Destruction Of The US. (Part Four – Environment)

Not only has the Trump administration refused to acknowledge the looming threat of the climate crisis. (Trump and his minions have fired or silenced government scientists from even mentioning climate change. And they have removed any reference to climate change from government websites.) The administration has attacked the nation’s environment resulting in destruction we haven’t seen since the early 1970s.

Trump’s first Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, began his dirty work by paring down some of our national parks leaving Native American heritage sites and archeological treasures vulnerable to vandalism. He then opened federal lands for mining and fracking. Zinke was stopped only by his excesses. When the department’s Inspector General opened an investigation into his excessive use of flights and ethical lapses, he announced his resignation.

The second Trump appointee to fill the office is David Bernhardt, a former oil and agribusiness lobbyist who is already under investigation by the Inspector General for…wait for it…conflicts of interest. Like Zinke, he also believes that all of the public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management should be sold so that corporations and private interests can exploit their resources, ignoring the fact that the only reason they are public lands is that they are ecologically sensitive. Indeed, Bernhardt and the administration are in a rush to circumvent Congress and public opinion to auction off leases for oil exploration on public lands before the 2020 election

Under Bernhardt, the department is currently considering permits for fracking in northern Arizona which will pollute millions of gallons of water – a commodity that is already scarce in the region. The department has made it clear that it is also open to permitting foreign-owned companies to, once again, mine for uranium in the Grand Canyon even though previous such mining attempts left much of the region’s water radioactive and unusable. And since the previous mines have not been sealed, they are still leaking radioactive waste.

Trump’s first EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, had previously represented oil and gas companies in numerous suits against the agency. He almost immediately removed restrictions on the coal industry. And he removed regulations designed to protect streams from the coal mining practice of mountain-top removal. Indeed, he operated as if his role was to protect corporations rather than the environment. Only when he became the subject of more than a dozen ethics investigations did he resign.

The new EPA administrator has picked up where Pruitt left off. A former coal lobbyist, Andrew Wheeler has dismissed the conclusions of the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Astonishingly, he also dismisses the impact of air pollution on public health.

Under Wheeler, the EPA has permitted the use of a pesticide known to cause brain damage in children. It has also allowed the use bee-killing pesticides to resume. He removed regulations that were part of the Obama-era Clean Power Plan limiting carbon emissions from coal-fired power plants. He proposed repealing an Obama-era rule restricting the emissions of mercury and other heavy metals. And he refused to adopt recommendations for contaminants in drinking water.

This anti-environment mentality spans the entire Trump administration. For example, the Department of Energy has repealed Obama-era efficiency standards for lightbulbs aimed at phasing out energy-wasting incandescent bulbs. And, despite the massive fires in other rainforests around the globe, the Department of Agriculture has proposed opening the 16.7 million acres of the Tongass National Forest to logging and other exploitation by corporations.

And it’s not just clean air, land and water that are under attack.

Species around the world are threatened by human activities as never before. Yet the administration has proposed changes to the Endangered Species Act to reduce wildlife habitat and remove protections for vulnerable species. It has proposed drilling in the sensitive Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, one of the last remaining preserves for arctic wildlife. It has proposed water policies for California farmers that will push California salmon to extinction and starve the Steelhead Trout and Killer Whales that feed on them. It has relaxed rules on the hunting of threatened species. It issued a kill order for endangered Mexican wolves along the southwestern border, ostensibly to protect cattle. It is in the process of building a wall through the National Butterfly Center, through the Tohono O’odham reservation, and the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge deemed critical to the migration of numerous species. And the Trump administration is set to roll back regulations on the release of methane – the most damaging of all carbon gases – by oil and gas operations.

Scientists understand the threat to the ecosystem. Maintaining a healthy planet should not be partisan or even a national issue. Yet Trump and his followers seem to have the attitude that the worst will only happen after they are dead and buried. In the meantime, they plan to make as much money as possible at the expense of the future.

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.

Our Political Divide Is More The Result Of Differences In Personality Than Issues.

Political pundits have expended a lot of effort to try to understand our political divide. In particular, they want to understand what led so many people to vote for a man who outwardly defies their oft-stated values. Was it the browning of America? Was it the loss of manufacturing jobs? Was it the decline of rural, small-town America? Was it that Hillary Clinton seemed to be a flawed candidate? Was it a backlash to the Obama years?

All of those may have been factors. But I believe those explanations fall short. I believe there are emotional and psychological issues that have created the chasm between liberal and conservative Americans fed by the fragmentation of media. Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, conservative propagandists have been able to feed their audiences a steady stream of outrage and lies. So, too, have websites and social media. Many Americans now expose themselves only to “news” stories that fit their preconceived ideas. And the once unifying presence of evidence-based network news is now dismissed by a large percentage of conservatives as “fake” news. This new media reality has tapped into the long-seething anger and fear of conservative Americans who feel they are ignored and left behind by Washington and the so-called intellectual elites.

As an accomplished con-man, Trump recognized the vulnerability of these conservatives and, with the help of Russian interference, he was able to manufacture and exaggerate their outrage. It was his ability to manipulate them that ultimately led him to the White House.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that today’s conservatives are bad people. But, for the most part, they lack a curiosity for the unfamiliar. They lack compassion and empathy for people unlike themselves. They are fearful of change, even if that change promises to make things better. They see compromise as a weakness. And they have far too much regard for authority, especially when it is accompanied by the American flag and the Bible. It is because of these characteristics that they are especially vulnerable to being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and pastors. To fully understand what I mean, let’s examine those characteristics one at a time.

CURIOSITY – Studies have shown that fewer conservatives have passports than liberals. They are less likely to travel outside of our country and, when they do, they tend to travel to countries where they don’t have to try to understand another language or another culture. This lack of curiosity has also led to their growing contempt for science – a discipline that is based on curiosity.

COMPASSION – Liberals are quick to support charitable causes to aid the impoverished, to preserve the environment, and to support human rights. But studies show that conservatives contribute even more money to charity. However, most of that money is donated to churches. Further, their compassion is too often limited to those they know or those who are like them. Want an example? Conservatives, especially evangelicals, are horrified when a white, evangelical pastor is imprisoned in Turkey for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But they are unmoved by the plight of brown Christians fleeing violence in Central America and Syria. And they seem perfectly okay with brown refugee children being ripped away from their parents and held in cages along our southern border.

CHANGE – For the most part, liberals see change as good if it promises improvement – improvement in the quality of life; improvement in the lives of others; improvement of the environment. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to embrace change only if it directly helps them (America First). Otherwise, they seem bound by the rules of what once was (Make America Great Again). They would rather deny freedoms to thousands in the LGBTQ community rather than accept them as they are. They refuse to accept people of another color or another religion unless they personally know them. And they refuse to risk changing our economy to address climate change, even when it has been proven that it would improve our environment and the economy at the same time.

COMPROMISE – Many conservatives see the world in stark contrasts of black and white. Of winners and losers. Having embraced the sports axiom that a runner-up is the first loser, they have even learned to despise average. To the people who support Trump, negotiations are a zero sum game. There is no such thing as a win-win solution. There is no place for political compromise or moderation. It is that philosophy that led to Mitch McConnell’s decision to block nearly every one of President Obama’s initiatives and appointments regardless of its merits. It is what caused them to rail against the Affordable Care Act, a Republican idea. It is what caused them to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, a man who was selected precisely for his moderate views. It is that attitude, and that attitude alone, that led to today’s hyperbolic political partisanship despite conservative claims that both parties are equally at fault.

AUTHORITY – Liberals often pride themselves on questioning authority and showing a healthy skepticism of those in power. On the other hand, conservatives, especially those who have embraced Trump, display a blind, unquestioning loyalty to their leaders. Moreover, like their leaders, they will never admit to a mistake. In the minds of conservatives, people like Trump and Charles Koch are winners to be admired and emulated despite their ethical and moral failures. To today’s religious conservatives, such “winners” didn’t inherit their wealth from their fathers or steal it through bullying and accounting tricks. They actually believe that those “winners” were chosen by God.

So, my liberal friends, I submit to you that it will do you no good to reason with today’s conservatives. They may hear you, but they will not listen. They will not change. They will not compromise. But they will undoubtedly expect you to do what they won’t.

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.

For Many, This Administration Will Be Fatal.

Much has been written about the Trump effect – Trump’s impact on civility, ethics and morality. Certainly, the impact has been serious. It has led to rifts among friends and families. It has led to more conflicts based on race and religion. And it has led to a diminished respect for our democratic institutions, including traditional news media, the FBI, the CIA and our judicial system.

In addition, Trump’s disregard for the truth, his extramarital affairs with porn stars and the numerous credible accusations of sexual assault victims have set a horrific example for children.

But the administration is having a much more onerous impact on our nation and, indeed, the entire world.

For example, the Trump administration recently ousted the head of global health security and cut the agency’s budget the same week it was announced that there is a new Ebola outbreak in Africa. As a result, it is now unclear who in the administration will be charged with reacting to an international pandemic. But that’s only a potential disaster in the making. Millions of lives have already been put at risk by The Donald and his troupe of ideological and unqualified sycophants. By pandering to racists and neo-Nazis, Trump unleashed a flurry of attacks on minorities.

Trump’s decision to block refugees, deport undocumented immigrants, and undermine DACA represents a mass murder in slow motion. Within 3 weeks of his deportation, a high school dreamer from Iowa who was brought to the US at age 3 died as a result of gang violence in Mexico – likely due to misidentification. (He and a friend were in the wrong place at the wrong time.) And that young man is but a single example of the administration’s turning a cold shoulder to women and children seeking refuge in the US from violence – violence often caused by US policies! Further, it has been revealed that the administration is ripping families apart and taking children as young as 18 months away from mothers and fathers who are seeking refuge. The impact on those young lives will be devastating and lasting.

In Puerto Rico, the Trump administration made the Bush-era response to Hurricane Katrina look like a model of efficiency. According to a recent Harvard study, more than 4,600 Puerto Ricans have died as a result of Trump ineptitude. That’s more than twice as many Americans who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina!

The piece-by-piece dismantling of the Affordable Care Act will result in millions losing access to health care and thousands of preventable deaths. The administration has threatened to cut CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) which now provides health care funding for 9 million children and pregnant women. Similarly, it has plans to make deep cuts in Medicaid which provides health care to disabled, elderly and poor Americans. And the Medicare program for seniors is also in the administration’s crosshairs.

Not satisfied with those draconian cuts, Trump and the GOP have plans to cut benefits to Social Security recipients. And they have plans to cut $150 billion from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which could leave millions hungry.

To be clear, all of these cuts are planned to help pay for the administration’s tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

In addition, there will be thousands of deaths caused by the continued indifference of Trump and the GOP toward gun violence. Already this year there have been more than 100 mass shootings in the US and hundreds of deaths. And the year is only half over.

And when you consider the consequences of Trump’s foreign policies, things look even more bleak!

By moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the administration ignited a powder keg in Gaza and the Middle East. Ensuing protests along the Palestinian/Israeli border resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and aid workers. And, by announcing its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, the administration has released Iran to restart its efforts to create nuclear weapons and has encouraged Iran to increase its support of terrorist groups in the Middle East.

If the agreement with North Korea fails, as it is likely to, Trump will almost certainly return to his game of brinksmanship with a nuclear nation (brinksmanship and bullying are the only forms of negotiation Trump knows). A potential war on the Korean peninsula would result in millions of deaths of Koreans and Americans. It could also cause China and Russia to enter into war with the US.

Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian meddling in the elections of western countries, including the US, and his burgeoning trade war with allies weakens NATO and long-time alliances, destabilizes the West, and makes it easier for Putin to invade countries beyond the Ukraine.

Finally, there is the devastating impact of the administration on the environment. By pursuing oil drilling in sensitive areas preserved for wildlife and by failing to protect endangered species, the administration threatens the entire ecosystem. And by withdrawing US support for the Paris climate agreement, the US is now the only nation in the world that is not part of the agreement to curb carbon emissions. If the world’s climate scientists are correct – and, so far, their estimates of destruction have proven to be conservative – Trump’s decision puts millions of future lives at risk.

So, instead of snickering at the latest revelations of Trump’s philandering; instead of being outraged at his insensitive and immature statements on Twitter; instead of decrying the coarseness of his language and his repugnant treatment of the press; consider the real damage his administration is doing. And VOTE!

Beyond Tribalism.

Today, most Americans are members of a political tribe – Trump’s tribe, the Republican tribe, the Conservative tribe, the Libertarian tribe, the Democratic tribe, the Liberal tribe, the Evangelical tribe. But no matter which of the labels we prefer, we should find many issues upon which we can all agree.

On the most important issues, we should all be members of the same tribe – the American tribe.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the questions of possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and whatever Hillary Clinton was accused of doing or not doing. We should all be concerned that all of our intelligence-gathering agencies agree that Russia – one of our greatest rivals – interfered with our elections. If we, as Americans, are to have confidence in our elected leaders, we need to know that they were fairly elected.

In addition, there should be plenty of other areas of agreement among ordinary Americans. For example, we should all be worried that many of our longest-standing institutions – the press, FBI, CIA, justice system, educational system, science, even the truth – are under attack. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that there is also an all-out attack on America’s working class.

Ideology aside, we should all be horrified that corporations and the very rich received 83 percent of the benefits from the most recent tax cuts – cuts resulting in deficits that will add multiple trillions to our national debt. We should all be concerned that the president ignores the Constitution’s emoluments clause by spending nearly every weekend at one of his resorts in order to charge taxpayers millions for the rooms needed for Secret Service, as well as government and foreign officials.

We should all be outraged over reports that the president’s longtime lawyer – his “fixer” – paid hundreds of thousands to buy the silence of women with whom he had affairs. And we should be even more troubled by reports that the same “fixer” was apparently selling access to the White House and accepting millions from a Russian oligarch.

We should be skeptical of Betsy Devos’s push to privatize education, thereby taking money away from public schools in order to finance parochial and private schools for the well-heeled. We should recoil at the dozens of reports detailing Scott Pruitt’s corruption and his rollback of environmental protections, thereby threatening clean air and water.

We should be angered by Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes for his honeymoon and other private trips. We should be equally alarmed at Ryan Zinke’s taxpayer-funded vacations, his unjustified cuts to national monuments and his sweetheart deals for campaign donors who have placed bids for drilling rights on public lands. We should be universally sickened by Ben Carson’s plan to triple the cost of rent for poor Americans (many of them seniors) who live in public housing while others in government scheme to cut funding for food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Social Security.

It cannot be stated often enough or strongly enough: This is not normal!

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.

Where Has All The Money Gone?

In 2015, Michigan State economics professor, Mark Skidmore became curious when he heard former assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Catherine Austin Fitts mention that the Pentagon couldn’t account for $6.5 trillion in spending. So he asked Fitts and a team of his graduate students to help him confirm that number. After poring over public documents, the team discovered that the original number was inaccurate.

Instead of $6.5 trillion in unsupported spending, the team found that the actual number is $21 trillion – a sum equivalent to our entire national debt!

Even if that number is flawed (and there’s no reason to believe that it is), there is plenty of evidence to show that the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned about has severely damaged our nation’s economic health. For example, it is estimated that our misadventures in the Vietnam civil war cost us $1.3 trillion in 2017 dollars. The cost of care for Vietnam vets has cost us at least $1 trillion to date. And neither of those figures include the billions of dollars wasted on supplies fraudulently sold through the black market in Vietnam.

It is estimated that the Reagan-era tax cuts and military build-up contributed $3 trillion to our national debt. The Bush tax cuts contributed an additional $10 trillion to the debt. The cost of our war in Afghanistan – now our longest-running war – is $2.4 trillion and counting. The cost of care for Afghan war vets is $1 trillion. Our invasion of Iraq cost yet another $2.6 trillion. And the cost of care for Iraq war vets is estimated at $1.3 trillion.

In addition, the US has spent more than $61 billion in the reconstruction of Iraq. Another $8 billion of US funds is missing in Iraq. $45 billion is missing in Afghanistan. And, claiming that the cost of transportation is too great to bring military equipment home, the Pentagon ordered it buried in the sands of Kuwait.

The Pentagon’s F-35 joint strike fighter program has already cost more than $450 billion and is expected to top out at more than $1.5 trillion. Yet it has failed almost every test. In the words of two military analysts, “It can’t turn, can’t climb and can’t run.” And in another blatant display of waste, Congress authorized spending hundreds of millions of dollars for Abrams tanks that the Army doesn’t even want.

How has the Trump administration and Congress responded to all of this spending? They increased the Pentagon budget by another $700 billion! Then they passed a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that is expected to add yet another $1-2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade!

Of course, the GOP has a plan to pay for all this spending. As articulated by Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, they plan to cut spending through “entitlement reform.” In other words, the GOP plans to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and Social Security.

Maybe – just maybe – there’s another way. Imagine if, instead of spending our money on unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the rich, we spent that money for good. Imagine if we spent it on health care for our citizens; on education; on rebuilding our infrastructure; on scientific achievements; on lifting people out of poverty; on eradicating disease. We could do all of that and more with just the money the Pentagon wastes.

Author William Blum put our current military budget in context when he said, “Do you know what one year of the US military budget is equal to? One year. It’s equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.”

And that doesn’t even include the trillions of dollars in Pentagon spending that are missing or unaccounted for.