off of the cap-n-trade legislation under discussion.

In response to her initial question on the topic, Al Gore stated,

“…Every penny that I have made, I have put right into a nonprofit, the Alliance for Climate Protection, to spread awareness of why we have to take on this challenge.”

Just to confirm, Rep Blackburn again asked, “…you know, are you willing to divest yourself of any profit? Does all of it go to a not-for-profit, that is an educational not-for-profit…?”

Gore reiterated,

“Every penny that I have made has gone to (the not-for-profit). Every penny from the movie, from the book, from any investments in renewable energy.”

Al Gore didn’t hide his petulance at the line of questioning, so he didn’t come off great. Even so, Representative Blackburn seemed fairly satisfied with his answer.

Here is this original, unedited exchange:

Newscast Video: Edited to Mislead

Nearly a week later, the O’reilly Factor reported on Al Gore’s testimony. However, the Fox producers cut out key components from the video. What parts? You guessed it – the two sentences I cited above, where he confirms that money made off of his investments in clean energy went directly into a not-for-profit charity.

See for yourself. Here’s the Fox version of the Gore / Blackburn exchange:

Did you notice anything missing? Did you notice the selective edits? Could you feel how the narrative pushed the viewer to believe that Gore was profiting off of his message?

Immediately after the edited testimony clip, Laura Ingraham asks, “did she (Rep Blackburn) get the, uh, question, actually answered?”

If Fox had shown an unedited clip, the answer would have been yes – he answered, “uh,” her question twice. But in the selectively edited Fox video, the host and guest laugh, as if Al Gore never answered at all.

That’s a lie.

While the raw testimony in the first video may have left you satisfied in Al Gore’s answer, or even unsure of his motives, the Fox video was unambiguous. The clear intention was to lead the viewer to conclude unequivocally that Al Gore was profiting off of his global warming advocacy. Even though he wasn’t.

Just one of a Sampling of Lies

This is but one of many examples of how Fox spins its own narrative to tell a story that is patently false.

This is how Fox news lies.

Resources and acknowledgements:

Beyond News Spin: The Sycophant Filter

A sycophant filter has been deployed on the Fox news website.  I’ve already pointed out how Fox producers selectively edit video testimony to tell a story that is far from the truth.  Now, we have proof that on their website, they’ve deployed bots that actively filter out comments critical of Trump, and let through comments that praise Trump.

They’ve erected a sycophant filter.

Test it for yourself.

1. Jump to the comment section of this hateful op-ed: 

http://www.foxnews.com/opinion/2017/07/12/dont-tread-on-me-trump-hating-traitors.html

Do you see any comments containing this direct quote?

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

Depending on how far the sycophant filter has evolved when you check the comments, you may or may not see this bot-evading post:

“T.his is 0b.vi0usly ver.y hig.h le.vel an.d 5en.sitive inf.ormation bu.t i.s p.art o.f Rus.sia an.d it.s g0vernm.ent’s sup.p0rt f.or M.r. Tr.ump.”

No? Despite the fact that many redditors have posted a direct quote from an email from Rob Goldstone to Don Jr., you’ll not see them anywhere. Here is the quote:

2. Create an account on the Fox news website, and post that quote

Click on the Sign In button, and choose, ‘Sign Up’. Put in your email address and follow their instructions for the remainder of your account setup. Log in, and post the following:

“This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” – Rob Goldstone

3. Log out, then pull up a fresh browser where you’re not logged in.

Logged in as an anonymous reader, try to find your comment. It’s not there.

4. Log back in and look at your comments.

Your comment appears now. Your comment has been ghosted. (only you can see it).

5. Or – skip the work and watch someone else expose the Fox Sycophant Filter.

In this video, reddit user u/UnconnectdeaD creates various accounts, posts pro Trump and anti-Trump posts, and shows how the sycophant filter works in real time:

As an American, I take pride in our 1st amendment. One of our fundamental freedoms is that of speech. We are supposed to live in a society free of from censorship. I take the first amendment seriously. Here, on state party TV, the sycophant filter is running amok. It’s as unAmerican as Soviet state propaganda.  Fox news is pretty much Russian state TV.

Resources:

Who is Rob Goldstone:
http://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-40567707

Dive into the Reddit Rabbit Hole here: 
https://www.reddit.com/r/politics/comments/6nb4w7/dems_read_trump_jrs_emails_on_house_floor/dk86v03/

Propaganda Forwards from Dad

A few days ago, my dad forwarded me an email. I don’t know why I opened it. As expected, it was propaganda.

Now bear this in mind: my dad was in the military for his entire career. He is intensely patriotic, and a die hard Republican. He despises the Clintons and thinks Barack Obama is a muslim hell bent on imposing sharia law and bankrupting the USA. Given all that, this email was beyond the pale – even for dad.  Here it is:

Remember this guy?
Khizr Kahn and his wife – the “Gold Star” family who caused such a commotion denouncing Trump for his stand against Muslim immigration at the DNC convention?
Now we learn that not only did the Dems pay actors to fill up seats at their convention, but they paid Khan $25,000 to make that speech. (Which was, by the way, not written by him, but two DNC staffers).
Remember the copy of Constitution he held up? (Bought by a staffer two hours before speech).
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg!
FIVE Gold Star families turned down the DNC’s request to speak at the convention. Khan’s law firm is in debt $1.7 million and owes back taxes of over $850,000 plus penalties. (Which the IRS has put on hold since his convention speech). In addition, the DNC paid him a bonus of $175,000 for his “media effort.” AND…CNN paid him over $100,000 for his interviews.
Now who’s dishonoring his son’s memory?
Talk about a soulless bastard!! But then again he’s a lawyer!
VADM N. R. Thunman USN (Ret.)
1516 S. Willemore Ave.
Springfield, IL 62704217 971 9667 Cell

I sighed, and thought to myself that I should ignore the email. But no, I diligently went through each paragraph and researched the claims. Here is what I wrote back to my dad. I took the half dozen other people off copy, but cc’ed my brother – you know, for a second opinion from someone who hasn’t yet joined the cult.

Dad,  When I’m forwarded an email like this, my assumption is that the sender believes everything in it. So I’m assuming you 100% believe everything in this.

If on the other hand, you’re not sure, but you forwarded with the thought “eh – maybe there’s a grain of truth in this” – then even if there is one grain of truth – among a bushel of lies – then you are spreading propaganda. This is beneath you.
 
In the future, if you honestly want to fact check an email like this, forward it to me alone with a note asking me to assist you with the fact checking. I will help you find credible sources against which to compare some of the claims. Otherwise, do not forward these emails. As for me, I would never forward an unsolicited email that I’m unwilling to fact check. I would expect the same of you. Forwarding lies dishonors us all.
 
Just as an example, I picked a claim made in this email, (that Mr. Khan’s speech was written by DNC staffers), and fact checked it for you … Who wrote the speech?  Mr. Khan did.
 
Here is Mr. and Mrs. Khan in an interview discussing the speech. They specifically discuss writing the speech (and the constitution in the pocket) after the 12 minute mark. Furthermore…

“The Clinton campaign offered to put him in contact with a speechwriter. He declined. He knew what he wanted to say. He practiced at home with his family, leaning on 40 years of experience as an attorney that taught him “how to control my thoughts, my emotions and my message.” – http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/07/seven-minutes-that-shook-the-convention-214126

Mr. Khan’s son Humayun died fighting as a US soldier in Iraq. They are our fellow Americans. We should stand with them. Watch Mr. Khan’s full DNC speech to hear the values we’re talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xzkkk-oJ6bo .
 
To hold conservative principles is fine – necessary even. I would suggest forwarding emails that have to do with values and policy, not distorted versions of the circus show.
 
These propaganda emails are written with one goal: to divide us. Here’s the thing, we’re not on teams. We’re all on the same team – we’re all Team America. Stop giving these propagandists your attention. Their goal is to rip our country apart. Their goal is to make you discount the consideration of half of your countrymen – your daughter included. And you know what – it’s having the converse effect as well. When you forward these emails, it lowers your credibility in the eyes of your very own daughter. Is this what you want?
 
United we stand, divided we fall. I’m witnessing the deliberate dividing of the USA – and members of my own family are actively taking part in the destruction. It’s disheartening, to say the least.

 -Laura

How did my dad respond? … He wrote,

        What’s ever a hundred per cent, Laur????? – Dad.
He hadn’t read past my first sentence. Ergh.
I know better. I know better than to reply to these email-forwards. I know better than to spend hours thoughtfully crafting an email, citing first person sources, laboring to keep my tone even and calm. I know better than to open his emails in the first place. He just confirmed – yet again – that he’s part of a cult. The Republican cult that uses Soviet propaganda tactics to inoculate its members from outsiders – their own daughters included.
How’d my brother respond? With a link to this video:
I’m not 100% sure who my brother thinks is Earl Weaver and who’s the ump in this scenario. But hey, nothing’s ever 100%, right?
Having read Dark Money, understanding the implications of Citizens United, and the lapse of the Fairness doctrine under Reagan, I feel like a Cassandra. I can call out the propaganda all I like, but the people who are buying into it don’t want to listen.
This timeline sucks. I want to start over under Jimmy Carter – when we had solar panels on the roof of the white house. I don’t want the current time line where the solar panels represent a road not travelled. I want the timeline where it’s 2017 and we’re at carbon neutral energy, dominated by renewables, and where the news is produced by professionals who are independent and proud to produce a public good, and where propaganda gets called out for what it is: lies.

My Aunt Hates Me – Because I Oppose Trump.

After the 2016 US election, my aunt heard from my sister that I was grieving over the outcome of the election. On Facebook, I’d said I didn’t want to hear any gloating – and anyone who gloated would be dead to me. In response, my aunt sent me a hateful email that made me cry.

Just a few weeks ago, out of the blue, she sent another:

Subject: Fan of Bernie and …
Democratic Socialist shoots Republicans practicing for charity baseball game – From guilt motivated condescending limousine liberal elitists to pouting, tantrum throwing election losers to total obstruction of anything for the people being done in Congress to fake news of NYT, and total bias Washington Post to supposed 1st Amendment supporting fascist shrieking hyenas preying on the handful of Conservatives who dare to demonstrate in the street or make a speech at a University to liberal, “caring” hypocritical Hollywood purveying violence in order to maintain opulent lifestyles to Kathy Griffin’s symbolic beheading of our President to blood and gore in Shakespeare in the Park to cowardly protesting Democratic Socialist Hutchinson shooting Republicans playing baseball for charity…

My, what company you keep!

Holy run on sentence!

I guess my response is best summed up by the following, inspired by redditor u/OriginalName317…

Aunt ______,

I don’t know anyone who rides in a limousine, let alone anyone who feels guilty about it.

I don’t personally know anyone who threw a tantrum over the election, though I am personally upset by it. As you know, I didn’t want to hear any gloating. And I grieved deeply for the wound inflicted on our country. It should be okay to have feelings about the outcome of the 2016 election.

I’m not aware of any obstruction going on, and I’m unclear how the party so clearly in power could be unable to move their agenda simply because of the minority party’s opposition.

I’m pretty sure that when the Republicans were being obstructionists over the last eight years, you didn’t have a problem with that. This feels like a double standard.

The WaPo and NYT, as far as I’ve seen, have accurately reported what people have said and done in this administration. If you know something different, please share it with me. They may be biased, but they don’t publish lies. Maybe you and I have different definitions of fake news. To me, fake news are the rabid right-wing propaganda emails that dad forwards to me. Emails that, after five minutes of basic fact checking, are easily debunked.

I am unclear how a fascist can support the first amendment. Also, I have seen both conservatives and liberals participate in demonstrations, though I’m personally aware of more and larger groups of liberals doing it right now in response to this administration’s policies.

If you’re referring to Milo Yiannopoulos, he’s admitted to being a troll, which means he’s not using his right to free speech to tell the truth. He’s most likely doing it to make money, much like Alex Jones. Of course, he’s still free to speak, but so are the people speaking out against him. I hope you don’t take him seriously, as he’s trying to sell you something. Also, I would never speak to you in the horrible way Milo talks about people he disagrees with or uses opportunistically. That’s because I believe the best about you, and I care about you.

While I don’t agree with Kathy Griffin’s locker room talk, don’t you think it qualifies as free speech? Do you wish her first amendment right could be taken away, but not Milo’s? Who should get to decide that?

Shakespeare’s plays are often political and violent, this is not news. Also, Julius Caesar has a long history of being re-imagined to reflect contemporary politics. Would you be surprised to know the main character has been portrayed as Hillary Clinton, Mussolini, and Obama? Were these other portrayals also unacceptable? This sounds to me like selective outrage. Not to mention that this is also free speech.

Do you think I support someone trying to shoot a politician? That would tell me a lot of what you think about me. I don’t think that about you, because I believe you’re a good person who just happens to believe they’re under attack. I’m not attacking you.

I don’t keep company with murderers or people who deny inalienable rights to others. If I see the opportunity, I try to share my ideals of compassion and inclusiveness, unity, caring, personal responsibility, integrity and moral strength. I don’t always have the courage to do it, I’m sorry to say. But today, I’m sharing those ideals with you. What you wrote sounded like you hate a lot of people, including me. I choose not to return that hate to you. I think more highly of you than that. I believe you’re better than that. I hope you believe the same about me.

Inspect Your Values. Discuss Your Values. Vote Your Values

I wrote the following comment on reddit a few minutes ago, and thought I’d repeat it here…

What are your values? Please – talk to people about YOUR VALUES – IN YOUR OWN LANGUAGE rather than focusing on whatever deficiencies another party might have.

Here are a few of my values, just to provide some examples.

*We need sensible government policy influenced by science, not ideology. We need to adopt pro-human pro-free market policies that have been proven to be effective by states or other countries. (It’s called finding ‘bright spots’).

* Trump’s administration could mean the difference between 1.5 degree global warming and something much much higher. This isn’t political. This is life and death. This is our home. We need to care for it.

*We need to promote the free market by passing Medicare For All. Medicare For All would lessen burdens on companies – esp small family owned enterprises – to provide healthcare. Healthcare Insurance is an added operational cost, all for something that is not a core competency. Alleviating this imposition is pro-free market! Medicare for all would lower barriers-to-entry for entrepreneurs. I mean, why do we even keep this, our throwback system, that was originally born out of misguided post-WW2 socialist policy?

*The oceans are CURRENTLY 30% more acidic than they otherwise would be had humans never pumped 500 billion tons of CO2 into them. O2-producing phytoplankton may die off completely at these levels of acidity. Right now )2 is approx 20% of our air. Ocean phytoplankton create 60% of that. You do the math. We MUST stop pumping CO2 into the air, and embrace clean technologies. Carbon neutral by 2040.

*We need a government that stands up for the constitution and ensures the bill of rights apply to every citizen no matter their race, gender or other identifying attribute. We all deserve EQUAL PROTECTION under those precious bill of rights that were passed by our wise founders on Dec 15, 1791.

*Corporations are NOT people. Citizens should have influence over a government that is ‘of the people and by the people’, corporations should not. We need to ban corporate donations to political campaigns, expose Kochtopus ‘think tanks’ for the frauds they are, and fund campaigns with public money.

*Any organization that purports to be a news service must adhere to the Fairness Doctrine, that says that equal time must be given to various political views on a subject.

I write all this as someone who was registered GOP for 18 years, someone who was offended by their Frank Luntz, focus group tested, disingenuous talking points that convince people that the interests of trust-fund baby cry-babies are in line with their own interests.

Talk to people in your network about your pro-human pro-democracy pro-science values. Then get their asses out to vote in 2018 mid terms. Don’t wait for a charismatic leader to sweep you off your feet.

Inspect your Values. Share your values. Vote your values!

Okay, now here’s a video of our son in Florence learning how to play rock -paper- scissors.

What do Americans Stand For

Language. Republicans have mastered it. They use carefully crafted talking points to appeal to the aspiring individualist in us all. And they’ve been effective.

Democrats, on the other hand, flail with language, and they lose.

Ultimately, language communicates what we stand for – or at least what we want people to believe we stand for. Again, this is where Republicans excel.

Democrats, on the other hand, fail to communicate much of anything other than that they dislike Republican policy. But what do they stand for. What should they stand for?

The Republicans have been effective. Not just at winning seats in Congress, but their rhetoric has resulted in streamlined government. Federal institutions are not the bloated beasts they were in the seventies. The IRS is a model of efficiency (and they’re kind and helpful when you call too – I know -I’ve called a few times). Social Security overhead costs are extremely lean.  They’ve gone from 2.1% overhead costs in the seventies to just 0.7% today. Compare that to the typical private managed funds of upwards of 1-5% and it’s clear the costs of administration are lean.

As an ex-Republican, who feels her party abandoned her back when Newt Gingrich proposed his disingenuous ‘Contract with America’, I wonder why Democrats have done so poorly. As someone who recognizes that the government is actually capable of delivering basic services, and indeed is often the best option for some services, I wonder why Democrats don’t talk about these things.

From my perspective, there seem to be many factors. For one, the disciplined talking points of the right have cowed democrats into using GOP language (for example death tax rather than estate tax, and climate change vs global warming). Secondly, both parties, under our system of privately funded campaigns, have been captured by a handful of very wealthy corporate and individual donors. So the Democratic party would lose a lot of funding if they started talking like populists.  In the end, they talk more about how bad the other party is rather than explaining what they stand for. And it’s hard for voters to rally behind a candidate who doesn’t explain – in very simple terms – what she stands for.

So then I wondered, irrespective of party (I’m unaffiliated personally), what do I stand for, and what do I expect my government to stand for?

  1. The Constitution – especially our individual rights called out in the first ten amendments (aka the bill of rights). The number one job of the government is to protect me from the government. So, for example, I expect the federal government to protect me and every other human from the  unconstitutional practice of civil asset forfeiture as practiced by so many local police departments across the country.  Civil asset forfeiture violates the 4th and 5th amendments and I expect the federal government to put an end to it. The Obama administration at least took steps to curtail it. But the Trump administration seems set to reverse course and actually support its use.  The current Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, doesn’t see anything wrong with seizing property from citizens without a conviction. This is scary stuff. He should at least know the law, being the top lawyer of the land and all.
  2. The Constitution applies to humans and government branches only. It should not apply to corporations.
  3. I expect Kindness and Equal Treatment – my government must treat every citizen as a human worthy of respect and kindness. Even criminals. Even poor people. Even lazy people. Even losers. Even the mentally ill. Even old people. Even artists. Even self-proclaimed racists, socialists, fascists, capitalists, or communists. Currently we seem to have rules for rich people and harsher draconian rules for everyone else. Somehow we think rich people have earned white glove treatment, and others are undeserving. It’s as if poor minorities are assumed to be criminals until they prove otherwise, while trust-fund babies are given the benefit of the doubt.
  4. I expect a Safety Net. I take no pleasure in the fact that millions of Americans must choose between death or bankruptcy when facing a cancer diagnosis. Single payer basic healthcare should be provided to all.  It’s really not an issue of free-market vs government provided care. We can put aside ideology and simply study other countries that have tried various systems. It’s called ‘looking for bright spots.’ We evaluate results and adopt policies that deliver basic services for the least cost. It’s pretty straight forward.
  5. I expect Worker Protections. If a group of workers want to organize, that’s their right. The right to peaceably assemble is in the 1st amendment, and as noted before, the top role of the federal government is to uphold the constitution for every single citizen. Corporations can work with these organized groups directly – I don’t want my government colluding with corporations against unions.  Sure – if a union is corrupt then the government can bring corruption charges. But outlawing unions outright is unconstitutional. ( In fact, I think corporations would do well to follow Germany’s example and mandate that a certain percentage of board members come from the workers. Issues could be dealt with as they arise, before they become problems. )
  6. I expect government policy to follow the will of the people, not the will of billionaire trust fund babies and corporate lobbyists. However, it’s clear that policy is driven (and squashed) by the will of donors.
  7. I expect elections to be publicly funded. Allowing unfettered money into politics has led us to a nasty place where super PACs and think tanks willingly embrace soviet style propaganda techniques to twist voters perceptions of reality, and nudge them to vote for money-backed candidates.
  8. I expect standards to be established for anyone purporting to report ‘news’. Right now, anyone can spew any bullshit and call it news. It’s creating havoc among voters who cannot tell what’s true and false anymore. We need a 21st century Fairness Doctrine.
  9. We need an overhaul to our electoral system to come up to date with modern life. People live in cities now. We have the internet and mail in voting. First past the post voting is anathema to democracy as it guarantees a two party system. This needs to be replaced with pretty much anything else.
  10. Abortions are bad. We should all work together to get the abortion rate to zero. Staking out ‘pro-life’ or ‘pro-choice’ identities however stops us from coming together on this goal and finding solutions that work. This is because those identities presume their own solutions. Here again we can look for bright spots and adopt policies that work. It turns out, if you provide early reproduction education to to children, provide free contraception to everyone, and de-stigmatize sex, abortion rates decline. We should be talking about these solutions and putting them into practice.

So these are a few of MY values. I feel like democrats, by not talking about their values, or worse, staking out opposing positions makes them unlikable. They let republicans erect straw men visions of what they stand for. For example, a republican might say that democrats are ‘pro-abortion’. Uh, no, they’re not. But if they don’t stand up and say they think abortion is bad, this is how they’ll be characterized. And they’ll continue to lose.

Like I said, I’m unaffiliated with any party, after having been a registered republican for nearly 20 years. But I’m like a lot of voters. When I actually think about specific policy – free of party affiliation – my preferences tend to line up with progressive values. So for goodness sakes : Democrats, Progressives – take back the conversation and talk about your VALUES. Stop letting the other side paint your portrait. Because they make you look like a baby eating monster.

Citizens United – The Free Market Killer

Today I read a Reddit AMA featuring Jim Harper. Mr. Harper is an employee at American Enterprise Institute. AEI is a leading producer of, among other things, global warming doubt ‘studies’.

(AMA = “Ask Me Anything.”)

You can read the exchange on global warming, but the point of this post is to show you how the Citizen’s United Court Decision is a free market killer.

In 2010, the John Roberts supreme court ruled, essentially, that corporations such as Citizen’s United (a political messaging organization) are people and money is speech. In other words, a billionaire could legally give unlimited $ to the election campaigns of a few dozen senators, and then, subsequently (and wholly coincidentally (wink wink) ),  be confirmed as Secretary of some agency that oh, I don’t know, regulates the industry that made that billionaire those very same billions.  You can read more about the Citizen’s United ruling here.

Personally, I get it that unlimited contributions == corruption. It’s obvious, and it’s what I’ve been taught in my public/private education.   However, Mr. Harper punted on a specific question about Citizen’s United. In his stead, u/Scytle chimed in with an answer worth sharing.

Sometimes it’s good to be like Einstein and do a thought experiment to help the idea really hit home. Here’s u/Scythe’s:

Let's do a little mental experiment. Let's say you're a small mom and pop shop who developed, and now wants to sell your own product. You make a good product, it's sturdy, has good value, and performs its function well. So well, that you patent it, and start selling it.

It's doing well, local people are talking about it, and it looks like the market could deliver you huge returns if you were able to sell and advertise all over the nation. 

A large company that already makes a product like yours offers to buy it from you. But you took years to develop this product, and you think you have a winner so you politely decline.

When that large company realizes that you could be a future threat to their market share, they take a couple million dollars down to the senate and start spreading it around to a couple well chosen senators. Corporations are people my friend. Money is speech, and they have a huge mouth.

The next year a small rider in a budget bill seems oddly specific in banning just the kind of product you make. Heartbroken you go out of business, just when you were about to make it big.
That large company comes along and offers to buy that patent. But now, you are living paycheck to paycheck so you sell it to them for far less than they had offered before.

The large company doesn't even use your patent, they toss it in a vault and have their legal team use it to sue anyone who makes a product even close to the one you invented.

They continue making a far inferior product, their profit margin grows, the consumer is given less choice, and worse choices. Senators get wealthy and your mom and pop operation has to fire the 2 or 3 people it had working there. 

Meanwhile that large company off-shores a couple hundred jobs to a place with worse environmental regulations to save money, and uses the savings to give the CEO's bigger bonuses this year, the stock price goes up, they sell off a couple million shares and buy another yacht.

YAY Citizens united is great! Free market! Unregulated Capitalism!

Put simply: allowing people to give as much money as they want to those in power is a direct threat to our liberal democracy. Hello corporate kleptocracy!

Later in the AMA u/Scytle showed up again, this time in response to Mr. Harper’s comments on capitalism. He wrote, “My outfit, CEI, is one of the great advocates in the nation for capitalism and the benefits it produces. There’s a lot of validity to the basic point that any trade freely entered into makes both parties better off. In the aggregate, human wealth and flourishing is a product of billions of such interactions. I don’t really like the word “capitalism,” though, as it suggests that capital rules.”

u/scytle replied in a way that sums up my own unsettled thoughts on the rhetoric the GOP repeats over and over again regarding the free market, regulation and capitalism. To me, it sounds like they’re spinning a story to convince everyone to let corporations and a handful of hyper-rich families take over our government. Apparently I’m not alone. Here’s what u/scytle had to say:

Capital does rule...you're job (in a think tank creating propaganda for corporations) is a perfect example of how a large amount of capital can be used to destroy the "free" market and tilt it in one direction.

Also there is no such thing as a "free market". All markets are artificial, and regulated. I can't open a murder shop, and I can't dump a pile of nuclear waste in your back yard. All economic activity is either allowed or not allowed by government. Just because someone will pay for something doesn't mean it should be allowed.

Without government regulation the "free" market becomes survival of the richest. Slavery could be a logical endpoint to an unregulated marketplace.

Capitalism sprang forth from feudalism. Feudalism is not compatible with democracy, do you think un-checked (Laissez-faire) capitalism is compatible with democracy?

Capitalism kills millions of people every year, either because there is money to be made (high drug costs, private prisons, etc), or because saving their lives is not profitable (the plight of a Bangladeshi fisherman who is killed in a flood doesn't matter to the guy pumping methane into the air at his fracking operation).

This unregulated capitalism allows the very rich to run over the very poor so long as they have enough money to grease the wheels. Then they take their profits, and plow them back into legal political bribes so that the law is on their side.

Your "long march towards freedom" seems an awful lot like oligarchy to me.

Please rethink your support of the GOP. They were once the party of freedom and personal responsibility. With Citizen’s United, they’ve been co-opted by billionaires. I de-registered from the GOP in 2016. you can make this the year you do the same.

Oh, and instead of registering with the DNC, fight the privately funded two party system by calling your STATE reps and telling them to follow the wolf-pac.com initiative to get $ out of politics with a constitutional amendment.

The real problem: our privately funded two party system

There’s lots to dislike in US politics these days. I contend that most of the truly egregious problems aren’t due to any particular candidate or ideological viewpoint.

I contend we end up with depraved political dysfunction because of our privately funded two-party system.

Even if you like your reps, you need to know that the federal policy they set, and the federal laws they craft, in no way represent your interests. How do I know this?

In 2014, two professors from Princeton and Northwestern published a study that shows that federal policy/laws are moved by a few very rich people and a few high dollar donating corporations. Federal policy and laws in no way correlate with public opinion. Here’s an easy to digest summary.

Our political system runs on, and is thus controlled by, private money. That’s hardly democratic, and it’s wholly unAmerican. It’s always been this way – esp with the rise of corporate personhood beginning more than a hundred years ago – but after the Citizen’s United ruling in 2010, those massive donations can be made in any amount, at any time, and in broad daylight … and it’s perfectly legal.

And these private interests don’t stop at funding candidates. They fund political ‘think tanks’ that produce specious-at-best ‘studies’ that make bullshit policies pass the whiff test among voters who only read headlines. And the MSMs – incredibly – pick up these non-peer reviewed – often erroneous studies up and report them as news. Now it’s scarier than ever. With Facebook and other social media outlets, these think tanks are becoming increasingly adept at microtargeting ads directly to you based on your personality profile.  But let’s leave the issue of this pervasive and legal propaganda for another post. Let’s get back to the privately funded two party system.

Sure, the people running for office will tell you what you want to hear to win your vote, and they may actually believe what they’re saying. But ultimately, their pay masters are corporations and oligarchs.

The privately-funded aspect of our political system is bad enough, but the two party aspect – mixed with copious amounts of emotion-triggering propaganda in our newsfeeds –  has us picking sides as if we’re rooting for a sports team rather than choosing well-qualified representatives.

US Politics, pretty much, in 2017

But you already know about picking teams.

(By the way, you don’t have to pick a team – you can do what I did and register “unaffiliated.” Then, vote in the primary of whichever national party will have you. Even if their stupid super-delegate system is totally rigged against nominating your preferred candidate who actually understands what most AMERICANS want in their government.)

Look – bringing conservative and liberal perspectives to policy decisions is a good idea. But that’s not what’s happening now. All that’s getting through is $.

Here’s what I want you to do:

  1.  CHECK OUT WOLF-PAC.COM.
  2. Call your STATE reps and tell them to work with Wolf-pac in calling for a constitutional amendment that gets private and corporate money out of politics.
  3. VISIT your STATE reps and tell them to work with Wolf-pac in calling for a constitutional amendment that gets private and corporate money out of politics.
  4. Recruit a DOZEN of your friends to do these four steps too.

Five states are already on board: CA, IL, VT, NJ and RI.

Call your STATE reps and tell them to turn the Wolf-pac map red. Tell them to support the Wolf-Pac.com initiative.

 

USE THE WOLF-PACK VOLUNTEER TOOLBOX TO HELP YOU:

Of course, getting $ out of politics won’t solve all the problems – such as First past the Post voting, the propaganda machines of the two parties, or voter apathy – but it’s a start. So please, call your STATE reps, visit them in their offices, and get a dozen people in your network to do the same.

For my friends in Bellingham, WA. Here are your reps, their phone #s, and links to more of their contact info.

District 40 Legislators (Downtown B’ham, Lake Whatcom, and Southside):

District 42 Legislators (Northside to Blaine):

Issues That Unite Us: The Constitution Should Apply to People not Corporations.

On Jan 30, 2017, the House of Representatives introduced House Joint Resolution 48 (115th Congress), which makes the bold assertion that

CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE!

That’s stating the obvious. Of course corporations are made up of people – but they themselves aren’t people. The constitution begins with  We the People .. not We the Corporations. So why do courts increasingly rule that the constitution applies to corporations?

Here’s why: because nowhere in the constitution does it explicitly state that it applies only to human citizens. This joint resolution, (HJR48(115th)) would fix that. 24 representatives have sponsored HJR48(115th). We need many more.

Since 1776, we’ve left it to the judiciary to decide whether the constitution applies to corporations. And courts – since the 1880s,  have increasingly set precedents that afford corporations equal protections under the constitution.

So what? Who cares?

Ever hear of CItizen’s United? In 2010, the courts ruled that corporations have 1st amendment rights. The effect of this ruling was an unleashing of private money into our political system.  158 families now make over half of the campaign contributions  to our representatives. Much of this money is funneled through corporations. This matters, because it’s been shown that money influences congressional action  – constituents do not.

We have lost our representative democracy.  There are many components to this loss – but a big contributor is the rise of corporate personhood.

Corporate personhood.  Sounds weird. Looks weird too:

The fact is, our constitution describes a government of the people. The bill of rights were passed in order to protect the rights of people. So were subsequent amendments. They were not drafted with corporations in mind.

But a curious thing happened en route from 1776 to today. Radical activists judges have, little by little, ruled that portions of the constitution apply to corporations too. Without clear language to the contrary, a judge in Santa Clara county (an ex-railroad lawyer) – casually stated that he didn’t want to hear arguments as to whether the 14th amendment applied to corporations. In his view, it applied. Period.  Thus the corporate person was born. Precedent was set.

Equal protection applies to corporations because of a single comment made by a judge way back in 1886.

Back to Citizens United. In that ruling, corporations were deemed to have 1st amendment rights, just like people. In 2010, when that decision came down, Keith Olbermann made a video full of dire predictions. See if any of them have come true:

As of now, in 2017, it seems to me that much of what he predicted has come to pass. It’s no longer We the People, it’s We the People With Money. Until now, CEOs worry that funding the wrong campaign could alienate potential customers. Given the lack of outrage til now, I believe the time of our country becoming We the Corporations is upon us.

So, we’re well on our way to being governed by corporations. Not that corporations are bad. I love corporations. Hell, I’m living off of dividends from corporations. But that doesn’t mean I want them ruling my government. I want my government to be Of the People. I want my government to keep corporations in check. The conventional wisdom is that corporations are beholden to short-term thinking shareholders – not to all citizens.

It’s time to reclaim our representative democracy. And we can!

Luckily for us – an effort to fix this is already underway. And it has to do with that joint resolution I already mentioned House Joint Resolution 48:

House Joint Resolution 48 (115th Congress): “Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing that the rights extended by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only.”

If you support this idea – if you want our representative democracy back – PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF MERGATROID – contact your representative in the House of Representatives. 

Find Your Representative here, on Congress.gov

And if your representative sits on the House Judiciary Committee, your call will be worth about 100 calls.

Currently on the House Judiciary Committee:
Steve King (Iowa-4th)  zip codes staring with 50___*
Steve Cohen (TN-9th)
Jerry Nadler(NY-10th)
Ron Desantis (FL-6th) Jacksonville area
Trent Franks (AZ-8th) Peoria, AZ
Louis Gohmert (TX-1st)
Jamie Raskin(MD-8th)
Trey Gowdy(SC-4th)

*Steve King apparently represents more zip codes than people

Write, email or call, and tell your representative to co-sponsor House Joint Resolution 48 (from the 115th Congress). To apply peer pressure, point out other reps from their state and/or party who are already on board.  You can find the names of the bill’s co-sponsors here.

That Big-R Badass – Walter B Jones. Props to you, sir. Props.

If you’re represented by a democrat, you’re likely to find a name there. If yours is a Republican, then point out that badass of the shallow south – that’s right – the honorable Representative Walter B. Jones, Jr. [R-NC- the fightin’ 3rd] – co-sponsored this bill on the day it was introduced.

 

Here’s what I sent to my representative. Use it as a template if you wish:

Dear Ms. Eshoo, …. Please take a step back and recognize that our privately funded two party system has given rise to corporate personhood. I’m 100% against corporations (including PACs) being given the same rights under the constitution as human citizens.

Please – join five of your California colleagues and sponsor House Joint Resolution 48: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-joint-resolution/48/

“H.J.Res.48 – Proposing an amendment to the Constitution of the United States providing that the rights extended by the Constitution are the rights of natural persons only.”

Already on board from CA are:

-Rep. Takano, Mark [D-CA-41]
-Rep. Lee, Barbara [D-CA-13]
-Rep. Khanna, Ro [D-CA-17]
-Rep. Lieu, Ted [D-CA-33]
-Rep. Huffman, Jared [D-CA-2]

PLEASE – even as you deal with the latest developments from the current administration, PLEASE do all you can to FIX THE SYSTEM. Co-sponsor joint resolution 48, and support any and all efforts to end this privately funded political system. Stopping corporate personhood (and the idea that $ is speech) is a start. There’s much more to do. But let’s start with Res 48.

I’m rooting for you!   -Laura

As always – remember to keep it brief, stick to one issue, and be clear that you are a constituent. This guide may help:

Keep It Simple Stupid

Here’s more info on the amendment: https://movetoamend.org/amendment]https://movetoamend.org/amendment

And there’s more you can do! There’s a movement to get the state governments to propose a very similar constitutional amendment. Five states are already onboard. Check out wolf-pac.com to see how you can push your STATE legislature to call for an amendment that brings power back to the people by getting big $ out of politics.

Want to read about more issues that unite us? Get ready to take action against The Government Looting Your Stuff!