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The United States is First in War, But Trailing in Crucial Aspects of Modern Civilization

The Free Press WV

Maybe those delirious crowds chanting “USA, USA” have got something.  When it comes to military power, the United States reigns supreme.  Newsweek reported in March 2018:  “The United States has the strongest military in the world,” with more than two million military personnel and vast numbers of the most advanced nuclear missiles, military aircraft, warships, tanks, and other modern weapons of war.  Furthermore, as the New York Times noted, “the United States also has a global presence unlike any other nation, with about 200,000 active duty troops deployed in more than 170 countries.”  This presence includes some 800 overseas U.S. military bases.

In 2017 (the last year for which global figures are available), the U.S. government accounted for more than a third of the world’s military expenditures?more than the next seven highest-spending countries combined. Not satisfied, however, President Trump and Congress pushed through a mammoth increase in the annual U.S. military budget in August 2018, raising it to $717 billion.  Maintaining the U.S. status as “No. 1” in war and war preparations comes at a very high price.

That price is not only paid in dollars—plus massive death and suffering in warfare?but in the impoverishment of other key sectors of American life.  After all, this lavish outlay on the military now constitutes about two-thirds of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending.  And these other sectors of American life are in big trouble.

Let’s consider education. The gold standard for evaluation seems to be the Program for International Student Assessment of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, which tests 15-year-old students every few years.  The last test, which occurred in 2015 and involved 540,000 students in 72 nations and regions, found that U.S. students ranked 24th in reading, 25th in science, and 41st in mathematics.  When the scores in these three areas were combined, U.S. students ranked 31st?behind the students of Slovenia, Poland, Russia, and Vietnam.

The educational attainments among many other Americans are also dismal.  An estimated 30 million adult Americans cannot read, write, or do basic math above a third grade level. Literacy has different definitions and, for this reason among others, estimates vary about the level of illiteracy in the United States.  But one of the most favorable rankings of the United States for literacy places it in a tie with numerous other nations for 26th; the worst places it at 125th.

The U.S. healthcare system also fares poorly compared to that of other nations.  A 2017 study of healthcare systems in 11 advanced industrial countries by the Commonwealth Fund found that the United States ranked at the very bottom of the list.  Furthermore, numerous nations with far less “advanced” economies have superior healthcare systems to that of the United States.  According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 37th among countries?behind that of Colombia, Cyprus, and Morocco.

Not surprisingly, American health is relatively poor.  The infant mortality rate in the United States is higher than in 54 other lands, including Belarus, Cuba, Greece, and French Polynesia. According to the World Cancer Research Fund, the United States has the 5th highest cancer rate of the 50 countries it studied.  For the past few years, as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported, U.S. life expectancy has been declining and, today, the United States reportedly ranks 53rd among 100 nations in life expectancy.

Despite the fact that the United States is the world’s richest nation, it also has an unusually high level of poverty.  According to a 2017 UNICEF report, more than 29 percent of American children live in impoverished circumstances, placing the United States 35th in childhood poverty among the 41 richest nations.  Indeed, the United States has a higher percentage of its people living in poverty (15.1 percent) than 41 other countries, including Uzbekistan, Indonesia, Thailand, Brazil, and Sri Lanka.

Nor does the United States rate very well among nations on environmental issues.  According to the Environmental Performance Index, produced by Yale University and Columbia University in 2018, the United States placed 27th among the countries it ranked on environmental health and ecosystem vitality.  The Social Progress Index, another well-respected survey that rates countries on their environmental records, ranked the United States 36th in wastewater treatment, 39th in access to at least basic drinking water, and 73rd in greenhouse gas emissions.

Actually, the findings of the Social Progress Index are roughly the same as other evaluators in a broad range of areas.  Its 2018 report concluded that that the United States ranked 63rd in primary school enrollment, 61st in secondary school enrollment, 76th in access to quality education, 40th in child mortality rate, 62nd in maternity mortality rate, 36th in access to essential health services, 74th in access to quality healthcare, and 35th in life expectancy at age 60.  In addition, it rated the United States as 33rd in political killings and torture, 88th in homicide rate, 47th in political rights, and 67th in discrimination and violence against minorities.  All in all, there’s nothing here to cheer about.

Does the U.S. government’s priority for military spending explain, at least partially, the discrepancy between the worldwide preeminence of the U.S. armed forces and the feeble global standing of major American domestic institutions?  Back in April 1953, President Dwight Eisenhower pointed to their connection.  Addressing the American Society of Newspaper editors, he declared:  “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 not clothed.”  A militarized world “is not spending money alone.  It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.” 

People infatuated with military supremacy should give that some thought.

Dr. Lawrence Wittner, is Professor of History emeritus at SUNY/Albany.  He is the author of Confronting the Bomb (Stanford University Press).

Beware the Emergency State: Imperial, Unaccountable and Unconstitutional

The Free Press WV

“For seven decades we have been yielding our most basic liberties to a secretive, unaccountable emergency state – a vast but increasingly misdirected complex of national security institutions, reflexes, and beliefs that so define our present world that we forget that there was ever a different America. ... Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have given way to permanent crisis management: to policing the planet and fighting preventative wars of ideological containment, usually on terrain chosen by, and favorable to, our enemies. Limited government and constitutional accountability have been shouldered aside by the kind of imperial presidency our constitutional system was explicitly designed to prevent.”— David C. Unger, The Emergency State: America’s Pursuit of Absolute Security at All Costs

It’s all happening according to schedule.

The civil unrest, the national emergencies, “unforeseen economic collapse, loss of functioning political and legal order, purposeful domestic resistance or insurgency, pervasive public health emergencies, and catastrophic natural and human disasters,” the government’s reliance on the armed forces to solve domestic political and social problems, the implicit declaration of martial law packaged as a well-meaning and overriding concern for the nation’s security…

The government has been planning and preparing for such a crisis for years now.

No matter that this crisis is of the government’s own making.

To those for whom power and profit are everything, the end always justifies the means.

This latest brouhaha over President Trump’s threat to declare a national emergency in order to build a border wall is more manufactured political theater, a Trojan Horse intended to camouflage the real threat to our freedoms: yet another expansion of presidential power exposing us to constitutional peril.

This is not about illegal immigration or porous borders or who will pay to build that wall.

This is about unadulterated power and the rise of an “emergency state” that justifies all manner of government tyranny in the so-called name of national security.

The seeds of this present madness were sown more than a decade ago when George W. Bush stealthily issued two presidential directives that granted the president the power to unilaterally declare a national emergency, which is loosely defined as “any incident, regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the U.S. population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions.

Comprising the country’s Continuity of Government (COG) plan, these directives (National Security Presidential Directive 51 and Homeland Security Presidential Directive 20), which do not need congressional approval, provide a skeletal outline of the actions the president will take in the event of a “national emergency.“

Mind you, that national emergency can take any form, can be manipulated for any purpose and can be used to justify any end goal—all on the say so of the president.

This is exactly the kind of mischief that Thomas Jefferson warned against when he cautioned, “In questions of power, then, let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.”

Power corrupts.

Absolute power corrupts absolutely.

Thus far, we have at least pretended that the government abides by the Constitution.

Despite the many attempts by government leaders to claim broader powers for themselves during wartime, the Constitution allows for only one emergency power: “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it” (Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2).

Those who wrote our Constitution sought to ensure our freedoms by creating a document that protects our God-given rights at all times, even when we are engaged in war, whether that is a so-called war on terrorism, a so-called war on drugs, or a so-called war on illegal immigration.

This threat by Trump to rule by fiat merely plays into the hands of those who would distort the government’s system of checks and balances and its constitutional separation of powers beyond all recognition.

Apart from the fact that this highly politicized, shamelessly contrived border crisis does not in any way constitute a national emergency, to allow such a manufactured emergency to override constitutional constraints and the rule of law will push the nation that much closer to outright totalitarianism.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of Trump or a disavowal of the need for better vigilance at the nation’s border.

Rather this is a word of warning.

Remember, these powers do not expire at the end of a president’s term. They remain on the books, just waiting to be used or abused by the next political demagogue.

So, too, every action taken by the Trump administration to weaken the system of checks and balances, sidestep the rule of law, and expand the power of the president makes us that much more vulnerable to those who would abuse those powers in the future.

No matter whether you consider Trump to be a demagogue or a die-hard patriot, there will come a day when Trump no longer occupies the White House, and then what?

We’ve been down this road before.

Although the Constitution invests the President with very specific, limited powers, in recent years, American presidents (Trump, Obama, Bush, Clinton, etc.) have claimed the power to completely and almost unilaterally alter the landscape of this country for good or for ill.

Should the Trump Administration act on its threat to build a border wall using the president’s emergency powers, it would constitute yet another gross perversion of what limited power the Constitution affords the executive branch.

The powers amassed by each successive president through the negligence of Congress and the courts—powers which add up to a toolbox of terror for an imperial ruler—empower whomever occupies the Oval Office to act as a dictator, above the law and beyond any real accountability.

As law professor William P. Marshall explains, “every extraordinary use of power by one President expands the availability of executive branch power for use by future Presidents.” Moreover, it doesn’t even matter whether other presidents have chosen not to take advantage of any particular power, because “it is a President’s action in using power, rather than forsaking its use, that has the precedential significance.”

In other words, each successive president continues to add to his office’s list of extraordinary orders and directives, expanding the reach and power of the presidency and granting him- or herself near dictatorial powers.

This abuse of presidential powers has been going on for so long that it has become the norm, the Constitution be damned.

We no longer have a system of checks and balances.

“The system of checks and balances that the Framers envisioned now lacks effective checks and is no longer in balance,” concludes Marshall. “The implications of this are serious. The Framers designed a system of separation of powers to combat government excess and abuse and to curb incompetence. They also believed that, in the absence of an effective separation-of-powers structure, such ills would inevitably follow. Unfortunately, however, power once taken is not easily surrendered.”

All of the imperial powers amassed by Barack Obama and George W. Bush—to kill American citizens without due process, to detain suspects indefinitely, to strip Americans of their citizenship rights, to carry out mass surveillance on Americans without probable cause, to suspend laws during wartime, to disregard laws with which he might disagree, to conduct secret wars and convene secret courts, to sanction torture, to sidestep the legislatures and courts with executive orders and signing statements, to direct the military to operate beyond the reach of the law, to operate a shadow government, and to act as a dictator and a tyrant, above the law and beyond any real accountability—have become a permanent part of the president’s toolbox of terror.

These presidential powers—acquired through the use of executive orders, decrees, memorandums, proclamations, national security directives and legislative signing statements and which can be activated by any sitting president—enable past, president and future presidents to operate above the law and beyond the reach of the Constitution.

America, meet your new dictator-in-chief: imperial, unaccountable and unconstitutional.

If we continue down this road, there can be no surprise about what awaits us at the end.

After all, it is a tale that has been told time and again throughout history.

For example, over 80 years ago, the citizens of another democratic world power elected a leader who promised to protect them from all dangers. In return for this protection, and under the auspice of fighting terrorism, he was given absolute power.

This leader went to great lengths to make his rise to power appear both legal and necessary, masterfully manipulating much of the citizenry and their government leaders.

Unnerved by threats of domestic terrorism and foreign invaders, the people had little idea that the domestic turmoil of the times—such as street rioting and the fear of Communism taking over the country—was staged by the leader in an effort to create fear and later capitalize on it. In the ensuing months, this charismatic leader ushered in a series of legislative measures that suspended civil liberties and habeas corpus rights and empowered him as a dictator.

On March 23, 1933, the nation’s legislative body passed the Enabling Act, formally referred to as the “Law to Remedy the Distress of the People and the Nation,“ which appeared benign and allowed the leader to pass laws by decree in times of emergency.

What it succeeded in doing, however, was ensuring that the leader became a law unto himself.

The leader’s name was Adolf Hitler.

The rest, as they say, is history. Yet history has a way of repeating itself.

Hitler’s rise to power should serve as a stark lesson to always be leery of granting any government leader sweeping powers.

Clearly, we are not heeding that lesson.

Indeed, all of those dastardly seeds we have allowed the government to sow under the guise of national security are bearing demon fruit.

Brace yourself.

There is something being concocted in the dens of power, far beyond the public eye, and it doesn’t bode well for the future of this country.

Anytime you have an entire nation so mesmerized by the antics of the political ruling class that they are oblivious to all else, you’d better beware.

Anytime you have a government that operates in the shadows, speaks in a language of force, and rules by fiat, you’d better beware.

And anytime you have a government so far removed from its people as to ensure that they are never seen, heard or heeded by those elected to represent them, you’d better beware.

As I make clear in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, we are at our most vulnerable right now.

The gravest threat facing us as a nation is not extremism but despotism, exercised by a ruling class whose only allegiance is to power and money.

~~  John W. Whitehead ~~

Martin O’Malley: I’m Not Running in 2020. Here’s Who Should

The Free Press WV

Martin O’Malley, who staged his own “long-shot presidential” campaign, as he calls it, in 2016, reveals his pick for 2020: Beto O’Rourke. In a Des Moines Register column, the former governor of Maryland says he hopes the former Democratic congressman who staged a “courageous run for US Senate in Texas” last year, ultimately losing to incumbent Ted Cruz, runs for the White House. Back in 2016, “America wasn’t in the mood for new leadership. We were in a mood of anger, rage and retribution. And in this mood, Donald Trump’s candidacy rose,“ O’Malley writes. But now, things have changed: “People are looking for a new leader who can bring us together.“

He recounts the two years he spent campaigning with more than 120 Democratic candidates in more than 30 states at every level of government and his finding that “voters were clearly longing for new leadership.“ It’s impressive that O’Rourke came so close to beating Cruz in Texas, and O’Malley believes the country would embrace O’Rourke if he were to run for president. “Because he is of a new generation, O’Rourke understands that a new way of governing—with openness, transparency, and performance—is called for to tackle our problems in the Information Age,“ O’Malley writes. As Politico explains, there had been rumors O’Malley himself would run again in 2020, but he makes it clear in his column (read it in full HERE) he will not.

Jeanette Riffle: Options on Cars

The Free Press WV

Our son and granddaughter from Taylor, Michigan, were home for a couple days after Christmas. Shelby only had four days off work and it took one day to drive down and a day to drive back, so that only left them two days here to visit.  We were glad that the weather cooperated though and they were able to come home. Last year, they didn’t make it because of bad weather and bad roads. They didn’t get down until July, so we had Christmas in July.

Anyway, we enjoy having them here anytime they can come and this time we enjoyed our gift exchange and good food in December.  I had crockpot macaroni and cheese with hamburgers waiting on them the first evening. For breakfast, our son likes sausage gravy, biscuits and eggs and our granddaughter likes fried potatoes, bacon and homemade applesauce. I fixed it all and Myron ate some of all of it. He also likes hot peppers in sauce with his breakfast, but we still haven’t gotten into that project. We are running late on that one this year. Duane has been sick for a month with bronchitis. He is over it but having trouble getting his strength back.  That pepper project takes both of us working on it, to get it all done in one day.  We will get to it, yet.

My husband and son got into a conversation about options on cars nowadays and Duane said he could remember when the radio and heater were options. I thought back and I don’t remember a radio on Dad’s first car, the grey Studebaker that looked like an airplane. I don’t remember getting cold in winter, so he must have had a heater. I was about five when Dad got his first car. My grandparents took us places before that.  I can’t imagine riding around in a cold vehicle with no heater, but our son said he went one whole Michigan winter like that. Something went wrong with the blower in his van that he had at the time and it wasn’t blowing enough heat out. It is always cold and windy up there in winter.  You would have to really dress warm with no heater.

Our weather here has been milder than usual with lots of rain. Old Farmer’s Almanac has us for a mild, wet winter for our region. We were thankful for the sunny days that we got this past week, today being one of them. We went to church this morning in the sunshine and it was sunny when we came out. Most of us need more Vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, this time of year.  We sometimes would go for two months with no sunshine in Michigan and people were getting depression from it. Doctors were advising people to sit under a sun lamp to get that heat and light that was needed. Until next time try to stay away from sick people, wash hands often, and if you get flu, stay home and don’t spread it. It is supposed to peak here next month.

Take care and God bless!

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