This is the disturbing truth about how much unearned wealth and power has been accrued by elites

There is a common feeling that many of us have experienced in professional or academic environments, especially when we struggle against gender or racial bias. It’s called “imposter syndrome”—the feeling that one doesn’t deserve one’s position and that others will discover this lack of competence at any moment. I felt this way as a female graduate student in a science field in the 1990s. I felt it as a young journalist of color in a white-dominated industry.

The rich and the elite among us appear to feel the opposite—that they are deserving of unearned privilege. A recent series of stories in New York Magazine headlined “The Year of the Nepo Baby” has struck a chord among those who are being outed for having benefited from insider status. Nepo babies are the children of the rich and famous, the ones who are borne of naked nepotism and whose ubiquity exposes the myth of American meritocracy. Nepo babies can be found everywhere there is power.

The New York Magazine stories have predictably generated defensive responses from nepo babies. Jamie Lee Curtis, actor and daughter of famed Hollywood stars Janet Leigh and Tony Curtis, wrote a lengthy post on Instagram defending her status. Although she admitted that she benefitted from her parents’ fame—“I have navigated 44 years with the advantages my associated and reflected fame brought me, I don’t pretend there aren’t any”—she also clapped back at critics, saying she was tired of assumptions that a nepo baby like her “would somehow have no talent whatsoever.” Curtis went further in claiming that the current focus on people like her was “designed to try to diminish and denigrate and hurt.”

Curtis is clearly a talented actor, of that there is no doubt. But, in defending her privilege from critique, she reveals just how deserving she considers herself. It is the converse of imposter syndrome—the insider syndrome.

The act of calling out nepotism doesn’t necessarily imply that nepo babies are not talented. (Nepo babies are sometimes talented—and sometimes not.) It means pointing out that some talented people are able to benefit from family connections and fame that other equally talented people are not able to.

The critique is intended to call out elitism, not “diminish,” “denigrate” or “hurt,” as Curtis accuses journalists of doing. Journalism that exposes power and its corruptive influence among elites punches up, not down. Curtis is hardly a disadvantaged person whose well-being will suffer from such coverage. Rather, stories pointing out her parental advantages could potentially help to even the playing field so that it is unacceptable in the future to consider family connections in film and TV auditions.

Recall the college admissions scandal of 2019 when it was revealed—again through good journalism—that wealthy parents like TV star Lori Loughlin used all the power and money at their disposal to bend the rules of elite school admissions for their children. Many of those children may well have deserved to get into the schools they attended. But, in the face of stiff competition, untold numbers of equally deserving youth who did not have powerful and wealthy parents willing to break rules were not admitted. Now, many of those same nepo babies’ parents who were tried and convicted are using their money and connections to win shortened prison sentences.

But Hollywood celebrities, however much they enjoy prestige and privilege, are an easy target. Nepotism is rife in all the halls of power—in the world of art, sports, and even journalism, and especially in corporate and political circles.

Billionaires (especially those in tech) may propagate the myth of the merit-based American dream, but some of the most dramatic success stories began with a parent using their wealth or connections to give their child the upper hand. Take Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, who became one of the world’s wealthiest people in his 30s. Gates’s early success was largely due to the well-documented connections that his parents flexed on his behalf to get his fledgling company off the ground. Other tech nepo babies include Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, whose father loaned him $100,000 to start his company, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, whose parents were early investors in his online retail business to the tune of nearly $250,000.

Nepotism is part of the fabric of capitalism. For centuries, unfair advantages were available to those who have historically faced fewer hurdles, through the sheer luck of being born into a family with wealth, connections, or respect within their field. Indeed, in order to beat back the imposter syndrome, many advise channeling the unearned confidence of a mediocre straight white man.

Our economy is rigged to encourage nepotism by ensuring that the already wealthy pass their wealth—and by extension the power that their money buys—to their children. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) pointed out how the tax code is written in order to benefit the moneyed classes. According to a CBPP report, “High-income, and especially high-wealth, filers enjoy a number of generous tax benefits that can dramatically lower their tax bills.”

Nepo babies who defend their status reinforce the notion that wealth, fame, and privilege equal brilliance, talent, and genius. The reality is that the privileged among us simply have the means to cheat. The rest of us are sold the lie that working hard will bring rewards—rather than unearned wealth.

This, in turn, encourages cheating among those who cannot rely on nepotism to gain power. One well-known example of the “fake-it-till-you-make-it” approach is Anna Sorokin, a woman whose fabricated lies about wealth and power landed her in prison and made her the focus of a Netflix show. Sorokin faked being a nepo baby—a German heiress—in order to live a lavish lifestyle. Sorokin learned that to gain the edge that moneyed elites have, one must internalize the insider syndrome.

Republican Congressman George Santos, who was recently exposed as a fraud for lying about his work experience, wealth, and even ethnicity, is another prime example. His political party has made a habit of encouraging (real or fake) nepo babies like Donald Trump, who openly admitted to tax avoidance in a debate and whose company was convicted of criminal tax fraud.

The GOP has for years led the charge to protect the interests of the wealthy while insisting on means testing and drug testing for the rest of us to receive benefits.

In truth, the emperor has no clothes. The meritocracy of American capitalism is a myth built on smoke and mirrors, on lies and false confidence. The current long-overdue conversation around nepo babies may help to further class consciousness among Americans who may see a bit more clearly now just how scantily clad the emperor really is.

Sonali Kolhatkar is an award-winning multimedia journalist. She is the founder, host, and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a weekly television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. Her forthcoming book is Rising Up: The Power of Narrative in Pursuing Racial Justice (City Lights Books, 2023). She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute and the racial justice and civil liberties editor at Yes! Magazine. She serves as the co-director of the nonprofit solidarity organization the Afghan Women’s Mission and is a co-author of Bleeding Afghanistan. She also sits on the board of directors of Justice Action Center, an immigrant rights organization.

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

Why tech billionaires are actually dumber than you think

It turns out that many of today’s billionaires are selfish, lonely men fantasizing about how they will survive the end times they have played a part in creating.

In mid-September, for just a few days, Indian industrialist Gautam Adani entered the ranks of the top three richest people on earth as per Bloomberg’s Billionaires Index. It was the first time an Indian, or, for that matter, an Asian, had enjoyed such a distinction. South Asians in my circle of family and friends felt excited at the prospect that a man who looked like us had entered such rarefied ranks.

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

Adani was deemed the second richest person, even richer than Amazon founder Jeff Bezos! A Times of India profile fawningly quoted him relaying his thought process in the early days of his rags-to-riches story. “‘Dreams were infinite but finances finite,’ he says with engaging frankness,” according to the profile. There was no mention of the serious accusations he faces of corruption and diverting money into offshore tax havens, or of the entire website, AdaniWatch, devoted to investigating his dirty deeds.

Adani made his money, in part, by investing in digital services, leading one economist to say, “Wherever there is a futuristic business in India, I think… [Adani] has a stronghold.”

The moment of pride that Indians felt in such an achievement by one of their own was short-lived. Quickly Adani slipped from second richest to third richest, and, as of this writing, is in the number four slot on a list dominated by people who have made money from the digital technology revolution.

In fact, ranking multibillionaires is a meaningless exercise that obscures the absurdity of their wealth. This year alone, a number of tech billionaires on Bloomberg’s list lost hundreds of billions of dollars as the gains they made during the early years of the pandemic were wiped out because of a volatile stock market. But, as Whizy Kim of Vox points out, whether or not they’re losing money or giving it away—as Bezos’ ex-wife MacKenzie Scott has been doing—their wealth remains insanely high, and most are worth more today than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

What are they doing with all this wealth?

It turns out that many are quietly plotting their own survival against our demise. Douglas Rushkoff, podcaster, founder of the Laboratory for Digital Humanism, and fellow at the Institute for the Future, has written a book about this bizarre phenomenon, Survival of the Richest: Escape Fantasies of the Tech Billionaires.

In an interview, Rushkoff explains that billionaires worry about the end of humanity just like the rest of us. They fear catastrophic climate change or the next pandemic. And, they know their money will likely be of little value when civilizations decline. “How do I maintain control over my Navy Seal security guards once my money is worthless?” is a question that Rushkoff says many of the world’s wealthiest people want to know the answer to.

He knows they ask such questions because he was invited to give private lectures by those who think his expertise in digital technology gives him unique insight into the future. But Rushkoff was quietly studying them instead and has few flattering things to say about these wielders of economic power.

“How is it that the wealthiest and most powerful people I’d ever been in the same room with see themselves as utterly powerless to affect the future?” he asks. It seems as though “the best they can do is prepare for the inevitable calamity and then just, you know, hang on for dear life.”

Rushkoff explores this tech billionaire “mindset” that he says has resulted in a generation of people who are “almost comedic monsters, who really mean to leave us all behind.” Adani is a perfect example of this, having invested in the very fossil fuels that are destroying our planet. He has large holdings in Australia’s coal mining industry and has sparked a massive grassroots movement intent on stopping him.

The admiration that some Indians feel for Adani’s ascension on Bloomberg’s list of billionaires is based on an assumption of cleverness. Surely, he must be one of the smartest people in the world in order to be one of the richest? Elon Musk, the world’s wealthiest man by far (with twice as much wealth as Bezos), has enjoyed such a reputation for years.

Those who are invested in the idea of merit-based capitalism can justify the unimaginable wealth of the world’s richest people only by assuming they are intelligent enough to deserve it.

This is a façade. Rather than smarts, the wealthiest people on the planet appear to be rather small-minded idiot savants who share a common disdain for the rest of us.

After being around tech billionaires in private, Rushkoff concludes that they are invested in “this notion that they really can, like puppeteers, kind of control society from one level above,” and that this approach is “different than the era of Alexander the Great, or Caesar.” If the question that vexes them most of all is how, in a disastrous future, will they control the guards they hire to protect their hoardings, then our economic system is a farce.

“Even if we call them genius technologists, most of them were plucked from college when they were freshmen,” says Rushkoff. “They came up with some idea in their dorm room before they’d taken history, or economics, or ethics, or philosophy” classes, and so they lack the wisdom needed to oversee their own perverse amounts of wealth.

Having spent time with many tech billionaires, Rushkoff worries that “their education about the future comes from zombie movies and science fiction shows.”

Billionaires are not simply drawing their wealth from a vacuum. According to data from the World Economic Forum, “the world’s richest have captured a disproportionate share of global wealth over recent decades.” This means that, if you were rich to begin with a decade or two ago, you are likely to have seen your wealth multiply by a greater amount than middle-class or lower-income people.

Not only are tech billionaires undeserving of their wealth, but they also are fleecing the rest of us—and fantasizing about hoarding that wealth in the worst-case scenarios while the rest of humanity struggles to survive.

The danger is that if society valorizes such (mostly) men, we are in danger of internalizing their childish, selfish mindset and giving up on solving the climate crisis or building resiliency on a mass scale.

Instead of relating to them, we ought to feel sorry for a group of people so cut off from humanity that their vision of the future is a very lonely one.

“Let’s look at these tech-bro billionaire lunatics. Let’s laugh at what they’re doing… so they look small rather than big,” says Rushkoff. He thinks it is critical to adopt the perspective that “the disaster they’re so afraid of looks entirely manageable by more reasonable people who are willing just to help each other out.”

Author Bio: Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

How Alex Jones helped enrich the global elites he railed against

The bombastic conspiracy theorist paved the road of misinformation for decades, creating a perfect setting for Trump’s presidency, and ultimately benefiting the very elites he claimed were out to exterminate humanity.

Alex Jones’ decades-long career of serving up conspiracy theories cloaked in lies and violent rhetoric may be coming to an end as a jury has just awarded $4 million in damages to the parents of a 6-year-old killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

For years, Jones fueled speculation that a horrific mass shooting resulting in the deaths of 20 children and 6 faculty at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 14, 2012, was an elaborate hoax, and that grieving parents were “crisis actors” paid to help curb gun rights. The latest lawsuit is one of several brought by parents of Sandy Hook victims. The hefty fines he now owes may very well put him out of business, especially considering his admission to the public and his viewers that the mass shooting—contrary to his repeated claims—was “100 percent real.”

It is important to understand that Jones and his media empire, Infowars, have been a central node in the constellation of far-right institutions that eroded an already fragile American democracy, feeding irrational paranoias and subverting the facts that undergird our shared reality. Just as Jones unleashed conspiracies about fake shootings, he egged on millions of former President Donald Trump’s supporters into believing that the 2020 election was stolen.

Amplifying Trump’s Twitter call for his followers to gather in Washington, D.C., on January 6, 2021, Jones said on his show in December 2020, “This is the most important call to action on domestic soil since Paul Revere and his ride in 1776.” He also reportedly convinced one of his fans, Julie Fancelli, a grocery store heiress, to help fund Trump’s now-infamous rally to the tune of $650,000.

Understanding these links, the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol is now apparently seeking Jones’ phone records, which provided crucial evidence during the defamation trial brought by Sandy Hook parents.

Jones’ comeuppance is a long time coming, and understanding his origins helps make sense of how modern-day conservatism took hold. His own lawyer said it best: “Over many years Infowars has become a go-to source for people deeply suspicious of the government, so it should come as no surprise that many of the attendees at the [January 6, 2021,] rally had passed through Infowars’ doors.”

He has spent more than two decades sowing the seeds of suspicion against the government, using various media platforms such as radio, public access television, film, and later, streaming video, weaving wild narratives designed to question institutions. He cut his conspiracist teeth on promoting the so-called “9/11 truth” movement, which paved the way for modern-day misinformation.

Jones’ 2007 film, “Endgame: Blueprint for Global Enslavement,” played on the fears of elites controlling people’s lives. Claiming to reveal a “secret plan for humanity’s extermination,” the film’s website explained that “[f]or the New World Order, a world government is just the beginning,” and that “[o]nce in place they can engage their plan to exterminate 80 percent of the world’s population, while enabling the ‘elites’ to live forever with the aid of advanced technology.”

The film is still available on Amazon. Bizarre and unhinged as it sounds, it convinced many of its viewers that global elites were driving human extermination. Several Amazon users left reviews suggesting that “Endgame” should be “required viewing” for high school students.

Of course, as unfounded as Jones’ claims may be, there is, generally speaking, a vast capitalist cohort of global elites driving human extermination in its thirst for wealth and profits—whether that can be encapsulated as a “conspiracy” is arguable. Americans have been suspicious—with good reason—for years that moneyed elites are screwing over the rest of us.

Fossil fuel companies like Exxon (now ExxonMobil) have known about climate change for decades but allowed the planet to catastrophically warm in order to keep their profits flowing. Billionaires and even many world leaders have hidden their wealth from taxes and public view in offshore tax havens, thereby stealing revenues that could lift up the poor. Multinational pharmaceutical corporations have hoarded intellectual property at the expense of lives—all in the service of profits. The common theme for these very real, fact-based, well-documented schemes is unfettered and predatory global capitalism.

While many are aware of the ways in which wealthy and powerful individuals and corporations are harming humanity and the planet, far too many others have fallen prey to the seductive lies of Jones, Trump, and their ilk.

A 2010 ABC News story about Jones’ Infowars explained aptly that “[w]hile he admits that some people may watch him purely for entertainment, he says the real reason for his recent growth is that the public increasingly mistrusts government. He does seem to have tapped into the dark national mood.”

Jones knows he is preying on his viewers. He once reportedly told a filmmaker he could sell his audience “dick pills” because they would “buy anything.”

Eli Massey and Nathan Robinson, writing in Current Affairs, explained that “Jones’ worldview lacks the specificity and coherence of a Marxist worldview,” and that Jones “is trying to help his viewers understand but in the end they only become more confused and afraid, because the danger is coming from everywhere.”

So, what exactly is Jones’ own “endgame”? The answer turned out to be a viewership angry over global elites, paranoid about dangers from all sides, and confused about how to address these vague dangers—which was perfectly receptive to a con artist cult leader figure like Trump.

In 2015, Jones offered the power of his platform to then-candidate Trump, helping to launch the political career of a man who deeply wounded the nation on multiple fronts and who, like many of his presidential predecessors, further enriched billionaires and hurt middle-class and low-income Americans.

Those Americans who might have been receptive to critiquing predatory capitalism and its very real damage were instead deployed to lift up the people and institutions that are screwing over the planet and its inhabitants. They fell for the lies spewed by Jones and Trump and helped remake the Republican Party into a far more dangerous institution than it already was. It is possible that Jones may fade away, bankrupted, his tail between his legs, forced to admit his own lies. But he leaves behind a powerful and dangerous legacy.

Jones also offers a grim lesson in the power of narrative building and how, when deployed effectively to dangerous ends, such narrative work can erode the democratic institutions that have the power to regulate capital, while preserving and strengthening undemocratic moneyed elites.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of “Rising Up With Sonali,” a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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

How Facebook’s quest for profits is paved on hate and lies

Facebook's former employee Frances Haugen, in an interview on "60 Minutes," explained to host Scott Pelley that the social media giant has conducted internal experiments that demonstrate just how quickly and efficiently its users are driven down rabbit holes of white supremacist beliefs.

The 37-year-old data scientist who resigned from Facebook earlier this year and became a whistleblower explained how the company knows its algorithms lead users down extremist paths. Facebook, according to Haugen, created new test accounts that followed former President Donald Trump, his wife Melania Trump, Fox News and a local news outlet. After simply clicking on the first suggested links that Facebook's algorithm offered up, those accounts were then automatically shown white supremacist content. "Within a week you see QAnon; in two weeks you see things about 'white genocide,'" said Haugen.

Haugen's testimony and the documents she shared confirm what critics have known for a long time. "We've already known that hate speech, bigotry, lies about COVID, about the pandemic, about the election, about a number of other issues, are prolific across Facebook's platforms," said Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, in an interview. However, "what we didn't know is the extent of what Facebook knew," she added.

Three and a half years ago, in the midst of the Trump presidency, I wrote about giving up on an older white man related to me via marriage and who, generally speaking, has been a loving and kind parent and grandparent to his nonwhite relatives. This man's hate-filled and lie-filled Facebook reposts alienated me so deeply that I cut off ties with him. In light of Haugen's testimony, the trajectory of hate that he followed makes far more sense to me now than it did in 2018. Active on Facebook, he constantly reposted memes and fake news posts that he likely didn't seek out but that he was exposed to.

I imagine such content resonated with some nascent sense of outrage he harbored over fears that immigrants and people of color were taking advantage of a system that was rigged against whites by Black and Brown politicians like Barack Obama and Ilhan Omar. My relative fit the profile of the thousands of right-wing white Americans who mobbed the Capitol building on January 6, 2021, egged on by a sense of outrage that Facebook helped whip up.

In fact, Haugen related that Facebook turned off its tools to stem election misinformation soon after the November 2020 election—a move that she says the company's employees cited internally as a significant contributor to the January 6 riot in the nation's capital. The House Select Committee investigating the riot has now invited Haugen to meet with members about Facebook's role.

Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg understands exactly what Haugen blames his company for, saying in a lengthy post, "At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being." Of course, he maintains, "That's just not true," and goes on to call her analysis "illogical," and that it is a "false picture of the company that is being painted."

Except that Haugen isn't just sharing her opinions of the company's motives and practices. She has a massive trove of internal documents from Facebook to back up her claims—documents that were analyzed and published in an in-depth investigation in the Wall Street Journal, hardly a marginal media outlet.

The Wall Street Journal says that its "central finding" is that "Facebook Inc. knows, in acute detail, that its platforms are riddled with flaws that cause harm, often in ways only the company fully understands."

The crux of Facebook's defense against such accusations is that it does its best to combat misinformation while balancing the need to protect free speech and that if it were to crack down anymore, it would violate the First Amendment rights of users. In his testimony before House Representatives this March, Zuckerberg said, "It's not possible to catch every piece of harmful content without infringing on people's freedoms in a way that I don't think that we'd be comfortable with as a society."

In other words, the social media platform maintains that it is doing as much as it possibly can to combat hate speech, misinformation, and fake news on its platform. One might imagine that this means a majority of material is being flagged and removed. But Haugen maintains that while Facebook says it removes 94 percent of hate speech, its "internal documents say we get 3 percent to 5 percent of hate speech." Ultimately, "Facebook makes more money when you consume more content," she explained. And hate and rage are great motivators for keeping people engaged on the platform.

Based on what Haugen has revealed, González concluded that "Facebook had a very clear picture about the major societal harms that its platform was causing." And, worse, the company "largely decided to do nothing to mitigate those problems, and then it proceeded to lie and mislead the U.S. public, including members of Congress."

González is hopeful that Haugen's decision to become a whistleblower will have a positive impact on an issue that has stymied Congress. During Haugen's testimony to a Senate panel on October 5, she faced largely reasonable and thoughtful questioning from lawmakers with little of the partisan political grandstanding that has marked many hearings on social media-based misinformation. "We saw senators from both sides of the aisle asking serious questions," she said. "It was much less of a circus than we usually see in the United States Senate."

What González hopes is that Congress passes a data privacy law that treats the protection of data gathered from users as a civil right. This is critical because Facebook makes its money from selling user data to advertisers, and González wants to see that "our personal data and the personal data of our children isn't used to push damaging content… that doesn't provoke hate and violence and spread massive amounts of lies."

The calculus of Facebook's intent is very simple. In spite of Zuckerberg's denials, González says, "the system is built on a hate-and-lie for profit model, and Facebook has made a decision that it would rather make money than keep people safe." It isn't as though Facebook is selling hate because it has an agenda to destroy democracy. It's just that destroying democracy is not a deal-breaker when huge profits are at stake.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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

The Trump Org indictment conceals a bigger story about the ultra rich

After many months of anticipation and nearly three years of investigation, the Manhattan district attorney's office has charged the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg with 15 offenses related to tax fraud. According to the lengthy indictment, former President Donald Trump's namesake corporation engaged in a 15-year scheme to "compensate Weisselberg and other Trump Organization executives in a manner that was 'off the books.'" While many are disappointed that Trump himself was not directly indicted, the sweeping charges offer some vindication for those who have watched wealthy elites like Trump hoodwink authorities for decades. Recall his response to his rival Hillary Clinton during a 2016 presidential debate when she accused him of evading taxes: "that makes me smart." But when put into the broader context of how the wealthiest Americans manage to avoid paying taxes without breaking any laws, the Trump Organization charges seem like a minor affair.

A much bigger story than the Trump Organization's alleged tax fraud was a ProPublica story in June of how fabulously wealthy individuals like Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, Tesla founder Elon Musk, and former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have paid little to nothing in federal income taxes for years. Reporters obtained confidential tax records for thousands of wealthy Americans from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and concluded that, "the wealthiest can—perfectly legally—pay income taxes that are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of millions, if not billions, their fortunes grow each year." The heart of the story is that the form of wealth owned by the richest Americans—stocks, real estate, and other assets—is simply not taxed until it is sold.

Based on tax information published by the New York Times last fall, Trump, like Bezos and other billionaires, has paid little to nothing in taxes for years. The scheme that the former president relied on in order to do this was somewhat different. "His reports to the I.R.S. portray a businessman who takes in hundreds of millions of dollars a year yet racks up chronic losses that he aggressively employs to avoid paying taxes," explained the New York Times.

The point is that there are so many legal ways for wealthy elites to avoid paying taxes that it's no wonder the Manhattan DA Cyrus Vance took nearly three years to come up with charges that involve a paltry $1.7 million worth of "perks" that ought to have been reported to the IRS as income. The "sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme" that Vance accused Weisselberg of meant that the Trump Organization CFO pocketed less than a million dollars that he should have paid in taxes and reaped a little over $100,000 in tax refunds he should not have received.

The inordinate focus on the tax fraud charges against the Trump Organization obscures a far larger grift that Trump and his party were responsible for—all conducted through the legislative process and considered perfectly legal—the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.

A recent investigation by Greenpeace UK's Unearthed showcased just how financially significant that law was for the world's largest corporations such as ExxonMobil. A lobbyist for Exxon named Dan Easley admitted on video that, "the executive branch and regulatory team for Exxon had extraordinary success over the past four years in large part because the [Trump] administration was so predisposed to helping." When asked what Exxon's biggest wins were under Trump, Easley rattled off a series of victories and then added, "tax has to be the biggest one. The reduction of the corporate tax rate was probably worth billions to Exxon." In fact, ExxonMobil's profits reportedly quintupled after the Trump tax cut.

Republican lawmakers also directly benefited from the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, as did Trump himself. The far more scandalous punchline is that most elites need not resort to risky efforts such as tax fraud when such generous and perfectly legal giveaways are available.

Ordinary Americans are supposed to sit out the debate on tax rates, as complex economic analyses are apparently required in order to fully appreciate the ramifications of raising or lowering taxes. The tax code is so complicated, we are told, that we could not possibly understand the rationale for why rich individuals and corporations deserve to be taxed less. The part we are not told is that the complexity is deliberate.

In spite of the media missing the broader context for stories such as the Trump Organization's tax fraud charges, there is massive public support across the political spectrum for a seemingly radical and yet far simpler idea: enact stiff taxes on wealthy individuals and large corporations. Even CNBC commentator and economist Jim Cramer, who has claimed he is wedded to higher stock prices rather than any political affiliation, admitted when he read ProPublica's story of billionaire tax avoidance that "these revelations make me sick," and that he favored a surtax on the massively wealthy.

While Republicans are honest about their craven allegiance to the profits of the wealthy, Democrats claim to care about fairness and rising inequality. Unsurprisingly, much of the Democratic Party noise on the matter amounts to lip service and empty gestures such as reintroducing a bill to tax millionaires. Even Senator Elizabeth Warren's tax plan aimed at the richest Americans doesn't go far enough and targets only 2-3 percent of amassed wealth.

President Joe Biden earlier this year proposed a series of reforms that would generate $1.5 trillion in federal revenues largely based on higher taxation of the wealthiest Americans but still bowed at the altar of wealth by making a wholly unnecessary pledge to elites that "I think you should be able to become a billionaire or a millionaire… but pay your fair share."

Democrats, who won't even ensure through the legislative process that their own party is able to win future elections through fairer voting rules, are hardly going to be aggressive about legislating higher taxes on the wealthy. As long as they can demonstrate to their voters that they care about higher taxation, actually enacting higher taxes will remain purely theoretical.

At the global level, President Biden recently led an effort at the G-7 to impose a minimum corporate tax rate to undermine offshore tax havens. But the rate that governments settled on was so embarrassingly small—only 15 percent—that a spokesperson for Oxfam complained, "They are setting the bar so low that companies can just step over it." Unsurprisingly, Republicans are opposing even this.

Only Senator Bernie Sanders and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, two of a handful of self-declared socialists in Congress, have stated a belief radical enough for our times: that billionaires should simply not exist. Yet, this should not be a radical notion. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, one of the world's wealthiest people, admitted that Sanders' remarks were justified when he said, "On some level, no one deserves to have that much money."

Considering that the global pandemic has foisted suffering on so many millions of people worldwide while enriching the already-super-wealthy, the current moment could not be more appropriate for a rethinking of wealth and how it is taxed at both the individual and corporate level. Not only should the world's governments be redirecting needed resources to those suffering the worst economic impacts of the pandemic, but they should also be preparing for the massive public spending that will be required to mitigate the catastrophic impacts of climate change. The obvious source of funding such things is the mountain of money that wealthy elites have been silently amassing. While it may give many Americans a small modicum of satisfaction at seeing the Trump Organization being slapped with minor tax fraud charges, the headline-making story is sadly a distraction from the vast wealth that elites and corporations even wealthier than Trump have legally accumulated.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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

There’s a disturbing motive hiding behind the GOP’s attacks on transgender youth

The GOP's latest culture war is focused squarely on the nation's transgender community, specifically transgender youth. It isn't a new war, simply a new front in an old war that can be traced back to the famed "bathroom bills" from some years ago that spread across dozens of states. Those bills were introduced in tandem with former President Donald Trump's targeted federal government-led attacks that included the overturning of anti-discrimination statutes protecting trans people and an outright transgender ban in the U.S. military.

Now, in the wake of Trump's humiliating electoral loss, Republicans have accelerated the state-level attacks to a breathtaking level. In just the first three months of 2021, GOP-led state legislatures introduced more bills aimed at transgender people, especially youth, than they did over the entire previous year. There are now more than 80 bills introduced this year alone that, according to Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, "are not addressing any real problem, and they're not being requested by constituents. Rather, this effort is being driven by national far-right organizations attempting to score political points by sowing fear and hate."

I recently spoke with Jules Gill-Peterson, an associate professor at the University of Pittsburgh and the author of the award-winning book Histories of the Transgender Child, in an interview, and she echoed this claim, saying, "A lot of authoritarian political movements are using trans people as their scapegoats." She called the latest wave of anti-trans legislation "an unprecedented assault in terms of just the magnitude of the bills and the severity of what they propose to do in terms of criminalizing basic access to health care and equal access to education."

She explained that "due to perhaps their general political incompetency, a lot of [Trump's attacks on transgender people] didn't really end up making it into practice." However, "on the state level, as is often the case, the GOP is much more successful at pursuing an anti-trans agenda than they ever are at the federal level." Gill-Peterson sees this as a culmination of efforts that can be traced back to North Carolina's 2016 passage of a bill banning transgender people from using facilities of the gender they identify with.

On April 5, North Carolina Republicans continued what they began five years ago, introducing a bill called the "Youth Health Protection Act," which blocks transgender minors from accessing the health care they need upon deciding to transition. Just as the GOP has often couched its attacks on communities under the guise of protecting them (think of anti-abortion legislation presented as "fetal personhood" bills), this bill, like several others in states like Arkansas, purports to protect trans youth.

Republicans also claim they want to protect "fair competition," in the words of Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, by banning transgender kids from sports. Lee, along with the governors of Arkansas and Mississippi, signed bills into law this year banning trans youth from playing sports in school. These transphobic bills are based on a theory that transgender kids, especially girls, have an unfair biological advantage over non-transgender girls.

Just as the GOP's stated war on voter fraud is based on an imagined assault on the nation's democracy in order to disguise the real war on voting, the conservative party's stated reason for going after transgender children's access to health care or participation in sports is based on an imagined crisis. Gill-Peterson said, "most of these lawmakers will admit, they've never heard of any issue with transgender participation in sports in their state, and they've never heard of any issue around trans health care in their state, and they don't actually know any trans children."

The GOP's war on voting offers another analog. If the GOP really cared about democracy, they would make voting easier, not harder. Similarly, if the party were truly interested in the safety of girls, it would offer up bills that protect transgender girls in particular, who face very real dangers. Gill-Peterson said, "young trans girls and trans women are extremely vulnerable to sexual harassment and violence because it's not taken seriously." Instead, the bills banning access to health care and sports only fuel greater violence against them. Every year, dozens of trans women are killed, and more transgender people were killed in the U.S. in the first seven months of 2020 than all of the previous year. It's no surprise that the spike in violence has coincided with legislative attempts to dehumanize the community.

Just as with anti-voter and anti-abortion bills, the GOP's tactic of pursuing transphobic legislation involves wasting legislative time and money by passing clearly unconstitutional bills that are invariably legally challenged, remain tied up in the courts for years and ultimately end up at the Supreme Court. Last summer, justices ruled against an attempt to legalize workplace discrimination against transgender employees, and then in the winter, they left in place a public school's accommodation of transgender students to use the bathroom of their choice.

Whether the GOP wins or loses on this issue in the nation's highest court is almost beside the point because the party's goal is to distract its anxious base from the fact that their leaders do little to nothing about pervasive problems around inequality and depressed wages, a stagnant job market and the ever-rising cost of living.

Moreover, the GOP's anti-trans bills fulfill part of a larger conservative agenda to create evermore exceptions to government-provided services such as health care and education, whittling away at the state's responsibility for resources to be available to all and rights to be respected universally. If hormone treatments, abortions, and medical treatments for immigrants are exceptions to government-provided health care; if public education is for everyone but transgender kids; then those services are weakened in service of libertarian fantasies of how society should function.

How to combat this brutality and inhumanity? Gill-Peterson pointed out, "the folks who are on the same side of this debate as the Republican legislators include a wide swath of extremist groups: white nationalists, anti-vaxxers, anti-maskers, anti-immigrant groups." To meet this threat will require an equally broad coalition of progressives to stand guard against attacks on transgender people.

The state of South Dakota has been a testing ground for state-level legislation aimed at trans rights. Bill after bill has failed in that state, thanks largely to a coalition that has stood firm at every turn to protest them. Alongside transgender activists are parents, teachers, and doctors as well as national organizations like the ACLU and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Having a president like Joe Biden who has reaffirmed the humanity and dignity of transgender people, rather than targeting them for violence as Trump did, is also a huge help. "We need to see trans rights as integral to a broader agenda for democracy, justice, and public good in this country," said Gill-Peterson.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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

Biden's new Interior Secretary Deb Haaland strikes fear into the heart of the GOP — here's why

In her farewell address to the House of Representatives, New Mexico Congresswoman Deb Haaland said to her colleagues about her new role as interior secretary, "I have the opportunity to make a real difference for communities everywhere by addressing climate change, protecting voting rights, [and] fighting for racial, environmental, and economic justice." It was a far cry from the oil and gas lobbyists who have long occupied the position she now assumes.

The 60-year-old Haaland is an activist-turned-lawmaker who was among the crop of progressive women of color who won a slew of races in the 2018 midterm races. She became one of the two first Indigenous women ever to win a congressional seat. Now, in a 51-40 Senate vote, Haaland broke barriers once more in winning confirmation as the nation's first Indigenous interior secretary and first Indigenous Cabinet secretary.

I had the chance to speak with Haaland in 2018 before she won her congressional seat representing New Mexico. Six months before she was elected, she told me that "creating a renewable energy revolution in our state and in our country" was a central issue for her as a candidate and that she was working "to get big corporate money out of politics because I don't believe that our elected officials should be working for the lobbyists—they should be working for the people."

It isn't just Haaland's Native American identity that symbolizes progress. What makes her a formidable force is that her racial and ethnic background in combination with politically progressive views is antithetical to power and capital. She is now in a position to direct the federal agency whose central task is to "manage and sustain America's lands, water, wildlife, and energy resources, [honor] our nation's responsibilities to tribal nations, and [advocate] for America's island communities." Not only will a Native American for the first time oversee the government's relationship to Indigenous Americans, but an avowed environmental activist will manage how the nation's natural resources serve the interests of the oil and gas industry—or not. No wonder Republicans are terrified.

The fear was on display during Haaland's confirmation hearings when Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) led the GOP opposition to her nomination, claiming that she had a "very well documented and hostile record toward made-in-America energy, toward natural resource development, toward wildlife management and sportsmen." Daines denounced Haaland's "very far left divisive positions that will fail to represent the West, to be in the mainstream of commonsense and balance." Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), the ranking Republican on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, concurred with his colleague, deeming Haaland's views as "radical." The Center for Responsive Politics points out that both Daines and Barrasso have each received more than half a million dollars from the oil and gas industry.

As interior secretary, Haaland is as much of an opposite of her white male predecessors as one can imagine. In 2018, President Donald Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told oil and gas industry representatives seeking to drill on public lands that the federal government should partner with them and "not be in the business of being an adversary." At another conference he told the industry that the U.S. government "should work for you." Zinke then resigned in a cloud of ethics scandals and went on to work as a consultant for the former industry clients he once was tasked with regulating. Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, known as "a walking conflict of interest," then replaced Zinke. As one analyst described it, Bernhardt had "alternated between lobbying gigs and jobs in the Interior Department since 1998."

Both Zinke and Bernhardt represent the epitome of the corrupt "revolving door" between corporate lobbyists and government. In contrast, before she ran for Congress, Haaland visited tribal leaders protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline at Standing Rock, and led the New Mexico Democratic Party's divestment from Wells Fargo over the bank's funding of that controversial pipeline project.

As interior secretary, Haaland will oversee the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which has been accused of routinely auctioning off federal lands to oil and gas companies and ignoring tribal leadership in drilling projects. Haaland told me that her ancestral homeland of Chaco Canyon in New Mexico remains continuously under threat from the BLM, which favors hydraulic fracturing (fracking) projects on grounds that are considered sacred. Indeed, during his last year as interior secretary, Bernhardt proceeded to lease lands near Chaco Canyon for fracking and mining operations at the same time as tribes were occupied with trying to survive the coronavirus pandemic. Brian Sybert, executive director of Conservation Lands Foundation, complained that "[o]nce again, Secretary Bernhardt is putting profits ahead of the people, and is failing to recognize the impact of the pandemic on tribal communities who hold Chaco Culture National Historical Park sacred."

Now, for the first time in this nation's history, an Indigenous person not beholden to corporate interests will wield decision-making power over oil and gas projects on federal lands. While Biden's choice of Haaland to lead the Interior Department is indeed commendable and forward-thinking, the dangers of shaping policy through departmental discretion alone is that future administrations can easily reverse progressive trends. In order to truly cement a climate-justice-centered approach to the management of natural resources, Congress and the president need to lead through legislation. The environmental organization Food and Water Watch hailed Haaland's confirmation as the first step in a fracking ban. But, as the group rightly asserts, "Now the White House must follow through on a ban on fracking on public lands."

As soon as he took office, the president signed an executive order suspending oil and gas drilling on public lands for two months. But the move is symbolic and falls far short of an actual ban. Sensitive to relentless Republican accusations of wanting to ban the extractive industry, Biden took pains to reiterate as he signed the executive order, "Let me be clear, and I know this always comes up: We're not going to ban fracking."

During Haaland's confirmation hearings, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-Wash) was correct in seeing the battle over her nomination as a "proxy fight about the future of fossil fuels." Indigenous Americans have led the fight for climate justice for years, successfully linking responsible stewardship of our land and water with the need to switch to renewable energy sources. Haaland's identity and politics taken together are a threat to the oil and gas industry, its lobbyists like Zinke and Bernhardt, and its political champions like Daines and Barrasso. But in order to move past symbolism and avoid turning her identity into a tokenistic stunt, the Democratic Party leadership must itself embrace and embody Haaland's environmentalism.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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

A Republican's damning admission offers a dark preview of the future

As Texas battles a severe snowstorm and mass power outages this winter, Tim Boyd, the now-former Republican mayor of Colorado City, revealed his party's plan for the deadly extreme temperatures linked to climate change. In a lengthy Facebook post that was deleted soon after it went viral, then-Mayor Boyd told his residents that they were entirely on their own as the brutal winter weather caused mayhem and deaths across the Lone Star state.

His honesty was like catching a glimpse of a rare animal in the wild. "Sink or swim[,] it's your choice!" he wrote, without bothering to couch his words in euphemisms. Boyd added, "The City and County, along with power providers or any other service owes you NOTHING!" For such an exhortation to come from the elected leader of a city—a man literally chosen by his people to ensure that local government works for them—was shocking.

Just as they pay their mayor, Colorado City's residents also pay authorities to provide them with basic necessities like electricity and water. But apparently, Boyd thought an expectation of services was out of line. He conjectured, "If you don't have electricity you step up and come up with a game plan to keep your family warm and safe." Many Texans have tried to do just that, running their car engine in their garage to warm their homes. So far in Harris County, there have been at least 50 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning and several people have died.

"If you have no water you deal without and think outside of the box to survive and supply water to your family," posited Boyd, expecting Texans who were searching for ways to provide their own electricity to also deal with a lack of water as pipes froze in the plummeting temperatures.

Boyd's diatribe veered into familiar Republican territory as he blamed residents for their own plight by saying, "If you are sitting at home in the cold because you have no power and are sitting there waiting for someone to come rescue you because your (sic) lazy [it] is [a] direct result of your raising." It is a long-simmering idea among conservatives that Americans who depend on their government are simply lazy.

Generally, white conservatives have reserved the word "lazy" for people of color who are victims of systemic racial discrimination. Indeed, the weather-related blackouts in Texas impacted the residents of minority neighborhoods disproportionately. Boyd and those who share his views would likely assume this must have been a direct result of their laziness.

Hours after writing his screed, Boyd announced his resignation and apologized. But he qualified his apology by saying that he never meant to imply that the helpless elderly were the lazy ones—just everyone else. "I was only making the statement that those folks that are too lazy to get up and fend for themselves but are capable should not be dealt a handout," he wrote in a manner that suggested he was "sorry, not sorry."

Most Republicans are not as overt as Boyd in their faith in social Darwinism. Take Texas Governor Greg Abbott, who instead of openly blaming Texans for their own suffering instead decided to blame climate-mitigating policies and renewable energy programs like wind power. Speaking on Fox News, Abbott railed against the "Green New Deal," claiming that a reliance on wind turbines was disastrous because the state's wind-generated power "thrust Texas into a situation where it was lacking power on a statewide basis." For good measure, he added, "It just shows that fossil fuel is necessary."

The conservative Wall Street Journal, which has long been hostile to tackling climate change through renewable energy, repeated this claim in an editorial blaming "stricter emissions regulation" and the loss of coal-powered plants for widespread misery in the snow-blanketed South.

In fact, millions of Texans are going without power because of the Republican emphasis on cheap power over reliable power. Seeing electricity generation as a profit-making enterprise rather than the fulfillment of a public need, GOP policies in Texas have made the state vulnerable to such mass outages. Moreover, plenty of wintry areas successfully run wind turbines when properly prepared to do so. And, Abbott did not see fit to point out that harsh winter temperatures lead to frozen natural gas pipelines—the real culprit in the outages.

Even as a majority of Texans now believe that climate change is really happening, their governor in late January vowed to "protect the oil and gas industry from any type of hostile attack from Washington." Apparently protecting Texans from the ravages of the fossil fuel industry is not in his purview. This is hardly surprising given how much fossil fuel industry contributions have ensured Abbott's loyalty to oil and gas interests.

The conservative mindset can be counted on to prioritize private interests over public ones. In a Republican utopia, the rich are noble and deserving of basic necessities, comforts, and life itself. If they have rigged the system to benefit themselves, it means they are smart, not conniving. In the future that Republicans promise, "Only the strong will survive and the weak will parish (sic)," as per Boyd's post. In other words, our lives are expendable, and if we die, it is because we deserve it and were simply not smart enough to survive.

This was utterly predictable. Republicans have used this same approach on health care—think of all the Republican governors who backed lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act and opted their states out of the federal government's Medicaid program even though a majority of Americans support Obamacare. Even more Americans support the government nationalizing health care, but Republicans warn that if the program is expanded from Medicare for those over 65 to all Americans, it will suddenly become "socialism" and thus "evil." Their solution for health care is the status quo of a deregulated "Wild West" private insurance market.

Republicans have offered a similar approach to the coronavirus pandemic where any public safety standards set by the government are anathema to "personal freedoms," even though a majority of Americans support such precautions. It is also how Republicans have approached poverty and rising inequality: by opposing a federal government increase to the minimum wage even though most Americans want a floor of $15 an hour.

Interestingly, Republicans believe strongly in the idea of "big government" when it comes to regulating their pet social issues such as harsh anti-immigrant measures and attacks on abortion. (Meanwhile, most Americans support a pathway to legalization for the undocumented and a majority supports reproductive choice.)

As Americans are subject to the brutal impacts of inevitable climate change, we face a clear choice: strong government intervention to save our lives, or a "survival of the fittest" dystopia that contemporary conservatism promises. The Texas debacle is a preview of what is to come if the free-marketeers have their way while the climate changes. The nation's conservative party went from insisting that climate change does not exist (it is a "hoax!") to shrugging their shoulders and telling us, as Boyd did, that we're on our own when the consequences hit.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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

Republicans knew they were making a deal with the devil — now they're paying for it

When Donald Trump ran for the Republican Party's presidential nomination in 2016, many top Republicans shunned him. Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) confidently explained how Trump was "not going to change the platform of the Republican Party, the views of the Republican Party… we're much more likely to change him." He even admitted, "it's pretty obvious he doesn't know a lot about the issues." McConnell alluded to Trump's racism in vague terms, saying, "I object to a whole series of things that he's said—vehemently object to them. I think all of that needs to stop… these attacks on various ethnic groups in the country."

But as soon as Trump won the Electoral College and was declared the winner of the 2016 race, McConnell set to work to ensure he could make full use of the newly elected president regardless of Trump's continued spouting off of dangerous lies and hateful claims. The Senate majority leader was happy to see the seating of ultra-conservative Supreme Court justices Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and most recently Amy Coney Barrett. He went on an unprecedented spree to remake the federal judiciary into one that is dominated by white conservative men, young enough to reshape legal decisions for a generation. He pushed through a massive tax reform bill that disproportionately benefits the wealthy, allowing almost no room for debate over it. He ensured the Senate turned into a "legislative graveyard," refusing to even consider hundreds of bills passed by the House of Representatives, thereby ensuring that most policy changes during the past four years were shaped by the president's executive action.

Three years into Trump's term, McConnell still had not had enough, relishing the power that his position in the Senate gave him to enact his conservative agenda. When the House impeached Trump in late 2019 over a clear case of corruption and abuse of power, McConnell led the 2020 Senate acquittal of Donald Trump. It matters little whether McConnell admits Trump is unfit for office a mere handful of days before the president's term ends. He used Trump for four years, subjecting the nation to a mad, would-be-dictator, unhinged and unrepentant in his relentless abuses. Senator McConnell owes the nation an explanation. Was it worth it?

Although he is the highest-ranking elected official to enable Trump, McConnell is hardly alone among his Republican colleagues to have engaged in a deal with the devil. The transformation of Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) from Trump critic to sycophant is even more dramatic.

In 2016 Cruz criticized Trump more than any of his fellow lawmakers, calling Trump "a narcissist at a level I don't think this country's ever seen" and accurately saying Trump is "a pathological liar." He adeptly explained, "he doesn't know the difference between truth and lies… in a pattern that is straight out of a psychology textbook, he accuses everyone of lying." It was a stunning piece of foresight into the next four years of Trumpism. Cruz went further, saying, "Whatever lie he's telling, at that minute he believes it… the man is utterly amoral… Donald is a bully… bullies don't come from strength; they come from weakness."

Similar words were uttered often during the past four years—by Democrats, liberals, progressives, and the tiny handful of Trump's Republican critics. But once Trump held office, like McConnell, Senator Cruz saw fit to make use of the "amoral" president to suit his agenda, transforming himself into one of Trump's most ardent Senate loyalists. Seemingly forgetting his scathing and accurate critiques of Trump, Cruz became a MAGA-cheerleader, saying, "President Trump is doing what he was elected to do: disrupt the status quo… That scares the heck out of those who have controlled Washington for decades, but for millions of Americans, their confusion is great fun to watch." In return for his allegiance, Trump campaigned for Cruz in Texas during a tenuous Senate reelection battle, and Cruz returned the favor by defending him vehemently during Trump's first Senate impeachment trial.

Most recently, Cruz led the push to object to the 2020 election results. He repeatedly echoed Trump's demand to "stop the steal," a slogan that became a rallying cry at the Capitol riot in Washington, D.C., on January 6 that left at least five people dead. Now Cruz faces accusations alongside Trump of fomenting an attempted coup and encouraging the violent rioters. His aides are abandoning him, and the chair of the House Committee on Homeland Security has recommended that he be placed on the FBI's "no-fly" list. Like McConnell, Cruz owes the nation an explanation for his backing of a destructive demagogue who has left the nation and its democratic institutions battered and reeling. Has it all been worth it for the Texas senator?

Over the past two decades, Republicans have developed a well-deserved reputation for fighting by any means necessary in order to advance their agenda. They have abandoned norms, traditions and ethical standards. They have successfully retained power by rigging the rules governing elections and laid the groundwork of baseless assertions of "voter fraud" that Trump then built upon to claim he won the 2020 race. They have led a cultural shift convincing many Americans that popular progressive policies are the dangerous ideas of the "radical left," and spawned media outlets that deliver lies and propaganda to an unsuspecting base of voters.

After the Capitol riot, an unnamed senior Trump official appeared shell-shocked, saying to a reporter, "This is confirmation of so much that everyone has said for years now—things that a lot of us thought were hyperbolic. We'd say, 'Trump's not a fascist,' or 'He's not a wannabe dictator.' Now, it's like, 'Well, what do you even say in response to that now?'"

But this late-breaking realization that many Republicans are expressing publicly or feeling privately is not enough to absolve the dirty deal that they made with Trump to further their agenda. The GOP and Trump deserve one another and have maintained a symbiotic relationship that has devastated the nation. Whether leading GOP figures like McConnell try to distance themselves from Trump at this late-breaking hour, or like Cruz, remain loyal to him until the very end, is irrelevant. The party has lost credibility and is lying in a bed of its own making. They have edged us far too close to the abyss of Hitlerism, and like political parties in other nations that have flirted with or enabled fascism, Republicans need to answer for what they have done.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations. She is a writing fellow for the Economy for All project at the Independent Media Institute.

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

How to cure America’s vaccine paranoia

The end is in sight, we are told. The cavalry has arrived in the form of safe and effective vaccines for COVID-19 on the verge of approval and being manufactured for widespread distribution. The stock market has surged in response to every pharmaceutical company's press release of its latest successful clinical trial. Americans are expecting an end to this traumatic chapter of our history and are ready to turn the page on the year 2020.

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The Supreme Court has never been liberal

In the hours after Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, shocked Americans speculated about whether or not Republican Senator Mitt Romney would oppose a Senate confirmation vote just weeks before the election. After all, Romney had emerged as the highest-profile Republican lawmaker critical of the president and was the lone senator from his party who voted to convict Trump earlier this year in the Senate impeachment trial. Back then he had accused Trump of “attempting to corrupt an election to maintain power” and of being “guilty of an appalling abuse of public trust.” Yet, after Ginsburg’s death, Romney did an about-face, lured by the prospect of a decades-long rightward tilt in the nation’s highest court. He remarked to reporters that “my liberal friends have, over many decades, gotten very used to the idea of a liberal court,” and that it was now “appropriate for a nation which is center right to have a court which reflects center-right points of view.”

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Here's why Trump commands so much loyalty from his base

The last four years have been deeply traumatizing to millions of Americans as we have watched our nation in the stranglehold of a maniacal, dictatorial and compulsively deceptive president. But it is worth examining the relationship that President Donald Trump has with his voters in order to understand why he won the 2016 election and why he continues to command such fervent loyalty a few months ahead of the next election. Willing to overlook his lies, improprieties, and corruption, Trump’s voters have a transactional relationship with the president that is practical, powerful, and surprisingly instructional to the rest of us.

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There's something much more exciting happening behind the scenes of the Biden-Harris ticket

Joe Biden’s pick of Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) as his running mate for the 2020 Democratic presidential ticket has generated strong responses. While many Democrats are elated at the idea of seeing a brown-skinned woman of Indian and Jamaican heritage in such a position, progressives are debating one another about Harris’ mixed record on bread-and-butter issues such as criminal justice reform, foreign policy, and health care. In many ways, Harris is not unlike Barack Obama: charismatic, intellectually brilliant, telegenic, and with just the kind of racially diverse background that symbolizes an America that most liberal-minded people want to live in. But far more hopeful than Harris’ achievement is the new crop of staunchly progressive young people of color that is chipping away at the Democratic Party establishment through electoral politics.

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Trump’s presidency is a death cult

When President Donald Trump was challenged by Axios national political correspondent Jonathan Swan to respond to the fact that, "a thousand Americans are dying a day" due to COVID-19, the president responded as though the grim tally was perfectly acceptable, saying, "They are dying, that's true. And it is what it is." While observers were aghast at the callousness of his statement, it should not have surprised us. Trump had warned that the death toll would be high, and he had asked us months ago to get used to the idea. In late March, the White House Coronavirus Task Force had projected that 100,000 to 240,000 Americans would die from the virus. Rather than unveil an aggressive plan to tackle the spread and prevent the projected mortality figures, the president had said, "I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead."The New York Times saw this warning as a contradiction to Trump's stance in February and early March when he had said that "we have it totally under control" and "it's going to be just fine." The paper seemed to heave a sigh of relief that a few weeks later, "the president appeared to understand the severity of the potentially grave threat to the country." But the report's authors failed to grasp that Trump is willing to accept anything—including mass deaths—in service of his political career.

In fact, mass death appears to be part of Trump's reelection strategy as per a July 30 Vanity Fair report on the administration's strategy to contain the pandemic. The investigative piece explained that Trump's adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner was part of a group of White House staffers that corresponded frequently to discuss the rapidly spreading virus. According to a public health expert who was described as being "in frequent contact with the White House's official coronavirus task force," one of the members of Kushner's team had concluded that, "because the virus had hit blue states hardest, a national plan was unnecessary and would not make sense politically." The unnamed expert told Vanity Fair, "The political folks believed that because it was going to be relegated to Democratic states, that they could blame those governors, and that would be an effective political strategy."

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Trump is daring us to stop him

President Donald Trump’s recent reelection campaign advertisement is straight out of the plot of a horror movie. Just days after he deployed federal officers to the streets of Portland, Oregon, his campaign released a 30-second television spot featuring an elderly white woman watching on her television the news of activists demanding a defunding of police. The woman shakes her head in disapproval as she notices a figure at her door trying to enter her house. She nervously calls 911, but apparently the activists she disapproves of have been so effective in their nefarious demands that the universal emergency hotline Americans rely on now goes unanswered. The vulnerable woman drops her remote control as the intruder enters her home, and we are only left to imagine the horror of what he does to her as the words “You won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” appear on the screen. In this dystopian version of America, only Trump promises law and order.

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