Evangelical Leader Who Criticized Trump Is Swamped with Death Threats from the ‘Christian Machine’

They turned on her when she went public with her views.

A popular evangelical speaker with a string of best-selling books and a home renovation show on HGTV revealed that she has been flooded with death threats because she has been critical of President Donald Trump and supported same-sex marriage.

In an interview with Politico, Jen Hatmaker said the “Christian Machine” has turned on her since she went public with her views, with retailing giant LifeWay Christian Stores pulling her books from the shelves and former fans burning them

According to Hatmaker, she was part of the “never Trump” faction of conservatives who were appalled by the rise of Trump during the 2016 campaign, telling her followers he made her “sad and horrified and despondent.” Following the release of the notorious “Access Hollywood” tape, she went after male Evangelical leaders who defended Trump’s actions, tweeting: “We will not forget. Nor will we forget the Christian leaders that betrayed their sisters in Christ for power.”

Adding to her problems was an interview with Religion News Service where she came out and stated that she supports same-sex marriage.

That was the final straw for what she called the “Christian Machine,” saying her children were accosted in the tiny Texas town where she lives, the death threats started pouring in and her fans turned on her.

“The way people spoke about us, it was as if I had never loved Jesus a day in my life,” she said in a recent speech.

Writing on her blog, she stated: “This year I became painfully aware of the machine, the Christian Machine. I saw with clear eyes the systems and alliances and coded language and brand protection that poison the simple, beautiful body of Christ. I saw how it all works, not as an insider where I’ve enjoyed protection and favor for two decades, but from the outside where I was no longer welcome. The burn of mob mentality scorched my heart into ashes, and it is still struggling to function, no matter how darling and funny I ever appear; the internet makes that charade easy.”

“Simultaneously, other things died during the election season. Much ink has been spilled here and I won’t belabor the point, but I know I’m not the only one holding a pile of tattered threads in her hands, wondering what on earth just happened to our supposed holy common ground,” she added. “The Christian Machine malfunctioned, and we are all still staring at each other, trying our damnedest to figure out how we understand the gospel so differently, unsure if we will ever find our way back to each other.”

According to the evangelist, she is refusing to back down and still delivers sermons pushing non-conservative views such as supporting gun control, Black Lives Matter and immigrant refugees.

“For me,” Hatmaker explained, “it’s not as base as, ‘I’m just going to keep being political for the sake of it,’ so much as it is that all of this policy, all of this rhetoric, all of this leadership, it affects real live human people. That, for me, is where I am no longer comfortable remaining silent.”

You can read her whole story here.

 

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Is FCC Chairman Ajit Pai a Closeted Alt-Right Sympathizer?

The evidence is inconclusive, but no one in this administration has earned the benefit of the doubt.

On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted 3-2 along party lines to repeal an Obama-era regulation to preserve net neutrality, defying Silicon Valley executives and consumer advocacy groups, not to mention the will of the people. A recent University of Maryland survey finds that more than 80 percent of registered voters oppose the FCC’s plans.

The move will fundamentally transform the internet as we know it, allowing corporate behemoths like Verizon and Comcast to manipulate loading speeds and charge customers a premium for access to individual websites and apps. Adding insult to democratic injury, circumstantial evidence suggests the man who cast the deciding vote, Ajit Pai, sympathizes with the so-called alt-right.

Back in November, the FCC chairman and Trump appointee unveiled his plans to junk the net neutrality rules established in 2015, arguing that websites and social media platforms, rather than internet service providers (ISPs), posed the greatest threat to an open internet. At the time, Pai singled out Twitter for blame.

“The company has a viewpoint and uses that viewpoint to discriminate,” he told the R Street Institute, a libertarian-minded think tank. “And to say the least, the company appears to have a double standard when it comes to suspending or deverifying conservative users’ accounts as opposed to those of liberal users. This conduct is many things, but it isn’t fighting for an open internet.”

It’s difficult to know exactly who Pai had in mind, but Slate’s April Glaser notes that Twitter recently deverified the accounts of several prominent white supremacists, including Laura Loomer and Jason Kessler. The former is a YouTube sensation on the alt-right who was recently banned from Uber and Lyft for her Islamophobic tweets, while the latter was one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. In October, Kessler was indicted on a felony perjury charge after falsely accusing a man he’d assaulted of attacking him first. 

“What’s weird about Pai’s comments is that while these are all figures on the right, conservatives don’t typically count them among their ranks,” Glaser writes. “And while conservatives do sometimes cast themselves as ideological victims of Silicon Valley’s overreach, there have been no recent deverifications of prominent right-wing figures, ‘conservative’ or otherwise, not known for promoting hate. In other words, according to Pai, the demotion of racists on a social network is a bigger deal than an action that could radically change the architecture of—and who succeeds on—the internet.”

Weirder still is the video Pai released Wednesday in conjunction with the Daily Caller assuring millennials that they can still “gram their food” and “post photos of cute animals” if net neutrality is scrapped. (In May, he made a separate appeal to America’s youth by reading aloud the meanest tweets about his proposals, a nod to the popular segment on “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”) When he’s not wielding a fidget spinner and assuring viewers they can still binge-watch “Game of Thrones,” he can be seen doing the Harlem Shake next to a woman named Martina Markota, a far-right conspiracy theorist who has speculated that Hillary Clinton’s former campaign chair ran a child sex ring out of the basement of a Washington pizzeria.

Before joining the Daily Caller, Markota appeared in a video for the Proud Boys, a self-described “Western Chauvinist” men’s club with ties to the alt-right, where she claimed that the (thoroughly debunked) Pizzagate was real. “This is not something I’m making up because I’m trying to…put in my fantasy version of what’s going on and interject it into these email scandals,” she says at one point. “This is independent of the campaign. I know what cheese pizza is.”

Pai, the son of Indian immigrants, has been a subject of racist attacks himself in recent months, some of them bearing the hallmarks of the alt-right. “We all have the power to murder Ajit Pai and his family,” an FCC commenter wrote in May. “Jk jk.” No one stands to lose more from the repeal of net neutrality rules than the patrons of websites like 4chan and Reddit, which internet service providers will soon be able to slow to a crawl, so it’s difficult to imagine white nationalists embracing Pai as an ally, and vice versa.

And yet. After the FCC chairman pleaded his case that social media networks were suppressing free speech, he earned the effusive praise of far-right radio host Matt Forney and Andrew Torba of Gab, a platform where users “are generally free to be as racist or anti-Semitic as they’d like without fear of being reprimanded or censored,” according to Slate.

It’s possible, even probable, that Pai was unaware of Martina Markota’s history before he recorded his latest video for the Daily Caller. But the fact remains that Jason Kessler got his start as a contributor for the right-wing publication, and Pai had no reservations about lending it his imprimatur. With a White House that has excused and enabled white nationalists at every turn, no one in the Trump administration has earned the benefit of the doubt.

 

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Reimagining the Tax Code, Getting There with Grassroots Activism

Tax policy, which can be deadly dull, hasn’t inspired much enthusiasm for activist campaigns—until now. Advocates could leverage this energy to push for a progressive tax code.

The House and the Senate have reached an agreement on the final GOP tax bill and plan to vote on it sometime next week. However, there’s still aggressive mobilization against the legislation, fueled by progressive organizations like the Not One Penny and Stop the #GOPTaxScam coalitions; Indivisible; and Americans for Tax Fairness. These groups are working hard to disrupt a tax agenda that overwhelmingly favors the wealthy, even though in all likelihood the bill will pass. Tim Hogan, spokesperson for the Not One Penny campaign, says that regardless the outcome of the bill, this mobilization is a victory “in the court of public opinion.”

Indeed, Americans are strongly against the bill: a Reuters/Ipsos poll found that nearly half of Americans who are aware of the legislation oppose it. And tax policy activism—a rarely- seen phenomenon—has played a role in raising awareness. This surge in activism could lay the foundation for a popular movement, not just reject the GOP’s giveaway to the rich, but to work toward a new, more equitable tax code.

In September, before the Republican tax proposals were released, Prosperity Now and PolicyLink, two economic justice organizations, released a report entitled “Making the Connection: Bringing Tax Wonks and Grassroots Activists Together to End Inequality.” The U.S. tax code, the report found, is an extremely “powerful lever … to drive inequality.” But as much as the tax code expands the divide between rich and poor, the report argues, that there is also serious potential for the tax code, reimagined, to bridge it.

And, as the report makes clear, that’s where activists could come in.

Not One Penny, spawned from April’s Tax March and officially launched in August, is a coalition of almost 50 organizations, demanding “Not one penny in tax cuts for millionaires, billionaires, and wealthy corporations.” While the Tax March largely brought people out to protest Trump’s refusal to release his tax returns, the organizers wanted to bring attention to progressive tax policies, too. Following the initial action, Not One Penny shifted its focus. This summer, with a Republican tax proposal looming on the horizon, the group began training activists in anti-tax policy organizing.

Months later, after the release of the Trump tax plan and the eventual passage of the House and Senate proposals, demonstrations are taking place across the country to protest these trickle-down economics-oriented plans. Recently, five protestors were arrested in Maine after conducting a sit-in in Republican Senator Susan Collins’s office; Collins is a potential “no” vote when the conference bill comes back to the Senate. And in the spirit of the holiday season, New Jersey activists have confronted their Republican representatives with tax-themed Christmas carols.

As the Senate debated their tax bill, groups opposing the legislation set up a “People’s Filibuster” to protest the GOP proposal. For over 30 hours and throughout the night, different organizations “sponsored” hours, inviting activists and advocates to tell their stories. The speakers warned about the damaging effects of the House and Senate proposals on specific sectors like health care and the environment, and on certain groups such as graduate students, people with disabilities, and young families.

The “Making the Connection” report suggests that these types of protests could be leveraged to advocate for fairer tax policies, as such tactics have not frequently been utilized in tax policy advocacy. The report found that while almost 60 percent of the activists it polled had recently attended a rally or protest on an issue of public concern, just 5 percent had recently attended a rally or protest related to tax policy.

The report’s authors further explain that such low mobilization in regard to tax activism could be attributed to tax policy’s “messaging problem,” as advocates and the general public commonly think of tax policy as “complex, unapproachable, and downright boring.” Major barriers to effective progressive tax advocacy include a “knowledge deficit” concerning taxes, and a lack of a personal connection to tax policy.

But not only does the tax code work to raise revenue for the government (which everyone knows about), it also helps American households build wealth (which fewer people realize). That may be because, in our current tax code, most tax benefits are funneled toward the wealthy. According to the report, the top 1 percent of households received more federal dollars than the bottom 80 percent. The mortgage interest deduction and property tax deduction? The government spends almost double on those credits for wealthier households than it does on Section 8 housing vouchers or Homeless Assistance Grants.

This preference for the wealthy is hard to detect, since programs like the mortgage-interest deduction are hidden inside the tax code, helping create a two-tier welfare system, where means-tested welfare programs for the poor are visible and known, but welfare programs for the wealthy, like deductions for homeownership, education, and retirement, help the rich build wealth but exist as “tax credits,” not “welfare.” The rich are lauded for taking advantage of the tax system (think of Trump saying that not paying taxes “makes me smart”), but means-tested welfare recipients are seen as moochers.

In other words, our tax code—even before the GOP makes it incalculably worse—exacerbates the nation’s vast economic inequality, in which the richest 1 percent of households own 40 percent of the country’s wealth. The tax code also contributes to the racial wealth gap, where the median white family owns 12 times the wealth of the median black family.

But, it also means that the tax code could also be a major force in reducing economic inequality. To right the imbalance and “shift the benefits distributed through the tax code to working families,” the “Making the Connection” report lays out concrete steps that advocacy organizations can take to make tax policy accessible to community organizers and grassroots activists.  

This support is necessary, says Jeremie Greer, Prosperity Now’s vice president of policy and research and a coauthor of the report, “because the personal connection to [tax policy] is underneath the tax code.” Greer says that “when [people] think about taxes, they think about the annual exercise of doing their taxes,” instead of associating the tax code with programs that help them.

The tax code contains housing credits, credits for low-income working families like the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. The federal government uses that revenue to help pay for programs many communities rely on. One of the report’s survey respondents said that people often don’t realize that the EITC was the reason they received a tax refund. Another said that “many people don’t understand the connection between the taxes they pay and the roads they drive on or the schools their children attend.”

Other assistance programs outside the tax code are “very straightforward,” Greer says. Food stamps are for nutrition assistance. Housing vouchers help people with their housing. And the mortgage-interest deduction “is a wonky … and governmental way of talking about something,” he says. When talking to advocacy groups, Greer simply calls it what it is: a housing subsidy, which is one way to make tax policy clearer while helping people recognize how the tax code affects them personally.

Advocacy groups have been doing an excellent job of making the consequences of the Republican tax proposals both clear and personal. Lisa Beaudoin, executive director of ABLE New Hampshire, a disability rights organization, traveled to Washington for a recent Capitol Hill tax policy protest. She says, “Helping people understand the direct implications [that this tax bill has] in their lives … gives people something to hold onto and to fight for.”

The elimination of the individual mandate would threaten health care for millions of mostly low-income people. Multiple provisions, including the elimination of the medical expense deduction, would disproportionately hurt people with disabilities. And the reduction of the corporate tax rate is widely seen as a giveaway to wealthy Republican donors (as at least one Republican representative acknowledged).  

Anti-tax bill activism and the media coverage of the GOP bills have made an impact: Only 31 percent of Americans support the tax plan. But when the battle over the Republicans’ tax catastrophe is done, what will tax activists do then? It may be easier to advocate against polices that would be detrimental to low- and middle-income families than to campaign for fairer taxes, especially since progressive members of Congress have not put forth an omnibus proposal of their own.

Economist Gerald Friedman recently made the case at AlterNet that, “progressives should resist the temptation to simply attack the GOP giveaway to the ultra-rich; instead, they should articulate their own tax plan, one that would fund needed services, promote stable growth, and compensate the unlucky, including the victims of globalization.”

Many of Friedman’s policy proposals are not new to policymakers on the left; but they have not been bundled together in an overall progressive rewrite of the tax code. They include taxing capital income (such as profits from investments) at the same rate as income from work, and mandating new penalties on income stashed in offshore tax havens. Friedman also recommends strengthening the penalties on corporations that don’t provide benefits like health insurance and instituting a tax on carbon emissions.

The report’s policy proposals center on strengthening policies that already work, like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and housing policy. The EITC lifts millions of families out of poverty, but really only works well for custodial parents. Greer says that people without children, including younger workers and the elderly, should be able to benefit too.

One such bill introduced by two progressive Democrats, Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown and California Representative Ro Khanna, would greatly expand the EITC along Prosperity Now’s lines. The Brown-Khanna plan increases the value of the credit for working families and gives childless workers greater access to the benefit. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that this proposal would lift the incomes of 47 million households.

By introducing such a congressional bill now, when the Republican majorities in each house have no intention of giving it a hearing, of course, is to lay the groundwork for a more progressive tax code if and when the Democrats return to power.

Another such proposal, Greer points out, would be to create a tax credit that benefits renters as well as homeowners. Support for families that rent could help move them into homeownership—a transformation that would be further incentivized if Congress permanently established a program like the First-Time Homebuyer Credit, which temporarily came about during the Great Recession.  

Progressive leaders can’t simply say “no” to the Republicans’ plan to alter the tax code, because the status quo isn’t ideal either. Instead, a new, progressive tax code could help eliminate income inequality, make the wealthy pay their fair share, and finally give low- and middle-income families the resources they need to lead lives that are economically secure. If Democrats can retake power and activists get the support they need to transform public tax discussions, the party could be prompted to adopt new policies (which would require reforming campaign finance to curtail the Democrats reliance on big money) to make a new tax code a reality.

 

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Intelligence Analyst Malcolm Nance Compares Fox News Rhetoric to ‘Psychological Warfare’

The network is using dangerous language to destabilize its audience’s understanding of the country’s institutions.

Intelligence analyst Malcolm Nance told MSNBC host Ari Melber that Fox News’ coverage of the Mueller investigation is approaching the level of “psychological warfare.”

Melber and Nance discussed Fox News’ inaccurate use of the word “coup” to describe what amounts to the “nonpartisan rule of law in America.”

“They want to make you lose faith that we can get through this as a Republic,” Melber said.

“This is almost psychological warfare—preparation of the battlefield,” Nance explained. “This is not a coup, and this language is dangerous.”

Watch the exchange below.

 

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These Are Trump’s 7 ‘Forbidden Words’

Codifying Trumpian Newspeak, the administration has banned the CDC from using seven words, including “transgender,” “diversity” and “fetus.”

Leaving a meeting of top officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Thursday, a CDC analyst in attendance who spoke anonymously to reporters described being briefed on a Trump administration dictum of “forbidden words” that the public health agency was told not to use in any official capacity in documents.

Both the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune reported on having spoken to the analyst who was briefed on the list of “forbidden words.” According to the Post, the forbidden list included the words “diversity,” “entitlement,” “evidence-based,” “fetus,” “science-based,” “transgender,” and “vulnerable.”

The Post reported that Alison Kelly, a CDC official who led the meeting, didn’t explain why these words were being banned, only that they were. Yet it’s easy to speculate about motive, given how politically loaded these terms are. Indeed, scanning the list, it looks like the administration is attempting to atrophy the CDC’s ability to wield the English language in order to promote a conservative agenda.

To wit: The word “fetus” is a more dehumanizing means of referring to a fertilized egg; banning it aligns with a conservative agenda of humanizing unborn fetuses to sway public opinion against abortion rights access.

And regarding the appearance of “transgender” on the list, the Trump administration has been outright hostile to trans people and on issues of transgender rights. In July, Trump announced that he intended to ban transgender people from joining the military “in any capacity.”  “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow [t]ransgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming [v]ictory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail,” Trump wrote on Twitter at the time.

Many experts pointed out Trump’s purported rationale for the trans ban was specious at best; the RAND corporation, a policy think-tank, studied the issue of transgender persons in the military and found that “allowing transgender personnel to serve openly” had “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness, or readiness.” Likewise, Trump greatly exaggerated the medical cost to the military posed by transgender personnel. As Salon’s Amanda Marcotte wrote at the time:

The excuse that Trump used when he first announced [the transgender military ban] on Twitter, and the excuse he will almost certainly continue to use, is that medical care for trans people, such as hormone therapy or gender confirmation surgery, is too expensive. Not only is this another lie — it was widely reported that the military spends five times as much on Viagra as it expects to spend on gender confirmation treatments — but this excuse is in itself a form of bigotry, a way to demonize transgender people by stigmatizing the health care they need.

The appearance of the word “transgender” on the list of banned CDC words greatly suggests erasure is the administration’s intent. While the CDC is currently involved in research studies involving trans people — including studying HIV transmission diagnoses among transgender persons — an inability to name one’s object of study would undoubtedly make research more difficult.

Equally sinister is the inclusion of the verb phrases “evidence-based” and “science-based.” Just as the Trump administration has sown doubt in public opinion of journalists — by constantly questioning their trustworthiness and whether reported “facts” are true — his cadre has done the same with science and scientists, continuing a tradition passed down from the Bush administration. As the Post reported:

Instead of “science-based” or ­“evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.

Whereas “science-based” implies a systematized form of reasoning and rationality based on measuring, hypothesizing and experimentation, “community standards and wishes” is a more wishy-washy phrase. Whose community and whose standards? There is a large degree of unmeasurable uncertainty introduced by swapping out these two phrases. You could justify virtually any political decision by chalking it up to “community standards and wishes.”

The Trump administration’s foray into linguistic decrees is not a new phenomenon among the American Right. One recent comparable instance of state-decreed censorship: John Ashcroft, a Christian fundamentalist and the first attorney general under George W. Bush, insisted on covering the breasts of a marble statue of the “Spirit of Justice” that stood in the main Justice building. This act of modesty reportedly cost $8,000 of taxpayer money.

 

 

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ZTE confirms Axon 7 will be updated to Android 8.0 Oreo

  • ZTE has confirmed that Android 8.0 Oreo will come to the Axon 7
  • The announcement came via a forum post from a ZTE spokesperson
  • According to the statement, the update is “just around the corner”

If you’re still feeling glum about the sad revelation that the Axon 7 has been axed from ZTE’s production slate, then hopefully today’s news direct from the Chinese company’s mouth will help soften the blow.

In a surprising turn, ZTE has confirmed that its beloved mid-range phone will be updated to Android 8.0 Oreo in the near future. In a post on the unofficial ZTE community forums, Z-Union, a ZTE spokesperson said:

“We are announcing now that we are already developing Android 8 for the Axon 7, your positive feedback has been inspiring us a lot and made us very happy and because of this we try to get it customer ready as soon as possible for the best customers in the world, and I ask for your understanding because we still need some time to perfect it.”

While there’s no confirmed timeframe – the thread is titled “Android 8 is just around the corner” – the news that the Axon 7 will enjoy all of the myriad benefits of Oreo is enough reason for celebration.

Editor’s Pick

The Axon 7 originally launched in mid-2016 rocking Android Marshmallow out of the box with ZTE’s MiFavor UI over the top. The flagship killer was later upgraded to Android Nougat, which some may have assumed would be the end of the line for major OS updates.

As the folks over at Phandroid note, the confirmation comes via a European forum, although it seems likely that the Oreo update will eventually roll out to other regions, including the US.

In addition, it’s worth remembering that Axon M users are still waiting on Google’s latest update to arrive and ZTE will no doubt prioritize its unique dual-screen phone. It’s also unclear whether or not ZTE will stop at 8.0 or continue on to version 8.1 that recently rolled out for the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL.

Although it’s not quite the Axon 8 announcement some fans are hoping for, today’s news could mark a nice final hurrah for a phone that remains a firm favorite here at Android Authority.

Dice Brawl: Captain’s League

I have a strange fascination with the game Monopoly, must be some memory of my childhood where games weren’t as plentiful as today. But somehow the various computer versions of Monopoly never really excited me. But now I found a nice little game on iOS called Dice Brawl: Captain’s League, which is basically a pirate themed Monopoly on speed, and it is fun.

The board is much smaller, and there are only two players. It is styled as PvP, but the opponent always reacts so fast, and never quits, that I suspect it is fake PvP against an AI controlled opponent just using the name and deck of another player. That is pretty much the only sort of PvP I like. So just like in Monopoly you roll two dice, move around the board, and if you land on an empty spot you can build a fortress there. If you land on your own fortress you can increase its level. If you land on an enemy fortress, you take damage, but then you can try to attack it and conquer it. The player with the most fortresses after 8 turns wins, unless a player gets killed in combat earlier.

This being a mobile game, it comes free but then uses the Gacha game or lootbox mechanic. In the lootboxes you find captains, ships, and crew members of various rarities. By finding more of the same card, you can level that card up. And the various cards have skills which you can then use in battle. The obvious idea is that you spend money to buy lootboxes, but I found the game well playable without doing so.

Overall a fun little game which isn’t overly exploitive, unless you are the kind of player that easily gets sucked in by lootboxes.

Robert Reich: American Oligarchs’ Day of Reckoning Is Nigh

The GOP tax bill is a triumph for the 1 percent, but recent election results suggest it won’t last.

 

The Republican tax plan to be voted on this week is likely to pass. “The American people have waited 31 long years to see our broken tax code overhauled,” the leaders of the Koch’s political network insisted in a letter to members of Congress, urging swift approval.

They added that the time had come to put “more money in the pockets of American families.”

Please. The Koch network doesn’t care a fig about the pockets of American families. It cares about the pockets of the Koch network. 

It has poured money into almost every state in an effort to convince Americans that the tax cut will be good for them. Yet most Americans don’t believe it. 

Polls shows only about a third of Americans favor the tax plan. The vast majority feel it’s heavily skewed to the rich and big businesses – which it is.  

In counties that Trump won but Obama carried in 2012, only 17 percent say they expect to pay less in taxes, according to a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll. Another 25 percent say they expected their family would actually pay higher taxes.

Most Americans know that the tax plan is payback for major Republican donors. Gary Cohn, Trump’s lead economic advisor, even conceded in an interview that “the most excited group out there are big CEOs, about our tax plan.”

Republican Rep. Chris Collins admitted “my donors are basically saying, ‘Get it done or don’t ever call me again.’” Senator Lindsey Graham warned that if Republicans failed to pass the tax plan, “the financial contributions will stop.”

By passing it, Republican donors will save billions – paying a lower top tax rate, doubling the amount their heirs can receive tax-free, and treating themselves as “pass-through” businesses able to deduct 20 percent of their income (effectively allowing Trump to cut his tax rate in half, if and when he pays taxes).

They’ll make billions more as their stock portfolios soar because corporate taxes are slashed.

The biggest winners by far will be American oligarchs such as the Koch brothers; Peter Thiel, the Silicon Valley investor; Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate; Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets football team and heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune; and Carl Icahn, the activist investor.

The oligarchs are the richest of the richest 1 percent. They’ve poured hundreds of millions into the GOP and Trump. Half of all contributions to the first phase of the 2016 election came from just 158 families, along with the companies they own or control.

The giant tax cut has been their core demand from the start. They also want to slash regulations, repeal the Affordable Care Act, and cut everything else government does except for defense – including Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security.

In return, they have agreed to finance Trump and the GOP, and mount expensive public relations campaigns that magnify their lies.

Trump has fulfilled his end of the bargain. He’s blinded much of his white working-class base to the reality of what’s happening by means of his racist, xenophobic rants and policies. 

The American oligarchs couldn’t care less about what all this will cost America. 

Within their gated estates and private jets, they’re well insulated from the hatefulness and divisiveness, 

They don’t worry about whether Social Security or Medicare will be there for them in their retirement because they’ve put away huge fortunes.

Climate change doesn’t concern them because their estates are fully insured against hurricanes, floods, and wildfires.

They don’t care about public schools because their families don’t attend them. They don’t care about public transportation because they don’t use it. They don’t care about the poor because they don’t see them. 

They don’t worry about the rising budget deficit because they borrow directly from global capital markets. 

Truth to tell, they don’t even care that much about America because their personal and financial interests are global.

They are living in their own separate society, and they want Congress and the President to represent them, not the rest of us.

The Republican Party is their vehicle. Fox News is their voice. Trump is their champion. The new tax plan is their triumph.

But if polls showing most Americans against the tax cut are any guide, that triumph may be short lived. Americans are catching on. 

The recent electoral results in Virginia and Alabama offer further evidence. 

A tidal wave of public loathing is growing across the land – toward Trump, the GOP, and the oligarchs they serve; and to the deception, the wealth, and the power that underlies them.  

That wave could crash in the midterm elections of 2018. If so, the current triumph of the oligarchs will be the start of their undoing.

 

 

 

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Unsubscribed Humble Bundle Monthly

I recently subscribed to the Humble Bundle Monthly, because the $12 for the bundle included Civilization VI with two DLCs, which was way cheaper than any other way to pick up Civ VI. Now the rest of the bundle arrived, and I must say that I am disappointed. The idea of the Humble Bundle Monthly is that it is “curated”, giving you a bunch of good games. So I thought that in a curated bundle with Civilization VI I would find a few other nice strategy games. Unfortunately I was very wrong: The other games in the February bundle are all adventure games, and cheap ones at that.

To quote Steam when I open the page of one of those games: “Is this game relevant to you? This game doesn’t look like other things you’ve played in the past. As such we don’t have much information on whether or not you might be interested in it.”. Steam is right. Basically I haven’t played adventure games since way back when adventure games were still a thing, the days of Leisure Suit Larry or Monkey Island. I don’t really like the new generation of adventure games, which is often described as “walking simulators”. The only game in the Humble Bundle Monthly I might try is Snake Pass, because I’ve heard that it is somewhat unique with its controls, and not really an “adventure game”.

Another reason to unsubscribe was that the highlight of next month’s bundle is Dark Souls III plus one DLC. If you like the Dark Souls series, you might consider this, as $12 is an excellent price for something going for $75 on Steam. For me the unforgiving nature of the series has always turned me off. I don’t play games to get punished for my mistakes, I have a job for that!

What I did now is change my Humble Bundle e-mail settings to send me info on future Humble Bundle Monthly offers. (I had turned that off, which resulted in me not even getting informed that there was a bundle of games waiting for me.) Getting $60 games plus DLC for $12 is interesting. The rest of the bundles probably not so.

Skill vs. Gear in Zelda – Breath of the Wild

I have played 120 hours of Zelda – Breath of the Wild now, and my main game character is advancing very nicely; I’m now able to kill boss mobs and tough mini bosses with relative ease or even farm them when required. More because I was interested in the technology than because I needed the boost I bought a couple of amiibo, which are Nintendo’s “toys-to-life” figurines: You can scan them with your controller and have the amiibo appear in your game, or trigger some sort of bonus effect. But because I was relatively advanced in the game already when I got them, they didn’t really change much.

So I was wondering how much of an impact it would make if one had those amiibo right from the start of a game. Now normally you can have only one save game in normal mode and one save game in master mode for Zelda. But that is per “profile”, so you can easily just create another profile and start a new game from scratch without affecting your main game. I did that, and it turned out you can’t use amiibo at the very start. You need to play until finishing the first shrine, and then you can turn the amiibos on in the options. And at that time the treasure chests you get from amiibo contain stuff like rusty or travelers weapons; which are still useful that early in the game compared to tree branches and bokoblin weapons, but certainly not game breaking. You need to finish the whole “tutorial”, that is all four shrines and get the paraglider, before the amiibo result in the “normal” treasures, e.g. the guardian amiibo drops guardian weapons and shields.

So while I was testing that, I had another idea: You can finish the tutorial in well under 1 hour, so how does a new character in an 1-hour old game compare to a character that has been played for 120 hours? If your first character was lost and weak, was that because you were still learning the game, or was that simply that he didn’t have the stats and gear you get from playing a long time?

So I took my new character without even exchanging the first 4 spirit orbs to the toughest place in the game, Hyrule castle; dressed in the starting shirt and trousers, and equipped with nothing more than can be found in the tutorial. And I am happy to report that I was doing quite well there: I basically cleaned out the place, except for the game end boss of course. I got the complete royal guard armor, which involves getting three pieces from the bottom, middle, and top of Hyrule castle. And I didn’t just sneak through the castle, but actually killed even tough mobs like moblins and guardians. Of course then I found lots of awesome weapons, so my new character now has a very impressive armory, much better than anything you can get from the amiibo.

In short, knowing the game helps a lot, and the best way to get great gear early is using that knowledge to loot the toughest places in the game. I probably won’t play that second character much, because doing the same 120 shrines again isn’t going to be all that fun, but it is interesting to know that in Zelda – Breath of the Wild skill beats gear.