What The US Could Be.

Our nation has reached a crossroads. Will we continue to slide further down the path to autocracy and cruelty where the nation’s leader is unaccountable, where the rule of law only pertains to those the leader says it should, where the leader puts his thumb on the scales of justice, where elected officials cater to corporations and the wealthy, where discrimination is accepted, where millions continue to live in poverty with fewer and fewer safety nets, and where those seeking asylum are locked in cages?

Or will we choose to vote for those determined to reclaim our government and reshape it to live up to its promise?

Consider what a Uniter-in-Chief, instead of a Divider-in-Chief, could do. Consider what a Congress focused on solving problems and representing the people – all of the people – could accomplish.

Unity: Instead of being divided by political and racial tribalism, we could be united in solving the greatest issues of our time. By rejecting GOP candidates determined to divide us for political gains over social issues such as abortion, religion, discrimination and wealth.

Right now, there are nearly 400 House-passed bills that have been denied a hearing in the Senate. Many, if not most, of these bills address bipartisan issues such as protecting patients with pre-existing conditions, lowering pharmaceutical prices, improving gun safety through universal background checks. Reshaping the Senate by rejecting those who would rather play politics than address the nation’s needs would end gridlock and allow us to address the issues that affect all of us.

Equality: We could treat each other as true equals. Over the past few decades, the GOP has resorted to voter suppression tactics in order to choose their voters rather than allow voters to choose their candidates. They have relied on extreme Gerrymandering, restrictive voter IDs, purging of voter rolls, intimidation, reducing voting hours and closing polling places in poor and black areas, and taking voting rights away from those who have served prison time.

It’s time to end these repressive and undemocratic practices; to end discrimination of all kinds. We must reshape all of our governments – including city, county, state and federal – and commit to restoring democracy and civil rights for all.

Equal Representation: We could dismantle the archaic Electoral College that prioritizes geography over people – a system that gives a voter living in Wyoming nearly 4 times the representation of a voter living in California.

Climate Crisis: We could save our planet from the most severe impacts of climate change.

Though scientists have known about the dangers of our reliance on fossil fuels since the mid-1960s, the issue was mostly ignored until former Vice-President Gore released the documentary An Inconvenient Truth in 2006. By the 2008 presidential election, it had finally become a political issue with both candidates promoting a policy of cap and trade to reduce carbon emissions. Since then, only one party has shown any interest in addressing climate change. The other, supported by the fossil fuel industry, refers to it as a hoax.

Let’s suppose for a moment that the GOP is correct and climate change is a hoax (it isn’t), what would be the consequences of addressing the issue and embracing clean, renewable energy? The consequences would be many high-paying jobs, cleaner air, cleaner water and an end to wars over reserves of oil. Oh, and Big Oil would no longer exert such control over our government.

Ecosystem: We could save the diversity and the beauty of the many species that share our planet.

Many parts of our ecosystem are collapsing. Bees, which pollinate our fruits, vegetables and grains, are dying as a result of the use of pesticides. There is a dead zone in the Gulf caused by the runoff of fertilizers from our farms. Glysophate, a known carcinogen used to control weeds permeates our drinking water and our foods. Fracking fluids have leaked into the aquifers many rely on for drinking water. Many of our coral reefs, home to most of our oceans’ fish, are bleaching and collapsing due to climate change. Our oceans are also showing the ill effects of decades of use as garbage dumps. Deforestation and trophy hunting has forced thousands of species to the brink of extinction. I could go on. Yet the GOP seems uniquely unmoved by the devastation.

Replacing GOP politicians with those who believe in science, who will fight for ecological understanding and justice, may be the only way to save thousands of species from extinction…including our own.

Military: We could use much of our gigantic $718 billion military budget to improve conditions for the citizens of our nation and elsewhere. And we could, for one of the very few times in our nation’s history, wage peace.

For those who think that reducing the military budget would leave us vulnerable, consider that our budget is equal to that of the next 8 countries’ combined. And 6 of those are allies. Moreover, we benefit from the more than $305 billion in military spending of the other 28 members of the NATO mutual defense organization. Finally, our military budget doesn’t include the more than $50 billion budget of the Department of Homeland Security or the nearly $220 billion for Veterans Affairs.

That means we’re currently spending nearly $1 trillion annually on defense and military-related issues. And we benefit from $305 billion more.

Healthcare: We could provide universal health care for all of our citizens and save thousands of lives.

Pharmaceuticals: By allowing the government, as the provider of universal health care, to negotiate with manufacturers and distributors, we could make necessary and life-saving pharmaceuticals affordable for all those who need them.

Religion: We could provide true religious freedom, including freedom from religion for non-believers. As Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God.”

Immigration: We could, once and for all, solve the issue of immigration by providing a path to citizenship for those who were brought here as children and have spent most of their lives in the US. We could create a system of work permits for those who are needed to raise and harvest our crops and to fill the jobs most US citizens don’t want. We could improve our system for those seeking asylum from violence and starvation in their home countries.

Economy: We could transform our economy from a plutocracy to a democracy that will work for all Americans. Not just the powerful and the wealthy. By eliminating the need for corporations to pay for their employees’ healthcare, we could demand that their savings be used to pay all employees a living wage. And, by asking the wealthy to pay their fair share of taxes, we could invest in many other things that could benefit our nation, such as low-cost college education while, at the same time, decreasing deficits.

Infrastructure: We could create high-paying jobs that cannot be off-shored by committing to rebuild our aging and decrepit infrastructure: Streets, roads, bridges, railroads, seaports, airports and the electric grid.

Violence: We could address gun violence by ending the sale of the weapons of war. We could implement universal background checks, waiting periods and red flag laws. And we could address the issues that lead to violence, such as poverty, discrimination, lack of opportunity and easy access to guns.

Trump’s Broken Promises. (Part Nine – Draining The Swamp)

The Trump White House is fond of sending out emails and Tweets stating “Promises Made. Promises Kept.” But, on many issues, he has either done nothing or made matters worse.

Swamp Creatures: Trump said he’s drain the swamp. But his administration includes more corrupt billionaires, CEOs, and Wall Street moguls than in any administration in history. These new swamp monsters have gutted regulations and signed orders that will enrich their own businesses and those of the president. At the same time, Trump has filled departments and agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who are crafting new policies for the same industries in which they recently worked.

Lobbyists: Trump promised to re-institute a five-year ban on all executive branch officials lobbying the government for five years after they leave government. He did. But the ban he signed applies only to lobbying one’s former agency. Not the government as a whole. Moreover, he has churned through advisors and assistants like no other. So the revolving door between government and lobbying firms has actually accelerated.

Only The Best People: Trump promised he’d use his business experience to fill the White House with “great people, the very best people.” But many of the people he hired are unqualified ideologues, political hacks and white nationalists. These people have dismissed science, defied the rule of law and ignored common sense. As a result, he has created the most dysfunctional, back-stabbing White House in modern history. Those who do not prostrate at his feet and show complete loyalty are summarily fired by tweet. By far, the worst of his loyalists is Attorney General William Barr who has politicized the Department of Justice as never before in order to please his master.

Foreign Interference: Trump promised he’d “stop foreign lobbyists from raising money for American elections.” But foreign lobbyists are still raising money for his re-election and those of his spineless congressmen. And, of course, he was impeached for trying to extort a foreign leader into finding dirt on a political opponent just months after the Mueller investigation enumerated the many ways he had solicited and used election help from Russia then tried to cover it up.

We recently learned that Russia is again trying to intervene in the 2020 election. But Trump refuses to condemn Putin and Moscow Mitch refuses to allow a vote on House-passed bills that would secure our elections. And Trump is still soliciting foreign support. As I write this, he’s holding what amounts to a political rally in India.

Taking The Profits Out Of Health Care.

In the US, health care organizations were once required to be nonprofit. But, following WWII, companies were short of workers. To entice them, they began offering health insurance. At first, it was non-profit. But as the market for company-provided health insurance grew, it attracted for-profit competitors offering a variety of plans.

The inevitable consequence was to dramatically increase the cost of health care, making it unaffordable for an ever-growing number of Americans. And though the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) has helped, the cost of health care rose from an average of $355 per person in 1970 to $11,172 in 2019. Accounting for inflation, that’s an increase of roughly 6-fold!

Indeed, according to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), US spending on health care reached $3.6 trillion in 2018 (the most recent year for which data is available) 17.7 percent of our GDP. And the earnings of health insurance companies exceeded $236 billion in 2018.

Perhaps the biggest winner in the health care industry is big Pharma. According to Statista, Americans spent $360.3 billion on pharmaceuticals in 2019 – up $15.8 billion from the previous year. And up a whopping $239.3 billion from 2000. That increase is reflected in the cost of most medications. A case in point: For asthma patients like me (of which there are nearly 20 million in the US), the annual cost of preventative medication is roughly $2,500 per year – almost double what it cost less than 10 years ago. Has the drug changed or improved over that period? No, only the price has changed. And, of course, the profits for the manufacturer and their distributors.

The increase in the cost of many other pharmaceuticals is even more dramatic.

Pharmaceutical companies justify the increases by claiming that the money is needed for research and development. Yet, you, the taxpayer, contribute roughly 30 percent of the cost of development of pharmaceuticals. Despite the increased costs and your contributions, there has been little increase in FDA approvals for drugs in recent years. That’s mostly due to the companies’ focus on acquisition and mergers. In other words, the companies are investing their profits in stock buyouts rather than research and development.

Since 1996, there have been 46 mergers and acquisitions of the world’s pharmaceutical giants. Over that same period, big Pharma has spent billions to lobby the US government. According to Statista, the industry spent $281.4 billion to lobby our government in 2019. And big Pharma is not alone. Organizations representing doctors, nurses, hospitals, clinics, medical equipment manufacturers and health insurers all spent billions on lobbying.

In total, the health care industry spent $711.3 billion on lobbying for 2019.

Is it any wonder then that our health care costs keep rising at rates far greater than inflation? Is it any wonder that we pay 4 times more per person for health care in the US than any other country in the world while experiencing steadily declining results?

Far too much of your health care expenditures are going to support the multi-million dollar salaries of executives, lobbyists and the profits of shareholders.

So, when political candidates are asked how they expect to pay for the cost of single-payer health care such as Medicare For All, the answer is simple. You’re already paying for it. But, instead of the money being used for medical care and the development of new technologies and treatments. It’s being used to line the pockets of executives and investors.

By moving to a single-payer health care system like most of the world’s advanced nations, you will pay more in taxes. Nevertheless, your savings should be significant. You and your employer will no longer have to pay for health insurance, deductibles, and co-pays. You will not be billed for seeing your doctor, for laboratory tests, for visiting the Emergency Room, for treatments or for needed stays in a hospital. As the single-payer, the government will also be able to negotiate the cost of pharmaceuticals saving you even more money. So your savings will continue to add up over your lifetime.

And no American will ever be denied health care again.

There’s yet another benefit that’s seldom mentioned: By removing the responsibility for providing health insurance from employers, there will be less incentive for employers to move jobs offshore. (Currently, the cost of an employee’s benefits is roughly equal to the cost of an employee’s salary.) Indeed, employers could use the savings to increase salaries and pay a more livable wage. That would not only provide a substantial boost to our economy. It would result in greater tax revenue that could be used to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure and create even more high-paying jobs.

Journalistic Malpractice.

As a graduate of journalism school, an advertising copywriter, a teacher, an author, a journalist, a political commentator and a long-time critic of media, I am horrified with the current status of journalism.

Certainly, there are brilliant and dedicated investigative reporters who work long hours, often at the risk of their own safety, to bring us the information we need to be informed citizens and voters. Many have lost their lives by reporting the uncomfortable truth about powerful and dangerous people. Just in 2019, 49 journalists were murdered around the globe (a death toll that was actually the lowest in 16 years). But while the number of journalists killed dropped in 2019, the number jailed in 2019 climbed to 289 (an increase of 16 percent from the previous year). Most were jailed in China, Egypt and Saudi Arabia for daring to publish stories that were unflattering to the government and the autocrats in power.

Even in the US, Trump and his supporters continue to call journalists the “enemy of the people.”

While it is true that there are media organizations doing great harm to our nation, they are not the ones Trump’s supporters imagine. Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting, Breitbart, rightwing radio, Facebook, various hate groups, and some churches are the true purveyors of fake news.

By unquestioningly repeating Trump’s statements, these media outlets regularly tell us that up is down, black is white, and false is true. Indeed, Trump and these media have led to the creation of a new industry of fact-checking that has been overwhelmed by Trump’s more than 15,000 false or misleading claims since taking office. Worse, the vicious lies about political opponents, people of color, women, gays, the poor, immigrants and foreign rivals too often lead to violence.

Even the media that have sterling reputations for accuracy have lowered their standards in their quest for speed and ratings or readership. Determined to be first to report a story, they sometimes rely on information from questionable sources. In an attempt to seem unbiased, they host guests from both major parties and permit them to engage in shouting matches filled with opinions and false information. They hire columnists who offer more opinion than fact. They seek the most sensational aspect of a story allowing sensation to overwhelm information. And, when unable to find controversy, they attempt to generate it.

The latest example is the exaggerated spat between Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. Apparently finding it too difficult to contrast the candidates’ ideas and policies, the media seized upon the superficial and sensational. It’s not that they truly believe that such personal conflicts matter. It’s merely because they believe sensational controversies create profits by attracting audiences. Since virtually every media platform is driven by profits, their success is measured less by accuracy and reliability than by ratings and readership. The problem is exacerbated by the fact that the potential audience for television and print news continues to dwindle as more and more people “cut the cord” of cable TV and tune their smart TVs to entertainment provided by Netflix, Prime, Hulu, etc. So the competition for attention is greater than ever.

It is this thirst for controversy and sensationalism that paved the way for Donald J. Trump. In 2015 and 2016, the media was filled with everything Trump. Not because the media liked him or believed his outrageous statements. But because they felt that he would be good for ratings. At the same time, the only media attention given to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, centered around the sensational accusations her enemies promoted – accusations for which she has since been fully exonerated.

Not surprisingly, there are also legitimate reasons for media failures. Most traditional media outlets have been purchased by large conglomerates. Like all corporations, they focus on increasing profits by increasing productivity. As a result, the budgets for news-gathering operations have been slashed. Reporters are expected to do more work with less time and money. They’re forced to take shortcuts. In addition, some newsrooms have hired young editors because they’re willing to work for less. These people, though they may be talented and energetic, lack experience, perspective and the context of history.

In addition, having torn down the firewalls between the newsrooms and business operations, these conglomerates sometimes dictate news coverage that is favorable to their greed and ambition.

Despite all of this, I believe there is a growing thirst among Americans for real information. Indeed, I think the growing superficiality of television and radio newscasts has led Americans to turn to the Web and social media for information. Online, they can search the websites of traditional news operations. They can find more in-depth news from around the globe. They can find legitimate websites that compile the top stories for them.

Unfortunately, they are also exposed to an overwhelming amount of false information and fake news stories – stories generated by hate groups and foreign rivals hoping to divide us.

The Web is filled with information created by ideologues, renegades, haters, and fakers. Yet, to date, our government and the social media platforms have, for the most part, refused to police it. Under Trump, the government has even stopped tracking the lies and hate-filled diatribes posted by white supremacists and other domestic terrorist groups.

It’s long past time for Americans to demand real and accurate journalism; to expose the liars and the phonies; to hold propagandists disguised as news sources accountable (I’m referring to you, Fox News Channel); to ask the government to reinstitute a form of the Fairness Doctrine that required media to operate in the public interest or lose their license to operate.

It’s time to demand the truth.

What Didn’t Happen In 2019 – The Year In Review.

Despite the release of the Mueller Report, the impeachment of Donald J. Trump, and numerous disasters and milestones, I believe 2019 should be remembered more for what did NOT happen. Following are but a few examples:

• The GOP-controlled Senate refused to vote on more than 400 House-passed bills – half of which were bipartisan.

• Congress failed to pass a bill to rebuild our aging infrastructure – our bridges, our rail system, our electric grid and more.

• The Trump administration continued to ignore the greatest threats of our time, including the climate crisis, the mass extinction of the planet’s species, the coming job losses from automation. In fact, the administration’s actions – pulling out of Paris agreement, expanding oil drilling, relaxing fuel standards for vehicles and reducing incentives for sustainable energy, the trade war with China – actually made things worse.

• The Trump administration continued to hold the $18 billion in reconstruction funds approved by Congress that were intended to rebuild Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

• The federal government collected no income taxes from 91 corporations listed among the Fortune 500.

• There was no real effort by the Trump administration or Congress to reduce federal deficits and the ballooning national debt.

• There was no significant change in workers’ wages, despite large run-ups in the stock markets.

• There was no change in income inequality, wealth inequality or opportunity inequality. In fact, the gap between the wealthy and ordinary Americans continued to widen.

• There was no Senate or administration action to secure our elections. Indeed, the GOP rejected election security bills 3 times in 2019. And the GOP continued its efforts to suppress votes.

• There was no nuclear peace deal with North Korea. Instead, Trump removed the US from the ABM treaty with Russia to limit short and intermediate range nuclear weapons.

• There was no peace agreement with the Taliban and no end in sight for America’s longest-lasting war – the war in Afghanistan.

• There was no real effort to reach a peace agreement in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine. In fact, the actions taken by the Trump administration exacerbated the problems.

• There was no trade deal with China that would provide relief to American farmers or end tariffs on imports paid by US consumers.

• There was no federal action on gun safety measures such as universal background checks, bans on bump stocks, high capacity magazines and military-style weapons.

• There was no federal action to prevent mass shootings.

• There was no action taken to hold Saudi Arabia accountable for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a US resident and Washington Post contributor, or for yet another terrorist attack on US soil by a Saudi citizen.

• There was no effort to end the war in Yemen.

• There was no federal effort to combat white supremacist terrorism, the greatest terrorist threat to US citizens.

• There was no Brexit.

• And, once again, there was no effort by the Trump administration to represent or even reach out to all Americans. Instead, he continued to represent only his white nationalist base.

The Coming Crises.

As we understandably worry about the constitutional crisis posed by Donald Trump and the threat he poses to our democracy, there are several other crises that should be getting our full attention. Indeed, each of them poses a tremendous threat to the future of the United States and our planet.

National Debt – As of today, our national debt stands at $23.16 trillion. Worse, we will add at least $1.1 trillion to it in FY 2020. Supposedly, the economy fueled tax cuts were intended to offset the growth in spending. Instead, the cuts merely reduced revenue. And the trade wars caused by Trump’s ill-conceived tariffs have only added to the problem by increasing the cost of goods for consumers and many manufacturers. That has resulted in less real income for workers and layoffs by manufacturers. If the trend continues, how will we pay to repair our aging infrastructure? How will we be able to continue to afford our bloated defense budget? How will we be able to afford reasonable safety nets? How will the US maintain its world leadership?

Automation – Technology experts say we are now in the midst of the 4th industrial revolution. We are losing jobs to automation at an alarming rate. And the revolution has only just begun. Recent studies predict that the US will lose 30 to 50 percent of existing jobs within the next few decades. For example, in the next few years, 2 to 3 million truck drivers are expected to lose their jobs to self-driving vehicles. In addition, that will lead to a loss of jobs related to truckers – at truck stops, motels, cafes, etc. – mostly in small towns and rural areas. And that’s only the start. In addition to truck drivers, there are another 7-8 million professional drivers for taxi companies, Uber, Lyft, UPS, FedEx, etc. who will lose their jobs.

Others who work in labor intensive and repetitive jobs will be replaced by automation. Even the so-called white collar workers will lose their jobs to automation. Paralegals, lawyers, medical technologists, even lawyers and film editors could soon be replaced by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

The question is: What will the displaced workers do for income? Still think presidential candidate Andrew Yang’s proposed guaranteed annual income is a radical idea?

Overpopulation – Current world population is 7.7 billion and we added 81 million in 2019. The population is growing at more than 1 percent per year. At this rate, the population is expected to reach 11.2 billion by the end of the century. Given the onset of automation, how will they sustain themselves? How will we feed them?

Environment – For decades, corporations have used our streams and oceans as landfills. They have spilled millions of barrels of oil into the seas. They have used factory fishing trawlers to deplete our oceans of fish. They have used our forests and our lands as a sort of supermarket of resources. They have poured toxic chemicals onto our farmlands – their runoff creating dead zones in our oceans. They have filled our atmosphere with carbon from the burning of fossil fuels and with methane from our insatiable appetite for beef. They have created inhumane factory farms that drown our lands in excrement. And they have polluted aquifers through fracking and mining.

Despite all of this, the Trump administration has relaxed most of our environmental regulations and encouraged even more of this destructive behavior from corporations. At the same time, the administration has cut their taxes – revenue that could be used to help clean up their messes.

Species Extinction – Over human history, the normal extinction rate for other species has averaged 1 to 5 species per year. However, scientists say that the current extinction rate is 1,000 times normal. We are now losing dozens of species per day! At this rate, we will lose 30 to 50 percent of all species by mid-century. In other words, we are now in the midst of the 6th mass extinction mostly as a result of human encroachment on wildlife habitat and human-caused pollution.

Climate Crisis – Last, but certainly not least, is the climate crisis caused almost entirely by the burning of fossil fuels. As I write this, virtually the entire continent of Australia is on fire resulting in the loss of millions of animals and thousands of homes. California, too, has faced disastrous wildfires, albeit on a smaller scale. Each year, we see more extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, cyclones and tornados. The damage from these climate-related disasters for 2019 was estimated at more than $140 billion BEFORE the wildfires in Australia. And scientists tell us that the crisis is only going to get worse.

Each year, the reports of melting glaciers and ice caps exceed previous predictions. Though the situation is dire, most Americans have yet to recognize the effects of climate change. But they have been affected nonetheless. Taxes that could be used to rebuild our infrastructure or to reduce the cost of health care are used to fight wildfires or to repair the damage following hurricanes. Moreover, many of the refugees at our southern border are fleeing violence and starvation, much of it caused by drought.

And, in the future, it’s predicted that we will see much more climate-caused migration from droughts and rising sea levels.

Of course, none of this is good news. Contrary to the tradition of looking forward to the new year, if we don’t address these crises soon, we may well greet each new year with fear and trepidation of the events to come. Nevertheless, I wish you all a very happy New Year celebration! Enjoy it while you can.

Russia 2.0?

A lot has been written about Trump’s many links to Russia, his subservience to Putin and his admiration for some of the world’s most despicable strongmen. Those things should make every American wary of the intentions of our Dear Leader. But are they merely innocent, well-intentioned attempts to reach out to our adversaries in the interest of peace? Or is there something more disturbing, more threatening at play?

For that answer, it’s useful to compare Trump’s actions with those that undermined the Russian Federation’s once promising democracy and gave Putin complete control of the government and his nation’s resources.

1 – Putin labeled the government weak and ineffective promising to return the nation to its former power and glory. (Trump’s slogans of Make America Great Again and America First are right out of the dictators’ playbook.)

2 – Putin attacked the news media for reporting anything negative about him. (Trump labeled the news media and reporters as “enemies of the people.”)

3 – Putin used compliant media outlets to spread lies and propaganda. (Fox News, Sinclair Broadcasting, online sites such as Breitbart News, and radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh willingly and gleefully perpetuate Trump’s stream of lies.)

4 – Putin subverted the electoral process and suppressed votes for opposing candidates. (The GOP’s voter suppression efforts actually precede Trump by several decades. But these efforts have become more widespread in the age of Trump.)

5 – Putin embraced organized crime and other thuggish leaders such as Syria’s Assad to increase his power. (Trump has lifelong ties to organized crime through his family attorney Roy Cohn. He has helped Russian mobsters and oligarchs launder money. And his admiration for dictators like Putin, Erdogan and Mohammed bin Salman is obvious.)

6 – Once in power, Putin used the Russian government and economy as his personal piggy bank. And he has used offshore tax havens to shelter his ill-gotten gains. (In violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, Trump has funneled millions of government funds into his properties. And, for many years, he has used offshore accounts to avoid taxes. His name appears in the Panama Papers – a list of those who invest in offshore tax shelters – an astounding 3,540 times. Further, a similar list known as the Paradise Papers exposed links between Trump, Putin and Russia.)

7 – Putin used the intelligence apparatus and law enforcement to investigate his political enemies. (Attorney General Barr has authorized an investigation into those he and Trump claim “spied” on the Trump campaign. And Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, is busy using government resources to gather dirt on Trump’s political rivals.)

8 – He took control of the courts so the laws could not be used to undermine his authority. (With the help of a compliant majority in the Senate, the Trump administration has packed the courts with a record number of young, ideological judges – many for lifetime appointments. Trump nominees now comprise a quarter of the seats on all federal appellate courts.)

9 – Putin gave control of natural resources to his closest friends and most ardent supporters making them, and himself, obscenely wealthy. (The Trump administration has auctioned off mining and oil drilling leases on federal lands to his supporters at wholesale prices. His administration has also pushed for logging in national wildernesses. At the same time, Trump has rolled back environmental regulations to make the extraction of resources more profitable.)

10 – Putin gave favors to the wealthy and corporate leaders, including helping them avoid taxes in order to further build their wealth. (One of Trump’s first acts was to cut income taxes for corporations and the very wealthy. One of the little-known effects of the bill was to allow corporations to “repatriate” billions of dollars, most of which were used for stock buybacks for the benefit of corporate executives.)

11 – Putin and his friends took control of the legislative bodies by using the power of their wealth. (The US has been an oligarchy for decades. But the money needed to run for office has skyrocketed in recent years. This, of course, benefits Trump’s wealthy supporters. In addition, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent by industries and corporations to shape or block legislation.)

12 – Putin gave favors to the leaders of the nation’s majority religion and encouraged the persecution of those who practiced other faiths, as well as gays and lesbians. (Trump has embraced evangelical Christian leaders who consider homosexuality and abortion abominations under God. In return, they have claimed he was chosen by God to lead us. Trump also placed a near-complete ban on Muslims entering the US. He has empowered his followers to commit vandalism and acts of violence against followers of other religions and people of color.)

When you compare the actions of our wannabe dictator to those of Putin and other tyrants such as Erdogan, the similarities are frightening. Given the depths to which he has taken our nation in his first term, we should all fear what a second term might bring.

Destruction Of The US. (Part Fourteen – GOP)

This is the last of my 14-part series. But last certainly does not mean least. Without the treachery and complicity of the Republican Party, most of the other factors that are destroying our nation either would not be possible. Or they would be far less damaging.

The damage done to our government by the GOP began in earnest prior to the Nixon administration and has accelerated ever since. In 1968, Nixon undermined the Vietnam peace talks in order to benefit his election prospects. Similarly, he ordered the Watergate break-in to sabotage Democratic candidates during the 1972 election. Following Nixon’s lead, Reagan undermined the Carter administration’s efforts to release hostages from the US embassy in Iran in order to damage Carter’s re-election chances. Reagan attacked labor unions and, based on the discredited “trickle down” theory of economics, he cut taxes for the rich. George H.W. Bush led us in to war in the Middle East over oil. And two of his sons conspired to steal the 2000 election from Al Gore. Then George W. Bush led us into a war with Iraq on false pretenses.

But the GOP’s impact on our democracy has never been more damaging than it has over the past 11 years. During the Obama administration, it tried to undermine attempts to pull our economy out of a worldwide recession created by GOP policies. It blocked dozens of judicial appointments in the Senate culminating with its successful effort to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. And, having captured a number of state houses, it began instituting a wide variety of voter suppression laws in a blatant effort to prevent minorities and other Democrats from voting.

Since 2016, having colluded with a foreign rival to steal yet another election, it has allowed its Con-Man-in-Chief to sidle up to dictators, to bully allies, to promote white nationalism, to cut taxes for the ultra-wealthy, to take affordable health care from millions, to undermine public education, to roll back environmental protections, to block any attempts to address the climate crisis, to rip immigrant children away from their parents, and to pack our courts by giving lifetime appointments to young, and often unqualified, ideologues. The party has not only excused blatant abuses of power by Trump. It has openly participated in them as did William Barr in his handling of the Mueller report. Further, Republicans in Congress have tried to block any attempts of congressional oversight by the Democrat-controlled House. (Witness the behavior of House Republicans during the impeachment inquiry into Trump’s attempted shakedown of Ukraine.)

The GOP has run up trillion-dollar deficits in order to justify defunding all social safety nets, including Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and food stamps. At the same time, it has handed out subsidies to some of the world’s greediest corporations. Worst of all, the party has participated in the wholesale betrayal of our Constitution by accepting campaign money and other support from Russian oligarchs and excusing Russia’s interference in our elections.

It may have once been labeled the Grand Old Party as a result of Abraham Lincoln’s fight to end slavery and hold our nation together. But the only thing grand about it today is its level of hypocrisy and criminal behavior.

Destruction Of The US. (Part Ten – Propaganga)

The Founders had such high regard for the role of the press that they included it in the Bill of Rights as one of the essentials of freedom. Nevertheless, the news media has had a checkered past. During the late 1800s, newspapers , led by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer published increasingly false and sensational stories in an effort to build circulation. Indeed, their focus on crime and fear, and their sensational reports of Spanish brutality combined with the explosion of the Maine in Havana harbor likely led to the Spanish-American War.

Yet following the war, Pulitzer led the industry to reform. By the time of his death, his newspaper had become highly-respected. And journalism became a highly-respected profession. The industry’s reputation continued to grow as the result of the efforts of war correspondents during World War I, World War II and the Korean War when Americans at home were hungry for news of the war efforts. The industry reached a pinnacle in the 1960s and 70s when reporting by CBS and Walter Cronkite led to the end the Vietnam War and reporting by the Washington Post exposed Watergate.

Additionally, thanks to the Fairness Doctrine, broadcast media were held accountable for “serving in the public interest.” That meant that radio and television stations were held to a standard of telling the truth and separating opinion from fact. (Imagine that!)

But when the Fairness Doctrine was repealed in 1987, everything began to change.

The end of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door for sensational radio shows hosted by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin and Sean Hannity. These devolved into political shows that railed against the government. They told you that your democratically-elected government was the enemy. And that liberals were only one step removed from communists who were determined to take your money.

Shortly afterward, Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch saw an opportunity to become wealthy by building Fox News in order to capture the same audience. Promoting Fox as “fair and balanced,” Ailes quickly divorced its viewers from the truth. In a few years, Fox had become little more than the propaganda arm of the Republican Party. Not the Republican Party of Eisenhower and Rockefeller – a previously moderate party that focused on the interests of business . Rather Fox News pandered to those in the Republican Party who sought to rebuild the government to serve their personal agenda – the extremely wealthy who, like the Koch brothers, believed that government should only provide for national defense and law and order. In other words, the government should protect them and their wealth.

Over the same time period, the so-called Mainstream Media began to change. Where broadcast newsrooms had long been treated as a service, the new corporate owners saw them as a potential revenue stream. They became focused on ratings and the bottom line. CBS News, once the premier news-gathering institution in the world, slashed its news bureaus and fired reporters. Others followed suit. And local news stations adopted the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy that focused on crime and sensational stories to build ratings.

It’s as if the ghost of William Randolph Hearst has invaded the boardrooms of corporate media organizations.

The Sinclair Broadcast Group, Disney, Comcast and many other large media owners have also jumped on the money train placing profits ahead of truth. The same is true of the new media. Breitbart and others fan the flames of division and hatred by publishing highly biased stories un-tethered from the truth. Their fear-mongering has led to the explosion in gun ownership and the resulting shootings. Because of them, there has been a rise in hate crimes. Because of them, we are more divided than at any time since the Civil War. And, only because of all them could someone like Trump gain access to the White House. Trump likes to attack the media as “fake news.” But it is precisely because of fake news from Fox, Breitbart, Sinclair and others, that the leader of a crime family, someone who has been found to make factual statements just 5 percent of the time, can claim the title of president.

And, though Trump is a product of fake news media, it is the legitimate news media that will likely lead to his undoing. It is only because of the hundreds, if not thousands, of dedicated reporters that we know of Trump’s many crimes. The reporters who spend months digging through files to uncover corruption and those who are willing to put their jobs, their reputations and, in some cases, their lives on the line to get at the truth.

If our nation survives this criminal administration, we will all owe them a great debt of gratitude.

Are Rural Americans Treated As Unfairly As They Believe?

Those living in rural America have long held a “woe is me” attitude. They claim that they are unfairly treated by “urban elites.” They believe our government favors those who live in the cities – that most of their taxes go towards the building of urban freeways and what they perceive as unwarranted welfare assistance for “inner city residents”, i.e. people of color.

Certainly, there are misunderstandings on both sides. Too often, movies and televisions shows have portrayed rural Americans as country bumpkins. And some of those living in coastal cities consider the rest of America “flyover” country. Yet the truth is that rural Americans have advantages that all but the wealthiest of urban Americans don’t. And, if they ever took the time to look at statistics, they’d be in for a rude awakening.

For example, it has long been documented that the cost per capita of building and maintaining roads in rural areas is far greater than in large cities. So, too, is the cost of building and maintaining electric lines and communications. The cost of living in rural areas is far lower than in cities. And, though many rural states contribute less federal revenue than others, they receive more in benefits. In descending order, MS, LA, TN, MT, KY, MO and SD are the states that rely most on federal aid. Most of these are rural. And, when it comes to politics, most of them are bright, bright red.

Those living in the least populous states also have disproportionate representation in the Senate and the electoral college. For the most part, the sea of red you saw on the electoral map following the 2016 election was more a representation of geography than voters. There were nearly 3 million more votes for the Democratic presidential candidate. And there were more than 6 million more votes for Democratic Senate candidates. Yet Republicans took control of both the White House and the Senate. That’s because of a growing disparity in the population of states. For example, people in Wyoming now have 4 times the representation in the electoral college as those living in California. And the votes of those living in Vermont and North Dakota count far more than the votes of those living in New York and Florida.

Instead of one person one vote, in rural states, one person has the equivalent of two, three or four votes!

Is it any wonder then that politicians pander to those in rural areas? Why Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina have disproportionate sway in our electoral process? Why farmers have received subsidies during Trump’s trade war and others affected – particularly those in cities – have not? Of course, the farm subsidies are nothing new. And American farmers are not the only ones who benefit. A recent report states that, worldwide, farming subsidies add up to roughly $1 trillion or approximately $1 million per minute! Of those, US farmers receive about $50 billion a year, not including the $28 billion in subsidies that have resulted from Trump’s trade war with China.

Yet, despite the subsidies and electoral advantages, many rural Americans continue to struggle financially. That’s because half of the annual farm subsidies are received by farmers making $100,000 or more per year. And the top 10 per cent receive 77 percent of the subsidies. There is little real benefit for smaller farmers and small town merchants. More disturbing, the subsidies often result in the destruction of forests and wetlands. They exacerbate pollution of streams and oceans. And they often encourage over-production, which drives down the prices of crops, which, in turn, encourages even more production.

Moreover, there are no such subsidies to supplement the incomes of small retailers and other small businesses in urban areas. No subsidies to protect them from the effects of governmental decisions as there are for farmers and large corporations.

The truth is, many of those living in rural areas enjoy advantages their urban brothers and sisters do not. And while they complain that the “urban elites” don’t understand their problems. They have little understanding of the problems faced by the urban homeless and the millions who are working in expensive cities for minimum wage and struggling to make ends meet. For instance, it now takes two-and-a-half full time jobs at minimum wage to afford a one-bedroom apartment in most cities.

Instead of using their outsized voting clout to elect politicians who will actually improve their situation, rural Americans tend to believe those who blame their problems on immigrants, minorities and others. But, until they reject the politics of fear and hatred, their situation is unlikely to improve.