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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The Destructive Power Trips Of Amazon’s Boss

For his smallish stature, Amazon Boss Jeff Bezos has a booming, uproarious laugh. Unleashed during workdays, its sonic burst startles people, given it comes from as harsh and driven a taskmaster as exists on the stage of corporate giantism.

Is Bezos’ outward giddiness a worrisome reflection of what Bezos is feeling on the inside? Is he laughing at all of us?

Is Bezos laughing at the tax collectors, having avoided paying most states’ sales taxes for years on all the billions of books he sold online, thereby giving him an immediate 6 to 9 percent price advantage over brick-and-mortar bookstores, that also paid property taxes to support local schools and public facilities? That, and being an early online bookseller, gave Bezos his crucial foothold, along with other forms of tax avoidance that big companies utilize.

Is Bezos laughing at the bureaucratic labor unions, that somehow can’t get a new handle on organizing the tens of thousands of exploited blue collar workers crying for help in Amazon warehouses and other stress-driven installations? With a net-worth over $80 billion, why should he worry?

Is Bezos laughing at the giant retailers, who are closing hundreds of stores because their thin margins cannot withstand Amazon’s predatory pricing?

Is Bezos laughing at the Justice Department’s Antitrust Division which, before Trump, was studying how old antitrust laws could be used to challenge monopolizing Molochs such as Amazon in the 21st century? It is time for antitrust officials to explore  new regulatory actions and modern legislation to deal with today’s conglomerates.

Is Bezos laughing at Main Street, USA which he is in the process of hollowing out; along with nearby shopping malls who can’t figure out how to supersede the convenience of online shopping with convivial ground shopping experience?

Is Bezos laughing at Walmart, bestirring itself, which is starting to feel like giant Sears Roebuck did before Walmart’s relentless practices caught up and crushed what is now a shrunken, fragile Sears?

Is Bezos laughing at the United States Postal Service, to which he has given – for the time being – much business for shipping Amazon’s packages? Bezos has no intention of this being a long term arrangement. Imagine Amazon with its own fleet of driverless vehicles and drones. Amazon is already using part-time workers to deliver its wares.

Is Bezos laughing at the Washington Post, which he bought for a song in 2014 while he was holding down a large contract with the CIA and other government agencies?

Is Bezos laughing at Alibaba, the huge (bigger than Amazon) Chinese online seller that is trying but failing to get a toehold in the US market? It is hard to match Amazon’s ruthlessness on its home turf. Is Bezos laughing at people’s manipulated susceptibility for convenience, hooking them with $99 a year for free shipping? Ordering from their computer or cell phone for speedy delivery to sedentary living, Amazon’s customers are robbed of the experience of actively going to local businesses where they can personally engage with others, get offered on the spot bargains and build relationships for all kinds of social, civic and charitable activities.

Is Bezos laughing at many millions of Amazon customers who think temporary discounts and minor shipping convenience can make up for the billions of tax dollars Amazon has learned to avoid and the thousands of small business competitors whose closures shrink the local property tax base that supports schools and other essential public services?

As Amazon spreads around the world selling everything and  squeezing other businesses that use its platform, is Bezos laughing at humanity? His ultimate objective seems to preside over a mega-trillion dollar global juggernaut that is largely automated, except for that man at the top with the booming laugh who rules over the means by which we consume everything from goods, to media, to groceries. Crushing competitors, history shows, is leads to raising prices by monopolizers.

Consumers, workers and retailers alike must be on higher alert and address this growing threat. You have nothing to lose except Bezos’s tightening algorithmic chains. To start the conversation, you can wait for Franklin Foer’s new book out this September, titled World Without a Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. Until then, a good substitute is his 2014 article in The New Republic, Amazon Must be Stopped.

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The Left/Right Challenge To The Failed ‘War On Drugs’

More and more conservatives and liberals, from the halls of Congress to people in communities across the country, are agreeing that the so-called “war on drugs” needs serious rethinking.

First, we should define our terms. The “war on drugs” that was started by Richard Nixon in 1971 and persists to this day, refers to illegal “street drugs” – cocaine, heroin, marijuana and variations thereof. It is not used to mean a war on legal pharmaceuticals, whose excessive and often inappropriate prescribing takes over 100,000 lives a year in our country. Ironically, prescription opioids alone took 35,000 lives last year – about equal to traffic fatalities.

The argument to criminalize “street drugs,” and severely punish their sellers and users, is largely based on the assumption that a “tough on crime” approach will reduce addiction and abuse of these dangerous substances. Criminalizing drug use consistently fails to address the health problems of addiction, and drives the drug trade underground where crime, violence and death flourish.

Our country learned this hard lesson firsthand when it prohibited the production and sale of alcoholic beverages in 1920 through the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. That led to an underworld of organized crime and illegal undercover stills making “moonshine,” whose victims could hardly go for medical treatment. Considered a failure, the amendment was repealed in 1933 with the 21st Amendment.

This national experiment with prohibition verified the wise observation of the famous dean of the Harvard Law School, Roscoe Pound, who said that there were certain human behaviors that are beyond “the effective limits of legal action.” In short, the law couldn’t stop the addicting alcohol business; it could only drive it underground.

Legalizing the sale and possession of alcohol allowed people suffering from alcoholism to come out of the shadows and find support through thousands of successful chapters of Alcoholics Anonymous and other treatment options. Alcoholism is still a problem in our country, but it is out in the open where a rational society can address it.

Nicotine from tobacco products is one of the most addictive drugs that people can ingest. Lawmakers since the days of the Virginia tobacco growers in the 17th century have not prohibited the smoking of tobacco. For generations, smoking cigarettes and cigars was not considered harmful; it was said to help concentrate your mind on your tasks. The mass media perpetuated such false statements through ads that claimed doctors preferred Lucky Strikes because they were “less irritating.”

Then the historic and widely reported US Surgeon General’s Report of 1964 concluded that cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men, a probable cause of lung cancer in women and the most important cause of chronic bronchitis. Over time, accumulating scientific knowledge connecting smoking to lung cancer and a host of other diseases began changing habits.

In 1964 about 44 percent of American adults smoked regularly; now it is down to 17 percent. Now smokers cannot indulge on airplanes, buses, trains or in schools, waiting rooms and most office buildings. Had we driven tobacco use underground, organized crime would have claimed the tobacco market and smokers and low-level dealers would have been jailed. If alcohol prohibition taught us the limitations of drug criminalization, efforts to reduce tobacco use have shown what is possible when dangerous products are taxed and regulated and consumers are educated.

So, what about “street drugs?” The drug trade is tearing Mexico apart. Just in the past few years, over 50,000 people have been slain by the fights between drug cartels and against police, judges, reporters and innocents who just happen to be in the way of the machine guns. Fear, anxiety, outright terror and political corruption grips large regions of our southern neighbor as the cartel’s violently work to meet the black market demand in the US and elsewhere.

Drug dealers in the US fight each other, producing violent crimes and terrorized neighborhoods.

To suppress this drug trade the US is spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars a year. Drug cases are clogging our court dockets and crowding out important cases involving corporate crimes and negligence. Low-level drug offenders continue to receive mandatory minimum sentences; filling our prisons and leading to the expansion of the private prison industry whose lobbyists prefer a status quo that commodifies the ruined lives who sustain their profitable inventory.

For decades, conservatives like William F. Buckley and progressives like the then Mayor of Baltimore, Kurt Schmoke, have called for decriminalization, or legalization and regulation, of illegal drugs. We don’t jail alcoholics for being alcoholics, or incarcerate people for smoking highly addictive cigarettes. Their addictions are treated openly as afflictions to be treated individually and more broadly through sound public policies.

Despite the many calls for reform, the arch-reactionary Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has recently ordered 5,000 federal assistant US attorneys to charge defendants peddling street drugs, many of whom are addicts themselves, with the most serious crimes and impose the toughest penalties possible.

Not so fast, say a growing group of liberal and conservative members of Congress. From Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) to liberal Patrick Leahy (D-VT), lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are joining together to sponsor a bill to end mandatory minimum sentences. Senator Paul said such sentences “disproportionately affect minorities and low-income communities” and will worsen the existing “injustice” in the criminal justice system, while Senator Leahy declared that as “an outgrowth of the failed war on drugs, mandatory sentencing strips criminal public-safety resources away from law-enforcement strategies that actually make our communities safer.”

The bipartisan bill, S.1127, is already supported by 37 Senators and 79 members of the House. Both the NAACP and the Koch brothers support this legislation!

We need more open debates about the impact of the “war on drugs.” As Justice Louis Brandeis said years ago – “sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

To learn more about the need for drug policy reform, and the history of the failed war on drugs, watch this informative video from the Drug Policy Alliance.

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Schooling For Myths And Powerlessness

All over America, school children are completing another academic year before their summer vacation. This invites the questions: what did they learn and what did they do with what they learned?

I’m not talking about their test scores, nor the latest fads in rebranding education, like the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) curriculum that de-emphasizes the first two-thirds of the old mantra – reading, writing and arithmetic. Rather, I am questioning what they learned about their real-world surroundings, about preparing themselves for life as citizens, workers, consumers, taxpayers, voters and members of various communities.

Not very much, sad to say. The same is true of my generation. Instead of receiving an enriching and well-rounded education, we were fed myths. All societies perpetuate lavish myths that enable the few to rule over the many, repress critical thinking and camouflage the grim realities. Our country was, and remains, no exception.

In school we learned that our country was number one, the greatest in the world. We sang “Onward Christian Soldiers” in music class. Being the “greatest” was neither defined nor questioned. We simply had a vague sense that “great” meant militarily and economically “big.”

In practice, however, “great” was associated with kneejerk patriotism and served as a barrier to thinking critically about what we were told to take for granted. For were we to parse the deeper meaning of the word “great,” we might have had to make specific comparisons of the United States in concrete ways with other countries such as Canada and those in Europe. And we might have discovered that we weren’t first in many areas of human and environmental well-being.

Early in elementary school we were told that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America and what followed was the arrival of the pioneers of “civilization.” This myth served to justify the white man’s domination over “inferior races,” whether native or brought in as slaves from Africa. In truth, as my father taught me, Columbus invaded America in search of gold and, with his soldiers, slaughtered Caribbean tribes that long preceded Columbus’s arrival in their lands.

Along the way in school we were told that, unlike other “evil” countries, American soldiers did not intentionally kill civilians, as did our cruel enemies. Somehow General Sherman’s march to the sea during the Civil War escaped our attention; as did later mass slaughter of human beings in the Philippines and the deliberate targeting and incineration of entire residential, civilian areas in World War I and World War II –  to, in the language of the official strategies, “terrorize the populations.”

The myth of an America without imperial intentions camouflaged the purposes of several wars and many imperial assaults and overthrows. Who were we to question? Other countries were Empires; America was guided by “manifest destiny.”

Then there was the fictional character, Paul Bunyan, the giant lumberjack from American folklore who was hijacked and commercialized by the timber industry to propagandize the minds of millions of children. With his huge blue ox, Babe, Bunyan conquered and cut down forests. One of the Paul Bunyan stories ended with our hero leaving Montana for Alaska’s vast wilderness. Bunyan and Babe, we were assured, would persevere “until the last tree was down.” Progress, the myth instructed, was the exploitation of the natural world, not the preservation of nature in sustainable ways.

The most pervasive myth, which persists to this day, is that the free market provides the supreme pathway to economic prosperity. Never mind, monopolies, business crimes and deceptions, government subsidies, bailouts and taxpayer giveaways, patent monopolies, fine-print contract servitude and the abuse of our air, water and soil as toxic corporate sewers. The free market myth teaches that government regulation is inherently bad, suing businesses in court harms the economy and that unions and consumer cooperatives are un-American, even communistic.  This dogma has no room for the honest assertion that the market can “make a good servant, but a bad master,” in the words of Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

With the exceptions of some marvelous teachers, our many hours in class teach us to believe, not to think, to obey, not to challenge. For too many of our school years, the process was, and is, memorization and regurgitation. At the most, we are given some cursory training, but not educated in any deep or productive sense.

It is not surprising that such mythical conditioning does not give us the training to fight back, decade after decade, against forces that impoverish, gouge, unemploy, harm, exclude, disrespect and continue the three afflictions of corporatism, militarism and racism.

Just look at today’s headlines and ponder the joint partnership of plutocracy and oligarchy – often called the corporate state. No wonder “we the people” are not working to resist and overcome these destructive forces of greed and power.

A meaningful answer starts with replacing our years of schooling, punctuated by years of being commercially entertained and distracted, with acquiring the civic motivations and skills necessary to build a society that can move us toward “liberty and justice for all.”  As Thomas Jefferson observed at our nation’s conception, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

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The Losing Warfare State

The U.S. is still bogged down in Afghanistan (the 16-year-old occupation is the longest in American history) and in Iraq (since the unconstitutional, illegal invasion of the country 14 years ago).

With about 30,000 poorly equipped fighters, the Taliban has held down a U.S. equipped and trained Afghan army eight times larger in soldiers, plus the U.S. forces – fluctuating from 100,000 at its peak to 8,500 now, plus contractors – with advanced air, sea and land weaponry  that is second to none.

Moreover, the Taliban has been advancing, controlling 30 to 40 percent of the country and a third of the population, according to the Wall Street Journal.

In Iraq, the U.S. had hundreds of thousands of soldiers and contractors during the Bush years. Yet today the country is still in the throes of a civil war, where a previously nonexistent threat – ISIS – with less than 15,000 fighters, has been successfully resisting a huge Iraqi army backed by U.S. trainers and air force.

How can this be? “We are vulnerable,” writes military author William Greider, “because our presumption of unconquerable superiority leads us deeper and deeper into unwinnable military conflicts.”

Jim Fallows, asserts in The Atlantic, that our military “is the best-equipped fighting force in history … also better trained, motivated, and disciplined than during the draft-army years.” Nonetheless he concludes: “Yet, repeatedly this force has been defeated by less modern, worse-equipped, barely funded foes. Or it has won skirmishes and battles only to lose or get bogged down in a larger war.”

It gets worse. Less than 3,000 ISIS fighters took sudden control in 2013 of Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city with over a million residents. Notwithstanding being vastly outnumbered by the Iraqi military and police – who fled – ISIS went on to control over a third of Iraq’s land area. Iraqis and U.S. forces are now destroying West Mosul in order to save it from a few hundred remaining ISIS fighters.

Fallows quotes former military intelligence officer, Jim Gourley, as saying “it is incontrovertibly evident that the U.S. military failed to achieve any of its strategic goals in Iraq.”

Setting aside the fundamental questions about why we invaded Iraq and continued to occupy Afghanistan long after 9/11, Americans are entitled to question how continued American occupations across the Middle East serve any kind of vital national interest and why they continue to fail.

In his analysis, military historian Thomas Ricks writes that “an important factor in the failure” is that no one gets “relieved by the military brass for combat ineffectiveness.” But there are other reasons all the way up the chain of command. Cargo planes ship $100 bills in bulk to Kabul airport as part of an extensive bribery/extortion system that weakens the opposition to the Taliban, whose appeal to the masses, despite their harsh rule over them, is to drive out the foreign invaders. That is a very powerful motivation, one that is lacking among Afghan forces and politicians whom the people of Afghanistan view as puppets of the US and its western allies.

Retired Admiral Mike Mullen makes another point concerning “the growing disconnect between the American people and our military.” He observes that, “fewer and fewer [American citizens] know anyone in the military. It’s become just too easy to go to war.”

The ease at which we embrace military interventions is in large part due to a gross dereliction of duty on the part of the Congress, which allows the White House to commence wars, large and small, without legal authority. Congress is the only branch of government constitutionally authorized to declare war and appropriate funds for war. The Libyan war, which was pushed by Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (and opposed by Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates) was waged without seeking either legal authority or funds from the legislative branch. The Obama administration took monies from the unauditable Pentagon budget to start that continuing disaster in Libya and neighboring African countries.

Listening to the House and Senate Armed Services Committee hearings, one finds a sycophancy and level of questioning by the lawmakers of Pentagon officials that would embarrass a mediocre high school student.

But the Senators and Representatives have their reasons. They simply do not want the responsibility for military action except to provide a virtual blank check from taxpayers for the Department and its avaricious, wasteful contractors who fund their campaigns. Second, members of Congress see the military expenditures as a jobs program back in their states and districts. Finally, members of Congress are not getting any heat from the detached, indifferent voters (with few exceptions), either during or between elections. Notice there is never a debate by candidates on the military budget – how it is used or misused financially and strategically (yet candidates regularly pledge ever increasing dollars for the Defense budget).

As a final cruel insult to our children and grandchildren, Congress, by refusing to fund the wars as they persist, has built up a huge deficit for future generations of Americans to pay.

Retired Colonel Andrew Bacevich has written, “A people untouched (or seemingly untouched) by war are far less likely to care about it. Persuaded that they have no skin in the game, they will permit the state to do whatever it wishes to do.”

But, collectively, we all have skin in the game. Look at the unmet needs in our country, crumbling infrastructure, toxic environments and the corrosive costs of corporatism escaping law enforcement that would protect consumers and workers.

It is the members of Congress who have no skin in the game. Very few of their children are in the armed forces. Were the American people to demand enactment of a one page bill that requires drafting all able-bodied children and grandchildren of members of Congress anytime they or the White House plunges our country into war, you would see a very attentive Congress that pays attention to its Constitutional duties and responsibilities.

Why not ask your Senators or Representatives to put such a bill in the hopper?

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Citizens, We Must Bring Our Congress Back Home!

The large marches ― in Washington, DC and around the country ― calling attention to the importance of science and focusing on the calamitous impacts of climate change had impressive turnouts. But the protests would have been more productive if they concentrated more, in their slogans and signs, on 535 politicians to whom we have given immense power to influence policies relating to those issues, for ill or for good.

I’m speaking of Congress.

Congress cannot be ignored or neglected simply because we know it to be a corporate Congress, or a gridlocked Congress, or a Congress that is so collectively delinquent, or perk and PAC addicted, or beholden to commercial interests, or self-serving through gerrymandered electoral districts where they, through their party’s controlled state government, pick the voters to elect them.

Sure, there are probably 100 good legislators on Capitol Hill. But many of these progressive elected officials fail to effectively network with citizen groups, or organize left-right coalitions back home into an unstoppable political force. Issues that invite such left/right consensus are numerous, including raising the federal minimum wage, protecting civil liberties, tackling government waste and corruption, advancing solar energy, reforming the corporate tax system, full Medicare for all (with free choice of doctor and hospital) and a crackdown on corporate crime and abuses against consumers, workers and communities. Polls show big majorities behind these and other much-needed redirections and reforms.

All these improvements in the lives of all Americans have to go through Congress. Sure, some efforts can be partially achieved by self-help and state/local governments. But for a national, comprehensive change movement, it is the Congress, which must be effectively and forcefully instructed to act in the public interest.

Groups like the NRA and AIPAC focus, with laser-beam precision, on each member of Congress.

The big business lobbies haven’t given up on Congress, have they? They’re swarming over the senators and representatives to get the power we’ve given these lawmakers regularly deployed on the behalf of the crassest, most avaricious and harmful demands of the business bosses.

The most successful “citizen lobbies” focused on Congress do not bother with major marches and demonstrations. Groups like the NRA and AIPAC focus, with laser-beam precision, on each member of Congress. They know their background, their strengths and weaknesses, their key advisors and friends back home, their physicians, their lawyers and accountants, the social clubs they belong to, the kinds of hobbies and vacations they pursue. The NRA and AIPAC advocates personally know the lawmakers’ staff, sources of their campaign contributions, their concerns about possible primary challengers, what kinds of well-paying positions members of Congress seek after retirement or defeat.

With this face-to-face lobbying, threats of primary challenges and ample campaign contributions, these groups have gotten their way in Congress to an amazing degree, given their relatively small numbers of supporters.

Here is some advice: Get to know your two senators and congressperson personally and on your terms. It’s easier to do this with a comprehensive agenda of long-overdue reforms which can give you broad-based left/right support in your state. Then issue a formal Summons (a draft is in my new paperback, Breaking Through Power: It’s Easier Than We Think) for your senators and representatives to attend YOUR town meeting on YOUR agenda of changes and advances.

Every Congressional District has about 700,000 men, women, and children. Most districts have community colleges and/or universities. All have the necessary one percent of serious citizens working together to focus majority opinion directly on members of Congress. Often what is required is less than one percent, or say, 2,000 people, working collectively as Congressional Watchdogs for 5 to 10 hours a week and raising enough money for two full-time offices each with two staff.

The fruits of such efforts are numerous and immensely important to our country, our children and their children, not to mention the world.

To expedite and increase the ratios of success, such Congressional Watchdog organizations require study, discussions, and some training sessions with easily available material in bookstores or on the Internet. Just consider how much serious input goes into hobbies by millions of Americans all the time. Consider participating in this very important “civic hobby” achieving a better life for the people with “liberty and justice for all.”

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What Are The Super-Rich Democrats Waiting For?

Democratic Party loyalists are always complaining about the big-money fat cats behind the Republican Party’s candidates and platform. Over the last few election cycles, the Democratic Party has lost most state legislatures, governorships, the US Senate, the US House of Representatives and the White House. Republican control of the Senate is also leading to control of the US Supreme Court. It is time for Democrats to up the ante big time!

Instead of complaining constantly about the Koch brothers’ zillions pouring into the political system, the Democrats need to start asking what their billionaire supporters are willing to do in the era of the authoritarian Trumpsters. Democrats have their fair share of affluent supporters, such as George Soros. Besides their routine campaign contributions, and expressing among themselves a sense of dread over the fate of our democracy, why aren’t the pro-Democratic super-rich harnessing their resources to address the impending crisis they foresee, a crisis all the more likely to be provoked by the power-concentrating Trump regime?

It is not difficult to see what they could be doing. The first step is a strategy session to determine what civic and political resources could lead to the creation of new action institutions and thousands of energetic organizers toiling at the grassroots level in preparation for the 2018 elections.

A few billion dollars astutely distributed to achieve several long-overdue reforms, and replace lawmakers beholden to unsavory corporate interests and rampant militarism with legislators who will serve the people, could readily dispel the depression and discouragement that that is felt by liberal and conservative Americans alike. Policy precedes action, says political writer Bill Curry. You have to have something to fight for before you begin organizing. As I’ve pointed out in my book, Unstoppable: The Emerging Left/Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State, many major policy reforms have long enjoyed substantial left/right support, and organizing such consensus could spark an unstoppable political movement. Millions of Americans of all political stripes back such causes as full Medicare for all, living wages, cracking down on corporate crime, eliminating crony capitalism, action on climate change and other critical environmental degradations, protecting the commons, developing robust civic skills in primary and secondary education, rationalizing the tax systems, expanding access to justice, protecting consumers and reforming criminal justice (to name just a few).

The enlightened super-rich citizens who want to make change, and civic leaders, must come together at the national and community level. Each has the critical assets for one another to get things done. They know of each other but rarely gather to maximize their combined dedication. Financial support linked to know-how can produce action.

Making the civil society stronger by expanding the good work of existing organizations, and starting new ones to tackle unaddressed challenges, is essential. From that heightened level of advocacy can spring a new politics with a fresh perspective and honest candidates for public office.

The progressive super-rich know each other. People like Nick Hanauer in Seattle, a champion for raising the minimum wage, and Michael Moritz in San Francisco, a generous patron of higher education, have shown the benefits of supporting important initiatives. Over 130 super-rich have signed up for the Buffett/Gates pledge to give away at least half their wealth to “good works.” Of the pledgers, there are at least three dozen who grasp the difference between charity and justice and seek the latter both structurally and programmatically.

As for the leading civic action groups from Washington to the state and local level, it is not enough for them to see more money coming in after the November selection by the Electoral College (see www.nationalpopularvote.com). They must reach out and organize small gatherings with wealthy people who recoil at the thought of handing our country to the next generation without trying to reverse course from the downward, unraveling conditions domestically and the nation’s destructive impact abroad. Financial support for civic infrastructure should be generous and ongoing.

The opportunities need not start from scratch. A few weeks ago, dozens of outdoor businesses, such as Patagonia and REI, signed a full-page newspaper ad directed to the Trump regime’s antagonism toward the public lands. The message was very clear: hands off the federal lands and stop your efforts to sell them off to private companies. Taken together, these companies represent billions of dollars in annual sales. They could create a powerful lobbying organization focused on Congress with majority public opinion support back home and stop this sell-off of our common wealth.

There is the group that calls itself Patriotic Millionaires that is a group of high-net worth Americans who are committed to building a more prosperous, stable and inclusive nation. They can maximize their impact and enlarge their ranks by increasing funding of action groups all over the country.

Why all this hasn’t scaled up to momentous proportions of resistance, recovery and reform is more than a failure of imagination or a sign of collective defeatism and despair. It reflects the historical asymmetry between the forces of greed and tyranny which, by definition, organize out of self-interest and the forces of justice and democracy which have to mobilize by choice for the public interest.

This difference in fervor can be overcome by an elevated sense of urgency, now and for posterity. Just reflect on the greatest advances in U.S. history when people organized to beat back and overcome the forces of darkness.

It has never been easier to challenge abuses of power than now, using modern technology and communication, with a pittance of available discretionary wealth on behalf of the great and crucial common good.

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