Recommendations for Engrossing Summer Reading and Viewing

1. Skin in the Game: Hidden Asymmetries in Daily Life by Nassim Taleb (Random House, 2018). Taleb writes: “The necessity of skin in the game is a simple rule that’s necessary for fairness and justice, and the ultimate BS-buster. Never trust anyone who doesn’t have skin in the game. Without it, fools and crooks will benefit, and their mistakes will never come back to haunt them.” Taleb includes people who spearhead military interventions and make financial investments for others. This book is a must-read for those who make or will make decisions affecting others.

2. Our Towns: A 100,000-Mile Journey into the Heart of America by James Fallows and Deborah Fallows (Pantheon, 2018). For five years, the Fallows have been flying their single-engine prop airplane into dozens of towns to understand what the people there see as their community’s problems and how they are handling them. If you are similarly concerned about your town or city, there is no better book to provide a roadmap for what it takes to improve your community.

3. Mind Over Meds: Know When Drugs Are Necessary, When Alternatives Are Better and When to Let Your Body Heal on Its Own by Dr. Andrew Weil (Little Brown, 2017). Dr. Weil is a pioneer in integrative medicine and a professor of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at the University of Arizona; you may have seen him on Oprah. According to Dr. Weil, “too many Americans are taking too many drugs—and it’s costing us our health, happiness, and lives… Prescription drug use in America has increased tenfold in the past fifty years, and over-the-counter drug use has risen just as dramatically.” The situation has gotten so dire that “adverse drug reactions are America’s fourth leading cause of death.” Dr. Weil’s most recent book is specific, useful, and will alert you to the dangers of living in a society that has become “drastically overmedicated.”

4. It’s Even Worse Than You Think: What the Trump Administration Is Doing to America by David Cay Johnston (Simon and Schuster, 2018). Johnston is the last man on Earth that Trump would want to be questioned by or debate. Following Trump’s past business practices and now his White House antics, Johnston rolls out the facts and adds to his bestselling books and articles that have earned him journalism’s top prizes and built his devoted readership.

5. “Rule of Law,” Lapham’s Quarterly (Spring 2018). Drawing from a collection of essays, sayings, proverbs, and excerpts from the most insightful legal minds of the past 5,000 years, this edition of Lapham’s Quarterly paints a compelling portrait of what the law encompasses. This 220 page journal is stunning, gripping, and can best be read in small slices on the beach or in the mountains. I have an essay, “Land of the Lawless,” in this collection.

6. Injustice: The Story of the Holy Land Foundation Five by Miko Peled (Just World Books, 2018). Post 9/11, Bush’s Feds were looking for scapegoats. They persecuted the people at the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Muslim charity, and lost. The Feds then brought another documented miscarriage of justice, a brazen malpractice of the judicial process, to put innocent elders in prison for many years. Peled, a courageous and prominent Israeli champion of justice for Palestinians, takes you through the trauma this persecution caused and the shameful lack of media coverage of this travesty. Meanwhile, mass war criminals, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney are at large, enjoying big speech fees, while Iraq still burns.

7. Citizen Clark: A Life of Principle (La Polama Films, produced by Joseph C. Stillman, 2018). This film on the life of former U.S. Attorney General and bold human rights activist Ramsey Clark won the best documentary award at the Berkeley Film Festival. Fearless, dauntless, calm and focused, Clark journeys around the world representing both the righteous and the wrong doers because of his belief in due process of law and the adversarial system of justice. In a serious society dedicated to the rule of law, Clark would be a household name up there with the entertainers, athletes, and bloviating politicians.

8. Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right’s Stealth Plan for America by Duke University History Professor Nancy MacLean (Viking, 2018). This is the archive-based story of a systemic, cunning conspiracy led by a determined professor of economics, the Koch brothers, and other morally bankrupt plutocrats who helped their cruel ideologies secure footholds in our political institutions. MacLean outlines the steps the radical right took to take control of Congress, the courts, state legislatures, governorships, and the White House. Sadly, their sheer energy of purpose and financial resources towers above their liberal/progressive/affluent counterparts. Sobering reading that should galvanize readers who want to see progressive change in the United States.

9.Thoughtful Pause: A Political Philosophy by Michael G. Merhige (2017). Who could have ever envisioned this 67 page book full of laser-beam wisdom and insights by a former college baseball player, U.S. army careerist, former CIA officer in the Far East, and corporate development executive? Niccolo Machiavelli, Mark Twain, Thomas Paine, and Will Rogers would have wanted to review these hundreds of memorable observations—so timely in today’s world.

10. America: The Farewell Tour by Chris Hedges (Simon and Schuster, August 2018). Chris Hedges, the realist and no-holds-barred award winning journalist and war correspondent gives us the full antidote to Trump’s and other politicians’ fantasies and sugarcoating of what Americans are experiencing in this inverted home of the free. Hedges walks you through the reality of this “other America” blows away the insidious incense of the pontificating plutocrats and their toady oligarchs.

11. When the Senate Worked for Us by Michael Pertschuk (Vanderbilt University Press, 2017). This book should not be ignored by today’s Senators and staff. It is a throbbing narrative of the days in the sixties and seventies when enough Senators and their valiant staff overcame the corporate greedhounds and gave our country the structures of health, safety, and consumer justice that today’s Trumpsters are trying to tear down and make America Dread Again. Story after story about autos, drugs, energy, cigarettes, food, product safety, herbicides, flammable fabrics and much more will make it hard to forget a time when the Senate indeed worked for us—we who gave them the constitutional power that their successors now so abuse.

As we know, readers think and thinkers read. Enjoy!

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Mugger Mick Mulvaney—Trump’s Sadist-in-Chief

Mr. Mulvaney’s title seems uninterestingly bureaucratic—director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). But as Trump’s chief hatchet man extraordinaire, Mugger Mick Mulvaney is easily one of the cruelest, most vicious presidential henchman in modern American history. From his powerful perch next door to the White House, he is carving a bloody trail against tens of millions of Americans who are poor, disabled, frail, and elderly. He has gone after defenseless children and injured or sick patients with little or no access to health care.

It is difficult to exaggerate the relentless, savage delight that this former Congressman from South Carolina—handpicked for Trump by the brutish, oil funded Heritage Foundation—takes in attacking the most vulnerable members of our society.

A human wrecking ball, Mugger Mick has pushed to eliminate the Meals-on-Wheels assistance for isolated elderly, to increase rents for poor tenants, to severely gut SNAP (food stamps) and nutritious food standards, and to diminish Medicaid. In addition the Trump administration wants to impose work requirements in Medicaid as a condition of eligibility. Many adult Medicaid recipients are already working. Where will the new jobs come from? Those who want to work but can’t find jobs are not Mr. Mulvaney’s concern.

His hellish agenda, undertaken on behalf of his plutocratic rulers, is comprehensive. He wants to smash consumer, environmental, and workplace health and safety standards. To Mugger Mick, killing and disabling Americans doesn’t even qualify as collateral damage. To Mulvaney’s fevered, psychopathic mind, eliminating Americans’ health and safety protections is worth it if it means “efficiency” and less spending of tax dollars (more on that lie later).

He even would plunge a dagger into Social Security and Medicare. President Trump has the political sense to restrain Mugger Mick from this attack on the elderly. However, biding his time, Mulvaney has led the campaign for the enacted corporate and wealthy tax cuts that are already swelling the forthcoming massive deficits. Mulvaney wants to use the deficit to persuade Trump eventually to butcher these two pillars of our society’s foresight and compassion for seniors.

The New York Times reports that Mulvaney is at the core of the Trump regime’s “rollback in the enforcement of fair housing, educational equity, payday lending and civil rights cases pursued aggressively under the Obama administration intended to protect vulnerable populations from discrimination and abusive business practices.”

Nowhere has Mugger Mick been more blatant about his ugly mission than in his efforts to freeze and dismantle the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB was created after the Wall Street collapse of the economy, which displaced millions of workers and drained trillions of dollars from pension and mutual funds. Remember Wall Street then had to be bailed out by America’s taxpayers.

Mulvaney has jettisoned ongoing enforcement actions, driven or reassigned personnel, zeroed out the CFPB’s first quarter budget, and prioritized the protection of Wall Street in the CFPB mission statement. How grotesque a response to the corporate crime wave in this country that has been stealing trillions of dollars from defenseless consumers, workers, and investors!

There is, of course, more to this colossal bully. Mulvaney is also a colossal coward and a greasy hypocrite at that. He shuts his foul mouth when it comes to the bloated defense budget and the corporate contractors profiting from endless Pentagon golden handshakes. He shuts his mouth when confronted with thousands of corporate subsidies, handouts, giveaways, and bailouts. In these crony capitalistic binge arenas, he demands no corporate self-reliance or worries about taxpayer losses. Why would he argue with his future paymasters and the corporate donors who funded his prior Congressional campaigns?

Mugger Mick is a walking candidate for impeachment, a poster boy for high crimes and misdemeanors, as well as a lawsuit by members of Congress for the deliberate dereliction of duties that aids and abets corporate criminality. Every day he has been systematically defying and violating existing Congressional mandates, called federal statutes.

So where are the Democrats? Aside a few members such as Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown pummeling Mugger Mick at Congressional hearings that go nowhere, action by the Democratic Party on Capitol Hill is largely AWOL. Mulvaney just laughs at the Democrats’ verbal darts.

Forget about their own pride, these lawmakers have little fortitude in preserving the best work of their forbears in Congress and in the White House. They’re too busy having fun ridiculing Trump’s foibles, fibs, and fantasies. Such distractions may well cause them not to urgently focus on what is happening to the American peoples’ freedom, urgent necessities and livelihoods emanating from the Trumpsters and their media ditto heads.

November is coming fast.

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The Unsurpassed Power Trip By An Insuperable Control Freak

An open letter to Jeff Bezos:
June 21, 2018

Jeff Bezos, CEO
Amazon.com, Inc.
410 Terry Ave N
Seattle, WA 98109

Dear Mr. Bezos:

You’ve come a long way from being a restless electrical engineering and computer science dual major at our alma mater, Princeton University. By heeding your own advice, your own hunches and visions, you’ve become the world’s richest person – at $141 billion and counting. You must feel you are on top of the world.

You are crushing your competition—those little stores on Main Street, USA, and other large companies that are still in business.

Your early clever minimizing of sales taxes gave you a big unfair advantage over brick and mortar stores that have had to pay 6, 7, 8 percent in sales taxes. Your tax-lawyers and accountants are using the anarchic global tax avoidance jurisdictions to drive your company’s tax burden to zero on a $5.6 billion profit in 2017, plus receiving about $789 million from Trump’s tax giveaway law, according to The American Conservative magazine (see Daniel Kishi’s article, “Crony Capitalism Writ Large,” in the May/June 2018 edition).

Amazon has been a leading corporate welfare King and is about to reap more of this extorted harvest once you decide where to locate your second headquarters. By the way, if you are considering the Washington, D.C. area, where you are building an extended mansion worthy of an emperor, consider the fact that there is a higher concentration of public interest lawyers per square mile there than any other metropolitan area. These lawyers stand opposed to further housing price spirals, gentrification, congestion, and huge crony capitalistic subsidy demands.

Your expansion into retail stores and warehouses will further highlight the low wages and sometimes hazardous working conditions and assembly line pressures of your corporate model. Other companies are exploiting their workers—as in Walmart (which by the way pays far more income taxes than you do on a percentage basis even under its tax avoidance schemes)— but few companies are as blatant in their planning to replace with robotics the warehouse workers and truck drivers delivering goods.

Your small Board of Directors is clueless about both their responsibility for Amazon shareholders and their overall social responsibility. Your board will rubberstamp all of your proposals as they tally how rich you’ve made them with stock options, at the expense of your workers. I wrote you (see enclosed letter) as a shareholder to start paying a dividend—your horde of cash belongs to the shareholders, doesn’t it? You have not had the courtesy to reply to this letter.

Amazon and Starbucks have just succeeded in a grotesque power play reversing the Seattle City Council’s vote to impose a mere $48 million a year tax on large, local corporations to combat the crisis of homelessness and unaffordable housing in your hometown. Given your successful tax avoidance mania, you should be ashamed of yourself. Because of your company’s insatiable greed, you have decided to ignore the plight of the homeless.

You should spend some personal time with Seattle’s homeless. Then you can announce what you have seen is inconsistent with our society‘s values and capabilities. You should then announce that you will personally pay that annual $48 million to the city. This charitable gesture will ground, ever so slightly, your cash investments in extraterrestrial space travel. Jeff, reduce your focus on the future, installing all robotic plants and your outer space ventures. You would do well to increase your focus on what is happening presently on Earth. Here, hard-pressed people have to live and raise their children with increasingly bleak prospects.

So you are on top of the world, hyper-rich, arrogant, with your raucous laugh and your sudden temper, believing that neither antitrust laws, nor labor laws, nor tax laws, nor consumer, nor environmental, nor securities laws will ever catch up with the excesses of your business model.

Don’t bet on it. Relentless greed with overly concentrated power (about the only thing you seem not to be willing or able to control is Alexa whose ambitions may come back to haunt you) sooner or later, faces a statute of limitations.

Sincerely,
Ralph Nader

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The Constitution and the Lawmen are Coming for Trump—He Laughs!

The law has never caught up with Trump. In his bullying and bankrupting business career, he laughed at the law – hiding behind corporations, tying up plaintiffs – workers, creditors, consumers, and shareholders – with court battles of attrition. His snarling lawyers either wore down Trump’s pursuers or settled disputes for less than the legitimate claims by those harmed. Trump’s lawyers pushed for gag orders to hide the settlements.

Trump always emerged with the gold by profiting at the expense of those around him. Trump made a profit out of the ruins of his companies, flouted the law by hiring undocumented Polish workers, cheated the students who were lured into the Donald Trump University, and often failed to pay his contractors..

Now, a different kind of law is closing in on the cheating Donald. As the Mueller investigation into Russian or related connections to the Trump campaign advances, Mr. Trump may be wondering what it means to be an unindicted co-conspirator (Justice Department rules prohibit indicting a sitting president). Or, more likely, the Mueller Special Counsel team is reviewing the case for an “obstruction of justice” charge against Trump, who has all but openly admitted that he can obstruct justice, though he would characterize his actions as justified.

Predictions in politics dominate the political discourse. But the proximity of a major constitutional crisis may be only a few months away. Here is why the Mueller team is not going away. They may subpoena Trump – either for documents, or for his deposition under oath, or both. Mr. Trump’s lawyers know the peril of perjury presented by Donald’s lying, cheating M.O.

Several times since last year, Trump, under pressure from Mueller regarding Trump’s associates and dealmakers, has slanderously and publicly lashed out against Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and Special Counsel Robert Mueller. He regularly declares he could fire these government officials.

On May 9, 2017, Trump fired FBI director James Comey. Trump believes, as president, he can fire anybody and pardon anyone, including himself. Bolstered by an ideologically aligned five-judge Supreme Court majority, it is unlikely he is going to accept a dribbling out role as a defendant, especially on the serious charge of obstruction of justice, the charge that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall.

Indeed, Trump could take a chapter right out of Nixon’s playbook to fire the Justice Department officials, and dare this “witch hunt” to use the courts to bring him down, Trump is counting on the Republican-dominated Congress to block any impeachment trial.

Richard Nixon, as you may recall, got embroiled in what he called a “third-rate burglary” in 1972 by Republican operatives at the Democratic Party headquarters inside the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. There was a lot of interference and intrigue by Nixon and his associates to obstruct the efforts of Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, working, like Mueller, out of the Justice Department.

As Cox started to subpoena the production of White House documents, Nixon reacted by ordering then-Attorney General Richardson to fire Cox. Richardson, unwilling to comply, resigned, then Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus followed suit. Robert Bork, then solicitor general, was willing to fire Cox. The resultant uproar led to an impeachment investigation by the House of Representatives.

Nixon, abandoned by many Republicans, resigned before the House of Representatives could vote for impeachment, believing he was doomed in both the House and the Senate. (Three members of Congress and I had already won a lawsuit against Nixon, with Federal Judge Gesell declaring his firing of Cox unlawful).

Firing Mueller and his superiors, replacing Attorney General Jeff Sessions with Rudy Giuliani, and abolishing Mueller’s office would be uproariously dramatic theater. With his adversaries in divided disarray, Trump can dominate the mass media with hourly tweets to his 50 million followers and distract attention with foreign skirmishes and belligerent threats.

Sure, Mueller could name Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator and lawfully take his files to Congressional committees. The ensuing judicial process could drag on for months.

That said Trump is no Nixon. And today’s cowardly Republicans are not as independent as former Republican Senator Howard Baker of Tennessee. Today’s Congress has abdicated its responsibilities to be a co-equal branch of government.

The moody Nixon hunkered down in the White House in his final months in office, calling the “liberal” press his enemy and wondering how his “base” had dissipated. By contrast, Trump has his own huge social media following and would be all over the country at mass rallies goading his full-throated followers into the streets.

It is conceivable that the open investigations could continue in the criminal division of the Justice Department, as pointed out by Alan Morrison, our counsel in the Watergate era case against Nixon (see: Nader v. Bork). Trump would be clever to let the legal process drag out interminably. For if he tried to shut down the entire investigation, then that would be “the nuclear option,” in Morrison’s words (see: “Firing Mueller Is Only the First Step” ).

But why would Trump have to go that far, already thinking he wields the unlimited presidential pardon power for any contingencies?

Throughout his career, Trump has beaten the law and survived to further enrich himself. He did this as a brazen, foul-mouthed businessman. Imagine, in his mind, now as President and Commander in Chief, with his cowed party holding a veto on any impeachment drive, derisively stomping on the rule of law (see: “Land of the Lawless” ). The towering Trump believes he can defy the law, put toadies in high offices, and rid himself of the Lawman as the needs arise. For, as King Louis XIV said: “L’etat, c’est moi.”

Remember the vestigial Electoral College that selected Trump against the popular voter’s verdict.

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Slogan Voters: The Road to Political Masochism

Nearly a year and a half into his presidency, Donald Trump continues to hold his base and maintain an approval rating of around 40% – close to the same percentage he polled at just after his inauguration. Let’s try to figure out why.

It can’t be because he lies as a matter of daily routine. It can’t be because he’s giving away our store to big business – engaging in crony capitalism, creating more tax loopholes for corporations, shredding corporate crime enforcement, knowingly exposing Americans to more toxic pollution, committing more business fraud, adding more hazards to the workplace, cutting access to health insurance, and thereby making America dread again.

It can’t be because he’s taking your tax dollars away from repairing your infrastructure back home – schools, public transit, bridges, highways, airports, power grids, drinking water systems, etc., and pouring money into the bloated Pentagon budget beyond what even the Generals requested. (The huge “infrastructure project” he promised has yet to be proposed to Congress.)

It can’t be because he is soiling our society’s moral and ethical fabric and breaking the Golden Rule. (Trump is a peerless Oval Office bully, lashing out against the weak, powerless and defenseless.)

It can’t be because he is openly holding onto his business interests and enriching himself from foreign vendors in unconstitutional ways, violating the Emoluments Clause (cases challenging his personal gains while in office are now in federal court).

Maybe it is because he is expediently against a woman’s right to choose and common-sense gun regulation, selects corporatist judges, and keeps saying he loves his country (what politician doesn’t?).

President Trump’s words and deeds have not changed the minds of 40 percent of people polled. What else is going on here?

One answer is Slogan Voters. I’ve spoken to many people who are still for Trump despite all of his lies and misdeeds. They don’t pay much attention to politics. When they do, they reveal themselves as Slogan Voters. They are content with Trump’s rhetoric and rarely look beneath the surface at the details. That is, they are not bothered by being fact-deprived in political matters.

Here is what they tell me: They hate Hillary. They like Trump. They repeat the three slogans: Make America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and Lock Her Up! Over and over again.

When I politely ask whether they are specifically aware of what Trump and his heads of departments and agencies are doing, they draw a blank. They explain that President Trump is shaking up Washington and draining the swamp. They believe that’s the reason why he generates such an uproar from the swamp-dwellers. In a bizarre way, the more outrageously false and nutty Trump’s tweets and actions are, the more these people feel that all the outrage is because he is draining the swamp and the swamp is lashing back at him.

Slogan Voters stress their belief in self-made men and women. They are often college-educated. They are not seen as bigots by their co-workers. They believe if you fail at something, it’s your own fault.

They agree there are bad things going on in government, but it’s not Trump’s fault. Their reaction to bad things that are openly, brazenly, and admittedly Trump’s fault – such as shutting down a consumer agency designed to stop Wall Street and the financial/credit industry from cheating you, crashing the economy, or crippling environmental health protections — is: It’s all part of draining the swamp.

Trump has become homeostatic — whatever goes around, comes around to his advantage for the Slogan Voters. Evidence against Trump is turned around to justify Trump. More than anyone else, Trump has understood this and fed these strange conclusions by inattentive minds.

What would the eminent philosopher of science, Aldous Huxley, think now? He said in 1927: “Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” But they do for Trump and his Slogan Voters. He creates his own web of delusion, and his supporters say he is draining the swamp and making America great again.

It wouldn’t matter a whit were they to receive critical articles, books, DVDs, or even Trump’s own self-contradictory words and record through the years. Recall his boastful sugarcoating as his giant casinos went bankrupt while he profitably escaped their draining impacts on others (e.g. the employees and unpaid contractors he hired to build them).

Unless someone comes up with a secret key to awaken the minds of Trump’s Slogan Voters, the best response is to draw some of the more than 100 million eligible non-voters to the polls for the crucial November elections. There are far more than enough votes to surpass the choices of the Trump Slogan Voters for the Congressional races.

One thing you have to credit these Slogan Voters for: THEY VOTE!!

Yeah, “Making America Great Again, Drain the Swamp, and Lock Her Up!”

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Professional Societies: Corporate Service, or Public Services for You!

They call themselves non-profit professional societies, but they often act as enabling trade associations for the companies and businesspeople who fund them. At their worst, they serve their paymasters and remain in the shadows, avoiding publicity and visibility. When guided by their better angels, professional societies can be authoritative tribunes for a more healthy and safe society.

I am referring to the organizations that stand for their respective professions – automotive, electrical, chemical and mechanical engineers; physicians; architects; scientists; and accountants. The people working in these occupations all want to be members of a “professional” association, not a “trade” association.

So let’s start by distinguishing how a “profession” is supposed to differ from a “trade.” First, profit is not to be the end-all of a profession and its practitioners. Moral and public interest codes of ethics are supposed to be paramount when they conflict with maximizing sales and income.

The National Society of Professional Engineers’ code of ethics stipulates that an engineer has a professional duty to go to the appropriate authorities should the engineer be rebuffed by employer or client who was notified of a dangerous situation or product.

Physicians have a duty to prevent the trauma or disease which they are trained to treat. A half-dozen physicians in the 1960s aggressively pressed the auto industry to build more crash-protective vehicles to prevent trauma casualties they had to treat regularly.

A profession has three basic characteristics. First is a learned tradition – otherwise known as going deep and keeping up with a profession’s literature and practices. Second is to continue a tradition of public service. Third is to maintain the independence of the profession.

How do professional societies measure up? Not that well. They are too monetized to fulfill their public service obligations and retain their independence. The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has had a notorious history of following the technological stagnation of the auto companies. Their standards almost never diverge from what is permitted by GM, Ford et al. Indeed, the SAE’s standards committees are mostly composed of company engineers whose employers provide funding and facilities for any testing.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) is waist-deep in the automation and artificial intelligence drive. You’ll not hear from that Society about the downsides, collateral risks and undisclosed data by the companies in this portentous area.

The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) has not distinguished itself regarding the safety of gas and oil pipelines, allowing industry lobbyists to take over the federal regulator without as much as a warning whistle. This history was exposed years ago by a retired DuPont engineer, Fred Lang.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) knows about the scores of vulnerable plants resisting regulatory efforts to safeguard their premises from sabotage that could destroy a nearby town or city. Ask Rick Hind, former legislative director for Greenpeace, about this evasion (See: “Chemical Security Testimony by Greenpeace’s Rick Hind”).

The American Medical Association (AMA) received peer-reviewed studies by Harvard and Johns Hopkins Schools of Medicine pointing to at least 5,000 patient deaths per week from preventable problems in hospitals – from malpractice to hospital-induced infections. Despite this clear medical emergency, the AMA refuses to move into high drive against this epidemic. Mum’s the word. Where the AMA shouts out is against the law of torts and the civil justice system that, every once in a rare while, hold negligent or criminally behaved physicians accountable to their victims.

Possibly the most complicit profession facilitating, covering for, and explaining away corporate greed and deception is the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA). Too many corporate accountants specialize in complex cooking of the books for their corporate clients. The Wall Street crash in 2008-2009 is a major case in point. Donald Trump knows about such accountants from his business career of obfuscation.

The American Institute of Architects (AIA), after a long period of submissiveness, woke up to the energy waste/pollution crisis of modern buildings and developed standards with labels to give builders incentives toward more responsible construction. But by and large, it remains a profession, apart from modern technologies, which has left its best days back in the 18th and 19th centuries (e.g., the classic cities of Europe).

Now what about the scientific societies? The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) has led the way for nuclear arms control and other weaponized discoveries of the warfare state. On the other hand, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — by far the largest membership organization and publisher of Science magazine — has been utterly timid in putting muscle behind its fine pronouncements.

The large street protests by scientists in Washington, after the Electoral College selected Donald Trump, were started by young social and physical scientists. They stood up for scientific integrity and conscience and opposed Trump’s defunding of such governmental organizations as the National Science Foundation and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These scientists’ efforts have been met with some success.

What most Americans do not know is that many of the state and federal safety/health standards are taken in considerable measure from the weak “consensus” standards advanced by professional societies. These societies, so heavily marinated with their respective industries, see their important role of feeding their industry standards into state, national, and international standards which are enforceable under domestic law or treaty.

Maybe these societies continue a learned tradition at their annual meetings, workshops, and in their publications. But they far too often fail to maintain their profession’s standards of independence (from commercial supremacy) and commitment to public service.

These professional societies, and other associations not mentioned here, need to be brought out of their convenient shadows into the spotlight of public scrutiny, higher expectation, and broader participation.

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Audit the Outlaw Military Budget Draining America’s Necessities

Top military, diplomatic, and political leaders have exposed, warned of, and condemned our runaway, unaudited military budgets for decades, to no avail.  (For many examples, see America’s War Machine: Vested Interests, Endless Conflicts by James McCartney, with Molly Sinclair McCartney.)  They usually come to the same desperate conclusion: that only organized citizens back in their Congressional Districts can make Congress stop this spending spree. Only us, Americans!

From 1953, when President Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his “Cross of Iron” speech before the Convention of Newspaper Editors, to full-length addresses by President Obama’s Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, the warnings about unrestrained military spending have not been addressed. The military budget—now at about a trillion dollars when you add up all costs—is spiraling out of control and draining the public budgets for rebuilding America’s public infrastructure and services. Now both major parties go along with uncritical rubber-stamping.

Even the strict Pentagon budget of about $700 billion is now over fifty percent of the entire federal government’s operational budget for the other departments and agencies.

President Eisenhower said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

The oft-repeated phrase of “waste, fraud, and abuse” describing the Pentagon’s contracts with the giant defense industry rarely quantifies the toll of the outrageous waste of taxpayer dollars.  Too many way-over-budget weapons systems that are not needed, such as the F-35 boondoggle. Too many nuclear-equipped missiles, submarines, and bombers (referred to as the nuclear triad) are maintained at too-expensive levels.

Former generals, such as Presidents Gerald Ford and George H. W. Bush’s national security advisor Brent Scowcroft, have called for scrapping two of the triad. Doing so would still leave plenty of dispersed, globally destructive power to act as a sufficient nuclear deterrent. But the war machine of Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Raytheon, and other big corporations is forever hungry for more and ever-bigger contracts.  While warmongering neocons and so-called think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute keep looking for enemies to exaggerate, the weapons industry lobbyists swarm over Capitol Hill demanding new military spending. The Trump administration is pushing a new arms race calling for spending at least $1.2 trillion over the next 30 years to allegedly upgrade existing nuclear weapons (see The Project on Government Oversight, “New Documents Raise Questions about Increased Nuclear Spending”).

Former Secretary of Defense Gates made pointed reference to the vastly excessive firepower of our too-many submarines and other delivery systems compared to all other countries in the world combined.

With Trump throwing more money at the DoD, the excessive Pentagon spending Gates described is much worse today. What to do?  Start with requiring a fully and authentically audited military budget, a provision already required by federal law since 1992.

The Pentagon has been in violation of that Congressional directive since 1992 but keeps promising that an audit is coming, to Congress’s Government Accountability Office (GAO).

At a House Armed Services Committee hearing in January, DoD Comptroller David Norquist promised an audit later this year. To illustrate his sincerity, Norquist said his office had already discovered two stunning situations: “The Army found 39 Black Hawk helicopters that had not been properly recorded in its property system. The Air Force identified 478 buildings and structures at 12 installations that were not in its real property system.”

The Comptroller did not go into the fraud and waste minefield that has lost taxpayers trillions of dollars since 1992. Not all this comes from the Pentagon. For years, the DoD has wanted to close dozens of costly, obsolete military bases in the U.S.  Various members of Congress, who view the military budget as a jobs program, have blocked these closures.

There is some light. Fifty-three members of the House of Representatives have signed on to H.R. 3079, which would reduce the budget of the Department (subject to emergency presidential waivers) by one-half of one percent if the Pentagon’s financial statements do not receive an audit OK by the GAO. H.R. 3079 is a stirring in the body politic, however weak the pulse.

Obtain a copy of H.R. 3079 and its named sponsors to see whether your Representative is on board. If not, demand to know why. All of Connecticut’s Representatives have ducked co-sponsoring this bill.

No such bill has been introduced in the Senate.

What more support do they need from the Pentagon than its own specialized audits, the GAO’s famous investigations, and a quote from Secretary Gates right inserted Sec. 3 (10) of H.R. 3079 from a speech given on May 24, 2011:

The current apparatus for managing people and money across the DOD enterprise is woefully inadequate. The agencies, field activities, joint headquarters, and support staff function of the department operate as a semi-feudal system—an amalgam of fiefdoms without centralized mechanisms to allocate resources, track expenditures and measure results relative to the department’s overall priorities.

This legislation needs immediate public hearings in Congress. Full annual audits will reveal the costs of Empire. This is your money that could be used in your own community for jobs to repair and upgrade your public transit, roads, bridges, schools, drinking water/sewage systems, and other crumbling infrastructure and facilities.

At a recent gathering focused on auditing the annual military budget, citizens from 16 Congressional Districts agreed to organize that pressure to make Congress work for us. Stay tuned.

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Trump: Making America Dread Again

Donald Trump is a well-known, self-described germaphobe. Unfortunately, he is not concerned about other Americans’ exposure to germs and disease. With leading infectious disease scientists from the Centers for Disease Control to the University of Minnesota warning about a global influenza pandemic (“not if, when”), Trump’s warmongering madman, John Bolton, has closed down a seasoned two-man global health security team.

The Washington Post reported last week about “the abrupt departure of Rear Admiral Timothy Ziemer, a respected scientist from the National Security Council,” who was “the top White House official responsible for leading the U.S. response in the event of a deadly pandemic.”

At the time of Admiral Ziemer’s expulsion, a new Ebola outbreak in the Congo had just been reported.

Trump’s flagrant disregard for the safety of the American people has been punctuated by the proposed elimination of the budget reserved for containing an Ebola epidemic. Earlier this year, Trump pushed through Congress an additional $84 billion for the bloated, unauditable military budget—more than the Pentagon had requested.

Callous Donald is determined to enable and even abet companies that are spewing dangerous toxics into our air, water, and food-growing areas. Many of these companies have contributed to his campaign. This serial failed gambling czar’s coldblooded personality is anti-law. President Trump and his agency chiefs are violating federal statutory mandates to protect the health and safety of Americans.

Trump’s drive to take the federal cops off the corporate crime beats started early and recklessly. On the day he took office, Trump ordered an “immediate regulatory freeze” on the entire federal government. This stopped federal lifesavers in their rescues of endangered American workers, patients, travelers, vulnerable children, and frail, impoverished elderly.

He went from recklessness to ignorant idiocy by ordering all regulatory agencies to repeal two regulations for every one they were going to issue in the future. Business lobbyists were so delighted that they rushed to celebrate at Trump’s hotel just a few blocks from the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue, spending money to make Trump richer—sometimes huddling with Trump’s regulators.

Wholesale shutting down of law enforcement, putting corporate operatives from the companies being investigated or overseen in charge of closing overdue government safety initiatives, and demanding huge budget cuts in agencies such as the EPA and FAA exceeds the broad “prosecutorial discretion” allowed by the federal courts.

Trump’s marauders are raging through one agency after another, revoking, freezing, or suspending lifesaving health/safety protections. Weaker job safety, auto safety, air and water pollution standards, and pesticide protections spell death, sickness, and illnesses with their attendant family anguish and costs, including to taxpayers.

The Trumpsters are destroying federal protections from the corporate fraudsters who have been caught cheating, lying, and stealing from savers, investors, patients, student loan borrowers, travelers, and insurance policy-holders. Renegade public criminals such as EPA boss, Scott Pruitt, and head of both the Office of Management and Budget and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), Mick Mulvaney, are openly brazen and contemptuous of the agencies they run, despite their oath of office to uphold the law.

Pruitt, the subject of 12 ongoing federal investigations for spending tax money on himself, is probably on his way out. But Mulvaney, who recently bragged before 1500 bankers that, as a Congressman from South Carolina, he wouldn’t talk to lobbyists unless they had given him campaign money. He is one massive wrecking Goliath driven to leave consumers defenseless.

Mulvaney is bullying civil and criminal investigators fighting the corporate crime wave, from culpable Wall Streeters to payday loan sharks, and literally shutting down one enforcement action after another. Mulvaney even grotesquely restated the CFPB’s mission to include “the protection of Wall Street.”

You may remember news reports in early 2017 about Mulvaney wanting to save tax dollars by cutting the Meals on Wheels program, The Children’s Health Insurance Program, and by slashing the small law enforcement budgets of the health and safety agencies. What you may not know is that Mulvaney is a coward, running away from going after the vastly larger documented waste, fraud, and abuse in military contracting, and corporate welfare giveaways. He has not said a word about the $60 billion yearly fraud on Medicare committed by commercial crooks. He is a corporate crime aider and abettor.

Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, is pushing the same dissolution of law enforcement actions against the crimes and frauds of for-profit universities against unaware students, especially veterans. She too is placing people associated with these scams in charge of these despicable companies.

Trump wants to take America back to the days of “caveat emptor,” “let the buyer beware,” to the days of horrifying influenza epidemics, to the days of giving corporate crooks— that liberals and conservative Americans want prosecuted and jailed – a “get-out-of-jail-free” card.

Public interest lawyers alert! In the Supreme Court opinion of Heckler v. Chaney, shielding the agency’s enforcement policies from court challenge, it added a warning where the agency has “consciously and expressly adopted a general policy that is so extreme as to amount to an abdication of its statutory responsibilities.”

Are Senators or Representatives, who surely should have standing, ready to take the rampaging Pruitt, Mulvaney, or DeVos to federal court?

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An Open Letter to Tim Cook, CEO of Apple Inc.

Tim Cook, CEO
Apple, Inc.
One Apple Park Way
Cupertino, CA 95014

Dear Mr. Cook:

Last week, you announced the largest single stock buyback in corporate history, amounting to $100 billion.  Probably no more than you and two other Apple executives made this decision prior to receiving the expected rubber stamp from your congenial board of directors.  Your company’s owners – Apple stockholders– were neither consulted nor asked for their approval.

Executive compensation packages rely on stock buybacks.  (See The CEO Pay Machine by Steve Clifford, a former CEO who has served on corporate compensation committees.)  From 2005 to 2016, stock buybacks by the S&P 500 totaled $5 trillion – equal to half of net income and twice as much as paid to shareholders in dividends.  By the end of 2018, this figure will grow to well over $6 trillion.  The owners of these companies – the shareholders – were not asked by management for their approval.  After all, it is their big money, notwithstanding the out-of-control reliance on the “business judgment rule.”  Were they given the clear choice between stock buybacks or dividends, most shareholders would have preferred receiving this surplus in cash dividends now.

With your $100 billion announcement, you are telling shareholders, your company’s owners, without a detailed explanation regarding other options, that this is the best you can do to advance their interests.  This is short-term nonsense, except for its positive impact on executive compensation metrics.

Studies have shown that stock buybacks are just one variable in a large matrix of variables – internal and external to the company – that shape stock price and they are a weak variable at that.  (See attached list of studies).  You can examine major company stock buybacks for yourself (e.g., Cisco and Walmart) and see the accuracy of that observation.  Cisco, after huge buybacks and much greater profits and size, has its stock about one-half of its March 2000 value.

It is the better part of prudence and foresight for you to pursue two courses of action.  First, suspend the $100 billion decision or its implementation.  Second, enter into a professional, detailed exchange with your shareholders – institutional and individual – explaining why you do not think there are better uses long term and short term for their $100 billion. Receive their considered feedback all in public for other interested parties to be informed and educated.

You also owe it to less-favored taxpayers in America who don’t have the offshore repatriation tax reduction demands that Apple and other companies regularly pursue.  As Larry Fink, Chairman of the giant Blackrock investment firm wrote in his February 2018 letter to CEOs, “To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society.  Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.”  (See attached).

In that context of proper expectations, here are some issues you can address in ways that would receive positive public reactions:

  1. For less than 2 percent of your $100 billion buyback, or $2 billion, you could award a full year’s pay bonus to the 350,000 Foxconn workers who build your iPhones.  Think of the economic relief and happiness that gesture would produce.  These workers sweat for your immense wealth in difficult workplace conditions, unable to afford the Apple phones they manufacture for your company’s massive profits.
  2. You can invest in research and development on ways you can diminish the effects of your company’s toxic supply chain that stretches from the dangerous mines in Africa to the hazardous solid waste disposal when users discard them.  Many serious illnesses, fatalities, and injuries associated with manufacturing your products can be prevented.
  3. With your reported reflective bent, you can make the case for reducing some of the collateral damage from excessive iPhone use by youngsters that comes with a sedentary life of obesity – now at risk-laden epidemic levels. Apple could invest in needed neighborhood recreational facilities all over the country.
  4. Of course, you could always cut your prices for consumers. In the 1960s and ‘70s, such profit margins as Apple’s would have been an antitrust signal of possible monopolistic practices or market collusion.
  5. Then there are the conventional applications of a cash-rich company to consider: productive new investments, raising employee salaries and pensions, improving hiring practices, and workforce training and consumer services.

Finally, it is unconscionable that the federal government decided to give Apple a huge tax windfall for repatriating its cash from abroad, while it refused to adequately fund the annual budgets of four critical agencies. The egregious examples of these budget inadequacies are the Center for Disease Control ($7 billion), the World Health Organization ($4.4 billion), the Environmental Protection Agency ($8 billion), and the IRS,  whose strapped budget made it unable to attempt to collect $450 billion in uncollected taxes (it currently has a budget of only $11.5 billion).

Harvard economist John Kenneth Galbraith called attention to the problems associated with concentration of private wealth and public deprivation over 60 years ago. 

The concentration of corporate power in ever-fewer hands, with expanding immunities and privileges denied “real persons,” continues to rise on matters of gravity to the American people.  Conservatives call these privileges “Statism,” or “crony capitalism,” that has enormous influence over government dispensations.  Mr. Fink’s cautions are worth pondering in more reflective formal settings.

The undersigned is not the only Apple shareholder who believes that stock buybacks, in contrast with other superior options, should be fully discussed with shareholders and then submitted to a binding shareholders’ vote.  You will be hearing from others.  Put your $100 billion stock buyback decision on hold.

I look forward to your thoughtful response.

Sincerely,
Ralph Nader

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Wake Up to Trump, Distraction and War with Iran

In mid-May, super-war hawks Donald J. Trump (worried about the Mueller investigation), John Bolton, Trump’s new unconfirmed national security advisor, and new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, are likely to pull out of the Iran nuclear accord. This would open the way for Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his Congressional allies to push for armed conflict with Iran.

“Don’t do it,” declare our allies, Britain, France, and Germany—signatories to the Iran accord along with China and Russia. “Don’t do it,” say former secretaries of state and secretaries of defense from both Republican and Democratic administrations. “Don’t do it,” says Trump’s own Secretary of Defense, Jim Mattis, and Trump’s chief of staff, General John Kelly.

“Don’t do it,” say outspoken former top Israeli national security and intelligence officials berating Netanyahu.

All of the above say Iran is in compliance with the accord’s demand to stop its nuclear arms program and allows thorough inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. All parties agree that if Trump disrupts this accord, even more havoc will break loose in that volatile region. This is what both Israel and some Persian Gulf nations may desire, as long as the U.S. bears the burden of this reckless action and plunges into another deep quagmire to add to those in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan.

You’d think that the Israeli government couldn’t play Uncle Sam a sucker to fight yet another war—this one against Iran with American soldiers and money. But the three warmongers, named above, are driving U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Unfortunately, Congress regularly disregards its constitutional duties and follows the lead of AIPAC lobbyists.

Both Trump and Netanyahu paint Iran as the most dangerous terrorist state in the world. Really? It wasn’t the Iranian regime that illegally cost over one million Iraqi civilian lives and blew that country apart. It was George W. Bush and Dick Cheney becoming major war criminals whose actions cost the lives of over 5,000 American soldiers, injured or made sick well over 100,000 more, and wasted trillions of dollars continuing to this day.

Iran wants its sphere of influence.  The country has memories. For example, in 1953, the U.S. overthrew Iran’s democratically elected prime minister and reinstalled the dictatorial Shah who ruled despotically for the next 26 years. In 2002, George W. Bush targeted Iran, Iraq, and North Korea, referring to them as the “axis of evil.”  Iran saw what he did to Iraq and didn’t want to take chances by surrendering its security perimeter.

The U.S. has Iran militarily surrounded on its eastern, western, and southern borders.  Israel has working spies in Iran, creating secret sabotage and mayhem.  Israel, which has illegally bombed civil war-wracked Syria (no threat to Israel) dozens of times, has recently hit locations known to have Iranian advisors to Bashar Assad, Syria’s ruler, while fighting ISIS, along with U.S. forces there.  Iranians have been killed in these raids.

So who is the aggressor here?  Unlike Israel’s many invasions and military incursions, Iran, a poor country, has not invaded any country for over 250 years. Iraq’s dictator invaded Iran in 1980, with U.S. backing, costing Iran an estimated 500,000 lives.

No country, save the U.S. Empire, has the chutzpah that Netanyahu possesses because he knows the U.S. government and the mass media will embrace his expanding push for U.S. militarism in the Middle East.

Note the interview by NPR’s Steve Inskeep of Israeli Ambassador to the U.S., Ron Dermer, on May 1, 2018.  Inskeep was trying to be firm with Mr. Dermer, who was going beyond any evidence that Iran possesses a nuclear weapons program.

The ambassador was showcasing the theft of old Iranian documents from an Israeli nighttime raid on an Iranian warehouse.  (The New York Times called these documents about a long-suspended program “Mr. Netanyahu’s Flimflam on Iran”).  When that ploy didn’t work, he tried to tell Inskeep that Iran will get to a nuclear bomb by staying with the deal because existing restrictions will be removed someday and the existing inspections are “a joke.”  He also condemned Iran for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The ambassador’s flailing accusations could have, but did not, set the stage for Inskeep to ask the following obvious question:

“Mr. Ambassador, Israel has long had a nuclear weapons program, with an estimated 150 or more nuclear bombs at the ready.  Also, your country has rejected belonging to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty so you can avoid any international inspectors provided by this global agreement. Your critics would say, ‘Who are you to complain about Iran, which is afraid of not only your bombers made in America, but also your large nuclear bombs and warheads?’”

As in years past, the Israeli government won’t tell the globally recognized truth about having nuclear weapons. Instead, the ambassador would have uttered the boilerplate evasive reply that Israel would not be the first to use nuclear weaponry in the region.

For decades, Israeli leaders and emissaries have come to the U.S. for congressional speeches, for interviews on the Sunday network talk shows and in the print media. Questions about Israel’s nuclear bombs have not been juxtaposed with Israel’s desire for the U.S. to overthrow the Iranian regime or bomb Iranian installations. Trump’s war hawk in the White House, John Bolton, wants to go further. In the past, Bolton has urged Israel to militarily annex the Palestinian West Bank, presumably as a twofer.

Will enough American people, including knowledgeable retired national security and military officials, stand up to stop this slide toward another conflagration that will likely produce blowback in the U.S.?

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