An Open Letter To OMB Director Mick Mulvaney

Dear Mr. Mulvaney,

I have been reading and listening to your remarks whenever reporters asks why you are pressing for unprecedented budget cuts in selected agencies and departments that serve people and their children who are impoverished or vulnerable to health/safety hazards, or with disabilities. Your two responses are that the programs aren’t working (with no evidence for such sweeping dismissals by one who is so privileged) and then you emphasize that you are looking out for the taxpayers who fund these programs (the taxpayers are taking good care of you!) Have you no empathy or compassion whatsoever?

But there is a more measurable inconsistency to your kneejerk ideology of corporate market fundamentalism. If you are really standing up for taxpayers, where are you on the bloated defense budget, whose military contractors and other waste have been exposed by regular internal, case-specific Pentagon audits, many GAO reports, solid investigative reporting and numerous high ranking military retirees? Don’t the taxpayers deserve your watchdog advocacy, especially since you support adding tens of billions more dollars to that runaway budget which, being unauditable, according to the GAO, is violating a federal statute enacted in 1990?

Second, what about the massive corporate welfare subsidies, handouts, giveaways and bailouts that keep much of government busy shelling our taxpayer money and tax expenditures? Why are you silent about this raid on the taxpayers, often associated with this waste, fraud and abuse, that amounts to hundreds of billions of dollars annually?

Then there is the well documented (GAO, Harvard Professor Malcolm Sparrow) commercial fraud on Medicare, Medicaid and other disbursing programs. Why are you silent, instead of standing up for taxpayers?

The answers could not be your lack of knowledge. The answers are that you will not speak truth to power, that you are a corporatist enmeshed in a hypocrisy that could be redeemable. This lack of modest courage distances yourself from realities on the ground such as your astonishing failure to accept the basis for the Meals on Wheels program serving older people living alone.

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We suggest your visiting some of these realities around the country so that you can accrete a measure of empathy, intellectual honesty and empirical nourishment. These people will receive you with courtesy and kindness as you survey their plight, their pain, their grit in the midst of conditions you cannot imagine back in your spacious Washington offices. Some of your cuts will affect veterans and their traumatized families coping with the results back home of illegal wars of aggression such as Bush/Cheney’s invasion and continuing quagmire in Iraq.

Let’s see if you at least have the willingness to press for the expedited auditing of the gigantic Pentagon budget and its large ‘defense’ contractors with their runaway cost overruns. The Department’s past Secretaries of Defense always keep promising that compliance with federal law – as do other departments and agencies – is coming in a few years. It is always in a few years. You are, after all, Director of the Office of Management and Budget. You cannot do your job with an unaudited Department of Defense budget. Recall, for example, the Department admitted some years ago to Congress that they could not account for $9 billion spent in Iraq in the year following that invasion.

You can choose not to respond to this letter, in which case you would be true to the characterizations described above. Perhaps you will respond to similar inquiries from members of Congress not enthralled by your high-velocity glibness that does not get down to facts on the ground.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

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Will The Federal Civil Service Defend Us?

As the Trump wrecking crew ramps up its destructive campaign against federal health and safety protections and social services for impoverished, disabled and vulnerable people (young and old) the latest targets of their ire are the federal civil servants who faithfully keep our government functioning here and abroad.

Mind you, the Trump wrecking crew is not going after gigantic corporate welfare programs, giveaways, bailouts and subsidies to big business. Nor are the Trumpsters going after wasteful, inflated government corporate contracts or massive billing frauds on Medicare, Medicaid or other government programs. These egregious examples of crony capitalism, so disliked by conservatives and progressives alike, seem untouchable. While disgraceful, this is not surprising; many of Trump’s nominees benefited mightily from this cronyism before coming to Washington and Trump still benefits due to his refusal to divest.

Given this state of corporatist mayhem, the important question is: Will the federal civil service hold against lawless, dangerous non-enforcement of the laws and arbitrary suspensions of ongoing programs to protect the people from corporate assaults on their safety and economic well-being?

These are tough times for career civil servants who have given their all to do the right thing and make government serve the people (if you doubt this, just read the new book American Amnesia by Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson).

Consider civil servants’ anguish. If they keep doing their job, they’re going to be pushed to retire or be marginalized. If they do as they are illegally or wrongfully ordered to do, they are going against their conscience and undermining their oath of office.

The oath of office taken by federal civil servants is not to the president or to their cabinet secretary. It is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. The Constitution defines the work role for federal employees (according to the Office of Personnel Management [OPM]) “to establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty.”

To further define their obligations, the Code of Ethics for U.S. Government Service has declared that civil servants must “put loyalty to the highest moral principles and to country above loyalty to persons, party or government department.”

Top civil servants are being told to freeze what they are doing or reverse course, suppressing science and take down scientifically informed websites (such as those on calamitous climate change) and suspend law enforcement –  all under the direction of Trump’s cabinet lackeys who are openly bent on serving the Fortune 500 corporations, not the Constitution. Many of these public servants are quitting rather than violate their code of ethics.

In March, as the EPA wrecking crew chief, Scott Pruitt, moved to let corporations pour more poisons into your air, water, soil and food, the head of the Environmental Justice Office, Mustafa Ali, quit. Last week, the highly regarded Elizabeth Southerland, the director of science and technology in the EPA’s Office of Water, resigned. She said that Pruitt and Trump, who are pushing a 31 percent cut in the agency’s already strained budget, are abandoning “the polluter pays principle that underlies all environmental statutes and regulations.”

Former Secretary of State (and Republican) Colin Powell, in an Op-Ed published in May for The New York Times, denounced the disabling proposed cuts that hollow out the work of diplomats and aid workers who advance peace and critical assistance to poor families in underdeveloped countries. He warned about creating “a vacuum that would make us far less safe and prosperous.” Almost certainly, in the coming months, scientists in the Food and Drug Administration will be told to back off and let inadequately tested drugs go to market for the drug industry’s gouging profits. Other civil servants will have their judgments repressed when they recommend recalling defective motor vehicles, prohibiting clear cutting in our national forests, enforcing civil and voting rights, removing certain pesticides from our food, issuing ready-to-go safety standards for travelers, enforcing safeguards for nursing home residents and implementing proper nutritional school meal recipes for children.

The Trumpsters actually want to have the best and most experienced public servants to quit. They are already retaliating against civil servants who speak truthfully of the harm to innocent people being caused by the grisly policies championed by the corporate paymasters.

Fortunately, there are outside groups already challenging in federal court the lawless Trump regime under the Administrative Procedures Act, the Freedom of Information Act and other violated federal laws. They are also defending harassed civil servants who try to bring their conscience to work.

These citizen groups – Public Citizen (see citizen.org), Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (see peer.org), The Government Accountability Project (GAP, see whistleblower.org), and numerous other organizations, including civil service retirees, are working daily to remind Trump’s tyrants that our country remains one under the “rule of law” on behalf of, by and for the people.

Those ideals need the cutting edge of organized citizens and the larger backing of focused public outrage putting heat on members of Congress. Both between and during elections, an organized and motivated public can put a stop to this vast takeover of our government by the avaricious corporate supremacists.

Remember, we vastly outnumber them. It’s easier than we are led to think when “we the people” decide to show up.

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Preparing For The Impeachment Of Scott Pruitt: An Open Letter To Members Of Congress

Dear members of Congress,

In his five months as EPA Administrator, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt is an aggregating impeachable offense, ever giving fuller meaning to Alexander Hamilton’s Federalist 65 elaboration of what constitutes “high crimes and misdemeanors,” to wit: Impeachable offenses arise from the “abuse or violation of some public trust” and “relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.”

Riding into office on the back of 14 lawsuits he filed against the EPA, Pruitt took his oath of office to uphold the laws of the land and promptly proceeded to do just the opposite. Using the mantra of “states’ rights” as his corporate fig leaf and wildly accusing EPA scientists of being unscientific, he has moved to “undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules,” according to the July 1, 2017 New York Times.

His tenure thus far at the EPA is the stuff of corporate wish lists: meeting privately with the worst industrial perpetrators of silent violence (charitably described as “pollution”) and huddling with industry lobbyists and corporate lawyers who are eager for Pruitt to dismantle his own agency ― the federal manager of environmental violence to air, water, soil and food.

Pruitt is rolling over and stifling the mission of EPA’s scientists, legal experts and other specialists to protect Americans families from pollution hot spots, which disproportionately affect low-income and minority communities.

Mr. Pruitt makes himself vulnerable, with all the ex parte contacts and corporate advisors to many serious offenses, including: a) violation of the procedures of the Federal Advisory Committee Act, b) conflict of interest rules, c) violation of both criminal and civil laws by the overreaching industry lobbyists who constitute Pruitt’s tight cadre of clenched-jawed political appointees. History provides precedents of how the boundless zealotry of new wrecking crews ultimately leads to self-inflicted wounds and scandals.

Under Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution, the president, vice president and all civil Officers of the United States “may be impeached and, if convicted by the Senate, shall be removed from office.” Scott Pruitt is in the category of a “civil Officer.”

Republicans in the House of Representatives are quite familiar with trying to impeach a civil officer. For many months prior to the November election, they were hounding, with baseless impeachment threats, John Koskinen, then-director of the IRS and one of the most honorable civil servants in a generation. So fervid and ill-tempered was their partisan zeal that they also took it out on the IRS’s budget, already lower than it was several years earlier, and cut it further to the bone. This fulminating vendetta, widely reported, has led to millions of taxpayers waiting on the phone with the IRS to get served or not be served at all. Most ironically, the Republicans assured that the woefully understaffed IRS could collect even less of the estimated $350 billion in annual unpaid taxes, thereby expanding the federal deficit they so often decry for political expediency.

Pruitt, like most captured corporatists, has ignored the objections to his policies from the 15,000 employees of the EPA, hoping that many will leave the agency and further weaken the environmental health and safety efforts that he abhors. He doesn’t want them around because he cannot rebut their scientific arguments for retaining existing standards, which would protect our environment from deadly toxins. He is also hostile to the “precautionary principle” which shifts the burden of proof to the progenitors of new chemical or particulate or gas into the environment.

When you go through the list of health standards slated for Pruitt’s abolition, you wonder whether there are any limits to his cold-blooded, corporatized agenda. So extreme is his corporate ardor that there will undoubtedly be lawless actions coming from his precipitous acts – which he rightly believes will not be subject to restraint from the Trump White House or the Republican-controlled Congress.

Pruitt’s fevered mind thinks like this: Climate change is a hoax. Methane gas, which is 40 times more harmful to global warming than carbon dioxide, should not be subject to the modest Obama-era required disclosures. The industries that are most responsible for pollution should be in charge of their own enforcement. The EPA’s already grossly inadequate budget should be cut further. Attempts to curb pollution in our air and waterways should be revoked. Pesticides like chlorpyrifos, found to be dangerous after years of study, should be pushed back for ‘reconsideration’ – in short to be shelved. Rules on methane leaks from drilling oil and gas wells should be obstructed through delays or revision.

Pruitt had a private meeting with corporate lobbyists at Trump International Hotel, which is a venue for recurring violations of the Emoluments Clause due to its Trump-enriching expenditures by foreign interests. That’s when you know that the officious Pruitt doesn’t even care about appearances, much less the perils of lawless and secretive influence-peddling that enriches President Trump’s investments.

With such arrogance, willful ignorance and a colossal incapacity to resonate with his agency’s mandated role to prevent cancer, respiratory diseases and human habitat destruction, Pruitt is heading for trouble.

His brief tenure as EPA administrator has already been defined by intensive abuse of power and the public trust, undermining the legitimacy of our government and the rule of law.

Members of Congress – Democratic and Republican – must ensure accountability for this rogue administrator. Take close note of his non-compliance with the Administrative Procedure Act and keep in mind that political ideologies will not protect your children or vulnerable relatives and friends form environmental toxins. Conservative lungs and other bodily organs are as vulnerable to pollution-bred terminal ailments and the violent effects of climate change, as their liberal counterparts.

If there was ever a time for Congressional maturity and respect for one of our founding fathers’ favorite words – posterity – now is that time.

Let’s be clear about what is at issue here. Pruitt is extinguishing life-saving and disease-preventing health standards that were vetted in open procedures, that were open to input by the commercial interested affected – which usually leads to diluting the final regulation – and which have solid scientific basis to protect vulnerable populations. Consequently, Pruitt’s rollbacks, suspensions or delays, if allowed to persist and expand, will lead loss and deprivation of American lives, including children – the future of our country – thereby increasing healthcare costs, family anguish and other disruptions of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Pruitt and his cohorts are a clear and present danger to America. He will demonstrate in the coming weeks and months how deserving he is of impeachment in the House of Representatives and conviction in the U.S. Senate. That is, if he doesn’t resign or be forced to resign due to his own cruelty, recklessness and running afoul of the law.

Sincerely yours,

Ralph Nader

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Will A Mega-Billionaire Rescue America From GOP’s Insurance Mayhem?

Before recommending a practical way to reverse the devastating impact of Congressional Republicans’ attempts to strip tens of millions of Americans of health insurance coverage, and the non-stop anxiety and dread that comes with such cruel and vicious legislation, note the impact of having gerrymandered (the politicians pick the voters) Washington rulers.

The arrogant Republicans in Congress have good health insurance, life insurance, pensions, salaries and expense accounts paid by you the taxpayers. This perversely has led them to drop any empathy their residual consciences might have possessed before they came to Capitol Hill – many as millionaires.

At the same time, in a country that spends well over $3 trillion a year on “health care,” the GOP’s various bills leave millions of families fearing loss of insurance, reduced coverage, larger deductibles, unaffordable co-pays and inscrutable insurance and billing fine-print trap doors. This is producing serious fear, anxiety, depression and in many cases absolute terror for sick children and ailing parents.

We have the New York Times to thank for bringing this vast human toll, day after day, night after night, to their readers. In a recent article, reporter Jan Hoffman interviews people who are wondering “whether they would be able to continue screenings and treatment.” Hoffman writes that patients “are postponing” – so as not to set up a preexisting condition –  “or accelerating major medical decisions, weighing whether to move to more insurance-friendly states” and worrying about “their own inability to control critical matters in their own lives.”

“‘I’m so done,’ moaned Cathy McPherson, 58, a retired court clerk in Sonora, CA, with hypertension … It’s what I think about all the time and I am totally burned out. They go over and over it. Can you stop? Just stop it for a little bit?’”

The Times also interviewed a psychologist, Nancy Molitor in Wilmette, IL, who describes “escalating anxiety about health care for all her patients. Many want to spend entire sessions about how to handle the stress and the feelings of fear, powerlessness, rage and frustrated paralysis.”

Perhaps Meghan Borland, who, with her husband, owns a small business in Pleasant Valley, NY, gives voice to this preventable despair in the USA most pointedly. They have a 2-year-old daughter, Amelia, receiving chemotherapy for leukemia. Meghan said, “For months it’s been: Here’s a bill, we’ll vote. No, we won’t. Now it will change. Maybe not. Will that one person in the Senate vote or not? Except for us, this is not a game.”

Well it’s a stupid, but lucrative, ideological game for the Republicans, whose various factions juggle their corporate paymasters and reactionary dogmas, as they try to give the rich and powerful another $800 billion in tax breaks at the expense of millions of their neighbors’ lives and livelihoods.

Without health insurance, about 35,000 Americans die each year; many more stay sick or injured because they cannot afford insurance to get diagnosed and treated in time. About 30 million people fall into that helpless, hurtful category.

Those tens of millions more Americans who are underinsured can barely figure out where they are covered and how much they have to pay or go without.

For the most vulnerable of these Americans, the choice is morbidly clear: pay or die.

In Canada, everybody has a Medicare card to use a system that is simple, affordable, comprehensive and universal. They hardly see a bill. They have better health outcomes, cover everyone and spend less than half per capita than does the corporate dominated U.S. that excludes tens of millions of human beings from health care. Canadians do not have the anxieties, dread or fear of losing all their personal savings or bringing financial ruin on their families, as so many Americans do.

In Canada, no one has to decide whether to take or not to take another job based on health insurance factors. They are free to choose any physician or hospital – no narrow networks, with hidden charges, in that country.

In Canada, where there is public funding and private delivery of health care, profits are not the king, people come first. The large majority of citizens, liberals and conservatives, love their health care system, especially when they hear of the horrors going on south of their border in the U.S. (Canadians need to be more alert to corporate forces trying to undermine, restrict budgets and bad-mouth their system, which is a shining example of what is possible with equitable public investment in health care).

A majority of Americans, including a significant number of conservatives, favor single payer, full Medicare for all. So do a majority of physicians and nurses, currently in thralldom to corporatist dictates.

How to get there from here? Listen to Warren Buffett, the multi-billionaire and sage from Omaha; he favors full Medicare for all as being more efficient and humane (a single payer system has far less administrative costs and billing fraud). Then he tells us the pathway to turning this whole madness and mayhem around. To paraphrase what he once said, there are only 535 members of Congress (100 senators and 435 representatives), and we’re over 300 million people. Why can’t we control these legislators?

Imagine if a very rich, enlightened person pledged $1 billion dollars to fund the organizing of a few thousand serious volunteers in every Congressional District, each having four full-time advocates. Working with these volunteers, each dedicating 300 to 400 hours a year in Congressional watchdog associations,  this watchdog initiative would immediately represent a majority of Americans. Within 36 months, with a consequential election in 2018, our country would have comprehensive, universal, affordable, simpler single payer (full Medicare for all), saving lives, livelihoods and endless family anguish and fear.

That would be quite an historical achievement for any one of numerous billionaires each worth at least $10 billion. Any takers?

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Can The World Defend Itself From Omnicide?

Notice how more frequently we hear scientists tell us that we’re “wholly unprepared” for this peril or for that rising fatality toll? Turning away from such warnings may reduce immediate tension or anxiety, but only weakens the public awareness and distracts us from addressing the great challenges of our time, such as calamitous climate change, pandemics, and the rise of a host of other self-inflicted disasters.

Here are some warnings about rising and looming risks.

  1. The opioid epidemic is here now, and poised to become further exacerbated. It is the US’s deadliest drug overdose crisis ever, taking over 1000 lives a week. Even that figure is underestimated, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). These fatalities, many of them affecting people in the prime of their life, stem from legally prescribed drugs taken to relieve chronic pain. Tragically ironic!

Congress is figuring out how to budget for many billions of dollars to combat this toll – much greater than the deaths by traffic crashes or AIDS. Republican and Democratic state officials are suing the drug companies for excessive, misleading promotion for profit. Still, the awful toll keeps rising.

  1. Cyberattacks and cyberwarfare are increasingly becoming a facet of daily life. Although IBM and other firms are trying to develop more effective defenses, the current scale of cyberattacks is “crazy”, according to specialist Christopher Ahlberg. As he said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal, “If you told anybody 10 years ago about what’s going on now, they wouldn’t believe it.”

Negotiations are not even underway for a cyberwarfare treaty among nations. The sheer scale and horrific implications of this weaponry seems to induce societies to bury their heads in the sand. Former ABC TV host of Nightline, Ted Koppel, discusses this emerging threat in his recent, acclaimed book, “Lights Out: A Cyberattack, A Nation Unprepared”:

“Imagine a blackout lasting not days but weeks or months. There would be no running water, no sewage, no electric heat, refrigeration, or light. Food and medical supplies would dwindle. Banks would not function. The devices we rely on would go dark. The fact is, one well-placed attack on the electrical grid could cripple much of our infrastructure. Leaders across government, industry and the military know this…yet there is no national plan for the aftermath.”

Former Secretary of Defense and CIA Director, Leon Panetta, says Koppel’s book is “an important wake-up call for America.” Yet neither he nor the enormous military-industrial complex, of which he remains a supportive part, are doing much of anything about this doomsday threat to national security. The big manufacturers are too busy demanding ever more taxpayer money for additional nukes, aircraft carriers, submarines, fighter planes, missiles and other weaponry of an increasingly bygone age.

  1. “The World is Not Ready for the Next Pandemic,” headlined a recent Time Magazine article. The authors note that the “US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ranks H7N9 as the flu strain with the greatest potential to cause a pandemic – an infectious disease outbreak that goes global.” They predict the disease could claim “tens of millions” of lives.

In between his Twitter-tantrums, President Trump approved an insanely myopic proposed budget cut of over $1 billion in the CDC’s programs used to predict and combat rising pandemics from China, African countries and elsewhere. Fortunately cooler heads may prevail in Congress, backed by some private foundations.

The number of new diseases per decade, Time reports, has increased nearly fourfold over the past 60 years. Antibiotics are being overridden by adaptive mutations of bacteria. Dr. Trevor Mundel of the Gates Foundation, asserts, “There’s just no incentive for any company to make pandemic vaccines to store on shelves.” That profit-driven rejection is exactly why government must act to produce the drugs, as the Department of Defense it has successfully done with new anti-malaria drugs in the seventies and eighties.

University of Minnesota Professor Michael Osterholm, one of the nation’s leading experts on infectious diseases, warns that for all our world-class scientists and high-tech isolation units, the US health care system is not ready for the stresses of a major pandemic. Not even close.

  1. It isn’t just Elon Musk, founder of the Tesla company, who is warning that the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) is “the greatest risk we face as a civilization.” In 2015, hundreds of other scientists, like renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, and technologists, like Steve Wozniak, signed a public letter that was a one day story, instead of an alarmed world turning it into a galvanizing event. Professor Hawking warns us: “Success in creating Artificial Intelligence would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks. In the near term, world militaries are considering autonomous-weapon systems that can choose and eliminate targets.” We humans, Hawking adds, “are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded by AI” In short, the robots race out of control, become self-actuating and are not held back by any moral boundaries.

From Lincoln to Einstein, we have been counseled that new situations require new thinking. A massive reversal of our world’s priorities toward reverence for life and posterity, toward diplomacy and waging peace, toward legal and ethical frameworks for exploding science and technology (including biotechnology and nanotechology) must receive our focus, from families nurturing their children to the philosophers, ethical specialists, engineers and scientists pausing from their exponential discoveries to ponder the serious adverse consequences of their creations.

Our present educational systems – from Harvard Law School, MIT to K-12 – are not rising to these occasions for survival. Our mass media, wallowing in trivia, entertainment, advertisements and political insults, is not holding the politicians accountable to serious levels of public trust and societal safety. Time for new movements awakening our best angels to foresee and forestall. Do any potential leaders at all levels want to be first responders?

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Detecting What Unravels Our Society – Bottom-Up And Top-Down

The unraveling of a society’s institutions, stability and reasonable order does not sound alarms to forewarn the citizenry, apart from economic yardsticks measuring poverty, jobs, wages, health, savings, profits and  other matters economic.

However, we do have some signs that we should not allow ourselves to ignore. Maliciousness, profiteering and willful ignorance on the part of our political and corporate rulers undoubtedly contribute to worsening injustice. Let’s consider some ways that we as citizens, far too often, collectively allow this to happen.

  1. Democracy is threatened when citizens refuse to participate in power, whether by not voting, not thinking critically about important issues, not showing up for civic activities or allowing emotional false appeals and flattery by candidates and parties to sway them on important issues. Without an informed and motivated citizenry, the society starts to splinter.
  2. If people do not do their homework before Election Day and know what to expect of candidates and of themselves, the political TV ads and the plutocrats’ campaign cash will take control of what is on the table and what is off the table. This leads to the most important changes a majority of Americans want ending up on the floor.
  3. Too often, you have a grievance as a consumer, worker, taxpayer or citizen and you hit the wall trying to reach someone who should be helping you. Robots, either nonhuman or human, on the telephone are of little help. Repeated failure to productively voice one’s grievances leads to alienation, anxiety and withdrawal, rather than resurgence to demand remedy.
  4. When a majority of people think their government doesn’t work for them, but instead serves the rich and powerful, people begin to forget the good that government and honest civil servants at all levels do, or can do (see Jacob Hacker’s 2016 book, American Amnesia), thereby disregarding their crucial watchdog role as citizens. In the process, they passively surrender control of government to the plutocrats and oligarchs – leading to a corporate state defined by crony capitalism. The military industrial complex and the corporate welfarists know how to extract dollars for boondoggles from our government, which is all-too-willing to turn its back on taxpayers.
  5. When people make up their minds about an ideology or politician without the facts and relinquish any willingness to hear alternative views, societies become polarized. People are stereotyped, the marketplace of ideas goes bankrupt and instances of incivility and dehumanization increase.
  6. When people constantly consume media fueled by violence, political insults, crime and celebrity misbehavior, rather than giving voice to the good that people do every day in civil society or to important points of agreement between liberals and conservatives, the way we relate to news and each other becomes needlessly skewed. This problem has increased exponentially in recent years.
  7. If people of all backgrounds feel powerless, they will be powerless. This self-perception stifles democracy and often results in people turning their blame against one another and ignoring the power structures at the root of the problem.
  8. Readers think; thinkers read. That includes learning from the mistakes of societies throughout history that wrongly believed that they were impervious to crumbling from within. In our culture of virtual reality and Twitter-length propaganda, we all too often forget the valuable lessons of past mistakes.  History is a great teacher, as anyone who has studied how the bloody World War I was triggered by a teenager assassinating an archduke in Sarajevo or how a few rulers of autocratic nations, without institutional civic and political resistance, caused the deaths of 60 million people in World War II, can attest.
  9. At this point, some readers may be wondering about the powerful people who comprise the Wall Street and Washington supremacists. Aren’t they heavily responsible for the disintegration of our society’s economic and political health? Of course. But we citizens, day after day, let them get away with actions that embolden them further through what they see as our habitual passivity.
  10. Supporting good candidates who so often lose to silver-tongued bad candidates would be a start. Given what people think of Washington politicians, tens of millions of voters are choosing bad candidates. They may want to ask themselves whether the candidates and their rhetoric they bond with are hiding cruel records and votes against the voters’ own interests. The Washington Republicans’ current effort to take away or make less affordable health insurance, even of Trump voters, is a case in point.

For a top-down analysis, read Peter Wehner’s searing column, Declaration of Disruption in the July 4, 2017 issue of the New York Times, regarding how the rulers at the top are now leading our country “toward chaos, disarray and entropy.”

Half of democracy is showing up at community gatherings, marches, meetings and elections with your fellow citizens. No one can stop you from saying yes to your neighbors, near and far, when they send you their kind invitations to meet new people, hear new ideas, and be urged to pull together for a better community, state, nation and world.

Democracy and its blessings work, but only if we don’t drop out and recommit ourselves to securing these blessings for our posterity. It’s easier than we think!

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A Clarion Call For Our Country’s Pillars To Demand Justice

It is time for an urgent clarion call.

Given the retrograde pits inhabited by our ruling politicians and the avaricious over-reach of myopic big-business bosses, the self-described pillars of our society must step up to reverse the decline of our country. Here is my advice to each pillar:

  1. Step up, lawyers and judges of America. You have no less to lose than our Constitutional observances and equal justice under law. A few years ago, brave Pakistani lawyers marched in the streets in open protest against dictatorial strictures. As you witness affronts to justice such as entrenched secrecy, legal procedures used to obstruct judicial justice, repeal of health and safety protections and the curtailment of civil liberties and access to legal aid, you must become vigorous first responders and exclaim: Stop! A just society must be defended by the courts and the officers of the court – the attorneys.
  2. Step up, religious leaders, who see yourselves as custodians of spiritual and compassionate values. Recall your heroic forebears who led non-violent civil disobedience during the repression of civil rights in the Nineteen Sixties – as with the leadership of the late greats Martin Luther King Jr. and William Sloane Coffin. Champion the Golden Rule for those who don’t believe that ‘he who has the gold, rules.’
  3. Step up, business people – large and small. Some of you are enlightened and motivated enough to stand tall against the cruel, monetized minds that are harming low-paid workers, cheating consumers, denying insurance to patients, avoiding or evading taxes, swindling investors and undermining communities across the country.

You have good examples from history, including those business leaders who recently quit the US Chamber of Commerce over the necessity to confront climate change or the 150 business leaders who issued strong support for the successful Legal Services Corporation for low-income Americans that Trump’s budget would eliminate entirely.

  1. Step up, academic professors and teachers, and protect your students from politicians intent on undermining the public school system and turning its budgets into cash cows for commercial vendors. You can help the cause by demanding that practical civic skills and experience become part of the curriculum. You can demand that Trump’s increasingly bloated war budget not be funded at the expense of our children’s education and deteriorating physical facilities. You can point out waste and administrative bureaucracy to strengthen this already compelling University professors can establish active brain trusts to educate the public and rebut the avalanche of fake news and political insults.
  2. Step up, doctors and nurses, in whose trust is placed the lives of millions of people. Polls show over half of you want full Medicare for all with free choice of physician and hospital. This should come as no surprise since it is much more efficient, eliminating much of the bookkeeping and lengthy billings that drain your time away from practicing healthcare. Above all, Medicare for all saves lives and prevents trauma and disease when people can afford early diagnoses and treatment.

Already prominent economists, business magnates like Warren Buffett and over 60 percent of Americans want single payer. Your strong voices together can sober up those politicians in Congress hell-bent on coarse pullbacks that will make the present situation even worse and more perilous. Imagine our elected, well-insured, representatives pushing a huge tax cut for the rich, at the expense of hospitals and clinics and big time reductions in Medicaid.

  1. Step up, public relations professionals, who can take an active role in facilitating a public conversation on the need for important social services and reforms that improve their implementation.
  2. Step up, veterans, including high-ranking military, national security and diplomatic retirees, who can advocate for waging peace instead of reckless wars of aggression and other armed force violations of US and international law. Some people incorrectly think that veterans monolithically support all military interventions. But no one knows the horror of war better than those soldiers who have fought them (A large majority of soldiers in Iraq wanted us to get out of that disastrous quagmire in a January 2005 poll).

Over 300 retired generals, admirals and national security officials openly opposed Bush/Cheney’s criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Veterans For Peace makes eloquent arguments for waging peace. Now is the time to learn from their experience, stand for smart diplomacy and avoid succumbing to provocations and the boomeranging impacts of Empire.

  1. Step up, members of the media, both corporate and public. Give voice to the vast civil society and citizen groups that are vital to our democracy. They have long been practicing and strengthening democratic practices. Allow their voice of reason, sanity and evidence-based proposals to reach millions of Americans.
  2. Step up, scientists and technologists. You must strongly organize against the corrosive effect of medieval myths about the natural world and habitat-destroying toxins pouring from unaccountable industry.Champion the necessity of science for the people, not for militarism and a global arms race.

Urge the restoration of the acclaimed, non-partisan Congressional Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in Congress that Newt Gingrich and his Republicans terminated in 1995, plunging Congress into ignorant darkness and costly, wrongful budgeting.

  1. Step up, students. Show the country your earnest idealism, supported by knowledge and your hope for a brighter future.Fight for tuition-free education, reform of student debt gouging and for an ecologically-benign economy that will work for you and the planet. Really get out the vote for next year!
  2. Step up, leaders of the vast number of charity and service clubs. Without a sense of justice, there will be less charitable resources for ever-increasing needs.

Many of you have the moral authority to speak truth to the power of the one percent, and resist attempts to diminish support to those vulnerable members of our society who most need it.

In times of crisis, routines must be replaced with urgent awakenings, bringing out the better angels and wisdom from these underachieving pillars of the American community. A few leaders can take the first steps and many more will follow your example. Stand tall in support of justice in these trying times.

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Driverless Cars: Hype, Hubris And Distractions

The hype and unsubstantiated hope behind the self-driving car movement continues unabated, distracting from addressing necessities of old “mobilities” such as inadequate public transit and upgrading highway and rail infrastructure.

At a conference on Driverless Cars sponsored by the George Washington University Law School earlier this month, the legal landscape of unresolved problems and unasked questions were deliberated for a full day.

What are the legal requirements that should be applied to the testing phase, the deployment phase, liability and insurance, impacts on displaced workers, cyber-security, privacy, and antitrust? A takeaway from this gathering was the number of mind-numbing unresolved systems awaiting this new, untested technology.

First, a little background – car ownership and car sales are expected to flatten or decline due to ride-sharing and a new generation of consumers that is less inclined to purchase motor vehicles. How is the industry to react? By adding high-priced value to motor vehicles, already described as computers on wheels. Voilà, the race for the driverless car! The mass media took the bait and over-reported each company’s sensationalized press releases, announcing breakthroughs without disclosing the underlying data. The arrogance of the algorithms, among many other variables, bypassed simple daily realties, such as bustling traffic in cities like New York.

In the shadows were the daily tribulations of Americans just trying to get to and from work, especially the poor and those who don’t own a vehicle.

Don’t expect driverless cars to be taking over anytime in the next few decades. Autonomous vehicles do not exist in the autonomous contexts of daily life. Start with how to fit these futuristic vehicles in a sea of over 250 million driven vehicles in the U.S. It’s easy to score driverless vehicles in well-orchestrated courses with minimum traffic over low mileage. Apply that controlled scenario to the scale and complexity of actual roads with actual drivers in actual conditions and the difficulties multiply enormously.

The industry–from Silicon Valley to Detroit—argues safety. Robotic systems do not get drunk, fall asleep at the wheel or develop poor driving skills. But computers fail often; they are often susceptible to hacking—whether by the manufacturers, dealers or deadly actors. Hacking is a driverless car industry’s nightmare and American motorists can see why. They like to remain in control and not have their engine stop, accelerate or be turned in disastrous directions by remote interventions.

Already, Volkswagen and other companies have been caught by law enforcement manipulating software emission controls on a gigantic scale.

Until that distant dream by the technocrats when all vehicles are driverless is realized, there may be less safety because of the mix of autonomous and human-operated vehicles.

On top of all this is the emerging demand to rewrite the rules so that there is less mandatory regulations (to be replaced by mere guidelines), less tort liability, less clear contractual responsibility between the many inputting companies, less openness for the data, far less privacy protections, and little attention to the awesome public investment needed for preparing highways and other facilities.

Already, Level Three—an autonomous vehicle needing emergency replacement by the surrogate human driver—is being viewed as unworkable by specialists at MIT and elsewhere. The human driver, lulled and preoccupied, can’t take back control in time.

Modern mass transit has shown how drivers who choose to become passengers can relax and not have to drive. Why won’t we concentrate on what can be improved and expanded to get safer, efficient, less polluting mobility?

Over 40 years ago Northwestern University transportation specialists developed a plan for “personalized public transit,” meaning, for example, connecting your car to a monorail system for daily commutes!

The driverless car is bursting forth without a legal, ethical and priorities framework. Already asking for public subsidies, companies can drain much-needed funds for available mass transit services and the industry’s own vehicle safety upgrades in favor of a technological will-o’-the-wisp.

For a clear, detailed look at the risks posed by driverless cars, read the new report, Self-Driving Vehicles: The Threat to Consumers, by Harvey Rosenfield of Consumer Watchdog.

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Is Trump Dumping More Prosecutors?

The turmoil inside the Trump White House is much more intense than the media is reporting. Palaces of intrigue, under-perceived siege by political and law enforcement adversaries, tend to boil inward before they burst outward.

One of the most perilous decisions for Trump is how far he will go in firing prosecutors looking into his murky dealings past and present. Already he has fired former FBI Director James Comey, who just testified before the Senate flanked by several of his loyal FBI agents in the front seats of the hearing room.

Earlier, after then-President-Elect Trump assured the influential U.S. attorney in New York City, Preet Bharara, that he could keep his job, President Trump abruptly fired him in March. It seems Mr. Trump got wind of an investigation pertaining to various ill-defined, at least publicly, inquiries, tried to contact him to find out what was going on (a clear breach of ethics) and, not receiving a response, dispatched Bharara. The U.S. attorney had reported Trump’s phone call to the chief of staff of Attorney General Jeff Sessions which probably led to his undoing.

New presidents often replace U.S. attorneys, who are known to harbor political ambitions within the political party that appointed them to this powerful prosecutorial position. But President Trump had an additional personal motive behind his worry about Bharara.

Now Mr. Trump’s White House friends are leaking a trial balloon, or shall we call it the “nuclear option.” Can you imagine that President Trump even is considering firing Robert S. Mueller III, who is the special counsel chosen by Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to lead the investigation of possible connections between Trump’s electoral campaign and Russian operatives.

Mueller, a highly respected former director of the FBI, is starting to hire staff for this important inquiry – one paralleled by similar probes under the Republican controlled Senate and House Intelligence Committees.

One can discern this possibility is more than a slip of the tongue by someone eager for publicity. Already, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, often a mouthpiece for Trump’s “thinking,” has tweeted that “Republicans are delusional if they think the special counsel is going to be fair,” even after praising Mueller’s integrity a few weeks earlier. The signal to fire Mueller is being trumpeted by conservative talk show hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and other lucrative right-wing beneficiaries of our free and public airwaves.

While this latest drama of Trump’s panic unfolds, there is speculation within their ranks that Trump may fire dozens of inspectors general who investigate waste, fraud and abuse by federal agencies to which they are attached. This would be unprecedented. Inspectors General (IGs) are non-partisan, independent civil servants with traditional bi-partisan support. They return $14 to the taxpayer for every $1 they spend on their investigations.

Trump looks askance on such independence and what might be found under his cabinet and agency heads. Thus far, he is not replacing open IG positions and intends to cut IG budgets. In another brazen move, the White House has insisted that executive branch agencies don’t have to respond to Congressional inquiries. A bizarre narcissism is taking hold in the White House. Get rid of anyone who can hold you to the rule of law. Have cabinet members bow and scrape the floor with their obeisance at a White House meeting as they surrender giving their independent judgement to a firing-prone president.

Overseas, we have names for bosses of nations who expect such orchestrated ooze. What’s next, statues and giant pictures of Trump looking down on his subjects around the country?

Trump would do well to study what happened when another president, Richard Nixon, hunkered down in 1973 and fired Archibald Cox, the special prosecutor appointed to investigate the Watergate scandal. Nixon’s attorney general, Elliot Richardson, refused to fire Cox and resigned in protest, followed by the protest resignation of Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus.

It is possible that Trump may not want to wait as long as did Nixon, who acted after he received a subpoena from Cox requesting copies of taped conversations recorded in the Oval Office?

Nixon’s firing of Cox generated a public firestorm of protests with millions of telegrams and calls pouring into Congress from the American people. The momentum to impeach Nixon accelerated. He quit just before the House of Representatives was to vote. Already, so early in the unfolding of Trump’s reactions, 43 percent of the people believe that Congress should begin impeachment proceedings to remove President Trump from office, with 45 percent of them opposed (according to a Quinnipiac poll).

Firing a special counsel before he even gets underway, much less starts issuing subpoenas, would not sit well with even more Americans and increasing numbers of Republicans in Congress who would have preferred Mr. Pence by a large margin over Mr. Trump. Trump could quit in a fit of rage. Impeaching Trump in the House and convicting him in the Senate would get the Republicans a more stable, very conservative, former congressional colleague. Could Mike Pence, a recent governor of Indiana, be our next president?

Fasten your seat belts. The wild card in the White House is sure to get wilder and seriously test our nation’s rule of law.

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Obama: Launch Watchdogs In Washington

After eight grueling years in the White House, ex-president Barack Obama looked forward with his wife Michelle to a deserved, extended rest and vacation. Nearly five months later, he’s enjoying the company of the rich and famous at their secluded mega-retreats so much that a generally sympathetic media has begun to describe a playboy’s leisure.

Since leaving office, the former self-styled community organizer has yachted with Tom Hanks and Hollywood mogul David Geffen, gone kite-surfing with billionaire Richard Branson at Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, enjoyed the hospitality of designer Michael S. Smith in Southern California, turned up at the Mid-Pacific Country Club in Hawaii, journeyed to Tetiaroa in French Polynesia where, it is reported, he wants to write some of his memoir – part of a $65 million double book deal with Michelle.

In late April, he enjoyed a $400,000 pay day for a speech before a Wall Street firm, followed by an undisclosed fee for speaking in Milan, Italy. The former First Couple stayed at a “restored eight hundred year old village” owned by John Phillips, a former lawyer for the powerless turned multi-millionaire.

Meanwhile, back in Washington, DC, where the Obamas have purchased an $8 million home, Donald Trump is dismantling with cruel gusto as much of Obama’s legacy as he can. Obama spent his last months in office, with his lawyers, striving to Trump-proof his legacy.

However, apart from a few general statements objecting, without mentioning Trump, to the White House’s ban on people entering the United States from six majority Muslim countries, which is heading to the Supreme Court, and to Trump’s withdrawal from the voluntary Paris Climate Accord, Obama continues to engage in what Time Magazine calls his “staycation.”

In private conversations, Obama must be fuming, both personally and for the country’s future, as he sees it. But publicly, he is hewing to the tradition that former presidents do not criticize their successors, just as new presidents do not go after their predecessors. There is an unwritten understanding that such behavior is beneath the dignity of the Presidency and can lead to barrages of accusations. But, with mad Donald Trump in the White House, the old rules of engagement are clearly no longer applicable.

Self-serving traditions should be going out the window with the boorish, tweet-fueled mania of Donald Trump putting the wrecking ball to just about every federal program and obligation serving the health, safety and economic necessities of people in need. At the same time, Trump regularly attacks Obama for “the mess” he left him and serves up other fallacious jabs against his predecessor.

President Obama’s silence is all the more noticeable in the absence of new leadership from the Democratic Party. Despite the tradition of former presidents passing the baton to the next generation of leaders of their party, today’s Democratic Party is largely leaderless, leaving Obama still at center stage for much of the public. He understands the gap. For while launching the Obama Foundation for his presidential library in Chicago, he announced as a major goal the “training and elevating of a new generation of political leaders in America.”

Obama no doubt believes that taking on Trump would distract from Trump’s daily penchant for self-destruction and the deepening quagmire surrounding his conflicted, frantic, bellicose, narcissistic White House. Still, there is a need to offer positive reinforcement for all those people marching, rallying and filling the usually empty seats at Congressional town meetings around the country.

That is a mission Obama avoided during his presidency as he flew out of town for nearly five hundred fat-cat fundraisers during his eight years in office.

Barack Obama has always been very clever at telling us that he shares our sense of fair play. In his best-selling book, The Audacity of Hope (2006), then Senator Obama admitted: “I know that as a consequence of my fund-raising I became more like the wealthy donors I met. I spent more and more of my time above the fray, outside the world of immediate hunger, disappointment, fear, irrationality and frequent hardship of…the people that I’d entered public life to serve.”

Well, it is never too late for Obama to translate these candid words into deeds. With his wealth and a few other donors he can assemble and organize watchdog groups in Washington, DC to counter the corporate wish lists being presented to a very accommodating White House. Each group, with a modest $1 million annual budget, can field ten determined public advocates to resist what Trump advisor Steve Bannon has referred to as the “deconstruction of the administrative state.” This, of course, means in real terms the dismantling of the Food and Drug Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, sensible protections for auto safety, railroads and aviation and so many other agencies and programs that protect Americans every day. Other groups can resist the expanding corporate welfare and corporate tax giveaways, the bloated waste at the unauditable Pentagon, the surrenders to Wall Street  and the curtailment of our civil liberties and civil rights.

That’s one immediate and impactful way of fomenting a “new generation of leaders.”

With his resources and platform, Obama can put additional, organized civil actions on the back of Trump’s regime of corporatism, militarism and racism. He can do that with ease, if he can resist the temptations of his plutocratic friends that he cautioned himself, and us, about in public eleven years ago.

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