BOOK REVIEW:  “Screwed: The undeclared War Against the Middle Class” (Thom Hartmann)
Posted Oct 11, 2006

Thom Hartmann’s New Book -  Screwed: The Undeclared War Against the Middle Class

by Stephen Lendman

Thom Hartmann is a multifaceted man.  He’s a
well-known host of three nationally syndicated radio
talk shows and a Project Censored award winner for his
writing on the issue of corporate personhood.  He also
began seven companies, worked in international relief,
founded schools and hospitals on four continents, and
has expertise in childhood psychological disorders.
Along the way he found time to write 19 books
including his newest one just out in early September
dramatically titled Screwed: The Undeclared War
Against the Middle Class.  It’s an account of how our
government lost its moorings and is acting against the
interests of the people it was elected to serve.  The
results are disturbing as the book shows how the US
middle class is shrinking, democracy is ebbing, and
both are on life support and threatened with
extinction by an omnipotent corporatocracy wanting to
destroy the system of government on which the nation
was founded and is codified in the letter and spirit
of the Constitution. 

Those in power today want to destroy what the
Founding Fathers believed in, created, and handed down
for all those who followed them to preserve.  In its
place, the current ruling class wants to replace that
vision with an imperial presidency supported by a
submissive Congress and compliant courts that’s no
different than the repressive monarchy and aristocracy
the American Revolution overthrew in the first place.
The nation’s Founders no longer wanted to be ruled by
an exploitive foreign monarch and instead had in mind
an experimental system of government never tried
before in any form in the West outside of Athens in
ancient Greece under their system of “demokratia” or
rule by the entire body of Athenian citizens (or at
least the non-slave adult male portion of it).  It
blossomed under Pericles around 460 BC and stood for
equality of justice and opportunity secured by a jury
system even though Athens was a slave-owning
city-state, women couldn’t participate in government
and those who ruled ended up being the aristoi (or
aristocrats) for a few decades before the whole idea
was destroyed in the war between Athens and the
oligarchs and militarists of Sparta who believed, like
George Bush and the neocons, that war is good, except,
of course, for the ones on its losing end and soldiers
in the ranks who have to fight them.

Hartmann is a knowledgeable and astute observer and
critic of US history and more recent policies gone
awry under 25 years of this kind of government,
beginning with the Reagan presidency.  It’s been
corrupted by the notion that what serves the interests
of business elites in corporate boardrooms benefit
ordinary people as well.  It never has, never will,
and, despite the slick rhetoric, isn’t intended to.
If it did, it would prevent the new US corporate
aristocracy from getting richer and more powerful
which it only can do at the expense of the public and
especially the middle class it wants to destroy.

Hartmann takes the reader on a journey of discovery in
his book divided into three parts and his conclusion
on how to fight back and reclaim what these forces of
darkness are taking from us.  This review will try to
cover as much of the flavor and substance of the book
as space allows, but make no mistake, this book is
important reading.  It documents how our system of
democracy and way of life are being destroyed by
greedy and ruthless corporatist oligarchs allied with
the government they installed in Washington to serve
their interests at our expense.  The only way to save
our precious system is first learn what they’re doing,
understand how its harming us, and then follow the
ideas laid out in the final chapter to act in our own
self-interest.  Unless we do and soon, it won’t be
long before the precious liberties and way of life we
take for granted are lost because we weren’t paying
attention and now it’s too late to act.

Part I: A Middle Class Requires Democracy - It won’t
survive without it.

Hartmann begins by recalling a past time many of us
grew up in when working people earned a living wage,
had good health insurance, defined-benefit pensions
secure at retirement, were protected by unions and
needed only one family wage-earner to get by on a
single job.  Those days ended when Ronald Reagan was
elected president with about one-quarter of the
nation’s eligible voters, hardly a groundswell of
support in an election that could have gone the other
way had events preceding it turned out differently.
The public lost out because they didn’t.

The America of the past is now fast disappearing.
Today giant corporations literally run everything.
They control what we eat and drink, where we live,
what we wear, how we get most of our essential
services like health care, and the information fed us
that influences how we think including our view of
them, our government and the world.  They even now own
patents on our genetic code, the most basic elements
of human life, and want to manipulate and control them
like any other commodity to exploit for profit in
their brave new world.

The corporate goliaths also decide who governs, for
whose interest, and at whose expense.  They control
the political process from the White House to the
Congress to who gets to sit on the nation’s courts.
They thus have effective control over what laws are
written and how they’re interpreted by friendly judges
up to the High Court.  It’s called democracy but it’s
one in name only serving the elite few.  It’s a
corruption of the letter and spirit of a true
democracy that influences an unequal and unjust
distribution of the nation’s resources to benefit an
elite minority able to control the political process
to their advantage.  It operates behind a facade of
fairness while working to destroy the very things it
claims to represent.  It’s a system of government
described by investigative journalist Greg Palast in
his 2003 published book - The Best Democracy Money Can
Buy.  Those who can pay can play, but those who can’t
have no say or sway.

It amounts to a system under which the political game
is rigged by the incestuous relationship between big
business and the government it empowers to serve it.
The only choice voters now have at the polls is what
Ralph Nader calls “the evil of two lessers (or)
government for General Motors, by Dupont and for Exxon
Mobil.”  The corporate giants today are so huge that
if the 50 largest ones were nations, they’d rank among
the 100 largest sovereign states in the world.  They
take full advantage of their size and clout to thrown
their weight around and get their way on most
everything they want - again at the expense of the
public interest.

The result of this concentrated corporate power and a
government in league with it has taken its toll on the
working public.  Adjusted for inflation, workers today
earn less than 30 years ago, the federal minimum wage
at $5.15 an hour hasn’t been raised since 1997, and
it’s now at its lowest point relative to average wages
since 1949.  It also means those earning it fall well
below the poverty line, and they still have to pay a
growing portion of their health insurance cost if they
have an employer giving them any at all.  In addition,
companies are eliminating defined-benefit pension
plans and government is sharply reducing essential
social services.  At the same time, average
inflation-adjusted CEO pay rose dramatically to
$9,600,000 in 2004 even without including how much
more these top executives get in lucrative stock
options and many other perks including the
extraordinary benefit they receive from so-called
Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans called SERPs
which pay them millions of dollars a year when they
become eligible.  Another measure of how inequality
has widened since Ronald Reagan was elected shows in
the ratio of CEO pay to the average working person.
It rose from 42 times in 1980 to 85 times in 1990 and
431 times in 2004. 

Hartmann contrasts what now exists to the most ancient
form of democracy that characterized the societies of
most indigenous peoples for his estimate of over
150,000 years.  Others, including eminent biologist
Ernst Mayr, believe humans have been around for about
100,000 years.  Over those many millennia there were
no rich and poor, and everyone was middle class.
There was also little hierarchy and the concept of
“chief” didn’t exist in America because Native nations
were ruled by concensus.  Benjamin Franklin studied
the Iroquois Confederacy and was so impressed with it
he got the Founders to model much of our Constitution
after their system of governance.  They did it on the
basis of government of, for and by the people based on
the notion that everyone has the right to “life,
liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Unlike the aristocracy of Europe they sought to be
free from, they also wanted the new nation to have a
middle class.  They understood that no democracy can
survive without one.  They also knew a middle class
depends on a public that’s educated, secure and
well-informed and that the greatest danger to its
survival is an empowered economic aristocracy that
would polarize society and eventually destroy the
democracy they were trying to create.  Today those
opposed to this notion are people Hartmann calls
“cons.”  They call themselves conservatives or
neoconservatives, but they violate the core
conservative principles they claim to represent.  They
only want to “conserve” their privileged status, and
they prove it in how they govern by “conning” the
public.  Hartmann explains that the battle people face
today in the country isn’t between liberals and
conservatives or Democrats and Republicans.  It’s
between those who want to protect our democratic
heritage and those “cons” who want to create an
elitist privileged society based on corporate power
and inherited wealth.

We’ve had this kind of society before during the
Reconstruction era after the Civil War leading to the
age of the “robber barons,” many of whose names are
well-known today and held up as models in a nation
that lionizes its business titans.  It lasted on and
off until the Wall Street crash in 1929 that ushered
in the “Golden Age of the middle class” with the
election of Franklin Roosevelt in 1932.  In his 1933
inaugural address, FDR said he wouldn’t stand by and
watch the Depression deepen and asked Congress for the
power to combat it.  He got it because 25% of the
working public was unemployed and demanded help out of
their desperate situation.  Roosevelt was a wealthy
patrician but one smart enough to know he had to act
forcefully in a state of emergency.  He also got a
number of wise corporate leaders to go along as they
and the President knew only strong enough measures
could save capitalism and prevent a possible worker
revolt that could be as extreme as the one in Russia
in 1917 when the Czar was toppled in a violent
revolution that in 10 days shook the world.

FDR’s remedy was his New Deal, and it was unlike
anything that ever preceded or succeeded it.  It was
wonderfully radical in ways unimaginable today.  He
liberated labor with the Wagner Act guaranteeing
workers the right to bargain collectively, regulated
financial and other markets, and insured bank deposits
with FDIC insurance.  He put people back to work with
government funded programs spent on jobs to build
vital infrastructure instead of on weaponry and a
strong military like today.  Most important was his
broad array of social programs, the centerpiece of
which was the Social Security Act that to this day is
the single most important piece of social legislation
in our history and the one most responsible for
keeping a vast number of the elderly out of poverty
plus providing other services and benefits for those
in need.  The Golden Age ran through the 1970s and
included Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society civil and
voting rights legislation and, second to Social
Security in importance, the Medicare and Medicaid
programs begun in 1965. 

But that was then and this is now.  With the election
of Ronald Reagan, the Golden Age was transformed into
a Dark Age of government of, for and by the special
interests that mainly are corporate ones and the rich
overall.  Reagan used the false rhetoric of “morning
in America,” a “shining city on a hill,” and the
ability of even a former grade B actor to read his
lines.  The senior Bush after him then spoke of “the
new world order” but didn’t explain it was based on
imperial expansion and fealty to the rich and
powerful.  Then Bill Clinton (a stealth Republican)
began with the slogan “it’s the economy, stupid,” then
told us how he felt our pain and went on to dissemble
on almost everything from his mangled “managed
competition” notion of health care to the North
American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and WTO that
destroy the lives of working people everywhere under
their one-sided trade rules favoring the corporate
giants.  He also enacted so-called welfare reform that
threatens to impoverish the needy any time the economy
weakens enough to throw enough people out of work and
in the same year the 1996 Telecommunications Act that
promised consumers a world of benefits and only ended
up removing competition in the giant communications
industry to create media and telecom monopolies
destroying any chance for an open market place of
ideas and an informed electorate.

Then came the age of George W. Bush that’s the closest
thing to the apotheosis what of corporate America
wanted since the time of the original robber barons.
For the ravenous war-profiteers, it’s an age of a
permanent “long war” against terrorist and
“Islamo-fascist” threats that don’t exist and
outrageous levels of expenditures on military and
“homeland security” to do it.  Overall for the
corporatocracy, it’s big tax cuts for the rich and
corporate giants at the expense of the public welfare,
a crackdown on civil liberties at home to control
dissent, a contempt for the need to protect the
environment’s ability to sustain life, and big cuts in
social services in an all out war against the New Deal
and Great Society programs including the bedrock
Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid ones. 

And now in a contemptuously defiant pre-election act
of infamy and indifference to constitutional law and
all the Founders stood for, the Bush-controlled 109th
Congress just passed the Military Commissions Act of
2006 defiling the letter and spirit of their landmark

—This act annuls the Magna Carta and sacred habeas
corpus fundamental principle in it and in Article 1,
Section 9 of the US Constitution guaranteeing everyone
the right of judicial appeal of arrest and detention.
It effectively strips US citizens of this right as
well as everyone everywhere may now be designated an
“unlawful combatant” at the whim of an out-of-control
president.  In enacting this unconstitutional law, the
Greek chorus on Capitol Hill posing as a Congress
annulled 800 years of what that sacred doctrine
represents and took away our constitutionally
protected right.  It did it in a pathetic act of
fealty to a depraved president any legitimate
legislative body acting on principle long ago would
have impeached and removed from office. 

—It also legalizes torture as an interrogation
technique for those held in detention placing this
country alongside Israel as the only two nations in
the world to have legalized this practice as confirmed
by Amnesty International.  The legislation passed also
granted US officials, including CIA operatives and
others, retroactive immunity from prosecution for
having authorized the use of torture or committed acts
of it.

—In a final outrageous pre-election act, the House
of Representatives also annulled our right to privacy
and the Fourth Amendment’s protection against
unreasonable searches and seizures by authorizing
warrantless wiretaps.

At the close of the Constitutional Convention in 1787,
Benjamin Franklin reportedly said in answer to whether
the nation now had a republic or a monarchy: “A
republic, if you can keep it.”  Prescient words from
an extraordinary man, and we hardly need wonder what
he’d say now.  Unlike the Founders, this shameless
Congress shares the guilt of a morally depraved
president who believes no one has the right to
challenge him, champions the use of torture and the
denial of habeas and due process rights to anyone on
his say alone, now (law or no law) authorizes wiretaps
and illegal surveillance on anyone, and calls dissent
an act of terrorism in direct contradiction to what
Thomas Jefferson believed when he said: “All tyranny
needs to gain a foothold is for people of good
conscience to remain silent.”  Having now made a
mockery of constitutional law, this Congress and
president have moved the nation to within an “eyelash”
of a full-blown national security fascist police
state.  It’s given the president the right to act
solely on his own authority as a virtual dictator to
do whatever he pleases in the name of national
security as he defines it.  It simply means the rule
of law has been abolished and ordinary people no
longer have constitutionally protected rights.

Is it any wonder George Bush is so abhorred worldwide
he’s met by large (sometimes huge) protest
demonstrations everywhere he goes and has to be
protected by an unprecedented amount of security to
keep him safe.  With two years left in his presidency,
this shameless man has already embroiled the country
in two unwinnable wars of illegal aggression that’s
destroyed the credibility of the nation and made the
US a moral pariah in the eyes of the world.  Yet, in
open defiance he’s contemptuously planning new ones
and continues running up massive budget and current
account deficits to finance his failed agenda.  The
result of his disastrous six years in office is a
nation’s economy on such shaky financial footing any
shock severe enough could push it over the edge
triggering a global crash that will be the death knell
of the middle class, impoverishment of the people and
the end of democracy that would be sacrificed on the
alter of martial law needed to quell dissent and
possible rebellion. 

If it happens, it will end the Founders’ dream of what
they fought a liberating revolution for - to create a
liberal democracy and system of government to “promote
the general welfare.”  Hartmann shows that FDR
governed by that principle and created what became a
vibrant middle class the corporatists and “cons” today
want to destroy and are doing a pretty good job of it.
Instead of using government resources to invest in
essential infrastructure vital to a thriving democracy
like good education, quality health care for all and a
full array of social services, the Bush administration
defrauded the public by its militarism and one-sided
service to the interests of capital.

It did it at the expense of the public welfare and
viability of the middle class that’s always been the
bedrock of the nation.  If it’s destroyed it will
fulfill the con’s dream to turn the country into a
nation of serfs run by corporatists treating people
like commodities no different than any other kind of
production input used to grow profits and then
discarded when no longer of use.  No one will have
rights or security, and everyone but the elite few
will be at the mercy of a wealthy ruling class in
league with government serving them alone.  Hartmann
explains if we want a healthy and vibrant middle class
and a strong democracy we have to work for it.  We
must “define it, desire it, and work both to create
and keep it.”  It can only happen when government
participates in the market place as a counter-force to
corporate power.  Hartmann lists three ways to do it:

—by creating and regulating the rules under which
business must operate

—by growing and protecting jobs at home with fair
trade policies and ending the practice of job
destruction through outsourcing to cheap labor markets

—by providing a full array of essential social
services including education, health care and a safety
net for those most in need

—and by a fourth one mentioned elsewhere in the book
- with a progressive tax system requiring corporations
and those most well-off to pay their fair share
according to their income level as well as providing
tax relief for those least able to afford it

Hartmann explains unless “we the people” take control
and act in our own self-interest, the nation is
heading for the kind of society an early 20th century
tyrant advocated and created when he was in power.  It
was “a system of government that exercises a
dictatorship of the extreme right, typically through
the merging of state and business leadership with
belligerent nationalism.”  The tyrant was Mussolini,
and he called it fascism.  Today in the US we’re
perilously close to that model as democracy and people
rights are threatened by a corporate-run state that’s
destroying civil society and everything the nation
claims to stand for.

Part II - Democracy Requires a Middle Class - It can’t
exist without one

The Founders and Framers of the Constitution wanted to
create a society with a vibrant middle class different
from the aristocratic European one they rebelled
against that was “of, by, and for the rich.”  In doing
it they believed they were changing the course of
European history that never had this kind of
government other than what once existed imperfectly in
ancient Athens.  Their goal was to combine the
European tradition of civilization they knew with the
Iroquois nation model of democracy they studied and
wanted to emulate.  In this way, they hoped to create
a better world than had ever before existed.  It was a
noble revolutionary experiment that depended on a
strong middle class unhindered by corporate power like
the British East India Company exercised in league
with the Crown to impose unfair taxes for an advantage
to help crush competition and then exploit people for

A lot of credit for what happened then goes to Thomas
Paine, a man we now know about but only because Thomas
Edison discovered him in the 1920s and believed he was
our most important political thinker.  Edison was able
to convince the nation’s mainstream educational system
to include Paine’s writings and teach what he had to
say.  In Paine’s The Rights of Man and other works, he
supported the notion of a strong middle class and a
democratic system of government.  Hartmann believes
his writings were so important and influential in his
day, there might never have been a revolution
liberating the nation from the Crown without them.

His thinking was profound and included the notion that
only people have rights, not governments or
corporations, and everyone should be taxed
proportionally to income.  He also believed inherited
wealth needed to be curbed to avoid creating a new
feudalism.  Otherwise, it would corrupt government
because heirs could create dynasties with the power to
co-opt a ruling body to use for their own purposes,
hurting ordinary people.  He felt the best way to
build a strong democracy was to provide financial aid
for young families with the expense of raising
children.  In addition, he proposed food and housing
assistance for the poor and retirement pensions for
people in old age.  Further, he was a strong
anti-militarist wanting all nations to reduce their
armaments by 90% to ensure world peace.  Tom Paine was
a great and enlightened thinker and a man most
educated people know of and respect.  He had such
great influence in his day we can only wish for
someone of his stature to emerge now when the need for
it is greater than ever.

Hartmann also briefly mentions what he covered in some
detail in his earlier book Unequal Protection.  There
he explained a little known event in our history that
might have changed everything had Thomas Jefferson and
James Madison prevailed over Alexander Hamilton and
John Adams.  Jefferson and Madison were able to add
the first 10 amendments to the Constitution we know as
The Bill of Rights but wanted two others as well
Hamilton and Adams opposed.  One was the “freedom from
monopolies in commerce” (what are now giant
corporations) and the other was the “freedom from a
permanent military” or standing armies.  Try to
imagine how different the country might be today if
Jefferson and Madison had prevailed. 

Hartmann devoted much more time on a crucial Supreme
Court Decision he covered in great detail in Unequal
Protection.  It concerned the issue of corporate
personhood that came out of the defining 1886 Santa
Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railway case.  It was
a simple tax dispute case that ended up changing the
direction of the country.  The Court settled the tax
issue no one remembers or cares about now, and the
Justices said nothing in their decision about
corporate personhood.  It was left to the Court’s
reporter J.C. Bancroft Davis who, in effect as it
turned out, decided it in his accompanying “headnotes”
which the Court did nothing to refute, likely by

The result was corporations got what they long coveted
- the same constitutional rights as people, but
because of their limited liability status, their
shareholders were protected from the obligations of
their debts, other obligations, and many of the
responsibilities individuals legally have.  With this
new status, corporations could now win many other
favorable court decisions they weren’t entitled to
before.  They also got much regulatory relief,
favorable legislation, and all the while, were and are
still protected by their limited liability status.
More than any other High Court decision, this one gave
corporations the ability to increase their power and
grow to their present size and dominance.

Think of it.  Corporations aren’t human, they can live
forever, change their identity, reside in many places
simultaneously in many countries, but can’t be
imprisoned for wrongdoing and can change themselves
into new persons at will for any reason.  Under the
Constitution, they have the same rights as people but
not the responsibilities.  And they got all this
because a court reporter gave it to them in his
“headnotes,” after the fact, in a Court decision
having nothing to do with corporate personhood.  The
result today is that corporations have the right to
operate freely and virtually be able to do whatever
they choose with impunity.  Even when they’re caught
breaking the law, most every time (with rare
exceptions) their executives get off scot-free and the
penalty assessed is a small fine that amounts to chump

Hartmann then goes on to discuss the business of war
and notes what James Madison believed compared to most
modern-day presidents.  War is big business and a
permanent state of it is much bigger, which is why
waging many of them is so appealing to those in power
today.  It’s also usually a winning political issue as
wartime presidents are more likely to be reelected,
and they also have more power than those serving in
peacetime.  George Orwell knew that democracy was
weakest in a state of war, and Hitler used that to his
advantage to seize total power after scaring the
German people with threats that didn’t exist to give
him enough of it in the first place.  This is what
James Madison warned against when he wrote: “Of all
the enemies to public safety war is, perhaps, the most
to be dreaded because it comprises and develops the
germ of every other.”  He added that “No nation could
preserve its freedom in the midst of continual war.”
Benjamin Franklin also spoke out against war and said
“There never was a good war or a bad peace.”  And
notable US General Smedley Butler, who was awarded two
Congressional Medals of Honor (the nation’s highest
military honor) for his service and at one time was
one of the nation’s most distinguished military
leaders, later wrote a book called War Is a Racket in
which he denounced it in a polemic we can’t even
imagine from anyone in government service today.

Hartmann, too, sounds the alarm about the dangers of
war and where it may lead the nation.  It drove Nazi
Germany to fascism and all the horrors from it. 
Today we’re at the same dangerous juncture with the
nation at war, fascism rising, and doing it behind the
facade of “compassionate conservatisim” and an
invented “Islamo-fascist” terrorist threat used to
scare the public to go along with a rogue president’s
“long war” without end to combat it.  Hartmann tells
us we face a clear and present threat to our freedom
today and “It’s up to us - to We the People - to sound
the alarm (to combat it).”

Part III - Governing for We the People - It’s a
government of, for and by the people and not one
serving big corporations and inherited wealth

Throughout the book, Hartmann repeatedly stresses the
critical point about whether we want the kind of
nation the Founders gave us serving the people or will
we allow the cons to get a government in service to
the “elite of a corporatocracy” and inherited wealth.
A large part of what the cons want is what Hartmann
calls “a religion of privatization.”  In their view,
whatever government can do, private business can do
better including controlling all elements of the
commons that comprise our most essential services like
health care, education, parts of the military, prisons
and even the electoral system.  It’s all part of their
fraudulent notion of “faith-based economics” that
doesn’t work.  Nonetheless, with government in league
with business, it’s happening to the detriment of the
public welfare.

Most people would be amazed to learn the second
largest army in Iraq comes from none of the other
nations supplying forces.  It’s the 30,000 private
contractors the Bush administration hired at an
enormous cost that’s far higher than what we pay those
in the military.  Why do it this way and spend more?
It’s another way to transfer billions of dollars from
the people to big corporations to enrich them at our
expense.  Prisons are also being privatized and now
are at a level of about 5% of their capacity in about
100 facilities in 27 states and growing.  But since
private prisons are a business, there’s an incentive
to fill beds and keep them filled with longer
sentences while minimizing services to keep costs
low.  It makes harsh prison life far more grim for
those interned.

Most insidious of all is the privatizing of elections.
Hartmann calls this the “ultimate crime.”  He cites
that in 2004 more than 80% of the US vote was counted
on electronic voting machines owned, programmed and
operated by three large private corporations.  So
instead of having paper ballots counted by hand by
civil servants monitored by party faithful and
independent observers, we now have a secretive process
that’s unverifiable and all controlled by large
companies with everything to gain if the candidates
they support win.  It puts the ugly taint of fraud
over the whole process and makes a sham out of the
notion of free, fair and open elections.  That’s
impossible if they’re run by self-serving private
corporations as they now are.  Unless this practice is
stopped, we’ve lost what Tom Paine said at the
nation’s founding: “The right of voting for
representatives is the primary right by which all
other rights are protected.  To take away this right
is to reduce a man to slavery.”

Besides being able to elect their own representatives,
the electorate must also be well-informed.  Hartmann
quotes Thomas Jefferson who said “Our liberty depends
upon the freedom of the press (which starts with a
literate citizenry, something we’re far short of
today).”  The data on the ability of the public to
read varies, but it shows a common pattern.  The US
Department of Education reports about 20% of the
public to be functionally illiterate which means they
can’t read or write well enough to do such essential
things as read a newspaper, understand written
instructions, fill out a job application or do basic
computational tasks, let alone be able to operate a
computer.  Hartmann uses other data from the National
Center of Education Statistics that breaks the
literacy problem into different skill-level
categories, but any way it’s looked at it shows a
nation inadequately able to function the way citizens
must be able to do in a modern society. 

The quality of education today, particularly in urban
schools, has deteriorated so much because of the rise
in prominence of service-related industries, many of
which require little formal education.  There’s no
incentive to correct the problem, and George Bush’s No
Child Left Behind Act and stealth plan to privatize
public education (along with everything else in the
commons that never should be) will only make things
worse.  The Bush agenda includes so-called school
vouchers that mask an intent to end the separation of
church and state by allowing vouchers to go mostly to
schools where the central mission is (Christian)
religious education or training.  The fraudulent
rationale for doing it is the same one the cons always
fall back on - that marketplace competition improves
performance.  It’s not so as in all other areas where
private business replaced government-run programs the
public ended up getting less and paying more for it.
That’s how it is with education that’s not a commodity
for sale and never should be put in the hands of
for-profit companies that need to minimize costs to
keep their bottom line high.

The same is true for health care that should be a
basic right and not a privilege available only to
those who can afford the cost.  But that’s not how it
is in the US.  This is the only country among the 36
fully industrialized democracies in the world that
treats health care as a marketplace commodity.  The
result is that while the country spends far more on
health care than any other one (about $2 trillion in
2005 or about one-sixth of the nation’s GDP) it
delivers a quality of care mediocre enough for the
World Health Organization (WTO) to rank us 37th in the
world in “overall health performance” and 54th in the
fairness of health care.  No one should be denied the
right to good medical care, but today nearly 47
million people in the country have no health insurance
and millions more are underinsured, thus denying them
the essential care they deserve to have, especially
when they need it most. 

So today with more companies reducing the amount of
health insurance coverage they provide employees
combined with stagnant wages rising less than the rate
of inflation, increasing numbers of people can’t
afford to buy protection for the most important need
they can’t afford to do without.  It’s created a state
of social inequality seen in the Economic Policy
Institute 2004 report on the State of Working America.
It showed the top 1% controls more than one-third of
the nation’s wealth while the bottom 80% has 16%.
Even worse, the top 20% holds 84% of all wealth while
the poorest 20% are in debt and owe more than they
own.  Just released Internal Revenue Service data
shows the same imbalance.  The IRS reported the share
of all income earned by the top 1% of taxpayers rose
to 19% in 2004 from 16.8% in 2003 and just below the
20.8% high it hit in 2000 helped by capital gains from
the stock market boom of the 1990s.  All this shows
how unbalanced wealth and income distribution are
under an economic model favoring the rich and leaving
all others behind.  To rectify this, the nation needs
a new model that distributes the nation’s wealth more
equitably and that begins with its tax code.  It also
needs to provide health care for all its citizens
which it already does for its senior ones - a
single-payer system administered by the government and
allowing people to choose their own providers.  But
even seniors are in trouble today as the Bush
administration wants to move retirees on Medicare into
private for-profit plans and thus kill off a system
that effectively serves the public.  The private
operators need to cut costs to grow their profits, but
when they do it people most in need are hurt the most.

All this paints a scenario of a dying middle class
heading for extinction.  Good jobs are disappearing,
wages are stagnant or falling making becoming middle
class today, in Hartmann’s words “like scaling a
cliff.”  Those who are middle class now are hanging on
for dear life but losing their grip, and those
aspiring to get there find it increasingly harder to
do.  It can’t be done on the minimum wage or even well
above it in a job that pays at the Walmart level.  And
it surely can’t be done without the protection unions
once could provide before the Reagan war on labor
began reducing their power, or in a nation that once
had a strong base of high-paying manufacturing and
other jobs now being lost to cheap labor markets
abroad.  The result in Hartmann’s words: “America is
regressing (and) Middle-class income has stopped
growing.”  The problem isn’t the economy.  It’s the
unlevel playing field where union protection is weak,
corporations are in control in league with government
supporting their interests, and workplaces are “run
more like kingdoms” with workers heading toward
becoming serfs with no rights. 

Hartmann says the cons are winning the battle to
weaken democracy “by screwing over the middle class,”
and he offers a prescription to fight back by
reclaiming the government-run programs that created a
strong middle class in the first place:

—let the public again have the right to own the
military (without the high-priced private
contractors), prisons, and the electoral system.

—keep private for-profit companies out of education
and have government run it free without phony programs
that don’t work like No Child Left Behind.

—demand a national single-payer health care system
for everyone based on how Medicare is run.

—demand private companies keep their hand off Social
Security and keep it as a government-run retirement
program and safety net for the disabled.

—demand a progressive tax system reinstating a
meaningful 35% rate on corporations and a 70% rate on
the richest 5% of Americans.  Use the extra revenue
received to repay the Social Security system and fund
an economic investment program.

—demand a living wage and the right of labor to
organize again unhindered by laws or business-friendly
government policies restricting its ability to be
treated fairly.

—demand a national energy program that “puts people
and the planet - not Big Oil - first.”

If America rebuilds its middle class, democracy will
follow.  But if middle-America withers, democracy will
as well.  Hartmann sounds the alarm - “We’ve been
conned for long enough.  It’s time to take back

Conclusion - The Road to Victory - We must get on it

Hartmann stresses the situation is dire and the need
for change is urgent.  He directs his message to
everyone of all political party affiliations and says
“It’s time We the People took back control of our
government.  He offers his prescription on how to do

—Take back the Democrat party - the party is in
crisis having bought on to the agenda of the far-right
Republicans.  Hartmann says the solution is for
progressives to join together to take back the
Democrat party just like the cons took control of the
Republican party with the election of Ronald Reagan.

—A third party is not the answer because of our
corrupted “winner take all” system under which whoever
gets the most votes “gets all of the pie.”  We’re
structured this way because it’s written into our
Constitution which was a huge mistake by the Founders.
That’s not how it is in a system of proportional
representation that most other democracies have under
which a party getting 30% of the votes gets the same
percentage of seats in the legislature.

—Republicans also need to re-capture their party
from the cons who stole it from the moderates.  Today
the party is run by the “Ayn Rand utopians, Pat
Robertson fundamentalists, and the largest and
dirtiest of America’s corporate elite.”  They rejected
the values of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and
Eisenhower, exploited working people and looted the
nation’s treasury for their own self-interest leaving
it for those who follow them to clean up the mess it
could take a whole generation to recover from or

—Change happens, sometimes slowly, and people need
to band together to work actively for it which means
more than “just showing up for a peace (or other kind
of) rally.”

—Other activist tools include the most fundamental
one of all - communication.  Hartmann explains without
two simple forms of it, the American Revolution
wouldn’t have been possible.  There were the two
commonly used ones then - letters to editors of
newspapers who published them and pamphlets like the
kind Tom Paine wrote.  Today the dominant media are
corrupted by their corporate control that suppresses
real information in favor of only what’s friendly to
the state and the corporate giants.  Fortunately
though, alternatives exist and must be used

The internet may be the most important one as long as
it remains free and open and not under the threat of
corporate control which may happen if S. 2686/H.R.5252
known as the Advanced Telecommunications and
Opportunities Reform Act passes that would along with
other harmful provisions in it end so-called “network
neutrality” meaning the internet freedom we now have.
This bill, if passed, will be a major victory for the
cable and telecom giants transforming them into
gatekeepers of internet content and allowing them to
charge varying rates to customers based on whatever
set of rules they decide to establish.  In a word, it
will destroy the internet as it now is.  As such, it’s
crucial every effort be made to prevent this from

—Don’t ignore the obvious influence we can have by
communicating with our elected leaders.  They pay
attention, and it guides their policy-making.

—Joining a union or getting active in the union
movement is crucially important to rebuilding the
nation’s middle class.  It’s essential unions be
re-empowered through favorable legislation, and voters
need to petition their legislators to work for this.

—Finally Hartmann sends a message everyone should
take to heart - never lose hope and never give up the
fight.  He ends his book by quoting what Winston
Churchill said at a boy’s school during Britain’s
darkest hour in WW II: “Never give in.  Never, never,
never, never, in nothing great or small, large or
petty, never give in except to convictions of honor
and good sense.  Never yield to force; never yield to
the apparently overwhelming might of the enemy.” 

Today the enemy of all working people has overwhelming
but not invulnerable might.  Gandhi taught us that “A
small body of determined spirits fired by an
unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the
course of history.”  And he inspired us saying “First
they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they
fight you, then you win.”  He did, and so can we.
Thom Hartmann would agree that We the People can
indeed win if we do enough even though it’s never
easy, and the cons will fight us every step of the way
with every dirty trick they know.  It’s up to us to
fight the better fight because we can’t afford to
lose.  Take heart from Thomas Jefferson and what he
once said: “Every generation needs a new Revolution.”
Today he’d likely say we never needed one more than

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
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site at