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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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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