Rebooting the American Dream: 11 Ways to Rebuild Our Country

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America does not need an "upgrade." For years the Right has been tampering with one of the best political operating systems ever designed. The result has been economic and environmental disaster. In this hard-hitting new book, nationally syndicated radio and television host and bestselling author Thom Hartmann outlines eleven common-sense proposals, deeply rooted in America's history, that will once again make America strong and Americans-not corporations and billionaires-prosperous. Some of these ideas will be controversial to both the Left and the Right, but the litmus test for each is not political correctness but whether or not it serves to revitalize this country we all love and make life better for its citizens.

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Chapter 1 Bring My Job Home!

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By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry, he [the entrepreneur] intends only his own security, and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.

—Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations, 1776*

THE WHITE HOUSE CALLED ME.

About a year after President Barack Obama took office, on the first anniversary of his major economic recovery legislation, his administration was struggling to get the word out that the legislation was, in fact, quite a success story. I found myself invited to the White House as part of a small group of well-known authors and bloggers to meet with a top administration economist as part of this promotion effort.

It was an odd problem they were facing, given that this president was masterful during the 2008 election campaign in communicating his ideas and his vision to the American public. So what happened? Why didn’t America know that the $787 billion legislation represented one of the largest middle-class tax cuts in American history, that it had demonstrably created or preserved between 1.5 million and 3 million jobs, and that it had, in all probability, prevented the severe recession Obama inherited from George W. Bush from turning into a second Republican Great Depression, at least in the short term?

 

Chapter 2 Roll Back the Reagan Tax Cuts

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You must pay the price if you wish to secure the blessings.

—Andrew Jackson

WHEN I WAS IN DENMARK IN 2008 DOING MY RADIO SHOW FOR a week from the Danish Radio studios and interviewing many of that nation’s leading politicians, economists, energy experts, and newspaper publishers, one of my guests made a comment that dropped the scales from my eyes.1

We’d been discussing taxes on the air and the fact that Denmark has an average 52 percent income-tax rate. I asked him why people didn’t revolt at such high taxes, and he smiled and pointed out to me that the average Dane is very well paid, with a minimum wage that equals roughly $18 per hour. Moreover, what Danes get for their taxes (that we don’t) is a free college education and free health care, not to mention four weeks of paid vacation each year and notoriety as the happiest nation on earth, according to a major study done by the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom.2

But it was once we were off the air that he made the comment that I found so enlightening.

 

Chapter 3 Stop Th em from Eating My Town

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Unless you become more watchful in your states and check the spirit of monopoly and thirst for exclusive privileges you will in the end find that…the control over your dearest interests has passed into the hands of these corporations.

—Andrew Jackson

THERE IS A HUGE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MALL FULL OF CHAIN stores or a big-box retailer, and a downtown area full of small, locally owned businesses. The transition from the latter to the former is what’s destroying local communities on the one hand and creating mind-boggling wealth for a very few very large corporations and multimillionaire CEOs on the other. Here’s how it works.

As I noted in my book Unequal Protection,1 when I shop in downtown Montpelier, Vermont, and buy a pair of pants, for example, at the Stevens Clothing Store on Main Street, at the end of the day the store’s owner, Jack Callahan, takes his proceeds down to the Northfield Savings Bank and deposits them. From Stevens, I walk next door to Bear Pond Books and buy today’s newspaper, a magazine, and a copy of Thomas Paine’s Rights of Man, a book that is as fascinating today as when it was first written in 1791.

 

Chapter 4 An Informed and Educated Electorate

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If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.… Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government; that, whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, they may be relied on to set them right.

—Thomas Jefferson

TALK RADIO NEWS SERVICE, BASED IN WASHINGTON, D.C., IS owned and run by my dear friend Ellen Ratner. Ellen is an experienced and accomplished journalist, and a large number of interns and young journalism school graduates get their feet wet in reporting by working for and with her.

In March 2010 I was in Washington for a meeting with a group of senators, and I needed a studio from which to do my radio and TV show. Ellen was gracious enough to offer me hers. I arrived as three of her interns were producing a panel-discussion type of TV show for Web distribution at www.talkradionews.com, in which they were discussing for their viewing audience their recent experiences on Capitol Hill.

 

Chapter 5 Medicare “Part E”—for Everybody

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The Great Society is a place where every child can find knowledge to enrich his mind and to enlarge his talents. It is a place where the city of man serves not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community. It is a place where men are more concerned with the quality of their goals than the quantity of their goods.”

—Lyndon Baines Johnson

THERE ARE TWO IMPORTANT REASONS FOR HAVING A STRONG SOcial safety net, one based in sound economic policy and the other in our common humanity. So it’s no surprise that the countries that have strong social safety nets tend to have resilient economies and a higher quality of life.

Ultimately, social safety nets are about managing risk and unforeseen contingencies. On the one hand, there are the risks that we want people to take, such as starting a new business. On the other hand, there are unforeseen events that are so severe—like becoming paralyzed in an accident—that no one person (unless incredibly wealthy) could handle the expenses associated with them. In both cases, by setting up a social safety net that distributes the costs of responding to them across the wide spectrum of society, we minimize both the societal cost and the individual suffering.

 

Chapter 6 Make Members of Congress Wear NASCAR Patches

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The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism—ownership of government by an individual, by a group.

—Franklin D. Roosevelt

I STARTED MY FIRST BUSINESS AT THE AGE OF 17 WITH $25. I PAID that amount to rent a shelf in a head shop (which sold mostly pipes, bongs, and cigarette papers) across the street from Michigan State University in East Lansing. The shelf had a sign: “The Electronics Joint—leave your stereo or TV here for repair, and we’ll return it fixed within a week. Free estimate of charges before work is done.” The guy who ran the head shop managed the shelf for 10 percent of our revenues plus the $25-per-month shelf rental; within two years the venture had grown to include five employees, and we moved into our own storefront down the street.

As the business grew, however, I didn’t manage it wisely and ended up about $3,000 in debt, which was a lot of money in 1968 for a part-time student and part-time DJ. Ultimately, I had to shut the company down and go to work full-time as a radio DJ.

 

Chapter 7 Cool Our Fever

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We live in a democracy and policies represent our collective will. We cannot blame others. If we allow the planet to pass tipping points…it will be hard to explain our role to our children. We cannot claim…that “we didn’t know.”

—Jim Hansen, Director, NASA Goddard

Institute for Space Studies1

I HAVE TAKEN THE FOUR-HOUR TRAIN RIDE FROM THE AIRPORT IN Frankfurt, Germany, to the Bavarian town of Stadtsteinach in the Frankenwald often enough to know it by heart. I look out the window and see the familiar sights—the towns, the rivers, the houses.

I have visited Stadtsteinach many times over the past 30 years, working with Salem International, a relief organization headquartered in that town. The community for abused kids that Louise and I founded in New Hampshire is based on its family-oriented model, and we have helped start Salem programs in Australia, Colombia, India, Israel, Peru, Russia, and Uganda, among others. So at least once a year I’ve made it back to Germany, and we lived there for a year in the mid-1980s.

 

Chapter 8 They Will Steal It!

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War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.

—John F. Kennedy

IN 1981, IN THE MIDST OF A WIDE-RANGING CONVERSATION DURing a night flight across the Atlantic, I got one of the biggest foreign policy insights of my life. Ever since I heard it, it’s filtered my observations of the behavior of virtually every country in the world, particularly ours.

I’d gone to Uganda in 1980 to help start a program to feed the tens of thousands of people starving as a result of the 1978–1979 war, started when Uganda’s neighbor to the south, Tanzania, finally said “Enough!” to the atrocities perpetuated by Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and invaded the country. They drove Amin out (he went to Libya first, then to Saudi Arabia, where he lived to a ripe old age in a palace, courtesy of the king and our oil dollars), but the Uganda-Tanzania War produced a disaster for the people of Uganda.

Our relief program was up and running, at least in infant form (it’s still there and operating), and African-American comedian and activist Dick Gregory agreed to go to Uganda with me to see it and to help publicize the starvation so we could raise funds in the United States to expand the program. As the two of us crossed the Atlantic, his first trip to the African continent and my third or fourth, we sat in the plane and drank red wine and talked of all sorts of things, including our common opposition to the Vietnam War back in the day.

 

Chapter 9 Put Lou Dobbs out to Pasture

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Only a fool would try to deprive working men and working women of their right to join the union of their choice.

—Dwight D. Eisenhower

BACK IN THE LATE 1980S, WHEN I RAN AN ADVERTISING AGENCY in Atlanta, a multinational corporation approached us about producing its internal newsletter, a monthly eight-pager about the company’s goings-on in the United States, Mexico, and Japan. Not surprisingly, they wanted the newsletter produced in English, Spanish, and Japanese.

For our small agency trolling for clients, this corporation was a big fish—it could provide a good shot of cash for what was then a startup business with a half dozen employees—so I put a help-wanted ad in the local daily newspaper, the Atlanta Constitution-Journal, for a graphic designer who was also fluent enough in those three languages to know how to set type and where to hyphenate words (the company was providing us with the text in the three languages). It was clearly a search for a needle in a hay-stack, so I was totally shocked when a young man showed up on our doorstep, claiming that he was a graphic artist with fluency in all three languages.

 

Chapter 10 Wal-Mart Is Not a Person

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The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth: if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.

—John Stuart Mill

IN 2003, AFTER MY BOOK UNEQUAL PROTECTION WAS FIRST PUBlished, I gave a talk at one of the larger law schools in Vermont. Around 300 people showed up, mostly students, with a few dozen faculty and some local lawyers. I started by asking, “Please raise your hand if you know that in 1886, in the Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad case, the Supreme Court ruled that corporations are persons and therefore entitled to rights under the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.”

Almost everyone in the room raised their hand, and the few who didn’t probably were new enough to the law that they hadn’t gotten to study that case yet. Nobody questioned the basic premise of the statement.

 

Chapter 11 In the Shadow of the Dragon

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The motivating force of the theory of a democratic way of life is still a belief that as individuals we live cooperatively, and, to the best of our ability, serve the community in which we live, and that our own success, to be real, must contribute.

—Eleanor Roosevelt

THERE WAS A DRAGON HERE HUNDREDS OF YEARS AGO, HERE IN the Basque country in northern Spain, a place steeped in tradition, a hilly expanse between the mountains and the sea. Local lore has it that the Basque language, the only European one with no known root language, is a remnant from the time of Atlantis, which may have vanished into the Atlantic Ocean not far from here eons ago.

Standing on a hillside overlooking an early autumn valley, Louise and I were amazed by the simple beauty of the mountain of the dragon, its gray and balding peak towering above the town like an ancient ziggurat. This is Mondragon, a small town named after the dragon of the mountain, the dragon probably being, a local resident told us, a particularly brutal lord or local king who exercised the Rite of the First Night, a dreaded ritual when fair maidens were whisked away on their wedding night.

 

Conclusion: Tag, You’re It!

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As nightfall does not come at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there’s a twilight where everything remains seemingly unchanged, and it is in such twilight that we must be aware of change in the air, however slight, lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

—William O. Douglas

IS PAST TRULY PROLOGUE?

In his introduction to an 1899 English-language edition of Alexis de Tocqueville’s 1835 classic Democracy in America, former Alabama state senator John T. Morgan describes the formative period of the “experimental” American republic:1

Those liberties had been wrung from reluctant monarchs in many contests, in many countries, and were grouped into creeds and established in ordinances sealed with blood, in many great struggles of the people. They were not new to the people. They were consecrated theories, but no government had been previously established for the great purpose of their preservation and enforcement. That which was experimental in our plan of government was the question whether democratic rule could be so organized and conducted that it would not degenerate into license and result in the tyranny of absolutism…

 

Acknowledgments

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SAFIR AHMED TOOK ON THE UNENVIABLE JOB OF EDITING THIS book on the fly as I was writing it during various trips and weekends and moments I could grab over the past year after I got off the air every day. It came to him in bits and pieces, sometimes inchoate, and he did a marvelous job of stitching together my many off-the-cuff writings. I’m deeply grateful for his work as the primary editor on this book.

Without the advocacy, insight, and tough editorial work of Johanna Vondeling at Berrett-Koehler and the brainstorming brilliance of my wife, Louise Hartmann, this book would not exist.

I’m particularly grateful to others at Berrett-Koehler who brought this book into being and made it work, both editorially, graphically, and in the marketplace. They include Richard Wilson, Dianne Platner, Jeevan Sivasubramaniam, marketing associate Jeremy Sullivan, senior sales manager Michael Crowley, sales manager Marina Cook, and publicist Katie Sheehan. And many thanks and much gratitude to a couple of real pros—Gary Palmatier and Elizabeth von Radics of Ideas to Images—for the book’s design and copyediting.

 

Notes

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1. Benson J. Lossing, Our Country (1877), http://www.publicbookshelf.com/public_html/Our_Country_vol_2/georgewas_bfb.html.

2. This section taken from Rosemary E. Bachelor, Washington’s American Made Inaugural Clothes, http://americanhistory.suite101.com/article.cfm/washingtons-american-made-inaugural-clothes.

1. Peter S. Goodman, “The New Poor: Despite Signs of Recovery, Chronic Joblessness Rises,” New York Times, February 21, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/21/business/economy/21unemployed.html.

2. Keith Bradsher, “Defying Global Slump, China Has Labor Shortage,” New York Times, February 26, 2010, http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/27/business/global/27yuan.html.

3. Alexander Hamilton, Report on the Subject of Manufactures: Made in His Capacity of Secretary of the Treasury, December 5, 1791, http://www.archive.org/details/alexanderhamilt00caregoog.

4. Peter Baker and Rachel Donadio, Obama Wins More Food Aid but Presses African Nations on Corruption,” New York Times, July 10, 2009, http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/11/world/europe/11prexy.html.

 

Index

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Abramoff , Jack, 100, 103

Afghanistan, 62, 66, 141–142, 150

airwaves ownership, 66–67

Alexander Hamilton’s 11-point plan

background, 2–3, 10

implementations, 21, 24–25, 27

text of, 3–9

Alito, Samuel, 172, 178, 180

alternative energy, 123–128, 132–135, 137

amending the Constitution, 111, 187–189

American Federation of Labor (AFL), 90

American Medical Association (AMA), 90–91

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009), 16–20

American Revolution, 2, 175, 202

Amin, Idi, 139

Anschutz, Philip, 39, 41, 42, 48

Anthem Blue Cross, 184

anti-intellectualism, 12, 75–76, 79

antitrust legislation, 11, 44, 54–56

Aristotelian worldview, 131–132

Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, 172–173, 180

automobiles, flex-fuel, 127–128, 135, 137

Baker, Dean, 115

balance of power, 167–168

Ball, Robert M., 89–91

bankruptcy laws, 95

banks

community credit unions over, 119–122

industry lobbying, 101, 111

owning the Federal Reserve, 112–113

participating in solar energy programs, 124, 133, 134

raising savings interest rates, 30

reform efforts, 114, 184

 

About the Author

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THOM HARTMANN IS THE FOUR-TIME Project Censored Award–winning, bestselling author of more than 20 books in print in 15 languages on five continents and the number one progressive radio and TV talk-show host in the United States, also carried on radio stations in Europe and Africa, syndicated by Pacifica, Dial-Global, and Free Speech TV.

His work has inspired several movies, including one produced and narrated by Leonardo DiCaprio. He has met in personal audiences with, at the invitation of, both Pope John Paul II and the Dalai Lama. He’s built several successful businesses and for more than 20 years did international relief work in almost a dozen countries for the international Salem organization based in Germany.

Thom and his wife, Louise, founded a community for abused children and a school for learning-disabled children in New Hampshire, and he has helped launch famine relief, agricultural development, leprosy treatment, orphan care, and hospital programs in Uganda, Colombia, India, and Russia.

 

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