What Is A Government For?

When reading yesterday about Trump’s threat to cut off emergency aid to the state of California to assist in its efforts to recover and rebuild after the recent deadly fires, I had to ask … what is a government for, then?  It is highly questionable whether food stamp recipients will receive their food stamps next month.  Farmers are not receiving the subsidies they were promised to help ease the cost of the tariffs that have cut deeply into their revenues.  TSA workers who inspect people and luggage at airports to detect bombs are calling off the job, for they cannot afford to keep working without pay.  Inspections of the food we buy at the grocery store are curtailed.  And the list of services that we pay for, but are being denied, goes on … and on … and on … ad infinitum.

So what is a government for, then?  What is its purpose?  For starters, let’s take a look at the Preamble of the United States Constitution:

“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.”

First off, note that it is “We the People” who established the government.  We the People give the government its legitimacy.  So, when the government no longer does those things … no longer promotes the general welfare, but rather only the welfare of a few wealthy people … then what purpose does it serve?  Is it truly a government of, by and for the people?

Look at that first point in the Preamble … “in order to form a more perfect union”.  This nation is divided as it has never before been.  I’m not sure that even the Civil War era was as divisive as the current environment is.  What’s worse, though, is that the ‘leader’ of this government is the very one who is causing the divisiveness!  The government is doing not one single thing to try to help bring people together, to “form a more perfect union”.

The second point … “establish justice”.  Justice?  The person in the Oval Office has declared himself to be above the law.  Time and time again.  So, think about this for a minute.  If the head of the government is above the law, if most of his political appointees are considered above the law … can there be justice in this nation?  I think not.

The third point … “ensure domestic tranquility”.  Can you even say that phrase without either laughing or crying?  Domestic tranquility?  What the Sam Heck is that???

Fourth point … “provide for the common defense”.  Let’s ponder for a minute … does constant and unwarranted criticism of our allies, denigration of such peacekeeping organizations as the United Nations and NATO make us safer?  Does the pandering to strong-arm dictators like Putin, Erdoğan, Kim, and Duterte make us safer?  Better yet, does the domestic hotbed that exists in this nation make us safer?  I think not.

Fifth point … “promote the general welfare”.  This is another that would be laughable, if only the laughter didn’t turn to tears.  General welfare???  800,000+ people not getting paid?  Food stamps reduced or eliminated?  Trash overflowing in national parks?  People losing their homes?  Food growers unable to meet their mortgage payments?  A nation in chaos does not … I repeat, NOT … promote the general welfare.

And finally, the sixth point … “secure liberty and posterity”.  Liberty?  From what?  Liberty from tyranny comes to mind, but we have the most tyrannical leader in the history of the nation, so that can’t be right.  Liberty to … go to work without pay?  To watch our infrastructure crumble beneath our feet?  To listen to the self-promoting lies of a madman?  And posterity … defined as “all future generations of people”.  Given the government’s stance on climate change and the devastating effects, there aren’t likely to be too many future generations of people.

I return to my original question:  What is government for?  Whatever it was intended to be for, it no longer fulfills those responsibilities.  What do we do about this?

Think about it.

Another Ball To Keep Your Eye On …

The past week or two has been a three-ring media circus, with news of Rosanne Barr making an ass of herself, Samantha Bee trying to keep up with Roseanne, Trump pardoning the least likely felons, Tuesday primaries, Trump’s tariffs, the feud between Trump and Super bowl winners the Philadelphia Eagles, the upcoming G7 summit, and Trump’s on-again-off-again meeting with Kim Jong-un, to name a few.  So it is understandable that you might have missed something important stuck in one of the back corners of the room.

By now, surely we all understand that one of the goals of Trump and his supporters is to diminish spending on domestic social programs that help people have food to eat, a place to live, and medical care.  Instead, he/they would rather increase such things as military spending, which is a multi-billion-dollar gig for defense industry, and putting extra money into the coffers of wealthy corporations.  Trump has, for the past 16 months, been chipping away at the programs that benefit people, such as his executive orders that put large cracks into ACA and is resulting in a spike in health insurance premiums, especially for those who can least afford it.

But the latest has the potential to do far greater damage than anything he has done so far.  On Wednesday it was announced that the administration is preparing to release a sweeping plan for reorganizing the federal government that includes a major consolidation of welfare programs — and a renaming of the Health and Human Services Department.

It all started back in March 2017, when Trump signed an executive order  directing the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to come up with a plan to overhaul the government to make it more efficient.

There are three major issues I see with this plan.  One, the renaming, two, the consolidation of services under HHS, and three, Alex Azar, the Secretary of HHS.  Let us look at each of these issues.

The name change …

Until 1980, HHS was named Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.  Under President Carter, the Department of Education became a separate department, and the word “Welfare” was dropped from the name because of the stigma.  Many associate ‘welfare’ with ‘lazy poor people—mainly black, single mothers—bilking the federal government’.  A recent study found racial resentment fueled most white Americans’ attitudes toward social safety nets. Other studies have found that public support drops for programs labeled as “welfare” as opposed to when they are labeled as “assistance to the poor.”

The consolidation …

In part, the rationale for consolidating services under one department is explained by …

“You have low-income assistance in a bunch of different shops without one point of oversight and without a whole lot of communication. Why not have one federal agency responsible for execution?”

I see some logic in this, but … we do not have a federal government in place that can be trusted.  Period.  Trump has already proven he has little, if any concern for the poor, the disabled or the elderly.  Congress has already proven that they will basically rubber-stamp whatever legislation Trump asks for.  Consolidate all services, then he cuts the budget by 75%.  What happens then?

The six major programs that would fall under the umbrella of the new department are:

  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
  • Medicaid (includes Child’s Health Insurance Program aka CHIP)
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food stamps)
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Housing Assistance

The Secretary …

The Secretary of the current HHS department is Alex Michael Azar II.  From 2012 to 2017, Mr. Azar was President of the U.S. division of Eli Lilly and Company, a major pharmaceutical drug company, and was a member of the board of directors of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, a pharmaceutical lobby.  Under Azar’s leadership, drug prices rose steadily.  In fact, under Azar, the company tripled the price of insulin.  Yet, when Trump nominated Azar, he called him a “star for better healthcare and lower drug prices.”

Azar has long been a critic of ACA and predicts there will be a blanket repeal before the end of this year.  He is also firmly against women’s right to choose in the matter of abortion.

Last year, when Trump announced his choice of Azar, Bernie Sanders said …

“The nomination of Alex Azar, the former head of Eli Lilly’s U.S. operations, shows that Trump was never serious about his promise to stop the pharmaceutical industry from ‘getting away with murder. The last thing we need is to put a pharmaceutical executive in charge of the Department of Health and Human Services.”

I agree, and would also add that the last thing we need is to put the lives and well-being of some 40 million low income people under the direction of an agency headed by a drug czar.  Everything I have read about Azar indicates that he is toeing the party line … or rather, the Trumpian line, saying nothing that resembles fact as regards health insurance.  His goal, like so many others in the Trump administration, is profit.  What is needed to oversee low-income assistance programs is a person whose goal is to help people.  Mr. Azar does not fill that bill.

The reality is that much of this plan to reorganize the federal government, which is said to also include “big changes” in nearly every department, may not likely see the light of day, for much of it will require the approval of Congress.  Then again, the current Congress hasn’t said “no” to much of anything yet. But the intent could not be more chillingly clear:  the more government programs that are rebranded as “welfare” regardless of their function or intent, the easier it will be to cut them.

The full plan is expected to be released in the next few weeks.  I can hardly wait (dripping sarcasm intended).

White House’s Censorship Of Climate Change Reports

As I have said before … words matter. One’s choice of words matters. Months ago, we were introduced by the Trump administration to the concept of ‘Alternative Facts’, and those included, as we discovered, an alternative vocabulary. Now the (S)White House has added to the ‘dictionary of alternative words’ by dictating to federal agencies what words they are and are not to use. Guess what, folks? “Climate Change” is no longer allowed. Blogger-Friend Gronda has the details for you, as well as a link to the Annual Climate Change Report, which will likely be altered before it is released to the public. Please take a few moments to read this important information! Thank you, Gronda, for an excellent post and for permission to share!

Gronda Morin

Here is link to the 2017 Climate Change Report sponsored by the US government, and published by the NY Times: Read the Draft of the Climate Change Report – The New York Times 8/7/17 (A draft report by scientists from 13 federal agencies, which has not yet been made public, but was obtained by The New York Times, concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now. The report was completed this year and is part of the National Climate Assessment, which is congressionally mandated every four years. )

Because of the republican President Donald Trump’s administration’s disdain for climate change issues, many are concerned whether this report will be shared with the American taxpayers, and if it is, how heavily censored the report will be, and thus, we have this latest leak.

Here’s the rest of the story…

On August 7, 2017, Oliver Milman…

View original post 1,063 more words

Send In The Clowns

Trump has allowed some 500+ positions to remain unfilled in his administration, in part I imagine because he is having a hard time finding people who are actually willing to become a part of the circus train and risk the ruination of their careers.  However, there are still a few short-sighted clowns out there, driven mainly by greed and the promise of feathering their own nest.  Two such have come onto my radar this morning, and as usual, Trump’s selections reflect the very antithesis of the departments they have been chosen to oversee.

The USDA’s Research, Economics and Education division studies everything from climate change to nutrition. Under the 2008 Farm Bill, its leader is supposed to serve as the agency’s “chief scientist” and be chosen “from among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.”  So who has Trump tagged to head this important division?  A man who is neither distinguished nor a scientist, one Sam Clovis.

Clovis-1Who, you ask, is Sam Clovis?  Until he joined Trump’s campaign in 2015, he was a tenured professor at Morningside College in his hometown of Sioux City, Iowa.  He took leave from that position to work on the Trump campaign, however is not welcomed back by the college.  After Clovis was quoted defending the Trump campaign’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the United States, the link between Clovis and the college was broken. A statement from the college said, “We find the view that a particular religion should be discriminated against to be repugnant to the values held at Morningside College. When he was on campus, Dr. Clovis was a staunch defender of the Constitution and a strong advocate for religious freedom. His recent comments appear to be at odds with his earlier views. We find his recent position to be outrageous and disappointing.”

Clovis is a retired Air Force colonel who holds a doctorate in public administration, yet has never taken a graduate course in science and is openly skeptical of climate change. Clovis is better known for hosting a conservative talk radio show in his native Iowa and, after mounting an unsuccessful run for Senate. In 2014, he became a fiery pro-Trump advocate on television. Clovis was also responsible for recruiting Carter Page, whose ties to Russia have become the subject of intense speculation and scrutiny, as a Trump foreign policy advisor.

Catherine Woteki, who served as undersecretary for research, education and economics in the Obama administration, compared the move to appointing someone without a medical background to lead the National Institutes of Health.  Let us not give him any ideas here!

Past undersecretaries have been biochemists, plant physiologists, food nutrition experts, and public health experts. Since Clovis has not a single qualification for the position, this is obviously another case of a political favour being returned, and I’m sure his stance against both climate change research and Muslims entering the United States didn’t hurt either.  Clovis will yet have to be confirmed by the Senate, but as we have seen in past appointments that is more or less a rubber-stamp. What happened to ‘draining the swamp’?

Noreika-1Next up on the ol’ radar machine is financial services lawyer Keith Noreika who Trump has already placed as head of the Office of the Comptroller.  Two things disturb me greatly:  a) his appointment is a classic case of putting the fox in charge of the henhouse, and b) Trump placed him in the position in a devious manner, bypassing the need for Senate confirmation which might have been a tough sell.  Let us look first at Mr. Noreika’s history.

I’m sure you remember the financial crisis of 2007-2008, right?  The one republicans blamed President Obama for, even though he had not even been elected yet. Noreika played a role in causing that by representing big banks in the early 2000s in lawsuits designed to protect banks from states’ regulations that would protect consumers.  Banks successfully sued to stop Iowa from limiting their ability to charge ATM fees to non-customers. They also fought off states’ attempts to stop them from charging non-customers to cash checks drawn on the banks’ accounts. In another case, they stopped California from forcing two banks to conduct audits of their own residential mortgages. And Noreika represented the banks in all these cases and more … cases whose results contributed to the financial crisis that began in 2007.

During President Obama’s first term, legislation was passed aimed at preventing a repeat of the 2007-2008 financial crisis, the most notable of which was the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act regulatory overhaul.  Trump has called Dodd-Frank “a disaster”, even though it is doubtful he understands any part of it. In removing federal controls from the banking industry, an industry that has proven that greed outweighs all else, we would be setting the stage for a repeat of 2008. But that is exactly what Noreika seems prepared to do.

The second issue I have here is the way in which it was done, slyly and in an obvious attempt to circumvent the confirmation process and avoid certain ethics requirements. So how did this happen?  First, he was hired as ‘first deputy’ in the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, a designation that ensured he would ascend to the top job once it opened. Then the administration ousted Thomas Curry, and just like that, Noreika became acting comptroller. Sneaky, huh? And having attained the position in this way means there is no requirement for public disclosure of an ethics agreement or his former clients.

Noreika’s position, attained in this manner, is limited by law to a term of no more than 130 days, but that is sufficient time for him to do significant damage. Donald Trump has promised his friends in the banking industry that he will gut financial regulations. Both Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchnin have pledged to “unshackle Wall Street” from financial-crisis-era regulations.  It appears that with this shady move, they are well on their way to keeping their promises to their wealthy buddies.  And I’m sure I do not need to remind you who will be picking up the tab.

So, once again Trump has selected two of the absolute worst possible choices for top-level positions.  And the circus train rolls on … and on … and where it stops … nobody knows …

A Sticky Wicket Of A Problem … BEES … Or Rather A Lack Of … Part II

In Part 1 of this post, I wrote about the declining honeybee population and its significance to the survival of mankind.  There can be little doubt that honeybees are an important factor in food production, not only for humans, but for wildlife as well.  So, what is being done to reverse the trend of the dying bee population, what more can be done, and what is the likely outcome?

What each of us can do

bees-1Obviously, major changes in pesticide use, mining and drilling, and climate change must be made by farmers, environmentalists, and government regulation. But that does not mean we, as individuals, are powerless … there are simple things we can do to help:

  • Plant flowers! Even if it’s only a couple of window boxes on your patio, or a small garden, every little bit helps.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has provided a quite handy guide to which plants and flowers are best.
  • Limit the use of pesticides and herbicides while plants are in bloom and bees are actively foraging. Herbicides (weed killer) reduce the bees sources of pollen and nectar, while pesticides ingested by bees can be lethal.
  • When possible, buy locally-grown fruits, vegetables and honey to help support not only local farmers, but also local beekeepers. When I found out that most honey sold in the U.S. is imported from China and Latin America, I began buying only honey from a local farm we visit several times during the warm months. We also get most of our green beans, corn, apples and other produce there, and somehow it always tastes better than what is found at Kroger.

What NGOs are doing to help

There are a number of private organizations doing good work in the field, and one of the best seems to be the Keystone Policy Center, in conjunction with the Honeybee Health Coalition. Together, these institutions are working on four main areas: forage and nutrition, hive management, crop pest management, and public outreach.

Several other organizations around the world are making contributions to help save the bees. Among them are:  Avaaz, BeesFree, Inc., Burt’s Bees, Pollinator Partnership Honey Bee Health Improvement Project,  Center for Honeybee Research, Environmental Justice Foundation, Navdanya’s Biodiversity Conservation Farm, Save Honey Bees, Save the Bees, and others. (Sorry for all the links, but I thought you might want to check out one or two of them)

What is the U.S. Government doing to help?

bees-3Here comes the tricky part.  The short answer is: not enough.  The more complex answer is … do you want to know what we are doing now, were doing a year ago, or will likely be doing a month from now?  The Obama administration made some movements to try to help slow or stop the decline in the honeybee population by imposing regulations on neonicotinoid pesticides, but most felt the restrictions were not nearly enough.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has funded studies on bee diseases, and in 2014 provided a $3 million grant to help reseed pastures in Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin and the Dakotas with bee-appropriate plants like alfalfa and clover.

In 2014, President Obama set up a task force spearheaded by the USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with a proposed budget of $50 million annually, to research the causes and solutions to the declining bee population.  In 2015, the Obama administration set out a strategy that included managing the way in which forests burned by forest fires would be re-planted, the way offices are landscaped and the way roadside habitats where bees feed are preserved.

bees-2Environmental groups have been pressuring the federal government to ban neonicotinoid pesticides, which are already banned in Europe.  However, the best the EPA could come up with was a moratorium on approving any new use permits for these kinds of insecticides. They also imposed restrictions on what pesticides farmers can use when commercial honeybees are pollinating their crops. You can visit the EPA website  and see for yourself what they say, but keep in mind that the EPA site has been changed and curtailed under Trump’s orders, and I have no idea what may be missing that was included 2 months ago.

Last week, Scott Pruitt was sworn in as head of the EPA, an agency he has sued no less than 14 times.  There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that his mandate from Trump was to start hacking away at regulations that protect the environment. Companies like Monsanto, Syngenta and Bayer, all of whom are involved in the manufacture or wide-scale use of neonicotinoid pesticides, are likely to lobby to lift regulations limiting pesticides.  Pruitt is heavily involved with the oil and gas industries, so it is highly probable that in the coming months we will see work resume on the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, as well as an increase in mining, oil drilling, and other activities that damage the bee’s habitat, and also contribute to the ill effects of climate change, further damaging the bee’s habitats.

One last note

It looks and sounds like something from a sci-fi movie. Picture thousands of miniature drones working to pollinate a field … tiny electronic creatures going from plant to plant, collecting and depositing pollen.  Or think of stepping outside to water the flowers in your yard and seeing small electronic gadgets with whirring blades instead of wings attacking your hyacinths.  But this is not science fiction, these are bee-bots, and they are already functional, though not without bugs and not yet ready for commercial use.  In 2014, Harvard University researchers led by engineering professor Robert Wood introduced the first RoboBees, bee-size robots with the ability to lift off the ground and hover midair when tethered to a power supply. The details were published in the journal Science.

bees-4Pollination is complex task and should not be underrated. It involves finding flowers and deciding if they are suitable and haven’t already been visited. The pollinator then needs to successfully handle the flower, picking pollen up and putting it down in another plant, while co-ordinating with its team and optimising its route between flowers. In all of these tasks, our existing pollinators excel, their skills honed through millions of years of evolution.

Modern drones can already achieve this level of individual management. As they have the technology to track faces, they could track flowers as well. They could also plot routes via GPS and return to base for recharging on sensing a low battery. In the long run, they may even have a potential advantage over natural pollinators as pollination would be their sole function. Bees, on the other hand, are looking to feed themselves and their brood, and pollination happens as a by-product.

Although the technology is certainly fascinating, I hope that other solutions can be found to keep the living bee population from further decline.  I prefer nature’s creatures to electronic ones, which I find slightly disconcerting, to say the least, and I suspect the use of robobees would have a tremendous negative effect on the price of the food we eat.

I did quite a bit of research, much of it not necessarily reflected in this post, but it gave me a much better understanding of beekeeping, the role of bees, the causes of their decline, and what needs to be done.  I had no idea commercial beekeeping was so involved!  Nor did I realize how fascinating this topic is, which explains why I spent so much time researching … I became engrossed and devoured much more material than was necessary to write this post.  But alas, knowledge is never a waste of time.


No Place for Bigotry in Summer Camp!

A few weeks ago, a newsletter happened to cross my desk. It was one of many unsolicited pieces of mail that I normally send straight to “File 13”, but for some reason I glanced at this one and within minutes my blood was at a full, raging boil. A bit of background … this newsletter is published by a summer camp for under-privileged children in the Appalachian Mountains. The camp provides opportunities to kids that they would not otherwise have, and for this I applaud the churches that support this camp. I am not sure, since I have no affiliation with any of the churches nor with the camp, why I periodically receive their newsletter, other than that several years ago a friend asked me for a small donation for this camp and I happily complied. Ever since, I have received a newsletter once or twice a year, perhaps in hopes that I will be moved to donate to their cause again. Not gonna happen ….

Over half of this most recent edition is a letter by the director of the camp. The letter is long, tedious and repetitious, so I will not include the entire text. The gist of it is that the camp has, in the past, received government assistance in the form of a “USDA Summer Feeding Program”, which provides “assistance with food costs”. A government representative informed the camp director that the camp would no longer be eligible for this assistance because of his unwillingness to hire homosexuals. He was told that in order to continue receiving money, he must agree to be willing to hire homosexuals. This director was “shocked” and “heartbroken” to think this could happen. He told the USDA rep that this was “… a Christian camp” and furthermore that “… such hiring practices would not make common sense even if [they] were a secular camp.” So, tell me, Mr. Director, do you honestly believe that your blatantly homophobic ideas trump the Law of the Land, as administered by the Federal Government and upheld by the Supreme Court? He goes on to ask why non-governmental agencies such as his camp should be forced to comply with the law. Seriously? He goes on for another page and a half to rant about government mandates and public education, tossing in a few biblical quotes along the way. My points are as follows:

• This camp, if listed as a religious organization, should not have been receiving government assistance to begin with, under the principle  of separation of church and state;

• He seemed to have no problem accepting monies that were provided by tax money, some percentage of which was paid by the very people he believes too “sinful” to hire.

This reminds me of the concept, abolished more than fifty years ago, of “go to the back of the bus, but pay your full fare first”. The wheels of justice sometimes turn very slowly, but once mandated, it is expected that citizens and organizations in the nation will comply. There are some instances whereby people may make choices based on their religious beliefs, such as homeschooling a child for religious reasons, but this is NOT one of those situations. My concern is not as much the fact that this individual thinks as he does, since we are all entitled to think, feel and believe as we wish, however we are NOT free to act on those thoughts, feelings and beliefs if those actions would bring or cause harm to others. My concern, however, is that this individual is in a position to have significant influence over many, mainly young people who are still formulating and developing the ideas that will stay with them a lifetime and influence the adults they have yet to become. Frankly, I would have no problem with my child going to a camp with staff who were gay, but I would not even consider sending my child to a camp run by a narrow-minded, bigoted, inflexible homophobe such as this director. His attitude has nothing to do with God and everything to do with “man’s inhumanity to man”. Segregation and discrimination are wrong, not just morally reprehensible, but illegal in the United States. My own thoughts are that I would like to see this director relieved of his position, but I’m sure that, considering the venue, that will not happen.

I am blessed every day by my family and friends, some of whom are Christian, some Jews, and some are Muslim. I have friends who are African-American, Asian, Middle Eastern and Caucasian. I have friends who are heterosexual and homosexual. I do not have friends who are bigots or racists or homophobes. Part of the lyrics of one of my favorite songs, Ebony and Ivory by Stevie Wonder/Paul McCartney, “… people are the same wherever you go; there is good and bad in everyone …” says it all.