What If You Just Came Here From Another Planet? A Philosophy.

For many years, I’ve looked at the world around me through the lens “What if I just arrived on Earth from Mars? Does (place anything you want here) make any freaking sense? You often realize that the answer is clearly “No.”

For example, take climate change. Scientists are in almost unanimous agreement that human activity is killing the planet. Yet the issue has become politicized, so we refuse to take serious action to mitigate the damage even when doing so would transform the economy by creating millions of high-paying jobs and dramatically modernize our failing infrastructure. But one political party has convinced enough people to vote to deny that climate change is a serious threat and to maintain the status quo so that a few people in the fossil fuel industry can continue to extract billions from our economy.

Does that make any freaking sense?

Does it make any sense that our government can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a failed weapons system, but we “can’t afford” to give all of our citizens access to health care? Does it make sense that we spend far more on health care than it would cost to offer our citizens universal care?

And the philosophy is useful for far more than political issues. Take our societal bans on nudity. Men can freely show their chests. But women must keep theirs partially covered. They can show their backs, their bellies their side boobs, their under boobs, their upper boobs, but they must not dare to expose their nipples in public! Why? Their nipples are little different than those of men. And they are necessary to provide nourishment for their babies.

Does that make any freaking sense?

How about our shipping container-based global trade? Scottish fishermen catch cod in the North Atlantic then bring them back to Scottish ports. But instead of processing the fish there, they load them into refrigerated containers and ship them to Asia where they are processed, frozen and shipped back to Europe for distribution.

Does that make any freaking sense?

Or what about commercial sea-going fish factories that sweep the oceans of all sea life, processing the species they want and killing those they don’t? The short-term benefit is cheap seafood. But the long-term consequence is the destruction of our ecosystem.
Does that make any freaking sense?

Or what about the clear-cutting of forests to make cheap, semi-disposable furniture? Or the destruction of rainforests and wildlife habitat to raise palm oil or cattle we don’t really need? Or using caravans of semi-trailers to haul merchandise coast-to-coast instead of more efficient trains? Or denying basic human rights to people based on a 2,000-year-old collection of writings of unknown origin? Or taking children from parents seeking asylum in our nation? Or by treating people differently based on their choice of religion, their language of the color of their skin?

Does any of that make any freaking sense?

When you strip away the traditions, the political labels, the myths and the prejudices, you quickly realize that much of what we do and believe makes no sense. No sense at all! Continuing to do something just because it’s something we’ve always done will only continue to perpetuate our problems. It’s time for change. Time to look at our actions and beliefs from an objective viewpoint – as if we just came here from another planet.

The very future of our civilization, indeed our species, may depend on it.

Should Climate Change Be Declared A National Emergency?

In order to prevent Trump from declaring border security a national emergency in order to fund his idiotic border wall, Sen. Marco Rubio noted that it would set a precedent that could wind up hurting Republicans saying, “If today, the national emergency is border security…tomorrow the national emergency might be climate change.”

He’s right about the political implications. But he fails to recognize the real dangers of climate change and the fact that it will hurt everyone, even Republicans. And he fails to understand that climate change is a true emergency.

According to the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, we have until 2030 to reduce carbon emissions in order to avoid a catastrophic increase in global temperatures of 3 degrees Centigrade (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit). As of today, that’s 11 years! The study warns that we must make dramatic changes to limit the global temperature increase to no more than 1.5 degrees Centigrade (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit).

The consequences for failing to act? In a word, disaster. Melting ice caps will raise sea levels displacing millions and causing mass migrations worldwide. Tundra and permafrost will thaw releasing millions of tons of methane and further accelerating climate change. Ancient organisms frozen in the ice and permafrost will be released perhaps leading to a resurgence of disease. Coral reefs will die creating famine for millions who rely on the oceans for food. Many of the world’s species of wildlife will become extinct. Much of the world’s farmland will become arid adding to the famine. And the changing weather patterns will create more numerous and severe storms.

Even if the human species manages to survive such conditions, the costs will be overwhelming. Mass migration and famine will lead to wars. And the financial costs will be unfathomable. The world’s 10 worst climate-driven events of 2018 killed thousands. And last year, in the US alone, there were 14 climate-related events – hurricanes, storms, floods and wildfires – costing 247 lives and nearly $100 billion.

Yet, despite the warnings, which become more dire by the month, the Trump administration has ignored them, even reversing much of the progress made in previous years and conducting a sell-off of oil leases on previously protected public lands. Indeed, we are now the only nation on Earth that is not part of the Paris Climate Accords. This is devastating for the planet, since the US ranks second only behind China in total carbon emissions. Per person, our carbon emissions are nearly eight times those of the Chinese! Yet China and much of the rest of the world are aggressively trying to reduce emissions, while only 20 states and a handful of US cities are doing so.

And, because the GOP has politicized climate science, in the US there is now a virtual media blackout of climate news. Many in the media consider it too controversial to report on environmental damage and, when they do, they try to present opposing viewpoints even though the science community is largely united that climate change is a real danger. As a result, only 45 percent of Americans say that global warming will pose a serious threat in their lifetimes. Seriously? How many of you don’t expect to live another 11 years?

Despite all of this, there is a bit of good news, the most promising of which is Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Unlike many of her colleagues, she is not only speaking out about climate change. She is offering solutions that can improve our infrastructure, lead to a cleaner environment and create millions of high-paying jobs.

Her Green New Deal consists of the following:
• Government-led investment in energy and resource efficiency, as well as reusable energies and micro-generation
• Low-carbon infrastructure redevelopment in order to create jobs
• A directed tax on the profits of oil and gas companies with proceeds being invested in renewable energy and energy efficiency
• Financial incentives for green investment and reduced energy usage, including low interest rates for green investment
• Re-regulation of international finance, including capital controls, and increased scrutiny of financial derivatives
• Curbing corporate tax evasion through compulsory financial reporting and by clamping down on tax havens
• A Global Marshall Plan Initiative using “green quantitative easing” to create money to fund the “great transition” to a society free of fossil fuels and other measures that aim to preserve the biosphere

Several of these measures have already been implemented in Norway, South Korea, the UK, Germany, even parts of the US. Progressive environmental groups like 350.org, Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace have also signed on. And the movement is gaining support. A recent poll found 81 percent of US voters support the Green New Deal ― including 64 percent of Republican voters and 57 percent of self-described conservative Republicans. In addition, more than 300 state and local officials voiced support for the Green New Deal. Numerous Democrats in the new Congress have also backed the resolution, along with a number of Democratic presidential candidates. However, the support from congressional Republicans and the Trump administration amounts to crickets.

But we can fix that. By voting for Democrats in 2020, we can make them scream.

Addressing Rural Decline And Our Political Divide.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I visited my hometown in rural Iowa. Once a thriving community with a variety of cafes, grocery stores, a five-and-dime, a clothing store, 3 farm implement dealers, 3 car dealers, a couple of hotels and more, it now features more empty storefronts and museums than active businesses…casualties of interstate highways that bypass all but the largest cities, corporate farms that have reduced the farm population by roughly 90 percent, big box stores and online retail.

Is it any wonder that many of the few remaining residents of such towns are frustrated?

As they have watched their town fade away, they have seen job opportunities fade along with it. Their home values have declined. And the decreasing tax base forces them to choose between larger property tax assessments or declining infrastructure.

They mistakenly believe that their income taxes disproportionately benefit large cities (however an Indiana study found that taxpayers in 46 metropolitan counties paid 82.5% of the taxes but received only 76.7% of the expenditures). They feel that their economic futures are no longer in their own control, but in the hands of a group of greedy corporations and politicians. Many believe urban “elites” are the source of all their problems. After all, it was the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street who used their money to gamble on derivatives leading to the Great Recession.

It’s largely because of their circumstances that they have become susceptible to fake news. They believe (rightfully so) that the mainstream media ignore those living in “flyover land” so they tune to rightwing blowhards who skillfully pander to them by channeling their frustrations and outrage against liberals, immigrants and urban welfare recipients. They have been led to believe that the sensational crimes reported on evening newscasts show that city dwellers are a violent and lawless bunch. Many believe the cities are filled only with criminals and people with advanced degrees who lack common sense. And far too many believe the fear-mongering politicians who tell them that our nation is being over-run by criminals and terrorists.

Instead of finding common ground with the millions of similarly underpaid, overworked and overstressed people who work in large cities, they have been led to believe that they are rivals…indeed, enemies.

I am convinced that, more than anything else, this is what has led to our political divide.

The people living in rural communities similar to my hometown – those that have been persuaded that big city elites are conspiring against them – have an outsized influence on our national politics. Though only 14% of the US population lives in rural areas, the rural population has a disproportionate representation in the US Senate and, therefore, the Electoral College. Indeed, it is primarily because of their frustrations that Donald Trump now sits in the Oval Office despite receiving nearly 3 million fewer votes.

Given this, how can we bridge the rural/urban divide? How can we improve the economic opportunities for rural Americans and help the struggling rural communities?

We can start by telling them the truth – that their cherished lifestyle isn’t coming back until they make some difficult choices and accept monumental change. Despite the promises of some politicians, it’s unlikely that manufacturing plants are going to return to many of these towns and, even if they do, most of the work will be done by robots. And small, independent retail stores are unlikely to return as long as most Americans prefer to shop online and in big box stores.

Ironically, the most likely scenario for rebuilding our rural communities and for bridging our political divide is to commit to an aggressive (and necessary) response to climate change. Decreasing carbon emissions will require less dependence on imports and more demand for local production. It will require that fossil fuels be replaced with sustainable energy sources. Finally, it will require a reduction in the amount of cropland devoted to corn, soybeans and cattle. Instead, much of the land will necessarily be used for locally-grown produce.

In other words, the side effect of heading off climate disaster is to stop arguing and improve the circumstances of all Americans, rural and urban alike.

Should Americans Be Afraid Of Socialist Democrats?

Republicans are trying to frighten voters away from politicians who refer to themselves as Socialist Democrats, stating that these are people who want to give you “free stuff” with other people’s money. There is a small kernel of truth to that. But that has been the case for Americans since the very beginnings of our country.

In fact, the preamble of our Constitution can be interpreted as a statement of socialism: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Moreover, history tells us that the Founders called for the Constitutional Convention in order to form a central government that could raise taxes to pay for the nation’s defense and to pay off the debts accumulated during the Revolutionary War. Clearly, the Founders were seeking ways to pay for the common good of all our citizens. That is a form of socialism.

Still not convinced? Then what do you make of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in which he described our nation as “Of the people, by the people and for the people.” There has never been a more powerful description of a socialist democracy!

Of course, democratic socialism can take many shapes. As Wikipedia states, “There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, though social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.” Today, most successful democracies, like the US, balance socialism and capitalism.

For example, our defense budget is derived from taxes, making our military a product of socialism. So, too, is the budget for FEMA, TSA and the other arms of the Homeland Security Department. Our public schools and, for the most part, our infrastructure – roads, seaports, airports and dams – are the products of socialism. Even our power grid and communications systems are a combination of private and public investment. Rural electric lines and many rural telephone lines were built as socialist projects by rural (socialist) cooperatives. Our public libraries, city halls, courthouses, sports venues and parks are paid for, or subsidized, by members of our communities.

In fact, most all of the things our city, county, state and federal governments do are supported by taxes, which amount to a form of socialism. Our space exploration and all of its discoveries, many of which benefited private corporations, were funded by our citizens. Similarly, many other scientific breakthroughs were the result of public investment. When our large corporations receive government incentives and subsidies, such as tax-increment financing and research grants, they are recipients of socialism. That is also true when those corporations pay such meager salaries that their employees have to rely on government programs in order to live. And it was certainly the case after the economic crash of 2008 when banks and auto manufacturers were bailed out by the federal government.

Even property and medical insurance are examples of socialism because those who don’t have insurance claims help pay for those who do. In fact, our Social Security and Medicare programs are a form of insurance. And don’t forget that all churches and church property are exempt from taxes, which means they are also subsidized through socialism.

Truth is, socialism doesn’t inhibit our freedom. Much to the contrary, it’s liberating. It is because of the things created by socialist policies that Americans have had the ability to learn, to light their homes, to travel as desired, to build businesses, to rebuild following natural disasters, and to create without fear of failing. Indeed, it is because our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to create a form of government that allowed people to live independently while sharing the burdens of defense, education, and infrastructure that our nation became great.

And, of course, we’re not alone. Most advanced nations in the world are socialist democracies. Many of them offering more “free stuff” than our Socialist Democrats propose, such as universal healthcare, low-cost or no-cost college educations, low-cost or no-cost daycare, state-controlled pensions and more. Taxes in those countries may be higher than ours. But they consistently outrank us with regard to longevity, infant mortality and, just as important, happiness.

Any attempts to discredit Democratic Socialists and to further privatize such things as education, infrastructure, health care and retirement will only serve to weaken us and make our future bleak.

The Real State Of Our Union.

Last night, Donald Trump basked in the light of his predecessor, taking credit for declining unemployment, a rising stock market and low African-American unemployment…all things that began under President Obama and have continued as a result of their own momentum combined with improved economies throughout the world.

So what is the real state of our union under Trump?

Since Trump took office, we have seen unparalleled corruption in the executive branch. We’ve seen the president and his cabinet squander hundreds of millions of dollars on trips and vacations using private jets. We’ve seen a growth in the influence of corporate lobbyists, which culminated in a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that was pushed through Congress with such haste most representatives and senators had no time to read it. And, of course, the Congressional Budget Office had no time to fully score its impact.

We’ve seen America’s international standing and its “soft power” precipitously decline. We’ve seen the GOP try to take away access to health care from millions of Americans. We’ve seen consumer and environmental protections diminished. We’ve seen GOP attempts to destroy the world’s greatest public education system and replace it with private schools that prioritize religion and myths over science and facts.

We’ve seen and heard an astounding number of lies emanating from the White House. We’ve seen an unprecedented attack on the free press, accusing the news media of being “enemies of the state.” We’ve seen multiple attacks on free elections by the GOP and Russia. We’ve seen the proliferation of guns continue unabated resulting in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans each year. We’ve seen White House-led attacks on women; on gays; on transgender citizens; on Muslims; on immigrants; on refugees; on the impoverished; on diplomatic norms; on decency itself.

We’ve seen threats of nuclear war tweeted from the White House bed while the “president” consumes Fox News and cheeseburgers. We’ve seen the administration open public lands…even national monuments and parks…to extraction industries with little regard to the long-term environmental impact. We’ve heard Trump’s racist comments about “shithole” countries. We’ve seen Trump ignore the plight of tens of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico trying to survive without electricity and clean water. And we’ve seen the administration take giant steps backward on the environment and technology by raising tariffs on solar panels and encouraging more mining of coal.

At the same time, Trump and the GOP have ignored many of the most pressing problems facing the nation and the planet. Trump announced that he would pull the US out of the Paris accords designed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. There is no plan to deal with the inevitable rising sea levels; no plan to offset the coming tsunami of workplace layoffs created by robotics and artificial intelligence; no plan to modernize our transportation systems.

The state of our union is that we are now living in an oligarchy where the 1 percent control our politics, our government and an astonishing amount of wealth. Indeed, Oxfam stated that the world’s 100 richest people (many of them living in the US) gain enough money each year to end the world’s extreme poverty several times over. Instead, many of these greedy bastards spend their money on lobbyists and political campaign contributions in order to elect a compliant Congress that will help them further increase their power and wealth!

The state of our union is that we have the world’s most inefficient health care system that costs many times more than those of other advanced nations yet leaves millions without access to medical care. The state of our union is that there is little control of the cost or the amount of pharmaceuticals available…where the opioid prescriptions in some counties and states exceed their populations. But we have made a non-addictive alternative – marijuana – illegal. The state of our union is that we have incarcerated a higher percentage of our population than any other nation on Earth. The state of our union is such that the Department of Defense cannot account for trillions in spending that, by some accounts, equals our entire federal debt. Yet we continue to increase its budget.

The state of our union is that, under GOP control, our democracy is crumbling as fast as our infrastructure.

Keeping Track Of The Trump/GOP Agenda.

Voters and the media are all too aware of The Donald’s Twitter rants and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election. But while we’ve been distracted by the noise, here’s what Trump and the GOP have been doing in the shadows and away from the spotlight:

They passed and signed a bill overturning an Obama initiative to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns.

Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Paris accords on climate change. We are now one of only 3 nations in the world – the others are Syria and Nicaragua – who are not part of the effort. And Nicaragua only refused to sign because they didn’t think the effort went far enough.

The administration has empowered ICE to arrest and deport thousands of undocumented workers, which has resulted in the separation of families and made it difficult for fruit and vegetable growers to find enough help for harvest.

Trump announced the end of DACA for the “Dreamers” who were brought to the US as children. Now the White House is making funding of a border wall a condition for signing a new bill that would allow Dreamers to stay in the US – the only country they know.

Trump pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted for criminal contempt of court after refusing to stop racial profiling of Latinos. Arpaio also boasted of running a “concentration camp” for prisoners. Some even died while in custody.

Trump praised the actions of extreme dictators in Russia, Turkey and the Philippines.

Trump refused to denounce Nazis and white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville while, at the same time, giving them a voice in the administration.

The DOJ announced that it is ending a program to track domestic terrorists.

They dramatically increased defense spending despite audits that have shown extensive waste and a lack of DOD oversight.

They attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with parliamentary tricks and no debate – an action that would have drastically cut Medicaid, defunded Planned Parenthood, and denied health care access to tens of millions of Americans.

They cut payments to insurance companies that compensate them for losses created by the pent-up demand for health care of new ACA enrollees.

After Congress failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the administration defunded publicity campaigns for ACA enrollment and shortened the enrollment period in an attempt to reduce participation in the ACA marketplaces.

Trump signed an executive order to further undercut the ACA by allowing insurance companies to offer bare bones plans that will effectively encourage the youngest and healthiest people to leave the program and make it financially impossible for insurance companies to offer affordable coverage to those who most need it, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

Trump cut subsidies to help pay the cost of health insurance for low income Americans.

Trump is also considering incentives for employers to set aside money to help employees pay insurance premiums, a move designed to allow them to end traditional employee insurance benefits.

Congress has thus far failed to extend CHIP, which provides health care to millions of poor children who are not eligible for public assistance.

The House passed a bill which would cut $39 billion from SNAP, the food stamp program for the poor.

The House passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and making doctors vulnerable to prison.

They have packed the court system with young, extreme right-wing, anti-choice judges and justices.

Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from foreign guests staying in his Washington, DC hotel.

Trump signed an executive order which allows employers to deny contraceptive coverage to employees forcing tens of thousands of women to pay for contraceptives themselves.

The EPA announced it is ending the Obama era clean energy rules which is designed to replace dirty fuels that contribute to climate change.

The EPA and NASA removed all references to climate change from their websites.

The administration increased the number of mining and oil drilling leases on federal lands, which will allow uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed.

The administration has refused to protect Walruses under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, the administration is considering delisting Gray Wolves, Grizzly Bears and other species.

Trump has waged a name-calling war against the leader of North Korea, putting us on the precipice of nuclear war. Even if only conventional weapons are involved, millions of people would die on the Korean peninsula.

Trump restored many of the Cold War era restrictions on Cuba.

Trump’s proposed budget would make deep cuts to most government agencies, including Health & Human Services, the EPA, the State Department, the Agriculture Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Institutes of Health, the Commerce Department, the Education Department, HUD, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior and FEMA.

Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate numerous programs, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants and programs that support coastal and marine management. It would cut funding for new transit programs, Amtrak, the UN’s Green Climate Fund, and the Clean Power Plan.

Trump’s proposed budget would make deep cuts to the popular Meals on Wheels program for shut-ins.

Trump has decided to “decertify” the treaty with Iran – an action that will almost certainly accelerate Iran’s nuclear program.

The Interior Department has proposed cutting the number and size of our national monuments.

The administration has proposed opening the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling.

Congress and the administration have proposed a tax “reform” bill that will give massive cuts to multinational corporations and the wealthy, provide a tax “holiday” for corporations that have stashed billions offshore to evade taxes, and eliminate the Estate Tax which only affects the very wealthy.

If you don’t think all of that is bad enough, consider the fact that the Trump-led GOP also hopes to replace public education with for-profit private schools, to replace our efficient Medicare program with vouchers and to privatize Social Security, effectively ending safety nets for the elderly and the poor. Or consider the millions spent on Trump’s weekly golf outings at his own properties. Or the millions spent on personal trips in private jets by his cabinet members.

This administration and this Congress are quietly doing everything in their power to undermine the health of our nation, our planet and the well-being of its citizens, except the most wealthy and the most powerful. My advice to voters and the media alike: Stop being outraged by Trump’s Twitter rages and start paying attention to the actions that he and his government are taking behind the scenes.

How Russia Stole Our Conscience.

Though the Robert Mueller investigation has not yet been completed, it’s clear that Russia meddled with our election. Disregarding possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and the many meetings between Trump associates and Russian operatives, we’re already certain that Russia controlled the election outcome using a variety of techniques for the benefit of Trump and other Republican candidates.

Here’s what we know so far:

Russian hackers stole information from the email servers of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – information that was used by the Trump campaign and other Republican candidates. These crimes alone were far more serious than Watergate (the break-in and cover-up that resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon).

And the computer break-ins were just the beginning of Russian interference on behalf of Trump and other Republicans.

Russian oligarchs donated millions to Republican PACs and Super PACS to help the re-election of Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican candidates. Hundreds of Russian operatives secretly set up fake social media accounts designed to circulate anti-Clinton propaganda. Russians bought advertising on Facebook and Twitter to attack Clinton. Russia created dozens of “news” websites to publish false and misleading stories designed to undermine Clinton’s campaign. And Russia’s RT Television Network and Sputnik News Agency ran hundreds, if not thousands, of anti-Clinton “news” stories.

In addition, Russia hacked into voter data in several swing states, changing addresses and other information to cause registered Democrats to be turned away from the polls. There are even indications that Russia actually changed votes from Clinton to Trump in at least three swing states. (As Bill Palmer pointed out in his Palmer Report, it is statistically impossible that election results in those three swing states would all three go to Trump by the exact same one percent margin after all of the polls showed Clinton with substantial margins just days before.)

Russia’s actions not only prevented Clinton from winning. Their result was to install an occupant in the White House committed to the deconstruction of the government of Russia’s greatest adversary. Whatever you think of Der Gropenfuhrer himself, you must admit that his appointments have resulted in a kakistocracy – a government run by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous citizens.

For example, the Department of Justice is led by a known racist. The Department of Energy, which controls our nuclear arsenal, is led by someone who previously called for dismantling the department without even knowing what it does. The Department of Education is led by a woman who never attended a public school and has spent millions to replace public schools with religious schools and for-profit private schools. The EPA is led by someone who prioritizes religion over science and who has repeatedly sued the agency he now heads on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. Most recently, Trump appointed a climate change denier with no background in science to lead the nation’s cutting-edge science agency – NASA.

The list of such appointees is quite lengthy.

In an act of extreme cruelty and hubris, the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cause more than 22 million Americans to lose access to affordable health care. Failing that, they sabotaged the health care law by cutting its funding.

They have withdrawn from the Paris climate accords, which puts our entire planet at risk. Trump has dropped protections for the LGBTQ community, women, minorities and immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He has vilified Muslims and banned refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations. He refused to hold Nazis and White Supremacists accountable for the violence in Charlottesville. And he ordered the deportation of women and children who are refugees from widespread violence in several Central American nations, placing their lives in serious jeopardy.

Further, Congress is poised to vote on tax reform that will give huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. At the same time, the proposed budget is expected to cut funding for numerous safety net programs, such as those designed to provide food for poor children, the elderly and the disabled.

Considering the impact of all these actions, one has to conclude that Russia not only stole our election. They stole our collective conscience.

Yet most Republicans still refuse to acknowledge Russia’s role in the election results, likely because doing so would undermine the legitimacy of their gains in 2016. Likewise, they refuse to implement changes in order to prevent foreign interests from dictating election results again. As a result, we can’t be certain that the same type of meddling won’t take place in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

One wonders how those same Republicans would react if such interference stole an election from them.

America First? Not From My Perspective.

In the past week, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the Alps of Bavaria. Not only were we treated to the splendor of one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We were able to observe a country that works.

Though Germany may not be a military super-power, it is an economic power. More important, it is extremely successful in delivering to its citizens a high quality of life. As you fly across Germany, you notice a relatively pristine landscape with cities and farmland surrounded by large forests. Instead of clear-cutting those forests for timber, the Germans appear to use selective harvesting methods which preserves the beauty of the forests and limits the potential of wildfires while still providing timber for construction.

Virtually all of the homes are well-kept and many feature solar panels on their roofs. Indeed, solar generation accounts for nearly 7 percent of Germany’s power needs as compared to just 1.5 percent in the US. This is despite the fact that large portions of the US have many more days of sunshine than Germany. (For comparison, one of our sunniest states – Arizona – generates just 3.4 percent of its needs with solar.)

There is little visible trash. The rivers, even the roadsides, are clean, likely the result of an aggressive recycling program. Recycling and trash receptacles are everywhere. And many supermarkets have efficient programs that provide refunds for returning plastic bottles. Further, most Germans use recyclable shopping bags without complaint.

Though often narrow, all of Germany’s roads and bridges seem in good repair, especially in comparison to our crumbling infrastructure. And many German commuters have the option of traveling to and from work in electric trains.

All German citizens enjoy access to quality health care, the cost of which is split between the government and private insurers much like our Medicare. In addition, German workers enjoy considerable time off for their families and for travel. They have the right to be represented by labor unions. Many workers even enjoy representation on the boards of directors of their companies.

There is no visible poverty – at least not in comparison to large portions of the US. Germany not only grows most of its food, its produce is untainted by GMO. The nation is also phasing out the use of pesticides. As a result, German produce tastes as though you just picked it from your own garden.

Despite stereotypes, the German people are active, many of them regularly hiking in the mountains. Indeed, on a mountain trail, we encountered everyone from families with young children to a woman in her nineties. Though obviously suffering from osteoporosis and using a cane, she seemed to be not even breathing deeply as she climbed past us on a steep trail. Perhaps that’s why Germany’s life expectancy is longer than that of the US.

Gun violence in Germany is virtually non-existent, especially compared to the US. Per capita, German gun deaths are less than a tenth of those in the US.

America first? American exceptionalism?

Yes, the United States is the world’s most powerful nation militarily and economically. But, in the things that really matter, such as quality of life, we are falling behind…far behind.

GOP Government Setting New Standards For Corruption.

While most of the nation’s attention is focused on the immigration ban, the level of this administration’s corruption has been largely overlooked. It began even before Donald Trump took office when he became the first presidential candidate since Gerald Ford who refused to release his tax returns. As you no doubt recall, the reason given was that his returns were being audited by the IRS. But, after his election, Trump now claims that only the media are interested.

Why is he the first president in 40 years to break with tradition? Likely because his returns will show that he is not as successful as he claims and that, as many have reported, he owes a fortune to Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin.

But that is only one example of Trump’s new standard for lack of transparency.

It is now know that Trump used his campaign to funnel $14 million into his company coffers. Following his election, he refused to place his business interests into a blind trust to prevent conflicts of interest. This is important because Trump has business dealings around the globe – any one of which could violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause (Article 2, Section 1) which is cause for impeachment. Despite such concerns, immediately following the election, Trump used a phone call with the Japanese prime minister to request special handling of a hotel permit.

More worrying is the fact that Trump’s transition team tried to eliminate all Inspectors General which are responsible for investigating misconduct, waste, fraud and abuse of government procedures. The moment Trump was sworn into office (actually, it was the majority of Americans who were doing the swearing), Trump was in violation of the terms of his DC hotel lease. Eric Trump’s recent trip to Uruguay for Trump’s business interests cost taxpayers $97,830 in hotel bills (at a Trump Hotel, of course) for his accompanying security. And not to be left out, Melania’s attorneys argued as part of her libel suit against the Daily Mail that a story cost her a once in a lifetime chance to make millions in her business pursuits based on her new status as First Lady.

And the Trumps are not alone with their disregard for ethical standards.

The very first act of the new GOP-controlled Congress was to try to eliminate the independent Congressional ethics office with an early morning vote. They were stopped only when Democrats called attention to the vote and when Trump tweeted his displeasure (likely not with the action itself, but with the appearance of his complicity).

Despite reports from US intelligence agencies that Vladimir Putin interfered with our elections by ordering the hacks of the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee, the DCCC, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and by paying young adults to serve as pro-Trump social media trolls, Congress has refused to authorize a special prosecutor to investigate. In fact, they have given the reports far less attention than the multiple investigations of Benghazi. And though, Republicans were horrified by Clinton’s use of a private email server, they seem totally unconcerned that Trump’s White House advisers are using private email accounts.

Moreover, many of Trump’s cabinet nominees and White House advisers have long-time ties to Putin. Trump himself has spoken in glowing terms about Putin and has drawn parallels between Putin’s strong arm tactics and the US. There are credible reports that Trump is being blackmailed by Putin as a result of a dossier on Trump’s actions while visiting Russia. In addition, there are allegations that Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s state oil company, offered Trump ally Carter Page a 19 percent stake in the company in exchange for Trump’s lifting of US sanctions on Russia. Though the economic sanctions have not yet been lifted, disregarding Trump’s executive order removing sanctions on the sale of cyber-technology to the Russian intelligence agency, there are reports that 19.5 percent of the Russian oil company was sold to anonymous buyers through a labyrinth of shell companies – a fact that should give us pause since it equals the exact amount promised to Trump plus the requisite brokerage fees!

In addition, White House insiders have reported that the Oval Office recorder was turned off during Trump’s phone conversation with Putin (shades of Tricky Dick Nixon). Yet Congress still refuses to have a serious investigation into Trump-Putin ties.

Domestically, Congress and Trump plan to gut Dodd-Frank, the law designed to prevent another financial meltdown such as the banking collapse of 2008. Trump overturned the fiduciary rule put in place by former President Obama to require financial planners to work in the best interests of their clients. The Senate confirmed Trump’s unqualified nominee for Secretary of Education likely due to the millions donated by DeVos and her family to help elect Republican candidates. And the Senate has voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank anti-corruption rule – a decision that benefits only too-big-to-fail banks and other large, multinational corporations.

Of course, there is much more.

Congress has promised to repeal the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. There are bills to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and The Department of Education. And, given Trump’s cabinet nominees, it would seem that many other government agencies and departments, including the Labor Department, Energy Department and Health and Human Services are earmarked for destruction.

It cannot be said loud enough or repeated often enough: THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

Republicans Aren’t Content With Changing Administrations. They Want To Change History.

For most of our nation’s 241-year history, we have seen a relatively seamless and peaceful transition from one administration and from one Congress to another. This time is different. The GOP-controlled Congress and the Trump administration seem intent on erasing the Obama administration and, for that matter, most other administrations from history.

Trump has already begun the process of repealing the Affordable Care Act by executive order. He issued an executive order erasing the rate decrease for mortgage insurance. He issued an executive order reinstating the gag order for NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that provide abortions and family planning. He has issued executive orders to restart the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipeline, to withhold federal funds for cities that provide sanctuary to undocumented immigrants, to begin the process of walling off our nation’s borders, and to prevent the resettlement of immigrants from Muslim countries.

Even more telling are changes to the White House website. All references to climate change have been erased. So, too, has Spanish language content been erased (speak ‘merican, dammit).

Trump has also signed executive orders (Remember how much the GOP whined about Obama’s executive orders?) freezing all government hiring and gagging government employees – especially those in the EPA – from communicating with American citizens.

For its part, Congress passed a law making it possible to cut the annual salary of any government employee to $1.00 and freezing all new government regulations. I guess that Congress is operating under the assumption that criminals, con artists and corporations will not invent new ways to cheat the public.

All of this is destructive enough. But the GOP has indicated that it won’t stop there. Congress quietly ended investigations into the Flint water crisis. The administration and Congress are readying legislation that will privatize Medicare and Social Security; that will place limits on Medicaid through the use of block grants to states; that will extract taxpayer money from public schools and give it to private schools and charter schools without any of the bothersome transparency public schools are subject to; that will give away public lands; that will give extraction industries access to resources on public lands, including national parks; that will give oil and gas companies access to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and to our coasts; that will limit or overturn the Endangered Species Act; that will make it more difficult for minorities and young people to vote; that will cut funding for NASA’s research on climate change.

At the same time, the GOP has turned its back on standard operating procedures. The very first thing the new Congress tried to do was to eliminate the independent office overseeing Congressional ethics. They have ignored calls for the president to turn over his tax returns despite a more than 40-history of doing so. They have ignored the obvious conflicts of interest inherent in Trump’s expansive businesses. Most have ignored calls for an independent investigation into intelligence reports that Russia interfered with our elections and aided Trump. And they have ignored concerns that Trump is already in violation of the emoluments clause in our Constitution.

All of these actions are not just intended to wipe out any memory of the Obama administration. They are intended to wipe out most of the progress made through all previous administrations. Social Security, for example, was part of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Federal Water Pollution Control Act was instituted during the Truman administration. NASA was created during the Kennedy administration. The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, Medicare and Medicaid are all legacies of Lyndon Johnson’s administration. The EPA and the Endangered Species Act were created under the Nixon Administration. Amnesty for illegal immigrants was granted by the Reagan administration. Legal immigration, including that of refugees, was expanded by the George H.W. Bush administration. NAFTA and CAFTA were created by the Bush and Clinton administration. And the Clear Skies Act was passed during the George W. Bush administration.

All of these things and more are in jeopardy now that the GOP has control of all the reins of government.