El Salvador Votes for Water over Gold

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Photo: Genia Yatsenko

The people of El Salvador and their international allies against irresponsible mining are celebrating a historic victory. After a long battle against global mining companies that were determined to plunder the country’s natural resources for short-term profits, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly has voted to ban all metal mining projects.

The new law is aimed at protecting the Central American nation’s environment and natural resources. Approved on March 29 with the support of 69 lawmakers from multiple parties (out of a total of 84), the law blocks all exploration, extraction, and processing of metals, whether in open pits or underground. It also prohibits the use of toxic chemicals like cyanide and mercury.

In the lead-up to the vote, communities in the town of Cinquera had rejected mining through a local referendum and the Catholic Church of El Salvador had called for massive participation in a public protest to demand legislators to start discussions on the prohibition of mining. When the protest arrived at the legislative assembly, on March 9, they were greeted by a multi-party commission that committed to start discussions immediately and have legislation ready before the Easter holidays.

Despite the fact that there is a national consensus among communities, civil society organizations, government institutions, and political parties for a mining prohibition, the Australian-Canadian company OceanaGold and its subsidiaries in El Salvador have consistently attempted to slow the bill’s progress and sought to gain support for their so-called “Responsible Mining” campaign.

The company launched the campaign at a fancy hotel in San Salvador after losing a $ 250 million lawsuit against El Salvador in October 2016. The company had filed a claim with the International Center for the Settlement of Investment Disputes (ICSID), demanding compensation when the government declined to grant the firm a permit for a gold extraction project that threatened the nation’s water supply. In the face of tremendous opposition from a wide range of groups inside and outside El Salvador, the ICSID tribunal ruled against the company.

When legislators announced that they would begin serious discussion on the mining ban, the company intensified its activities.  Besides publishing paid communiqués in local pro-business newspapers, social organizations reported that OceanaGold representatives met with government officials to lobby against the bill.

On March 23, a pro-mining protest was organized by the El Dorado Foundation (the foundation created and funded by OceanaGold) in front of the Legislative Assembly while the Commission deliberated over the bill.  It was later reported by FMLN Representative Guillermo Mata, President of the Environment and Climate Change Commission, that the busloads of people brought by the foundation from the Department of Cabanas had each been paid $ 7 plus a free lunch to attend. They were also directed not to talk to the press.  Also on March 23, Luis Parada, the lawyer who led the defense team for El Salvador in the ICSID case, denounced through his twitter account a letter sent by OceanaGold and its subsidiary Pac Rim containing veiled threats of further legal action should El Salvador vote to ban mining.

But the push for a mining prohibition remained strong. To support the anti-mining coalition, Carlos Padilla, Governor of Nueva Vizcaya in the Philippines, visited El Salvador to share his province’s adverse experience with OceanaGold. On March 28, in presentations to El Salvador’s Environment and Climate Change Commission, Padilla reported that the mine had brought no significant economic growth, had violated human rights, and posed a threat to the province’s agricultural activity, the environment, and future generations.

His testimony helped break down the myths of economic growth and responsible, sustainable mining propagated by OceanaGold. After Padilla’s presentation the legislators on the Commission unanimously voted to advance the Law to Ban Metal Mining to the floor of the Legislative Assembly.

Also in advance of the assembly vote, many foreign organizations and individuals wrote to the president of the Legislative Assembly, Guillermo Gallegos, expressing solidarity with the people of El Salvador and support for the law.

By voting in favor of the mining ban, these lawmakers in El Salvador have chosen water over gold, and people and the environment over corporate profits.  And they showed that even a very poor country can stand up to powerful global mining firms.

Pedro Cabezas is based in El Salvador, where he coordinates the International Allies against Metal Mining. Sebastian Rosemont also contributed to this commentary.

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The History of Taxes, in One Mega-Rich Family

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(Photo: elycefeliz / Flickr)

David Rockefeller has just passed away.

You may have already heard that news. You may have not. America’s major media outlets haven’t treated Rockefeller’s death — at age 101 — as a top-of-the-news story.

How things change. Once upon a time, any breaking news that involved a Rockefeller almost automatically qualified as news not to be missed. And for good reason.

A century ago, David Rockefeller’s granddad, John D. Rockefeller, ranked as America’s richest man. No other fortune in the United States — or the world — came even close in size to his.

When old John D. passed away in 1937 at age 97, newspapers treated his death as a mega big deal. Front-page headlines everywhere. Editorial pages filled with reflections on his long and lucrative life.

One of those reflections came from America’s most noted 20th-century pundit, columnist Walter Lippmann. The nation, Lippmann observed, would likely never see a fortune as grand as Rockefeller’s ever again. John D. had “lived long enough to see the methods by which such a fortune can be accumulated outlawed by public opinion, forbidden by statute, and prevented by the tax laws.”

In the United States, Lippmann added, “sentiment has turned wholly against the private accumulation of so much wealth.”

John D. Rockefeller raged mightily against that public sentiment over his life’s last decades. He fiercely denounced, for instance, the drive to enact a federal income tax.

“When a man has accumulated a sum of money within the law,” old John D. intoned, “the people no longer have any right to share in the earnings resulting from the accumulation.”

The people felt otherwise. A federal income tax became the law of the land in 1913. That tax would go on to whittle down the fortune John D. later left his six grandchildren.

The most celebrated of those six, longtime New York governor Nelson Rockefeller, would end up feeling intensely embarrassed about his diminished financial status, as one Washington insider discovered in 1974.

That insider, a veteran lobbyist by the name of Tom Korologos, vetted Nelson Rockefeller to be then-President Gerald Ford’s vice president.

“I’ve got something to worry about,” Korologos remembers Nelson grimacing. The former governor, Korologos soon learned, didn’t want to publicly reveal his personal financial picture.

“His concern,” the vetter explained, “was that when it became public, he wasn’t going to be as rich as everybody thought he was.”

What had happened to the fabled Rockefeller family fortune? Taxes.

Beginning in the early 1940s and lasting into the 1960s, the federal tax rate on individual income over $ 200,000 annually hovered around 90 percent.

And many states also had their own progressive taxes. In New York, the state tax rate on top-bracket income stood at 15.375 percent.

Deep pockets could, of course, deduct their state taxes off their federal taxable income. But those deductions didn’t change the basic bottom line: The extravagantly rich, in mid-20th century America, were losing their capacity to be extravagant.

Nelson Rockefeller passed away in 1979, just before the Reagan Revolution began undoing the progressive tax system that had so shaved his net worth. His younger brother David, a banker, lived on to prosper in the rich-people-friendly political environment the Reagan years ushered in.

Where Nelson watched his wealth shrink, David saw his wealth soar. At his death, Forbes magazine put David’s net worth at $ 3.3 billion, the world’s 604th largest fortune.

What would John D. Rockefeller think about how his last grandchild’s life turned out? He might be a tad disappointed that his flesh and blood no longer ranked as the richest of the world’s rich. But he’d probably be overjoyed that in America the rich still rule.

At least for now.

Sam Pizzigati is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Vacature: stagiaire communicatie

Fairfood wil dat de boeren en arbeiders die ons eten produceren een eerlijk inkomen krijgen. Jij kunt daaraan meehelpen! In onze nieuwe, innovatieve campagnestrategie gaan we intensief aan de slag met social en earned media. Word jij enthousiast van storytelling, audiovisuele content en innovatieve PR? Dan willen we graag een kopje eerlijke koffie (of thee!) met je drinken.

De stage

Jij herkent interessante content en weet hoe je die op de juiste manier kunt doorvertalen voor onze doelgroep. Een creatieve inslag en een vlotte pen kunnen je daar goed bij helpen. Je doet analyses op kanalen en doel­groep, denkt mee over onze contentkalender, de look & feel van onze vlogs en blogs. Maar we kunnen je project­matige ondersteuning ook goed gebruiken bij de productie van persberichten, begeleiding van a/v producties en het organiseren van events. Ook sluiten we niet uit dat we met jou een festival gaan bezoeken dit jaar!

Je krijgt je eigen verantwoordelijkheden en wordt begeleid door experts op het gebied van communicatie, campagnevoeren en sociaal ondernemerschap (o.a. Wakker Dier, the Dutch Weed Burger, Dance4Life).

Profiel Fairfood

Het huidige Fairfood functioneert als een startup. Een klein team van experts dat intensief samenwerkt met een divers palet aan partners: creatives, marketeers, NGO’s, en retail/voedingsbedrijven. We zijn met 4, binnenkort 5 mensen en werken vanuit de Groene Bocht 2 in Amsterdam.

Vanuit een ondernemersblik gaan we misstanden in de voedingsindustrie te lijf. Consumenten worden hierbij intensief betrokken.

Aantal medewerkers binnen de organisatie (in fte): 4,5

Soort stage: voor communicatiestudenten

Functie praktijkbegeleider: Manager communicatie & marketing

Stagevergoeding: ntb

Stageperiode: 20 weken

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Escalating Casualties in Mosul Cannot Be Blamed on the Fog of War

“There is an effort to deflect responsibility. But the bottom line is this is the result of a U.S. airstrike, whether there were other factors involved or not,” IPS Middle East foreign policy expert told Rising Up with Sonali amid recent accusations of a U.S. air strike killing more than 200 civilians in Mosul.

While the U.S. has admitted to the bombings, it’s blamed the humanitarian impact on ISIS.

Part of ISIS’ military strategy is to use protected areas such as schools and hospitals as fighting zones, Bennis explained. And since we know that, the U.S. cannot keep conducting airstrikes on these areas, killing civilians as a result, and attributing the blame to ISIS, Bennis argued.

“If we claim, as the U.S. does, that we are going to war to liberate people from ISIS, you cannot claim that killing them is the equivalent way of liberating them. You have to figure out a different strategy that does not rely on these air wars,” Bennis said.

Bennis also spoke to the lack of accountability the U.S. military has faced when its actions have resulted in civilian deaths. Massive civilian causalities can be and often are predicted in advance, but the explanation for this has been that it is simply a cost of war or the fog of war, which Bennis argued is not the case.

“Civilian casualties are the inevitable consequence of using massive military force, particularly airstrikes, against a crowded populated city,” Bennis explained.

The Obama administration had put “insufficient, but somewhat restrictive” rules in place that in theory were meant to protect civilians, Bennis said. Now, the Pentagon, under the Trump administration, is requesting that this set of rules be removed which would eliminate restrictions on the use of force and any chance at even discussing accountability for civilian deaths.

“You can talk all you want about what it means to evict ISIS control from places like Mosul, but for those 400,000 people living in Mosul, many of them will not survive to cheer the removal of ISIS because they will be killed by the same bombs that led to the expulsion of ISIS fighters,” Bennis said.

Meanwhile, the war in Yemen has continued to escalate with the U.S. carrying out an airstrike that killed about 30 Yemenis, airstrikes the Trump administration claims are to counter terrorism. Bennis said, however, that this is not about ISIS, but about “making good on their long standing claim that they’re going to go after Iran in a way that the Obama administration never did.”

Iran and Saudi Arabia are involved in a proxy war in Yemen and now the “U.S. is going to escalate its own role in backing Saudi Arabia,” Bennis explained.

“We have been at war with terrorism for 15 years, yet terrorism is thriving. It’s the people and the cities of these countries that are being destroyed. And we’re seeing no indication from anyone within the Trump administration that is calling for restraint. That’s what makes it so much more dangerous right now,” Bennis concluded.

Watch the full interview on Rising Up With Sonali.

Phyllis Bennis is the director of the New Internationalism project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Trump’s Budget Proposal Is a Moral Atrocity

Since the election, many of us have wondered: Could the new administration really be the caricature of callousness we feared it would be? The day Trump unveiled his budget proposal, we had our definitive answer.

It could be, and it is.

Once upon a time, the general-turned-president Dwight Eisenhower issued a famous warning: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.” At stake is not the nation’s “money alone,” the former World War II commander observed, but “the hopes of its children.”

If that’s true, the Trump budget proposal is a colossal theft of hope. It proposes to buy guns, warships, and bombers at the expense of almost everything else — including the planet. It’s the starkest grab from butter to give to guns since World War II.

Salting the Wounds of Working People

The proposal’s centerpiece is a nearly unprecedented military spending spree, raising the Pentagon’s base budget $ 54 billion over where it was last year.

That increase steals directly from much cheaper programs to provide meals for poor children and the elderly, as well as from medical research, affordable housing, and — ironically for a president that called himself “Mr. Infrastructure” — all the agencies that fund infrastructure. It would completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which costs each American taxpayer less than a pack of gum but serves every district in the country, in a seemingly transparent effort to stifle dissent among the artists, librarians, and writers who build our cultural democracy.

In cut after cut, the proposal pours salt in the wounds of the very working people Trump pledged to help.

The sadistic slashes include cutting job training and safeguards to ensure that factories and mines are safe for workers. Funding for the economic development of rural communities, including in Trump-friendly Appalachia, is cut deeply, and so are funds for distressed “inner cities” — each of which Trump has claimed to be a champion of.

Desperately needed funds for public schools will be funneled away to unaccountable private and charter schools. Rent and heating assistance for poor families is also on the chopping block.

These cuts to vital domestic programs come on top of years of deep cuts they’ve already endured. Leaving people in rural areas and distressed cities struggling without rent, heat, food, and good public schools — while tearing families apart with new resources for deportation — will leave nothing left for an overblown military or domestic militarized police forces to defend.

Trump’s budget chief, Mick Mulvaney, has defended his draconian cuts to safety net programs by saying we should only pay for programs that work. Feeding poor kids, he claims, hasn’t helped them do better in school, so those programs should be cut.

But that standard doesn’t square at all with the proposal’s call to increase the number of F-35 Joint Strike Fighters we’ll be buying. The F-35 jet program is the most expensive weapon system ever devised, with the total cost of the program estimated at more than the GDP of Australia. Yet every few months during the many years it hasn’t been flying — and while its costs have been rising — we get news of something else on this plane that doesn’t work, and that will slow down its ever-receding timeline.

Gutting Diplomacy and Starving the Hungry

Yet not even shredding what remains of the social safety net is enough to balance out Trump’s massive proposed gift to the military-industrial complex. Also targeted for elimination are America’s diplomatic corps and foreign aid programs.

The extra money for the military will be partly taken out of the State Department, which would lose fully 28 percent of its budget. With Trump gutting U.S. diplomacy, ratcheting up military spending, and appointing military men to top national security posts, that would virtually guarantee the triumph of war over diplomacy in future foreign policy decisions.

Meanwhile, Trump’s evisceration of foreign aid programs would prove to an already skeptical world that the U.S. government really doesn’t care about starving children or women dying in childbirth.

The cuts come as the UN warns that 20 million people are at risk of starvation, as famines sweep across several countries in Africa and the Middle East. One of those countries is Yemen, the Arab world’s poorest, where the U.S. is backing a Saudi Arabian war and blockade. Thousands of Yemeni children are now at risk of dying of starvation, alongside millions more in Somalia, South Sudan, and northeastern Nigeria.

The most shocking part?

Even now, before these proposed cuts, we spend less than one-fifth of 1 percent of our national income on foreign aid. That barely amounts to a rounding error in the Pentagon budget. Slashing that tiny sliver of foreign aid will do nothing to improve the most powerful military in human history, but it’ll do much to destroy the lives of some of the most vulnerable children on earth.

Vandalizing the Planet

The Trump budgeteers have also taken special care to target virtually all federal programs that are working to avoid the worst ravages of the most serious existential threat facing humanity: climate change.

The Environmental Protection Agency alone faces a 31 percent budget cut. Those cuts are carefully designed to incapacitate the agency and prevent it from carrying out its mission of protecting our air, our water, and — critically — our most vulnerable people.

They include a complete elimination of climate change funding, including for the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. They would also abolish the Environmental Justice program, which provides much-needed grants to communities of color and low-income communities dealing with disparate environmental impacts — a gratuitous cut that has no obvious purpose other than pandering to racists.

The EPA’s Office of Research and Development would see fully half of its funding eliminated as well, in a blatant continuation of the administration’s war on science and facts.

On the local level, bipartisan-supported programs to restore regional watersheds are also in danger. The budget would eliminate federal funding for the cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes, for example. Restoration investments for these water sources more than pay off in the form of healthier residents, fisheries, and tourism, but the administration would do away with them.

At the global level, meanwhile, the Green Climate Fund — which the UN set up to help poorer countries develop cleaner energy sources and adapt to climate change caused by richer nations — stands to lose $ 2 billion in outstanding pledges if the U.S. stops funding it. (Under Obama, by comparison, the U.S. spent around $ 2.6 billion in international climate finance in 2015 alone — including $ 500 million for the Green Climate Fund.)

Importantly, defunding international climate finance would confirm that the Trump administration intends to default on its agreements as part of the Paris Climate Accords, regardless of whether it eventually decides to formally withdraw from the pact.

Global climate action will continue regardless — with China, India, and other countries well placed to eclipse the U.S. in developing the new technologies around which the economy of the future will be built.

But removing climate finance will irreparably harm some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people, who are disproportionately affected by climate change. Withdrawing funding for people at risk of drought and flash floods and disappearing coastal cities is a huge injustice, given the major role that the U.S. played in causing climate change.

In short, these environmental cuts are an act of planetary vandalism by a billionaire president, backed by the oil industry shills, climate denialists, and 1 percenters stacked into his cabinet.

Making the Opioid Crisis Worse

If there’s one winner in this budget besides the Pentagon, it’s the militarization of our southern border.

The Trump administration has requested $ 4 billion to begin work on a solid, concrete border wall estimated to cost between $ 8 million to $ 25 million per mile. If it extends to the full 1,950 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, it could cost up to $ 50 billion to complete. Along with a draconian deportation push that will devastate families across the country, Trump calls the wall a necessary measure against “bad hombres” and “drug lords.”

Yet most drugs entering the country aren’t carried through the desert by migrants. Instead, they enter the U.S. by the ton using other air, sea, and land routes.

On land, they tend to come through existing checkpoints hidden in vehicles, or underground tunnels — with the latter capable of moving tons of drugs around the clock. On sea, the latest innovation is narco-submarines, which can carry 6-12 tons per shipment. By air, traffickers have used everything from catapults to ultralights, and now drones. If anything, Trump’s absurd investment in an opaque wall will only incentivize traffickers to invest in more countermeasures like these.

Trump has said this is a major initiative to combat the opioid crisis by restricting the flow of heroin. In fact, the major driver of opioid deaths isn’t heroin, but the synthetic analog called fentanyl — which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin. Traffickers are adulterating heroin with the cheaper fentanyl to stretch their profits and unsuspecting users are overdosing on the mixture at an alarming rate.

On the off chance the wall is successful in reducing the heroin supply, it is almost certain that traffickers will resort to adding more fentanyl into the mixture, thus leading to many more overdoses.

False Populism

Budgets are moral documents, and the moral atrocities of Trump’s budget speak for themselves. They echo longstanding calls from conservative congressional leaders to dismantle social programs and dramatically increase Pentagon and border spending, only now with the call of “America first.”

As the betrayals in this budget request make utterly clear, this is false populism.

Along with our allies, we intend to bust it. We believe that America, and indeed the world, is better off when we listen to the needs of our families, communities, and the planet over the drumbeat of war and hate.

As Eisenhower said, it’s not just money alone that’s at stake. It’s everything we value.

 

Sign up for our newsletter to receive updates on all of the ways we’re fighting with our allies for equity, peace, and the protection of our planet.

The Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) is the oldest multi-issue progressive think tank in Washington, DC. IPS has been at the forefront of research and action for the civil rights, anti-war, feminist, environmental, and global justice movements in the U.S. and around the globe. The Institute has partnered with grassroots advocacy organizations to provide public scholarship in support of organizing efforts to build a more just and peaceful world.

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As the White House Drops the Ball on Climate, Expect the States to Pick Up the Slack

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(Photo: Flickr/ Takver)

“The consequences of these budget cuts would be vast,” IPS fellow and U.S. policy director at Oil Change International Janet Redman told the Marc Steiner Show, regarding Trump’s proposed budget cuts to federal environmental programs.

Trump’s assault on the climate doesn’t stop with his proposed  cuts to the EPA. It also seeks to cut 28 percent of the State Department budget, which is how the U.S. relates internationally to climate change and energy policy,

IPS Climate Policy director Basav Sen said racism and white supremacy and crony capitalism are the underlying sources of the White House’s climate policy.

“People of color and poor people have paid a disproportionate price for the polluting ways of corporate America,” Sen explained. “This led to the creation of environmental justice programs at the EPA which have provided support and data to these communities.”

By trying to get rid of these programs and moving forward with other bad environmental policies like  with the building of the Dakota Access Pipeline, the administration’s message is that they “don’t care about the environment, the future of humanity, or people of color,” Sen argued.

Sen went on to discuss the effects of large fossil fuel companies that have a lot of clout with the current administration. The issue is not about being pro-business, Sen said, it’s about crony capitalism.

These policies  “favor certain large and politically influential sectors of business, the ones who have partially bank rolled political careers of people like EPA head Scott Pruitt and Energy Department head Rick Perry,” Sen said.

The budget cuts also target clean energy research and take away funding for climate action initiatives at the state level.  Services that help people are being shifted to state agencies instead of operated on the federal level, which means less enforcement and implementation of provisions such as the Clean Air Act and Water Act, which targets already vulnerable communities, Redman argued.

“If the federal government not only refuses to act, but intends on taking America backwards, there’s a lot that cities and states can do and have done,” Sen said. “Hawaii will be 100 percent renewal energy for their electricity by 2045, Oregon will completely eliminate coal from their electricity supply by 2030, and Washington, D.C. will be 50 percent renewable for electricity by 2032 and simultaneously solarize 100,000 low income homes by then.”

Speaking to the power of organized popular resistance, Sen argued that “every time people have made advances in this country or anywhere else in the world, it’s because of pressure from below working across sectors.”

Redman agreed, adding “We don’t want to lose sight of the fact that we have to hold elected officials accountable when they side with big oil, gas, and coal industries.”

“We must fight in every forum available to us: in the courts, in legislatures, in policy spaces, on the streets, in the media, and in international forums,” Sen concluded.

Listen to the full interview on The Marc Steiner Show. 

Basav Sen is the director of the Climate Justice Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
Janet Redman is an associate fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Why Spend $54 Billion More on the Pentagon? To Start a War, Obviously.

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(Photo: Joint Chiefs of Staff / Flickr)

So, let me see if I’ve got this right.

North Korea has been pushing its ally China to rein in the United States. Pyongyang is worried that Washington is about to launch a preemptive attack, so it has tried to use whatever minimal amount of influence it has to persuade China to use its considerable economic leverage with the United States to get those knuckleheads inside the Beltway to listen to reason.

Or maybe I misheard the report on the radio.

How about this: As a presidential candidate, Donald Trump promised to stop reckless U.S. military interventions overseas, like the one he so disliked (after it failed) in Iraq. So, as president, he is withdrawing all troops from Syria, reducing U.S. military presence in Asia, and pulling the United States out of NATO. Oh, and he’s going to cut the military as part of his overall promise to downsize government.

Perhaps I misheard that report as well.

During the Obama administration, the comic duo of Key and Peele famously introduced the “anger translator” who could give voice to what President Obama was really thinking as he provided measured responses to all manner of nonsense lobbed in his direction. Ah, those were halcyon days when we made fun of the American president for not giving voice to his true feelings.

What kind of translator do we need for the Trump era? Perhaps a “reality translator” that reveals the simple, id-like intentions behind the current president’s Tweet-rants and policy proposals.

Type in “Obama bugged Trump Tower” and out comes: “Hey, hey, stop looking at my links to Russia, okay!?” Type in “2017 budget proposal” and out comes: “I’m gonna destroy every potential source of resistance to me and my ambitions.” Type in “Trumpcare” and out comes “I’m going to rob poor Peter to pay propertied Paul.” (To quote just one example: Trumpcare would encourage health care companies to pay their overpaid CEOs even more money!)

I’ve come to the conclusion, after about 60 days of presidential antics, that the problem is not “fake news.” The problem is a fake administration.

It’s no surprise that Donald Trump, as president, just makes things up. He’s been doing that all his career. But now an entire government is being re-engineered around the pathological dishonesty of the executive and his advisors. This is bait-and-switch on a level never seen before in the United States.

It would all be rather amusing if millions of lives weren’t at stake — both domestically through the self-destruction of the federal government and internationally through the very real prospects of war.

This president, with his insuperable ambition to score some “wins,” is in search of some missions to declare accomplished. North Korea and the Islamic State are at the top of the list. But don’t be surprised if the $ 54 billion that Trump wants to add like an enormous cherry on top of the Pentagon’s over-rich sundae will translate into even more conflicts around the world.

Let’s Go to the Numbers

If Trump’s proposed Pentagon increase of $ 54 billion were the military budget of a distinct country, it would come in fifth on the list of global military expenditures. Basically, Trump wants to add an entire annual British military budget on top of what the United States already spends — which already towers above any imaginary coalition of potential rivals.

With the rest of his deplorable budget request, Trump will encounter pushback from Congress and cities and major constituencies like the over-65 set. Some of his own voters might finally come to their senses when they realize that Trump the Great is waving his magic hand in the air to distract them from seeing the other hand pick their pockets.

But on the military side, Trump has, if anything, underbid. Congressional hawks are complaining that Trump is not throwing enough money at the Pentagon. They say that he’s only offering a 3 percent increase over what the Obama administration estimated for 2018, that Trump the candidate made even grander promises, that the Pentagon should get at least another $ 37 billion. If Congress comes back with this figure, it would increase the increase to $ 91 billion. Trump’s boost alone would then rise to number three on the list of global spenders, after the United States and China.

What does Trump want to spend all this extra money on? He wants a 350-ship navy — even though the Navy is already undertaking a 30-year program to raise the number of ships from the current 272 ships to 308. He has hinted at pulling out of the New START treaty with Russia — once he found out what it was — so that he could build more nukes. There would be more soldiers, including as many as 60,000 more in the Army.

But all of this is just skirting the real issue. Donald Trump wants to spend more money on the military because he wants to go to war.

First: Islamic State

As a candidate, Donald Trump focused most of his martial fury on the Islamic State. He promised to “bomb the hell” out of ISIS and, within 30 days in office, come up with a plan to defeat the entity. When he was elected, radical jihadists predictably rejoiced: Bring it on, they effectively said.

Within 30 days, Trump indeed published a memorandum on defeating ISIS. Bottom line: We need to come up with a plan.

In the absence of a strategy, what Trump has done is chilling enough. He has unleashed the CIA to conduct drone strikes, reversing an Obama administration order. He has continued to sanction B-52 strikes, like the one this month in the Syrian village of Al Jinah that killed dozens of civilians. He’s sending 1,000 troops to join the fight against ISIS in Syria. He wants to rely more on Special Forces in raids like the one in Yemen in January that went so spectacularly wrong, leaving one Navy SEAL and several civilians dead.

In some ways, Trump is merely continuing Obama-era practices. But it promises to be a no-holds-barred version of the last administration counter-terrorism program.

Even our allies in the region are getting concerned. Trump met this week with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, pledging to stand side-by-side with Iraq in the campaign to defeat ISIS.

But after the meeting, Abadi apparently had second thoughts. “Committing troops is one thing. Fighting terrorism is another thing,” he said at the U.S. Institute of Peace. “You don’t defeat terrorism by fighting it militarily. There are better ways.” Perhaps Abadi was thinking of the Trump administration’s initial inclusion of Iraq among the seven countries on the “Muslim travel ban” list. Or maybe he was thinking of Trump’s alarming pledge to seize Iraqi oil now under ISIS control.

Or perhaps the “better ways” simply referred to all the non-military parts of U.S. foreign policy — diplomacy, food aid, cooperation with international organizations — that Trump wants to ax from the federal budget. Even stalwart Trump supporters like Bob Dole are up in arms about humanitarian programs — like the Dole-McGovern initiative that provides school meals to 40 million children around the world — that are now on the chopping block.

What better way of creating the next generation of America haters?

Next: North Korea

Rex Tillerson, the empty suit that Trump has installed in the now supererogatory position of secretary of state, is trying to get back in on the action. On a recent trip to Asia, Tillerson sat down with Chinese premier Xi Jinping to plot the further isolation of North Korea.

Tillerson pointed out that the “strategic patience” approach toward North Korea had failed over the last eight years. That’s obviously true. The alternative, however, was much worse: Tillerson said that all options, including military ones, were on the table.

All of the military options come with unacceptable risks of retaliation and escalation to full-scale war. The United States could try to destroy a single missile launch, take out as much of North Korea’s nuclear complex as possible, or attempt a full regime change à la Iraq. “North Korea would perceive even a limited strike as the start of a war,” Max Fisher points out in The New York Times, “and respond with its full arsenal.”

Given the relatively crude ICBM capability that North Korea currently possesses, those who would suffer from an escalation would be Korean, Japanese, and Chinese people.

Perhaps Trump is simply trying to scare Beijing into doing more to rein in its erstwhile ally. But China doesn’t have that kind of influence in Pyongyang (just as it doesn’t have that kind of influence in Washington to change the Trump administration’s policies).

Or perhaps the Trump administration will go to war simply out of a general attitude of un-strategic impatience.

Beyond ISIS and Pyongyang

Building the Navy up to 350 ships and inducting another 60,000 people into the Army have little to do with dealing with either ISIS or North Korea, unless the Trump administration anticipates sending another large occupation force to the Middle East or Asia. Even Trump knows that dispatching tens of thousands of American troops to a warzone is a political mistake.

Partly Trump’s moves are about ensuring that the military is on his side. Partly it’s about tilting government in general away from soft power and toward hard power. Partly it’s about Trump’s personal vulnerability on military matters given his decision not to fight in Vietnam. It wouldn’t be the first time that a guy stocked up on weapons as part of a grand scheme of compensation.

There’s been speculation that Trump is really bulking up for a showdown with China. Given Trump’s phone call with Taiwan, his threats to impose tariffs on Chinese imports, and his bellicose rhetoric about China’s role in the island dispute in the South China Sea, there does seem to be some good evidence for this possibility. But the Trump administration has recently dialed back the hostility. Trump himself assured Chinese leader Xi Jinping of U.S. commitment to the “one-China” policy. Tillerson followed with a visit in Beijing that emphasized “mutual respect.”

The uncomfortable truth is that Trump probably doesn’t have any specific war-fighting scenario beyond laying waste to ISIS territory and declaring mission accomplished over the smoking ruins. Rather, he wants to put the United States on a permanent war footing as a way to sustain his unpopular presidency.

Until a challenger emerges that can focus U.S. national security concerns, Trump will let fire at a range of targets such as terrorists, journalists, and Germans. Perhaps his provocative rhetoric and actions will encourage some small country to stand up suicidally against the United States and allow Trump to declare a Grenada-like or Panama-like victory.

Like the $ 19.5 billion that the Trump administration is giving NASA for its Mars program, Trump’s war plans are a long shot. Casinos know that once a gambler wins on a long shot, they’ll go bankrupt trying to reproduce that once-in-a-lifetime event. Unfortunately, bankruptcy in Trump’s case means collective ruin for the rest of us.

Any chance we can convince NASA to send Trump on its first manned mission to Mars — so that he can return to the planet that birthed him?

John Feffer directs the Foreign Policy in Focus Project at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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The GOP Health Plan Would Make the Opioid Crisis Even Worse

drug-overdose-opioids

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

“We will give people struggling with addiction access to the help they need,” Donald Trump promised on the campaign trail in 2016.

We’re in the midst of the worst opioid epidemic our country has seen. More people died last year from opioid overdoses than ever before — 33,000. Opioid abuse now kills more people nationwide than car accidents or gun deaths.

The problem runs most rampant in America’s heartland — in states like Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Ohio alone, which gave key electoral votes to Trump, has three of the top 10 cities with the worst overdose rates in the country, with Dayton coming in at number one.

So why is Trump supporting a health care bill that experts have said will only make our opioid problem worse?

Specifically, the GOP’s Obamacare replacement would eliminate the law’s requirement that Medicaid cover basic mental health and addiction services. This expansion currently covers half the cost of Ohio’s medication-assisted addiction treatment. All in all, 1.3 million Americans get treatment under it.

Studies have shown that a major cause of the opioid problem is patients becoming addicted to the painkillers their doctors prescribe. Even Trump seems to understand this.

“We prescribe opioids like Oxycontin freely,” Trump said in October 2016. “But when patients become addicted to those drugs, we stop doctors from giving patients the treatments they medically need.”

And yet, that’s exactly the problem the new GOP health care bill perpetuates.

The bill would allow insurance companies to turn away drug users, causing patients to lose affordable access to lifesaving treatments like Suboxone, Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance told Vice.

The new health care plan would also make doctors more likely to prescribe opioids for chronic pain, Northeastern University law and health professor Leo Beletsky says, because their patients won’t be insured for alternative treatment options like physical therapy.

Republican senators from Ohio, West Virginia, Arkansas, and Colorado recently released a statement saying they wouldn’t support any “poorly implemented or poorly timed” change in “access to life-saving health care services.” But Trump is pushing for it anyway.

On the campaign trail, Trump also promised his rural and Appalachian supporters that he would fight for harsher sentencing for drug dealers. But piles of evidence prove that harsher punishment doesn’t stop the flow of drugs into these vulnerable communities. In fact, it only makes the drug trade more lucrative.

When all’s said and done, the health care policy that Trump supports could increase the opioid treatment gap — those who can’t get substance abuse treatment because they can’t afford it or the care just isn’t available — by 50 percent, according to a Harvard Medical School and NYU report.

That would bring the number of people who remain untreated for addiction up to 640,000.

Trump promised his voters that he would end the opioid epidemic and “make America safe again.” But it’s those same communities in Ohio, Kentucky, and West Virginia that trusted the president to make good on those promises who stand to lose the most.

Domenica Ghanem is the media manager at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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More Americans Are Drowning Financially in Underwater Nation

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(Photo: Emiel de Lange / Shutterstock)

Are you or a loved one having trouble staying afloat? You’re truly not alone.

While the media reports low unemployment and a rising stock market, the reality is that almost 20 percent of the country lives in “Underwater Nation,” with zero or even negative net worth. And more still have almost no cash reverses to get them through hard times.

This is a source of enormous stress for many low and middle-income families.

Savings and wealth are vital life preservers for people faced with job loss, illness, divorce, or even car trouble. Yet an estimated 15 to 20 percent of families have no savings at all, or owe more than they own.

They’re disproportionately rural, female, renters, and people without a college degree. But the underwater ranks also include a large number of people who appear to be in the stable middle class. Health challenges are a major cause of savings depletion for these people, both in medical bills and lost wages.

Plenty more Americans could be vulnerable.

A financial planner will advise you to put aside three months of living expenses in financial reserves, just in case. So if your living expenses are $ 2,000 a month, you should try to have $ 6,000 in “liquidity” — money you can easily get to in an emergency.

But 44 percent of households don’t have enough funds to tide themselves over for three months, even if they lived at the poverty level, according to the Assets and Opportunity Scorecard.

Even having a positive net worth doesn’t mean you can always tap these funds, especially if wealth takes the form of home equity or owning a car.

Bankrate survey found that 63 percent of U.S. households lack the cash or savings to meet a $ 1,000 emergency expense. They’d have to borrow from a friend or family, or put costs on a credit card.

Seven percent of U.S. homeowners are underwater homeowners, with mortgage debt higher than the value of their homes. And more and more people have taken on credit card debt to pay the bills. Meanwhile, student debt is rising rapidly and is projected to become one of the biggest factors in negative wealth.

Conservative scolds will blame individuals for “living beyond their means” and being financially irresponsible. And individual behavior is important. But the financial stresses facing millions of families are more likely the result of four decades of stagnant incomes.

Half the workers in this country haven’t shared in the economic gains that have mostly gone to the rich. Their real wages have stayed flat while health care, housing, and other expenses continue to rise.

So not everyone is on the edge at this time of dizzying inequality, after all. The 400 wealthiest billionaires in the U.S. have as much wealth together as the bottom 62 percent of the population.

This is only possible because of the expanding ranks of drowning Americans.

Some politicians will scapegoat immigrants or other vulnerable people for this suffering. When this happens, hold on tight to your purse or wallet. They’re trying to distract you from the rich and powerful elites who are rigging the rules to get more wealth and power.

They want to deflect your attention away from the reality that your economic pain is the result of deliberate government rules that give more tax cuts to the super-rich and global corporations, keep wages down, push up tuition costs, and let corporations nickel and dime you for all you’re worth.

Congress and the Trump administration are proposing to cut health care, pass more tax cuts for the rich, and give global corporations even more power over you. They promise benefits will “trickle down.”

Unless we speak up, the only trickle will be the expansion of Underwater Nation.

Chuck Collins is a senior scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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Trump’s Proposed Budget Would Spell Disaster for Low-income Communities

While the Trump administration says it wants to help low-income Americans, it just put forth a budget that puts wealthy Americans first, Chuck Collins told Rising Up with Sonali. “They’ve been trampled by the traditional Republican shrink government agenda: deregulate corporations, transfer wealth to the wealthy,” he said.

There is a disconnect between Trump’s support base and the fact that many of his proposed cuts will hit them the hardest. “People take government for granted, ” he said. “They don’t see what they get for their tax dollars. The irony is that the states that tend to send elected officials that want to shrink government actually tend to be the most states that get the most back from their federal tax dollars.”

Collins went on to say that the budget is “setting out the vision and priorities for limited government, and it’s a compilation of some of the more extreme ideas we’ve heard about.”

“I don’t think Trump has a sense of just how much rural America depends on an engaged federal government to help the quality of life for people in those communities,” Collins explained.

Additionally, there is no tax or revenue plan that lines up with this budget, Collins explained. “Trump  wants to lower corporate taxes, eliminate the estate tax and Alternative Minimum, tax and shift the obligations to low and middle income working people, at the same time that they’re losing services,” he said.

Yet, Collins doesn’t think the proposed budget plan will pass as is. “The good news is that people are going to wake up and see what’s at risk here, there’s going to be a pushback,” Collins said.  “By picking rural communities and low-income voters as the people who are going to carry the burden of these budget cuts is a huge political mistake.”

When asked about the Democrats’ potential response to the proposed budget plan, Collins said that it will be “the social movements and pressure on the streets that will encourage Democrats to stand up and not allow this to happen.”

Watch the full interview on Rising Up with Sonali.

Chuck Collins directs the Program on Inequality and the Common Good at the Institute for Policy Studies.

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