PRIORITIES

Letter to Editor in Monterey Herald, November 22, 2017

A lesson on American priorities in the age of Trump: The 2018 budget proposals call for cuts in Medicaid, Medicare, welfare, food stamps, children’s health insurance, Social Security Disability Insurance, health care, student loan programs, education … well, you get the picture. On the other hand, a 30-year makeover of the American nuclear arsenal will cost taxpayers $1.2 trillion ($1.7 trillion with inflation). Any questions?

— Arlen Grossman

nukes

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Don’t Lie Awake at Night

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War, What Is It Good For?

 

Troopaganda Eats Its Own Tail

By David Swanson/ OpEd News/ November 12, 2017

First they tell you what to think the wars are for. They’re for protection from evil enemies, for spreading democracy and human rights.

Then you discover that wasn’t so. The evil enemies were actually human beings and no threat. The wars on terrorism have created many more enemies and spread terrorism far and wide. They’ve endangered rather than protected. They’ve damaged democracy at home and abroad. They’ve violated human rights and normalized their violation.

Then they tell you to keep the wars going for the sake of the poor fools sent into them and coming out of them with PTSD, brain injury, moral injury, and suicidal tendencies. If you’re not for harming more troops you’re “against” the troops.

Then you discover that this is all a twisted lie, that these one-sided slaughters that so devastate even the aggressors have no benefits, that people could have better and better-paying and more satisfying and less environmentally destructive jobs in peaceful industries for less financial, moral, and societal expense. It turns out the wars are for weapons profits and resource control and political domination and sadism.

Then they tell you it isn’t your right to have an opinion on the matter at all, that the troops themselves can decide what the wars are for. Even retroactively, they can simply choose some nice things to say the wars were for. And the wars can have been for different things for each person. It’s a question of personal preference.

If you don’t believe me, check out the hash tag #WhatIFoughtFor, pointed out to me by Coleen Rowley and created by a “human rights” organization. One guy declares that he fought for his family. That’s nice. How much more pleasant for him to love his family than for him to be willing to kill and destroy for a larger salary for the CEO of Lockheed Martin, or for the creation of ISIS, or for turning Libya into a hell on earth, or for the advance of climate change, or for any of the other actual results.

Others declare that they fought so that one particular collaborator or refugee could flee the hell that their fighting created or contributed to. That’s nice too. Surely veterans’ groups promoting kindness to refugees is better than veterans’ groups promoting hatred toward refugees. But what about the idea of ending the wars that create the refugees? What about the millions killed, wounded, traumatized, and left homeless for every one charismatic refugee whom someone claims after the fact that they were somehow fighting for?

And if veterans simply get to declare what they fought for, what is to stop the veterans among the fascists who come to Charlottesville from declaring that they fought for white supremacy? Surely they will be given louder microphones for that claim than will any members of Veterans For Peace. And if the contradictions between those who say they fought for genocide and those who say they fought for women’s rights are compounded by those who fought for some particular nice thing about their own family or town or non-profit funder, what becomes of public understanding?

Once war is understood as having no actual justification, but rather as having as many different justifications as participants, what if it occurs to someone to suggest that perhaps war isn’t justifiable at all?

war

Submitters Website: http://davidswanson.org

Submitters Bio:

David Swanson is the author of “When the World Outlawed War,” “War Is A Lie” and “Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union.” He blogs at http://davidswanson.org and http://warisacrime.org and works for the online activist organization http://rootsaction.org

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How to Fix the Democratic Party

 

By Senator Bernie Sanders/ Politico/ November 10, 2017

It’s time we come together to enact real reform — only then can we defeat Donald Trump and retake the country.

From youtube.com: Bernie Sanders {MID-191610}
Bernie Sanders

 

Donald Trump’s presidency represents an unprecedented crisis for our country. His campaign, and now his White House, seek to divide us using racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and xenophobia. His economic agenda is the agenda of the billionaire class. He wants more tax breaks for the rich, while cutting education, nutrition, affordable housing and other programs desperately needed by working families. And his refusal to acknowledge the great danger of climate change is a threat to the entire planet.

There is nothing, nothing more important than defeating Donald Trump and his extreme right-wing agenda. But this will not happen without an effective opposition party.

Victories in Virginia, New Jersey, Washington, Maine and other states around the country on Tuesday are an important first step in pushing back against Trump’s radical agenda. It was especially gratifying to see thousands of working people and young people jump into the political process, volunteering, knocking on doors and winning elections to state legislatures, city councils and school boards. But the longer-term trend for the Democratic Party is worrisome.

Since 2009, it has lost more than 1,000 seats in state legislatures across the country. Republicans now control the White House and 34 (soon to be 33) out of 50 governorships, as well as the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.

In 26 states, Republicans control the governor’s mansion along with the entirety of the state legislature. This is not just in so-called deep red states. It is true in Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Florida and New Hampshire, all of which will be critical to defeating Trump in 2020, and in drawing congressional districts following that year’s Census.

What is especially absurd about this situation is that the American people strongly oppose almost all elements of the Trump-Republican agenda. Fewer than one-third of Americans support the Trump and Republican tax cuts for the wealthy, and just 12 percent supported their plan to throw tens of millions of people off of their health care. The majority of Americans understand that climate change is real.

Donna Brazile’s recent book makes it abundantly clear how important it is to bring fundamental reforms to the Democratic Party. The party cannot remain an institution largely dominated by the wealthy and inside-the-Beltway consultants. It must open its doors and welcome into its ranks millions of working people and young people who desperately want to be involved in determining the future of our nation.

Last year, Secretary Hillary Clinton and I agreed upon the need for a Unity Reform Commission to move the party in a new and more democratic direction. In a few weeks, this group will have its final meeting in Washington, D.C., and will decide if we are going to move forward in an inclusive way or continue with the current failed approach.

This is not some abstract, insular debate. The future of Democratic Party institutions has everything to do with whether or not Democrats have the grass-roots energy to effectively take on Trump, the Republican Party and their reactionary agenda — or whether we remain in the minority.

What are some of the reforms that are desperately needed?

First, it is absurd that the Democratic Party now gives over 700 superdelegates — almost one-third the number a presidential candidate needs to win the nomination — the power to control the nominating process and ignore the will of voters.

Second, in contrast to Republicans, Democrats believe in making voting easier, not harder. We believe in universal and same-day voter registration and ending antiquated, arbitrary and discriminatory voter registration laws. These same principles must apply to our primaries. Our job must be to reach out to independents and to young people and bring them into the Democratic Party process. Independent voters are critical to general election victories. Locking them out of primaries is a pathway to failure.

In that regard, it is absurd that New Yorkers must change their party registration six months before the Democratic primary in order to participate. Other states have similar, if not as onerous provisions.

Third, in states that use caucuses, we must make it easier for working people and students to participate. While there is much to be said for bringing people together, face to face to discuss why they support the candidate of their choice, not everybody is able to participate because of work, child care or other obligations. A process must be developed that gives everyone the right to cast a vote even if they are not physically able to attend a caucus.

Finally, if we are to succeed, we must fully appreciate Brazile’s revelations and understand the need for far more transparency in the financial and policy workings of the Democratic Party. Hundreds of millions of dollars flow in and out of the Democratic National Committee with little to no accountability. That simply is not acceptable.

At a time when we have a Republican president and Republican Party whose leadership and agenda are strongly opposed by the American people, now is the time for real change. It is critical that we come together and reform the Democratic Party. When we do that, we will win local, state and national elections and transform our country.

Submitters Bio:

Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate’s Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions) committees.

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Why Are Conservatives More Susceptible to Believing Lies?

Fox News believers

Photo illustration by Natalie Matthews-Ramo. Photos by FoxNews and FoxNews.com.

 

By John Ehrenreich/ Slate/ November 9, 2017

Many conservatives have a loose relationship with facts. The right-wing denial of what most people think of as accepted reality starts with political issues: As recently as 2016, 45 percent of Republicans still believed that the Affordable Care Act included “death panels” (it doesn’t). A 2015 poll found that 54 percent of GOP primary voters believed then-President Obama to be a Muslim (…he isn’t).

Then there are the false beliefs about generally accepted science. Only 25 percent of self-proclaimed Trump voters agree that climate change is caused by human activities. Only 43 percent of Republicans overall believe that humans have evolved over time.

And then it gets really crazy. Almost 1 in 6 Trump voters, while simultaneously viewing photographs of the crowds at the 2016 inauguration of Donald Trump and at the 2012 inauguration of Barack Obama , insisted that the former were larger. Sixty-six percent of self-described “very conservative” Americans seriously believe that “Muslims are covertly implementing Sharia law in American courts.” Forty-six percent of Trump voters polled just after the 2016 election either thought that Hillary Clinton was connected to a child sex trafficking ring run out of the basement of a pizzeria in Washington, D.C., or weren’t sure if it was true.

 

If “truth” is judged on the basis of Enlightenment ideas of reason and more or less objective “evidence,” many of the substantive positions common on the right seem to border on delusional. The left is certainly not immune to credulity (most commonly about the safety of vaccines, GMO foods, and fracking), but the right seems to specialize in it. “Misinformation is currently predominantly a pathology of the right,” concluded a team of scholars from the Harvard Kennedy School and Northeastern University at a February 2017 conference. A BuzzFeed analysis found that three main hyperconservative Facebook pages were roughly twice as likely as three leading ultraliberal Facebook pages to publish fake or misleading information.

Why are conservatives so susceptible to misinformation? The right wing’s disregard for facts and reasoning is not a matter of stupidity or lack of education. College-educated Republicans are actually more likely than less-educated Republicans to have believed that Barack Obama was a Muslim and that “death panels” were part of the ACA. And for political conservatives, but not for liberals, greater knowledge of science and math is associated with a greater likelihood of dismissing what almost all scientists believe about the human causation of global warming.

 

Part of the problem is widespread suspicion of facts—any facts. Both mistrust of scientists and other “experts” and mistrust of the mass media that reports what scientists and experts believe have increased among conservatives (but not among liberals) since the early ’80s. The mistrust has in part, at least, been deliberately inculcated. The fossil fuel industry publicizes studies to confuse the climate change debate; Big Pharma hides unfavorable information on drug safety and efficacy; and many schools in conservative areas teach students that evolution is “just a theory.” The public is understandably confused about both the findings and methods of science. “Fake news” deliberately created for political or economic gain and Donald Trump’s claims that media sites that disagree with him are “fake news” add to the mistrust.

 

But, the gullibility of many on the right seems to have deeper roots even than this. That may be because at the most basic level, conservatives and liberals seem to hold different beliefs about what constitutes “truth.” Finding facts and pursuing evidence and trusting science is part of liberal ideology itself. For many conservatives, faith and intuition and trust in revealed truth appear as equally valid sources of truth.

To understand how these differences manifest and what we might do about them, it helps to understand how all humans reason and rationalize: In other words, let’s take a detour into psychology. Freud distinguished between“errors” on the one hand, “illusions” and “delusions” on the other. Errors, he argued, simply reflect lack of knowledge or poor logic; Aristotle’s belief that vermin form out of dung was an error. But illusions and delusions are based on conscious or unconscious wishes; Columbus’s belief that he had found a new route to the Indies was a delusion based on his wish that he had done so.

 

Although Freud is out of favor with many contemporary psychologists, modern cognitive psychology suggests that he was on the right track. The tenacity of many of the right’s beliefs in the face of evidence, rational arguments, and common sense suggest that these beliefs are not merely alternate interpretations of facts but are instead illusions rooted in unconscious wishes.

This is a very human thing to do. As popular writers such as Daniel Kahneman, Cass Sunstein, and Richard Thaler have pointed out, we often use shortcuts when we reason, shortcuts that enable us to make decisions quickly and with little expenditure of mental energy. But they also often lead us astray—we underestimate the risks of events that unfold slowly and whose consequences are felt only over the long term (think global warming) and overestimate the likelihood of events that unfold rapidly and have immediate consequences (think terrorist attacks).

Our reasoning is also influenced(motivated, psychologists would say) by our emotions and instincts. This manifests in all kinds of ways: We need to maintain a positive self-image, to stave off anxiety and guilt, and to preserve social relationships. We also seek to maintain consistency in our beliefs, meaning that when people simultaneously hold two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values, one or the other must go. And so we pay more attention and give more credence to information and assertions that confirm what we already believe: Liberals enthusiastically recount even the most tenuous circumstantial evidence of Trump campaign collusion with the Russians, and dyed-in-the-wool Trump supporters happily believe that the crowd really was bigger at his candidate’s inauguration.

 


 

 

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From Russia With Love

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The Billionaires Won. The Rest of Us Lost.

By Arlen Grossman

It’s not your grandfather’s America anymore.

Democracy in the United States has failed. So we shouldn’t be surprised when tax cuts favor the wealthy, and we see the rich growing richer and the poor losing ground. In addition, climate change is worsening, health care is ignored, the military keeps overextending itself, and there is inaction on gun control. And we shouldn’t expect justice to be blind. Not when the poor and people of color crowd our prisons, while the rich and powerful never see the inside of a cell (prime example: the Wall Street bankers who caused the 2008 Great Recession).

We shouldn’t be surprised at the myriad other shameful government policies that benefit the rich and powerful, and hurt the rest of us. Regressive policies are the norm and will undoubtedly get worse. Democracy is but a faded dream.

Why? Because Billionaires and Big Corporations own this country. Period. Lock, stock and bonds.

Billionaires and Big Corporations control our political system, which explains why Republicans keep winning elections even when there are more Democratic voters. They control our economic system, too, which explains why the richest 1 percent in the United States now own more wealth than the bottom 90 percent, and according to the Urban Institute, almost 40 percent of American children spend at least one year in poverty before they turn 18. It explains why the average American almost never gets what he or she wants from government.

A 2014 study by two Princeton academics, Martin Gilens and Benjamin Page, concluded that “In the United States, our findings indicate, the majority does not rule—at least not in the causal sense of actually determining policy outcomes. When a majority of citizens disagrees with economic elites and/or with organized interests, they generally lose. Moreover … even when fairly large majorities of Americans favor policy change, they generally do not get it.”

Clearly, Oligarchs and Plutocrats are in charge of this country, with no intention of giving back their power.

The Billionaires and Big Corporations control American politicians with lobbying and campaign contributions (legalized bribery), and happily reap the benefits. The rest of us go through the motions of democracy. We work to change policies through petitions, contacting our representatives, sending money, and voting for our favorite politicians. But all of that is futile. We’ve long lost our Democracy, and it’s not coming back anytime soon.

Sure, they’ll throw liberals a few bones, like gay rights and legalized marijuana, but when it comes to economic issues, the rich and powerful always win and the rest of us always lose. George Carlin understood: “The politicians are put there to give you the idea that you have freedom of choice. You don’t. You have no choice. You have owners. They own you. They own everything.”

How did this happen? After the Great Depression the average worker was doing well, the American Dream was accessible, and each subsequent generation in the 1950s and 1960s did better. In the 1970s, feeling overwhelmed by Great Society and other liberal programs, the business community and other conservatives decided to fight back.

Some attribute this newfound assertiveness to a memo from future Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell to a friend affiliated with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which laid the groundwork for an aggressive pro-business, anti-liberal attack. The “American economic system is under broad attack,” wrote Powell. “Business must learn the lesson . . . that political power is necessary…”

Soon, right-wing think tanks, like the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation, sprung up. Then came Ronald Reagan, the Moral Majority, the decline of labor unions, right-wing radio and television, and the Tea Party. The biggest boon for wealthy Republicans was the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling in 2010, which allowed billionaires like the Koch Brothers to spend as much as they want, i.e. to essentially buy elections.

It is painful to acknowledge our lost democracy. But reality is hard to deny. We can hope the American people will rise up and take back the country from the Billionaires and Big Corporations. Just don’t expect it in the near future. The odds are too much stacked against the average citizen. Good luck, fellow American, eventually the pendulum might begin to swing back the other way. Just don’t be surprised if it’s not in your lifetime.

Billiionaire

**published in OpEdNews, October 26, 2017

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172 Countries and Territories?!!

AMERICA’S FORGOTTEN WARS

New York Times Editorial/ October 23, 2017

The United States has been at war continuously since the attacks of 9/11 and now has just over 240,000 active-duty and reserve troops in at least 172 countries and territories. While the number of men and women deployed overseas has shrunk considerably over the past 60 years, the military’s reach has not. American forces are actively engaged not only in the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria and Yemen that have dominated the news, but also in Niger and Somalia, both recently the scene of deadly attacks, as well as Jordan, Thailand and elsewhere.

An additional 37,813 troops serve on presumably secret assignment in places listed simply as “unknown.” The Pentagon provided no further explanation.

There are traditional deployments in Japan (39,980 troops) and South Korea (23,591) to defend against North Korea and China, if needed, along with 36,034 troops in Germany, 8,286 in Britain and 1,364 in Turkey — all NATO allies. There are 6,524 troops in Bahrain and 3,055 in Qatar, where the United States has naval bases.

The U.S. Has Troops in Nearly Every Country

Active and reserve service members stationed overseas

JAPAN: 39,980

More troops reside here than in any foreign country

AFGHANISTAN: 11,965

One of the few large countries without any active or reserve troops

America’s operations in conflict zones like Africa are expanding: 400 American Special Forces personnel in Somalia train local troops fighting the Shabab Islamist group, providing intelligence and sometimes going into battle with them. One member of the Navy SEALs was killed there in a mission in May. On Oct. 14, a massive attack widely attributed to the Shabab on a Mogadishu street killed more than 270 people, which would show the group’s increased reach. About 800 troops are based in Niger, where four Green Berets died on Oct. 4.

Many of these forces are engaged in counterterrorism operations — against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance; against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; against an affiliate of Al Qaeda in Yemen. So far, Americans seem to accept that these missions and the deployments they require will continue indefinitely. Still, it’s a very real question whether, in addition to endorsing these commitments, which have cost trillions of dollars and many lives over 16 years, they will embrace new entanglements of the sort President Trump has seemed to portend with his rash threats and questionable decisions on North Korea and Iran.

Andrew Bacevich, a retired Army colonel who lost a son in Iraq and is a critic of military operations, says that “a collective indifference to war has become an emblem of contemporary America.” The idea that Americans could be inured to war and all its horrors is chilling, and it’s a recipe for dangerous decisions with far-reaching ramifications. There are many factors contributing to this trend:

During earlier wars, including Vietnam, the draft put most families at risk of having a loved one go to war, but now America has all-volunteer armed forces. Less than 1 percent of the population now serves in the military, compared with more than 12 percent in World War II. Most people simply do not have a family member in harm’s way.

American casualty rates have been relatively low, especially in more recent years after the bulk of American troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan and Iraq. Also, the United States has shifted to a strategy in which Americans provide air power and intelligence, and train and assist local troops who then do most of the fighting and most of the dying. This year, for instance, 11 American service members died in Afghanistan and 14 in Iraq. By comparison, 6,785 Afghan security force members died in 2016 and 2,531 died in the first five months this year, according to the United States and Afghan governments. Tens of thousands of civilians also perished at the hands of various combatants, including in 2017, but the figures get little publicity. Most Americans tend not to think about them.

Since 9/11, American leaders have defined the fight against terrorism as a permanent struggle against a permanent threat. Mr. Obama withdrew significant forces from Afghanistan and Iraq. But the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria and a resurgent Taliban in Afghanistan led to renewed engagement, though at lower troop levels. Terror attacks here and in Europe, and Mr. Trump’s scaremongering, have reinforced the public’s sense of siege.

The military is essential to national security, but it is not the only thing keeping America safe. So do robust diplomacy and America’s engagement in multilateral institutions, both of which we have faulted Mr. Trump for ignoring or undercutting. The Pentagon, by contrast, thrives. After some belt-tightening during the financial crisis, it has a receptive audience in Congress and the White House as it pushes for more money to improve readiness and modernize weapons. Senators who balk at paying for health care and the basic diplomatic missions of the State Department approved a $700 billion defense budget for 2017-18, far more than Mr. Trump even requested.

Whether this largess will continue is unclear. But the larger question involves the American public and how many new military adventures, if any, it is prepared to tolerate.

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Frank Zappa: Fascist Theocracy

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Sensible Gun Laws Needed

Letter to the Editor/ Monterey Herald/ October 12, 2017

The media is trying hard to figure out the motive for the Las Vegas shooter’s massacre of so many innocent people. Interesting for sure, but far less important than figuring out what laws are needed to prevent a monster like him from acquiring the dangerous weapons he used. That is where our attention should be focused. The gun lobby has gotten what they want for long enough. Sensible gun laws are long overdue.

Arlen Grossman

guns

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