How America’s Bloated Defense Budget Leaves Us Defenseless…and Broke

We’re spending billions on the military at the expense of health care and schools.

Photo Credit: Orlok / Shutterstock.com

“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. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.”

It has been over six decades since Dwight D. Eisenhower uttered these words in a broadcast announcement from the Statler Hotel in Washington D.C. And while circumstances in America have undoubtedly changed, his words remain accurate.

Since the late 19th century, the United States has acted as the world’s policeman, the one that keeps order and makes sure everyone else sticks to the rules. Occupying this role evidently has had repercussions, both good and bad. Yet, it seems as of late the bad outweighs the good. The U.S.’s mission to police the world has led to massive overspending abroad and subsequently growing negligence at home. In an attempt to address this problem, the U.S. continues to do what it does best—throw money at it.

On September 18th, as Democrats fell in line with Republicans to fund the $692 billion National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress proved they would continue to fund a system that does little to protect the American people. The act passed with a sweeping 89-8 vote—with only five Democrats voting against the act. The figure is a significant $80 billion annual increase from last year and a $28.5 billion more than President Trump asked for. It does not include the $12.9 billion of continued investment in nuclear security or $186 billion for the Veterans Administration Budget. Nor does it include the interest the United States has accumulated by putting their wars on a credit card. The total cost of military-related expenditures is over a trillion dollars and over 70% of all federal discretionary spending.

Speaking at Westminster College just three days after the NDAA passed, Senator Bernie Sanders, one of just five Democrats who voted against the bill, dismantled the case that progressives don’t have big ideas on foreign policy and set forth a template for future democratic positions on national security.

Standing where Eisenhower delivered his famous “Cross of Iron” speech nearly 70 years ago, Sanders rightly recognized the irony between a colossal Pentagon budget and Republican attempts to take health care away from tens of millions of Americans in the name of fiscal responsibility. He made clear that “we cannot convincingly promote democracy abroad if we do not live it vigorously here at home” and in a reliable Sanders-like fashion demanded we address our growing domestic issues.

He is right to wonder how asking a fraction of the price for domestic issues such as health care and education funding is criticized as a nonstarter, yet when it comes to our military, there is no number too high.

Earlier this year, Trump submitted a budget proposal in which he cut social spending dramatically to fund a $54 billion increase in defense spending. Democrats criticized it as a nonstarter. However, at September’s NDAA hearing, 41 Democrats raised little to no concern about this military spending—even at the cost of social spending.

Currently, the U.S. is $20.4 trillion in debt and we spend almost as much as the rest of the world combined on defense. While we are authorizing $692 billion, China, our closest follower is spending $102 billion while Russia spends $59 billion. The argument for America’s excessive defense spending is synonymous with the argument that America is and must remain the strongest military on the planet. However, the cost necessary to maintain American power and protect our troops is small in comparison to the amount we spend, primarily because most of the defense budget does not directly impact our military standing or the safety of our troops.

First, there is fraud. A report prepared for Bernie Sanders by the Department of Defense showed that hundreds of defense contractors that defrauded the U.S. military received more than $1.1 trillion in Pentagon contracts during the past decade. Yes, that’s trillion with a “T.” For example, Northrop Grumman paid $62 million in 2005 to settle charges that it “engaged in a fraud scheme by routinely submitting false contract proposals,” and “concealed basic problems in its handling of inventory, scrap and attrition.”

Second, there is waste. As an example, July 2013, the Pentagon decided to build a 64,000 square foot command headquarters in Afghanistan for the U.S. military that is and will remain unoccupied. The project is estimated to have cost the Pentagon $34 million. We then supplied $771 million worth of aircraft for Afghan use. However, Afghanistan obtains only one-quarter of the trained personnel necessary to use them and in 2015, the Pentagon suppressed a study that reported $125 billion in waste.

Third, whether it is paying $8,000 for a $500 helicopter part, $425 million in wrongful travel reimbursements or the illustrative $640 toilet seat, the Pentagon has a history of overpaying. According to the Federal Procurement Data System’s top 100 contractors report for 2016, the CEO’s of the top five Pentagon contractors—Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Northrop Grumman—paid themselves a cumulative $96 million in 2016, more than a fair cut.

Conveniently enough, the Department of Defense can’t tell us how much equipment it has purchased, or how often it has been overcharged, or even how many contractors it employs. The Pentagon can only approximate that they employ more than 600,000 private contractors, yet these costs account for the majority of their tax spending dollars. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has announced they cannot even audit the Pentagon. To illuminate the utter disorder of the United States military finances, in 2015 in a rush to close its books, the army made $6.5 trillion in wrongful adjustments to accounting entries. A law in effect since 1992 requires annual audits of all federal agencies—and of all the federal agencies, the Pentagon alone has never complied. The NDAA is asking the American public to pay for huge expenditures that the Pentagon cannot even document.

What we do know of this year’s bill offers little in the way of consoling the American public that the money will be well spent. The defense authorization bill contains a number of provisions that increase the risk of cost overruns for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program and undermine the ability of Pentagon officials and Congress to assess the combat suitability of new weapon systems in the future. Both the House and Senate versions of the National Defense Authorization Act authorizes a block purchase of 440 F-35s through a procurement process called “Economic Order Quantity,” even though the planes are still being developed and the testing necessary to prove they are operationally effective won’t be completed for years. Until that testing is done, all the American people will get for their money is a pile of parts for an unproven prototype, a $1.4 trillion pile of uncertainty. A recent test of six of the new, stealthy fighters revealed that only one of them was capable of a rapid, ready alert launch. The F-35 program has come to symbolize all that’s wrong with American defense spending: a bloated budget, greedy manufacturers, and an impenetrable Pentagon culture that cannot adequately track its own spending.

To add concern, the NDAA requested $8.5 billion for the Missile Defense Agency, a $630 million boost above what Trump requested. It would add up to 28 ground-based interceptors as well as put $28 million into developing space-based missile sensors. Despite the fact that up to today the U.S. has spent nearly $320 billion, most analysts have little confidence that the U.S. can destroy any intercontinental missiles launched against them once they get off the ground. After the most recent failed interceptor test Philip E. Coyle III, who previously ran the Pentagon’s weapons-testing program, stated that the system “is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon.” Why add more money to an expensive system that has been compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet, that doesn’t work after over 20 years of trying?

Senate Republicans are concurrently proposing to cut billions from Medicare and $1 trillion from Medicaid, in addition to big federal spending cuts that would likely decimate federal housing and education programs.

There exists a massive blind spot as senators fight tooth and nail to ensure no one is abusing food stamps, while dropping trillions on an unreliable, unaccountable defense strategy.

In the 2016 presidential campaign, Senator Bernie Sanders pledged to make tuition free at public colleges and universities. This proposal was met with dismissal as though the notion belonged solely in Arcadia. The proposed plan was estimated to cost the federal government a mere $47 billion.

More recently, Sanders continued his Medicare-for-All plea with a health care system estimated to cost $1.4 trillion a year. This was treated as unrealistic although our current private insurance-based health care system will cost $3.35 trillion this year.

If America were to spend even double as much as China, four times as much as Russia on defense spending, we could potentially create an America where young people can attend college with little to no out of pocket cost and the millions of people with health issues can get the help they need without the financial burden.

Why is it that only six out of 47 Democratic senators can see the potential of cutting defense spending and instead funding domestic programs?

The notion of a healthy and educated America should not be the stuff of dreamers when it could be a tangible reality. America should not spend more on defense. America should spend smarter on defense and more on pressing domestic issues. And Democratic senators should realign their vote to match their supposed politics.

The Enormous Cost of More Nuclear Weapons: What Is the Gain?

Is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or is it just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

An analysis by the Arms Control Association of U.S. government budget data projects the total cost over the next 30 years of the proposed nuclear modernization and maintenance at between $1.25 trillion and $1.46 trillion. This expenditure is not included in our defense budget of $700 billionwhich leads the world in military spending and represents more than the spending of the next seven countries combined –three times what China spends and seven times what Russia spends on defense.

To put this into perspective, this number exceeds the combined total federal spending for education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development (including disaster relief); law enforcement; and energy production and regulation.

With climate change deemed by the Pentagon as an immediate national security threathealthcare costs rising, and an increasing number of natural disasters, one might think nuclear weapons would lose their place as the top recipient of federal spending. But this is far from the case and there is a reason why.

As long as other countries continue to harbor nuclear weapons, we will do the same. And vise versa. As Donald Trump said at the start of his campaign, “If countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

This sentiment followed him into his presidency. The Trump administration just last week considered proposing additional, smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons that would cause less damage than traditional thermonuclear bombs.However, these mini-nukes are not some new, profound proposal. We have had nuclear weapons capable of being dialed down to the power of  “mini nukes” since the 80’s. The 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima would now be classified as a “mini-nuke” yet its destruction was monumental. Adding more, smaller nukes is an unnecessary, potentially dangerous addition. Proponents of the proposal claim these “mini-nukes” would give military commanders more options; critics, however, contend that it will also make the use of atomic arms more likely. Christine Parthemore, International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “Our investments should be careful lowering our threshold of use.” Further, the proposed addition will only add trouble to the already fraught international conversation opposing nuclear weapons.

As former Secretary of State George Shultz so eloquently put it, “proliferation begets proliferation.” One state’s nuclear acquisitions only drive its adversaries to follow suit. The reality is adding to our nuclear arsenal will only force our international opponents to defensively order a mad dash for the bomb.

In today’s political arena, as Russia remains volatile and North Korea’s threat grows, is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

Having a nuclear arsenal is supposed to ensure the raw principle behind nuclear deterrence: You won’t destroy us because we can destroy you. As Andrew Weber, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense & former Director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, says, “The sole purpose of having a nuclear arsenal is to deter an attack on the United States of America.”

This cold war era mindset relies on the relationship between acting and reacting. With the recognition that retaliation is likely, if not guaranteed, nuclear weapons are supposed to restrain the possibility of action on behalf of nuclear leaders. They are supposed to make them cautious, regardless of which states we are talking about or how many weapons they might possess.

According to a 2017 report by the Arms Control Association, The United States currently maintains an arsenal of about 1,650 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers and some 180 tactical nuclear weapons at bomber bases in five European countries.

The ICBM is arguably the most controversial piece of America’s nuclear triad, yet in August, the Air Force announced major new contracts for a revamp of the American nuclear force: $1.8 billion for initial development of a highly stealthy nuclear cruise missile, and nearly $700 million to begin replacing the 40-year-old Minuteman missiles in silos across the United States.

This plan was born from the Obama administration but enthusiastically hightailed by Trump. Obama’s reasoning was that as our weapons became increasingly safe, their numbers could be reduced.

However, Trump’s reasoning has proven to be different. His threat that North Korea will be met with “fury and fire” combined with his proposals of mini-nukes only propel the notion that he is not following past leaders in enforcing a no first strike policy.

The danger of revamping this shaky leg of the nuclear triad is in part due to Trump’s demonstrated impulsiveness. As Andrew Weber explains, “There is a 2-3 minute threat of the land-based missiles and it is impossible for the target to determine whether the weapon has a nuclear or conventional tip.” An impulsive president with nuclear codes capable of starting a nuclear war in 2-3 minutes using a weapon that must fly over Russia and has the possibility of mistaken identity, is essentially a recipe for disaster.

Christine Parthemore says the “ICBM is the weakest link” and we should begin reform by eliminating it. Yet, instead the current administration is both modernizing and adding to this arsenal, a move that will most likely draw other countries to do the same and commit the United States to keeping the most vulnerable branch of its “nuclear triad.”

The 2017 report by the Arm Control Association broke down the proposed spending for Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and found the total reached over $128 billion. The costly program, titled Colombia Class, includes 12 new boats for the Navy, and has a projected life-cycle cost of $282 billion. In comparison, free public education in America would cost a mere $62.6 billion dollars.

The third and final upgrade is a modernization of the current B-2 Bomber costing 9.5 billion. However, in accordance with Obama’s efforts to decrease the US’s quantity of weapons, known as START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), the Pentagon announced it would retain 42 deployed and 4 non-deployed nuclear capable B-52 bombers. The remainder of the B-52 bombers would be converted to carry only conventional weapons.

In these last few weeks, as tensions rise to an unprecedented high with North Korea, it may seem like the wrong time to discuss the reduction and soon eradication of ICBM’s. However, Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, says that how America chooses to go forward at this moment in time will have utmost consequences to the entire international political arena and its potential for nuclear war.

In the past weeks North Korea launched 22 missiles in 15 tests and sought to assure its dominance and Trump, in his expected fashion, took to Twitter to boast American power, a move that North Korean leaders took to mean war. With the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea actualizing, America should be discussing the potential of reigning in North Korea by moving away from nuclear weapons. As it is, Trump’s egotistical rhetoric falls flat when up against Kim Jong-un, a ruthless tyrant willing to gamble with the lives of millions of his citizens. If the US were to strike first, there would no doubt be retaliation. Despite having spent hundreds of billions on strategic missile defenses, most analysts have little confidence that the US can destroy any intercontinental missiles launched against them once they get off the ground. After the most recent failed interceptor test Philip E. Coyle III, who previously ran the Pentagon’s weapons-testing program, stated that the system “is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon.” This is after spending $8 billion a year for the past forty years.

Ultimately, there is no military option that would not entail a mind-bogging gamble with the lives of millions of Americans, Japanese and especially South Koreans.

Our current policy of pugnacious rhetoric does little to affect Kim Jong-un. We have been tightening sanctions on North Korea for over a decade, and their nuclear program has only accelerated. A first-strike by America means the endangerment of millions. What this leaves is diplomacy. Negotiating with North Korea will not be easy but it is possible. The Clinton administration helped negotiate the important 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea effectively froze its major nuclear programs.

Creating a deal with Iran through diplomatic relations appeared unreasonable until it happened.

Sanctions should remain in place but they must be paired with some diplomatic engagement. We must be open to offering North Korea things that they want: security guarantees, some form of international political recognition, and economic benefits in exchange for a freeze on their nuclear and missile programs. We must do all this while strengthening our relationship with South Korea and Japan and maintaining a strong foothold enclosing North Korea. None of this will be possible without the trust of the international community, a trust that is shaken with Trump’s threat of ripping up Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal.

We must also remember that China would rather see a nuclear North Korea than a larger United States presence in Asia. As of now, China facilitates about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade and provides its oil. And it is China that has opposed a stricter U.N. embargo for fear of a collapsed regime and a potential unified Korea allied with the United States. It is important now more than ever to isolate North Korea with the help of our allies.

Now is not the time to build up our nuclear arsenal and respond to threats with military action, especially as we face an already threatened North Korea. It is crucial now more than ever not to proliferate the use of nuclear weapons. The goal is to deter and when it comes to deterrence, more is not better, especially when it is so incredibly expensive.

If GOPers Were Thinking in Their Own Interests, They Would Embrace the ACA… But They Don’t

Republican voters’ primary goal is to make a point against Obama, not get more affordable care.

Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

Why Republican voters seem to vote against their own best interest has long been a liberal’s conundrum. When Trump won the 2016 Presidential election, many liberals outspokenly wondered, “Why would Republicans elect a President whose policies challenge their best interests?” But perhaps they should instead be asking why so many of these Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump, despite the fact that his policies challenge their best interest.

No clearer can this question be surveyed than in the case of the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump vowed to get rid of “ObamaCare” and replace it with “something terrific, something great.” This campaign promise was critical to the success of his Republican presidential candidacy, and subsequently he repeated it on his first day in office. With his victory, it seemed clear that dismantling Obama’s greatest domestic policy achievement was of utmost priority in the minds of America’s Republicans.

However, the call for repeal proved stronger in theory than in actuality. On July 28th, after repetitious failures to repeal ObamaCare, Republicans staged their final hurrah–a “skinny repeal” that lacked nearly all the political toxin of their previous attempts. However, Republicans John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins joined the Democrats in voting down the proposed law. When the law died in the Senate, it seemed to die to the public as well. The very people who had chanted alongside Trump became hesitant of his promise to repeal their health care system. A video of a man changing his mind and calling for the continuation of ACA circled the internet; The New York Times interviewed a man, Mr. Brahin, who said “As much as I was against it, at this point I’m against the repeal. Now that you’ve insured an additional 20 million people, you can’t just take the insurance away from these people,” he added. In fact, according to a poll tracked by PollingReportwhich The Washington Post compiled starting in March, on average, only 22 percent of Americans supported GOP proposals to replace the ACA.

What became clear in the weeks during the Republican’s attempt to repeal the ACA is that the majority of Republicans did not originally vote against the law itself; they voted against President Obama and a government they felt no longer represented them.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, focusing specifically on Republicans, when asked the main reason why they have an unfavorable view of the health care law, about three in ten said it is because they believe the law gives government too big a role in the health care system (31 percent) or say it is just one of many indications that President Obama took the country in the wrong direction (27 percent). This reaction to the ACA is a mirror into the way politics is organized today. Policies do not drive opinions, culture does. The majority of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Obama’s ACA, precisely because it was Obama’s ACA; it was the Democrat’s ACA; it was not their ACA.

Yet, logistically it was. In 1993, the Clintons sought to reform health care. In response, Republicans scrambled to introduce their own health care bill. The Heritage Foundation, forefather of right wing think tanks, with Republican Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island leading, proposed the Health Equity and Access Reform Today, which is argued to be nearly identical to the ACA. Both bills proposed an individual mandate, the creation of purchasing pools, standardized benefits, vouchers for the poor to buy insurance and a ban on denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. While the bill never came into being, it represented a similarity between the logistics of Republican and Democratic health care ideals. Further, Obama himself has credited Romneycare as a foundation for ObamaCare. And Romney was quoted saying, “without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare.” Substantively, the ACA could very well be the GOP’s bill, if it was not tainted with “Obama.”

To boot, if Republicans were to vote according to their own best interest when it came to health care, the statistics say they would most likely support the ACA.

Roughly 20 million people have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, the parts of the country that lean the most heavily Republican showed significantly more insurance gains than places where voters lean strongly Democratic. Florida and Texas, two Republican leaning states, saw about 3.3 million people gain coverage as statewide uninsured rates fell 36 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Yet, only 3% of Republicans said it benefited themselves or their families.

Of the 11.5 million Marketplace enrollees nationally, 6.3 million live in Republican districts and 5.2 million live in Democratic districts.

To understand the disparity between the law’s success and its approval rating among Republicans, take a closer look at Florida, a hot spot for curious political perplexities. Three congressional districts – all represented by Republicans – have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the country. Yet, irony prevailed when only nine House Republicans, none from Florida, dissented from the near party line 227-198 vote to repeal the ACA.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has outspokenly favored the ACA’s repeal and replacement, heads Florida’s District 27. In 2013, she called the law’s implementation “bungled” and “not the answer for America’s health care system.” Her district enrolls 96,300 people, the highest number in the country, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Florida’s 26th district, led by Rep. Carlos Curbelo follows close behind with 92,500.

If the Republican’s plan to repeal the ACA were to actualize, nearly 200,000 people in these Republican districts would lose health insurance.

The inconsistency continues as, according to The Census Bureau, people who live outside metropolitan statistical areas have the highest rates of government coverage, at 42.7%. Yet, in the 2016 election Donald Trump won the presidency with a vast majority of support from those outside of metropolitan statistical areas, areas incongruously occupied by both ACA enrollees and Trump supporters.

Further, the populations with no high school diploma are the most likely to have government coverage (35.2 percent) compared with high school graduates (24.8 percent) and people with a bachelor’s or graduate or professional degree (11.2 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively). Looking at the 2016 election, it appears that educational levels were crucial in predicting who would vote toward one candidate or the other. According to a statistical presentation by FiveThirtyEight, it was the least educated states that won Donald Trump the presidency, especially given that a fair number of them are in swing states such as Ohio and North Carolina.

More recently, Politico explored the repercussions of Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on rural America.

What the statistics tell us is that less education and living in rural areas means both a higher percentage of ACA enrollees and a higher percentage of Trump supporters. Given these statistics, why did Republicans vote for a President who ran on the promise that he would essentially take away their health insurance?

Perhaps the same reason liberals do–a higher motivation than self-interest. Liberals tend to support higher taxes. And these foundational ideals usually do not sway whether or not the policy negatively affects them. According to a survey by CNBC, eighty-six percent of Democratic millionaires said inequality is a problem, compared with only 20 percent of Republicans. Democratic millionaires were far more supportive of taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage. Among those who say inequality is a problem, 78 percent of Democrats support higher taxes on the wealthy, and 77 percent back a higher minimum wage. The same goes for liberals’ support of affirmative action, when it does not directly further their best interest.

While it is possible that Republicans do not know the substance of the policies they reject, as we saw with Tomi Lahren admitting her use of the ACA despite her being its biggest adversary, it is also possible that when voting, Democrats and Republicans have different priorities. Republican’s do not prioritize health care the way Democrats do but instead put their energy into the military, taxes, and terrorism. While Republicans lose the most materially by supporting Trump and his repeal of the ACA, they gain a sort of cultural power or at the very least cultural recognition.

The fight for many Republicans, it seems, is not to pinpoint the best policies but to live in an America that they recognize and that recognizes them. While this mindset begs for sympathy, it also demands concern. Republicans should not use health care as an emblem of their partisan ambitions because the cost is too high.

Why Are Americans So Afraid?

Facts take a backseat to deeply ingrained fears.

Photo Credit: Thomas Bethge/Shutterstock

At a rally in North Carolina in December 2016, a 12-year-old girl said to candidate Donald Trump, “I’m scared. What are you going to do to protect this country?”

“You know what, darlin’?” Trump replied. “You’re not going to be scared anymore. They’re going to be scared.”

Throughout his campaign, Trump played off the rising fear of the American public. His us-vs.-them rhetoric eroded people’s trust in facts, numbers, nuance, government and the news media and augmented the already fragile line of truth. Trump knew Americans were afraid and that they would vote accordingly.

But there is a remarkable dissonance between what seems to be and what is. According to Harvard professor Steven Pinker, “Violence has been in decline over long stretches of time and we may be living in the most peaceful time in our species’ existence.”

In most of the world, the rate of homicide has been sinking. The great American crime decline of the 1990s proceeded right through the recession of 2008 and up to the present. Among 88 countries with reliable data, 67 have seen a decline in homicide in the past 15 years.

“You often hear people saying, on both sides of the political divide, that the world is a mess,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, a public grant-making foundation focused on nuclear weapons policy and conflict resolution. “The world is not a mess. It’s just messy.” The collapse of the existing order in the Middle East, Cirincione said, is one manifestation of the world’s messiness. “But the world itself is doing pretty darn good. We do not have major powers in conflict. We have small wars. We do not have major wars.”

Yet a Gallup poll found that concern about crime and violence is at its highest level in 15 years. According to the Chapman University Survey on American Fears, some 70 percent of our citizenry is afraid of threats of terrorism, economic collapse, cyber warfare and government corruption.

So how is it that we are living in what is arguably the safest time in history, yet we as a country exist in a culture of fear?

Christopher Fettweis, author of The Pathologies of Power: Fear, Honor, Glory, and Hubris in U.S. Foreign Policy, says it is because “our fear is not based on an intellectual conclusion, it’s a belief.” America’s fear has become a framework of belief, surpassing far beyond the plasticity of opinions. And as history has proved time and time again, beliefs are near impossible to change.

The reality is “facts” don’t mean much in the way of beliefs. Telling a person, who has the sincerest gut belief, the statistic that more Americans are killed each year by furniture than by terrorism becomes somehow unconvincing, or rather disagreeable. Political psychologists call this tendency to conform assessments of information to some goal or end extrinsic to accuracy “motivated reasoning.” In other words, people believe what they want to believe. This cognitive process infiltrates everything from us convincing ourselves a gluten-free cupcake is healthy to our groundless denial of climate change and gun violence.

So why is this process so crucial in understanding the culture of fear in America? It perpetuates it. Because humans will dismiss rational thinking for the sake of reconfirming their identity, their fears will eclipse facts. A conservative turns on the news to see a terrorist attack in London. Then he goes on Twitter to see fellow conservatives’ rant about building a wall and protecting our borders. His fear is legitimized within their cushy network of familiarity. If the conservative encountered the fact that “zero refugees from countries included in the president’s travel ban have killed anyone in terrorist attacks on American soil,” he would ignore it, because it does not fit with his worldview. The individual does not conform to adjust his perspective, but emerges unconvinced and indignantly dogged. According to psychologist Tom Gilovich, this is because the fundamental questions we ask ourselves in response to particular information conforms to what we want to believe. “For desired conclusions,” he writes, “it is as if we ask ourselves ‘Can I believe this?,’ but for disagreeable conclusions we ask, ‘Must I believe this?’”

People do not confront new information looking for truth, but rather looking for their truth and this means facts take a backseat to deeply ingrained fears.

These fears are sustained through media coverage. Nearly every time we switch on the news, a building is in flames, a new virus has swept a new nation, or a man with a gun has wreaked havoc on an elementary school. It seems a string is holding the world together. The overwhelming coverage of terrorist attacks, shootings and other violent episodes are so entwined in our daily lives that their imminence is inflated. “Your day-to-day experience is that terrible things are happening and they could happen to you tomorrow,” says Cirincione. For those who have not made it beyond the U.S. border, their perceptions of the outside world are shaped solely by this media diet. And what makes news coverage overseas? People having bad things happen, doing bad things to each other; violence and degradation.

To the individual, this news coverage is a consistent reminder of our own mortality. According to a study done by the American Psychological Association, when confronted with thoughts of our own mortality people appear to behave more conservatively by shunning and even punishing outsiders and those who threaten the status of their cherished worldviews. This helps explain how America’s current culture of fear has become synonymous with the fear of terrorism. Despite the fact that the chances of being a victim of terrorism are roughly the same as that of being hit by lightning, a majority of Americans now worry that they or their families will be victims of terrorism, up from a third less than two years ago, according to a survey by the Public Religion Research Institute.

Terrorist attacks carry the powerful quality of uncertainty. Since 1973, psychologists have argued that political conservatism as an ideological belief system is significantly related to concerns having to do with the psychological management of uncertainty. According to a study done by NYU, we respond to uncertainty as we would respond to a threat—with fear. As death reminders become more prevalent, society becomes more antagonistic toward those with different beliefs and values; people become more fearful of the other. The common rhetoric turns to that of us-vs.-them. We feel we have to build a literal wall to separate ourselves from the big, bad existential other. In this world of inflamed rhetoric, Muslims become terrorists, factual probability becomes irrelevant and doing nothing becomes weakness.

This mentality has cost the U.S. roughly hundreds of billions of dollars annually on counter-terrorism efforts, yet terrorism is rising. In 2015, terrorist attacks occurred in almost 100 countries, up from 59 in 2013, according to the University of Maryland’s Global Terrorism Database. In America, the numbers are different: 24 people have died in America from terrorist attacks since 9/11, less than two per year. These 24 lives are important, but so are the nearly 45,000 annual deaths associated with lack of health insurance; the 37,000 annual deaths from road crashes each year; the over 59,000 who die annually due to the opioid epidemic; and the 99,000 who died from preventable healthcare-associated infections. And the list goes on.

Given these statistics, how the government chooses to allocate our resources comes as a shock. To combat the most likely cause of death, heart disease, the government contributes only $2 billion. And just $300 million is devoted to research on the third most likely cause of death, strokes. The U.S. Congress funded cancer research through the NCI with just over $5 billion in 2017. Yet as Americans we allow this to continue largely because we’re too lazy to crosscheck the facts and confront the issue logically. As long as terrorism pervades the media, the government will continue to put money where the fear is, whether logical or not at all.

Telling people not to fear terror in this hyperactive age is like trying to convince a person standing in the rain that it is a sunny day. Their experience, their worldview, their very sense of self says otherwise. This is not to say that Americans do not have the right to be afraid. Fear is an instinctive response, but our heightened response should be redirected to realistic fears, the things that might actually kill us.

Jon Stewart Should Run for President

It’s time for a left-leaning celebrity to run—and win.

Guy Saperstein, Kelsey Abkin, Jon Stewart

Two years ago, the suggestion that Jon Stewart should run for president would be met with satirical criticism. He does not have experience holding office, he is an entertainer, not a politician, and he’s funny—too funny to be president. But times have changed dramatically. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016, millions of Americans watched as Florida, Pennsylvania and Ohio turned red and Donald Trump, a businessman who knows more about luxury hotels than foreign policy, was voted to the highest office in the land by the will of millions of Americans.

No one saw it coming. Democrats were blindsided by the upset and the media were left scrambling. But Jon Stewart, in an interview with CNN explained, “The door is open to an a**hole like Donald Trump because the Democrats haven’t done enough to show people that a government…that can be effective for people, can be efficient for people,” he said. “And if you can’t do that, then you’ve lost the right to make that change and someone’s going to come in and demagogue you.”

Stewart had a grasp on the current state of politics and an understanding of the drive behind Clinton’s loss. More importantly, he has the charisma to make people listen.

Anything is possible, but Jon Stewart is necessary. At a time when a majority of Americans feel cheated by the demographic revolution that is underway around the world, and vote according to a deep fear of becoming minorities in their own country, Jon Stewart is the strongest weapon the Democratic Party could employ to combat Trump-era voters.

A large part of Donald Trump’s appeal is that he is entertaining. His press conferences are turbulent and his tweets make us laugh and cry and nearly forget he holds the highest office in the country. America likes entertainment and craves drama. We’re a reality TV obsessed, celebrity-crazed nation. Celebrity news sells. Jon Stewart would sell the same way that Trump has. He would be controversial in his bluntness, but wiser in his actions. People would be excited for him to open his mouth, but not embarrassed when he does. He is as entertaining as Donald Trump, yet he is the Donald Trump antidote.

At a time when only 16 percent of Americans think the government does the right thing “most of the time,” celebrities may simply be a trusted alternative. In 2016, Trump joined stars like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Ronald Reagan, Clint Eastwood, and Sonny Bono in making a successful turn to politics. He did not shy away from his lack of political experience, but instead framed it as an asset, appealing to the “outsider,” to the attractive idea of shaking up traditional politics. Perhaps his familiarity on our television screen was more comfortable than the detached politicians. Perhaps we could forgive him when he misspoke, because we saw it as entertainment. Perhaps no average politician could stand up to him.

But now, imagine in 2020 Jon Stewart next to Donald Trump, calling him out on every flub, every ill-informed word, with the magnetism of an accomplished entertainer. This value of Stewart should not be condoned, but embraced. However, he must not be clumped in the likes of Trump, Reagan or Schwarzenegger, because his prior career as an entertainer required a complex understanding of politics and a debate style wit. He was not reiterating the thoughts of others, but consistently building his own and expressing them in a way many current politicians cannot.

As if Stewart the entertainer does not carry enough appeal, perhaps Stewart the everyman will. Stewart worked for what he accomplished in the good old “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” tradition. Stewart held numerous jobs before hosting his own show: he was a contingency planner for the New Jersey Department of Human Services, a contract administrator for City University of New York, a puppeteer for children with disabilities, a soccer coach at Gloucester High School in Virginia, a caterer, a busboy, a shelf stocker at Woolworth’s, a bartender, and finally a standup comedian. He is relatable. He is the bartender down the street, the friendly neighbor volunteer and your child’s soccer coach. But he is also a political titan in his own right. He built an empire off his witty comments and political expertise; he is both relatable and intimidating.

Not only is Jon Stewart attractive as a candidate, but his win is a real possibility, thanks in part to his already existing fan base. Jon Stewart’s Daily Show Twitter boasted more than 6 million followers; its Facebook page got over 7 million likes, and his episodes have garnered as many as 3.5 million viewers, not including those watched with DVR playback. He has a ready-made audience; all he has to do is talk.

Millennials make up a large part of Stewart’s fan base, which is important because they are a vital demographic in the 2020 election. In the 2016 election, 50% of citizens aged 18-29 didn’t show up to the polls. It seemed the millennial support Obama garnered just didn’t translate to Clinton. According to a report by the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, Bernie Sanders won more votes among those under age 30 than the two presumptive major-party presidential nominees combined. And it wasn’t close. It was clear the Democrats presented the wrong nominee.

If Jon Stewart had run in the 2016 election, it is fair to say he would have brought back the Obama-era millennial coalition and garnered the support of the Bernie Sanders supporters. There’s no reason why traditional Democrats wouldn’t support him as well. In 2020, after Trump has shown his incompetency in office, Stewart’s fight will only be easier. President Obama understood this. In 2015, Politico reported that Jon Stewart was invited to the White House twice—first in 2011 and again in 2014.

“Jon Stewart was a key influencer for millennials,” said Dag Vega, who worked for several years at the White House developing relationships with media figures. “They relied on him for an honest take on the news, and the president and senior staff know that.”

Stewart knows how to work the political system. In 2010, he successfully shamed politicians into passing the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, legislature that covered medical expenses for emergency workers thought to be sickened by their exposure to toxic substances during the 9/11 recovery efforts. When in 2015, the bill had not yet been renewed, Stewart again took matters into his own hands and marched twice to Congress and publically shamed lawmakers into renewing the bill. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg described Stewart’s coverage as “one of the biggest factors that led to the final agreement.” Stewart took his political knowledge further, to Iran, when he wrote, directed and produced the political drama Rosewater, which portrayed a deep understanding of Iranian politics.

Unlike Donald Trump, Stewart’s history is free of questionable business dealings or allegations of sexual assault. The only “skeleton” in his closet is his name-change from Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz to Jon Stewart, a move he made to succeed as a newbie in the entertainment industry. Many other entertainers have done the same thing, including Katy Perry, Elton John and Natalie Portman.

Trump’s presidency has made the previously unthinkable a reality and paved the way for a left-leaning celebrity to run for office — and win.

Trump Didn’t Win the Election, Hillary Lost It

Hillary was always going to be a weak candidate and the evidence was there for anyone willing to see it.  The only surprise was how hard many people worked not to see the obvious. For one, she was exactly the wrong candidate for 2016. In May 2014, two and a half years ago, I wrote on these pages:

By every metric, voters are in a surly mood and they are not going to be happy campers in 2016, either. Why should they be? The economy is still in the toilet, not enough jobs are being created even to keep up with population growth, personal debt and student debt are rising, college graduates can’t find jobs, retirement benefits are shrinking, infrastructure is deteriorating, banksters never were held accountable for melting down the economy, inequality is exploding — and neither party is addressing the depth of the problems America faces. As a result, voters in 2016 will be seeking change and there is no way Clinton can run as a “change” candidate — indeed, having been in power in Washington for 20-plus years as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she is the poster child for the Washington political establishment, an establishment that will not be popular in 2016.

This is exactly what happened, which is why the Washington Post’s chief political writer Chris Cilliza could write today:

This was a change election. And Trump was the change candidate. To me, this is the single most important number in the exit poll in understanding what voters were thinking when they chose Trump. Provided with four candidate qualities and asked which mattered most to their vote, almost 4 in 10 (39 percent) said a candidate who “can bring needed change.” (A candidate who “has the right experience” was the second most important character trait.) Among those change voters, Trump took 83 percent of the vote to just 14 percent for Clinton.

On top of this problem–which to be fair to Clinton was not a problem of her making–she was extremely unpopular and had a long history dating back to 2007 of polling badly against Republicans. In December 2007, while leading national polls among Democrats by 26 points, in head-to-head polls against Republicans, she polled weaker against Republican presidential candidates than John Edwards and a relatively unknown new black Senator from Illinois. In fact, when matched up against Republicans–who had a very weak field themselves in 2008–she even polled behind an unnamed generic Democratic candidate. We saw this inherent weakness repeated in 2016, when she was challenged by a 74-year old senator from a small state who wasn’t even a Democrat, who had virtually no financial base, but went from 3% in national polls to winning 22 contested primaries and 47% of the votes in those primaries, in the process regularly pulling 20,000+ enthusiastic people to his rallies, while Hillary spoke in small gatherings to large donors and never attracted more than 800 people to an event.

What this obvious lack of enthusiasm for Hillary translated to in this election is the single most appalling–and definitive–statistic of this campaign: Hillary got almost 10 million fewer votes than Obama got in 2008, despite the fact there are millions more registered voters now and six million less votes than Obama got in 2012. Trump did not win this election. Hillary lost it. In fact, Trump got fewer votes than Mitt Romney in 2012!  We are not surrounded by more Republicans. We are surrounded by Democrats who were not inspired by the Wall Street-friendly candidate their party pushed on them.

Hillary’s utter tone-deafness about her connections to Wall Street was another huge liability.  In November 2014, I wrote:

On nearly every important issue, except women’s issues, Clinton stands to the right of her Democratic base. Overwhelmingly, Democrats believe that Wall Street played a substantial role in gaming the system for their benefit while melting down the economy, but Clinton continues to give speeches to Goldman Sachs at $200,000 a pop, assuring them that, “We all got into this mess together and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it.” In her world — a world full of friends and donors from Wall Street — the financial industry does not bear any special culpability in the financial meltdown of 2007-’08. The mood of the Democratic base is populist and angry, but Clinton is preaching lack of accountability.

She got hammered by Sanders, and later Trump, for her reliance on Wall Street money, and then added to her problems by not releasing transcripts of her speeches to Wall Street banks to the public, which exacerbated the perception that she was not transparent and was rigging the system with the financial industry in ways that did not serve the public. So when her email problems arose, it all seemed part of the same pattern of duplicity.  Polls with voters rating her 65% “untrustworthy” soon followed.

She also never explained why she had supported the deregulation of Wall Street, never explained why she had promoted NAFTA, why she had called the NAFTA-like Trans Pacific Partnership the “gold standard” of trade deals, despite the damage NAFTA had caused to America’s manufacturing base and the millions of jobs that had been exported to lower-paying countries. And the DNC Democrats who fixed the primaries to nominate her have never explained how they expected to win the industrial midwest with a candidate who had contributed to their economic demise or why they favored Clinton over a candidate who ran 10 points stronger against every Republican presidential candidate, including Trump, in match-up polls.

This election was always going to be a plebiscite on the status quo and the status quo candidate, Hillary Clinton. For a while many thought Hillary could pass it because she was matched against the weakest candidate imaginable. In the end, she could not overcome her many liabilities, the fact that her party had forgotten they needed to deliver results to the working class, nor the surly mood of voters who had figured out what a rigged system looked like and were willing to try a long-shot who might just bust up the system.

The Racial Justice Failures That Hillary Clinton Can’t Ignore

Clinton’s record is far from stellar.

While the Black Lives Matter movement has focused attention on Bernie Sanders for his perceived racial justice deficiencies, no one seems to be giving much scrutiny to the civil rights record of Bill and Hillary Clinton and the impact their political work has had on the black community.

History has not been kind to the Clintons’ record and it is possible that Bill Clinton while president, with no public objections and often with enthusiastic support from Hillary, did more damage to the black community than any modern American president.

Let’s take a look at the Clintons’ record, in particular the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, the 1994 Violent Crime Act, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, and the support and passage of NAFTA and NAFTA-style trade agreements.

1996 Welfare Reform Act: Any consideration of Bill Clinton’s impact on the black community must include the 1996 Welfare Reform Act that had been put forward by Republicans Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole as a cornerstone of the Republican Contract for America and signed into law by Clinton, fulfilling his 1992 campaign pledge to “end welfare as we know it.”

The bill ended the federal guarantee of cash assistance to the poor, limited welfare payments and turned welfare programs over to the states. Civil rights and women’s groups strongly opposed this legislation, which has proved to be a disaster for poor people. Three of Clinton’s assistant secretaries at the Department of Health and Human Services resigned to protest the law. According to one of them, Peter Edelman, the 1996 welfare reform law destroyed the safety net for poor people, increased poverty, lowered income for single mothers, put people into homeless shelters and left states free to eliminate welfare entirely.

Clinton’s welfare reform did “not offer benefits sufficient to lift recipients out of poverty, and despite a strong economy, the majority of families who have moved off the [welfare] rolls have remained in poverty,” according to the book Success Stories, by Joe Soss. Jason DeParle of the New York Times, after interviews with single mothers, said that they have been left without means to survive, and have turned to desperate and sometimes illegal ways to survive, including shoplifting, selling blood, scavenging trash bins, moving in with friends, and returning to violent domestic partners.

Feminist critics such as Barbara Ehrenreich said Clinton’s welfare reform was motivated by racism and misogyny, using stereotypes of “endlessly fecund” African-American welfare recipients.

On the face of it, devolving welfare programs to the states was racially neutral, but it didn’t work out that way. Joe Soss, who co-wrote the book, Disciplining the Poor: Neoliberal Paternalism and the Persistent Power of Race, explains how race became the defining characteristic of Clinton’s welfare reform:

[P]eople had become so focused on racial issues that race really drove the patterning….[A]ll of the states with more African-Americans on the welfare rolls chose tougher rules.  And when you add those different rules up, what we found was that even though the Civil Act prevents the government from creating different programs for black and white recipients, when states choose according to this pattern, it ends up that large numbers of African Americans get concentrated in the states with the toughest rules, and large numbers of white recipients get concentrated in the states with the more lenient rules.

So state freedom to make these different choices became the mechanism for recreating a racially biased system across the states, where the toughness of the rules you confronted really on your racial characteristics.

Despite the human costs of welfare reform, Bill Clinton is still bragging about knocking people off welfare and Hillary has neither repudiated nor disavowed the 1996 Clinton welfare legislation, which has been a catastrophe for the black community. Hillary Clinton not only supported the 1996 legislation, but as recently as her 2008 presidential campaign, publicly supported it, expressing no regret about how it turned out and telling the New York Times she thought the act was necessary and enormously successful.

1994 Violent Crime Control Act: Another Bill Clinton legacy that has had catastrophic impacts on the black community is the 1994 Violent Crime Control Act, which, among other things, expanded the death penalty, provided funds to hire 100,000 more police, imposed tougher prison sentences, eliminated funds for inmate education and provided money to build extra prisons. Clinton, who had a history of pandering to racist, anti-crime sentiments (witness his 1992 flight back to Arkansas to personally oversee the execution of a mentally retarded African-American murderer which helped his poll numbers in the New Hampshire primary), pandered to tough-on-crime voters and described the Violent Crime Control Act in stark terms: “Gangs and drugs have taken over our streets and undermined our schools,” he said. “Every day we read about somebody else who has literally gotten away with murder.”

Bill Clinton wasn’t the only one using tough language to sell this tough crime bill; Hillary, in selling this punitive bill to the public, added her own red-meat rhetoric, calling kids in gangs “super-predators” without conscience or empathy:

“[W]e also have to have an organized effort against gangs, just as in the previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to drug cartels. They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called ‘super-predators.’ No conscience, no empathy. We can talk about how they got that way but first we have to bring them to heel….”

As a result of this legislation, 28 states and the District of Columbia followed the federal money and enacted stricter sentencing laws and built more prisons. Jeremy Travis, a former member of the Clinton Justice Department and now president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, says there was a basic problem with the Clinton crime legislation: There is only a small relationship between high levels of imprisonment and lower crime rates. “We know with the fullness of time that we made some terrible mistakes,” Travis has said. “And those mistakes were to ramp up the use of prison. And that big mistake is the one that we now, 20 years later, come to grips with. We have to look in the mirror and say, ‘look what we have done.'”

What we have done is incarcerate a lot of minorities. There are more than 2.3 million people in U.S. state and federal prisons and nearly one million are black men. “If you’re a black baby born today, you have a 1 in 3 chance of spending some time in prison or jail,” says Nick Turner of the Vera Institute. “If you’re Latino, it’s a 1 in 6 chance. And if you’re white, it’s 1 in 17….[C]oming to terms with these disparities and reversing them…is a matter of fairness and justice.”

When we speak about justice and fairness, we need to consider not just the prisoners, but the families who are devastated by the imprisonment of a parent and the stigma and loss of job opportunities that endure forever. And when people are in prison, they are not earning pensions or building Social Security accounts, so their futures are permanently diminished.

Recently, the New York Times published an article about the disappearance of 1.5 million black men from daily American life. The reasons were premature death, foreign military deployments and prison.

The 1994 Clinton Crime bill has been a huge failure, at great cost to the black community, as well as many state budgets, and there has been a big public policy debate shift away from excessive incarceration policies. Even the arch-conservative Koch brothers and some Senate Republicans like Ted Cruz, Rand Paul and Marco Rubio are promoting a re-evaluation of incarceration policies.

To Bill and Hillary’s credit, they have acknowledged some of the damage their policies caused. In her meeting with three members of the Black Lives Matter movement, Hillary Clinton tried to explain her policy reversals as the result of different times demanding different policies. Yet the over-reliance on incarceration, particularly for non-violent crimes, made no sense in 1994, and it is equally bad policy today.

The 1994 Act spawned the “era of mass incarceration” that Hillary now questions. The Act supported “truth in sentencing” laws that dramatically increased the amount of time criminals served and over the course of the Clinton presidency, the number of Americans in prison rose an astounding 60 percent. This might have been justified if it led to large reductions of crime, but very little crime reduction is caused by mass incarceration. The Brennan Center for Justice, after spending two years studying 14 different causes of the reduction of crime, concluded that “incarceration was responsible for approximately five percent of the drop in crime in the 1990s” and an even lower percentage since then.

Hillary deserves credit for rethinking the damage the Clinton crime bill caused, but how much credit should that be, since she is now moving on this issue with a herd that includes right-wing Republicans and arch-conservatives like the Koch brothers? Her change of position does not help the millions of people, including hundreds of thousands of African Americans, whose lives were devastated by the hysteria for mass incarceration.

Repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act: After the 1920-’21 Depression, the United States began the decade known as the Roaring Twenties, characterized by new forms of consumer credit and bank expansion. Banks sold securities side-by-side with traditional bank services like loans and deposits. The stock market boomed and reached bubble territory and along with the bubble came market manipulation in which banks and other financial entities would hype the value of stocks, then dump them on less-informed buyers right before the stocks collapsed. Banks offered holding company stocks, many of which were little more than heavily leveraged pyramid schemes backed by dubious assets as prudent investments.

In October 1929, the bubble burst, the stock market crashed and the Great Depression began. In 1932, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected president and in 1933, a Democratic Congress passed the Glass-Steagall Act in response to bank abuses. Because of Glass-Steagall, banks were prohibited from engaging in banking and investing activities simultaneously. Banks could take deposits and make loans. Brokers could underwrite and sell securities, but no firm could do both due to conflicts of interest and risks to insured deposits. From 1933 to 1999, the system worked well. There were very few large bank failures and no large financial collapses.

In 1999, Democrats led by President Bill Clinton and his Wall Street supporters and joined by Republican Senator Phil Gramm, succeeded in repealing Glass-Steagall at the urging of the big Wall Street banks. As they did in the Roaring Twenties, banks began to originate fraudulent loans and sold securities backed by toxic, worthless assets, to their customers, often while simultaneously “shorting” or betting against the same securities themselves. The bubble peaked in 2007 and collapsed in 2008, causing Wall Street to run to Presidents Bush and Obama and Congress for a financial bail-out, which ultimately cost the federal government $1 trillion in cash and $11 trillion in guarantees. Millions of people lost their homes in foreclosure, unemployment spiked, the average American family lost 40 percent of its net worth and 52 percent of black families and 47 percent of Latino families were left with zero net worth.

Joseph Stiglitz, a Noble Prize-winning American economist has written:

Commercial banks are not supposed to be high-risk ventures; they are supposed to manage other people’s money very conservatively…Investment banks, on the other hand, have traditionally managed rich people’s money — people who can take bigger risks in order to get bigger returns.

When repeal of Glass-Steagall brought investment and commercial banks together, the investment-bank culture came out on top. There was a demand for the kind of high returns that could be obtained only through high leverage and big risk-taking.

Although American taxpayers bailed out the banks, Wall Street, with the support of President Obama, vigorously and successfully fought the re-institution of Glass-Steagall and the United States today remains just as vulnerable today to bank speculation and financial melt-down as it was in 2007.

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have called for the re-legislation of Glass-Steagall; by contrast, a spokesperson for Hillary Clinton recently said she did not support legislation reinstating Glass-Steagall rules. The banks remain free to run wild, while the U.S. economy continues to limp along, apparently with Clinton’s approval.

NAFTA: In 1993, President Clinton strongly lobbied for and passed NAFTA, which he and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce promised would create an export boom with Mexico that would create 200,000 high-paying jobs in America within two years and millions of jobs within five years. Instead, trade deficits with Mexico eliminated 682,000 good-paying jobs in the United States, 61 percent of which were manufacturing jobs, many held by African Americans.

When China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001, according to Robert Scott, director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute, black workers lost 281,000 high-paying manufacturing jobs from 2001-’11 and tens of billions in wages. The U.S. trade deficit with China is $318 billion per year and Celeste Drake, globalization policy specialist for the AFL-CIO, has written that, “The displacement of manufacturing jobs by growing U.S. trade deficits with China has been particularly hard on minority workers: 958,800 were displaced, with wage-related losses in 2011 of $10,485 per worker and $10.1 billion overall.”

The NAFTA-style trade agreement with Korea (KORUS) has resulted in the net loss of 75,000 jobs for African Americans and other workers, U.S. imports from Korea surged to more than $12 billion, while U.S. imports to Korea increased by less than $1 billion, said Robert Scott.

Once African Americans and other non-white workers lose their jobs, they have a difficult time finding new ones, wrote author Lori Keltzer in the book Job Loss from Imports: Measuring the Costs. “Minority workers face reemployment rates almost 11 percentage points lower than white workers,” Keltzer wrote. “For less skilled manufacturing workers, the male minority’s employment rate is 20 percent lower than the average. Female minority’s reemployment rate is 24 percent lower.”

NAFTA  and NAFTA-style trade agreements have been described as a “little discussed triple whammy in the black community that has hit black Americans financially hard over the past two decades,” wrote Frederick H. Lowe in, “Will the proposed trade agreement be another bad deal for black workers?”

You can thank Bill Clinton for NAFTA. But the story of bad trade deals is not over. In fact, the worst may be yet-to-come — the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which has been described by the AFL-CIO as “NAFTA on steroids.”

The TPP, which has been negotiated in secret, involves the U.S., Japan, Canada, Australia, Mexico, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, New Zealand, Vietnam and Brunei — almost 40 percent of the world economy. If passed, it would reduce tariffs and allow capital to move more freely among these nations. NAFTA and other NAFTA-style agreements have encouraged capital to flee to the lowest-wage countries, a “race to the bottom,” wrote William Greider in his seminal work on globalization, One World, Ready or Not.

If the TPP passes, the race not only will accelerate to the great profit of U.S. corporations, which already are sitting on $2+ trillion of retained earnings they have not repatriated to the U.S. or paid U.S. taxes on, but it will further gut the already-weak U.S. manufacturing base and further damage jobs for the black community. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have publicly opposed the TPP, while Hillary Clinton has refused to take an identifiable position on it.

The Clinton administration, with policies Hillary Clinton supported at the time and in most respects still supports, pushed millions of African Americans off welfare; over-incarcerated hundreds of thousands of African Americans while devastating hundreds of thousands of black families and careers; supported Wall Street-friendly legislation that helped to melt down the economy, leaving millions homeless and 52 percent of black families with zero net worth; and promoted trade policies like NAFTA which cost African Americans hundreds of thousands of jobs and tens of billions in salaries and income. Is this the track record and set of policies African Americans and racial justice advocates really want to endorse for 2016?

7 Things About the Inevitability of Hillary Clinton You Probably Haven’t Thought About

As in 2007, war hawk Clinton is less of a shoo-in, but Warren shines.

In December 2007, just as the 2008 presidential primaries were beginning to heat up, and with Hillary Clinton 26 points ahead in national polling of Democrats, I wrote an article for AlterNet arguing that she was beatable, that she had vulnerabilities the other candidates did not have, that she had historically high “unfavorables,” that she polled poorly against Republicans and that Democrats should rethink the “inevitability” of her candidacy. Apparently, they did and we know how that turned out.

Once again, Clinton is riding high in polling of Democrats; once again, her supporters are claiming she is “inevitable;” and once again, she has vulnerabilities other candidates lack, including extremely high “unfavorables,” as well as additional liabilities in 2016 she didn’t have in 2008 — some of her own making, some not.

1. Worrisome Polling

Hillary Clinton has maintained consistently high “unfavorable” ratings since at least 2007 (ranging from 40 to 52 percent). In December 2007, they were running 45 percent and are still hovering in the 45 percent range today. In 2007, I wrote that her unfavorable” ratings “currently are running 45 percent — far higher than any other Democratic or Republican presidential hopeful and higher than any presidential candidate at this stage in polling history. Hillary may be the most well-known, recognizable candidate, but that is proving to be as much of a burden as a benefit.” That still seems to be true.

Before Chris Christie melted down in the Bridge-Gate scandal, Quinnipiac, a well-respected poll, had him running ahead of Hillary Clinton 43-42 percent. That doesn’t, in my opinion, mean Christie is a strong candidate — people hardly know who he is — but it suggests Clinton is a weak, or at least vulnerable, candidate. She is someone who has been on the national scene prominently for 20-plus years, people know her, yet a relatively unknown Republican runs even with her? Not a sign of strength.

In a Quinnipiac poll in Colorado, a state with two Democratic senators and a Democratic governor, Rand Paul was out-polling Clinton 45-40 percent and she was running 42-42 percent against the scandal-ridden Christie. Colorado is a blue state Democrats need to win in 2016 and having a well-known Democrat running behind a virtual unknown Republican is not good news.

And, in a recent [October] Presidential match-up poll by the Des Moines Register, Hillary trailed Mitt Romney in Iowa by one point [44-43] and ran only one point ahead of Paul Ryan and three points ahead of Rand Paul.

This should be a serious concern for Democrats because in Presidential years, Iowa has become a fairly reliable Democratic state.  In fact, Romney lost Iowa by 6 points to Obama in 2012 and Obama won Iowa by 10 points in 2008.  To be trailing in Iowa by even a point to a Republican candidate who lost the state by six points just two years ago and, to date, has shown no interest in even running for President, is one more ominous indication that Hillary is not as strong a candidate as her supporters want you to think.  But this is not the only reason to think that Hillary’s relationship to voters is not robust.   In the just-concluded 2014 mid-term election, of the Senate candidates Hillary personally appeared and spoke on behalf of, 8 won and 14 lost [one race remains undecided].  By contrast, Elizabeth Warren personally stumped for 11 Democratic Senate candidates: 6 won and 5 lost. Elizabeth Warren pulled voters in her direction; Hillary did not.

2. New Liabilities

By every metric, voters are in a surly mood and they are not going to be happy campers in 2016, either. Why should they be? The economy is still in the toilet, not enough jobs are being created even to keep up with population growth, personal debt and student debt are rising, college graduates can’t find jobs, retirement benefits are shrinking, infrastructure is deteriorating, banksters never were held accountable for melting down the economy, inequality is exploding — and neither party is addressing the depth of the problems America faces.

As a result, just like in the 2014 mid-terms, voters in 2016 will be seeking change and there is no way Clinton can run as a “change” candidate — indeed, having been in power in Washington for 20-plus years as First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State, she is the poster child for the Washington political establishment, an establishment that will not be popular in 2016. This problem is not really her fault, but it creates serious headwinds for her candidacy and makes her susceptible to any Republican candidate who does not appear to be crazy, who can say a few reasonable things and who looks fresh, new and different. The status quo is not popular today and it is not going to be any more popular in 2016.  If Hillary Clinton is the Democratic presidential candidate, even though she will try to harken back to the nostalgia of the 1990s, she will not be able to escape being the candidate representing old ideas and an unpopular status quo.

3. Democratic Party Base

On nearly every important issue, except women’s issues, Clinton stands to the right of her Democratic base. Overwhelmingly, Democrats believe that Wall Street played a substantial role in gaming the system for their benefit while melting down the economy, but Clinton continues to give speeches to Goldman Sachs at $200,000 a pop, assuring them that, “We all got into this mess together and we’re all going to have to work together to get out of it.” In her world — a world full of friends and donors from Wall Street — the financial industry does not bear any special culpability in the financial meltdown of 2007-’08. The mood of the Democratic base is populist and angry, but Clinton is preaching lack of accountability.

According to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll done by Hart Research, only four percent of American voters have a great deal of confidence in the financial industry, while 43 percent have “very little or none at all.” With Wall Street at a historic low in popularity and respect, with her close ties to Goldman Sachs, Bob Rubin and the financial industry, Clinton will be perceived as Wall Street’s candidate.

Clinton has not explained why she supported the repeal of Glass-Steagall legislation, which deregulated banks during the Clinton administration and contributed significantly to Wall Street speculation, the meltdown of big banks and the trillion-dollar federal bailout. She has not explained her support for NAFTA, which has eroded the manufacturing base of America and cost American workers a million-plus well-paid jobs; nor her support as Secretary of State for the Trans Pacific Partnership, which has been described as “NAFTA on steroids.” On all these core financial issues, Clinton is well to the right of the Democratic base, so how is she going to fire up the base the way Obama’s promises of “Hope and Change” fired it up in 2008?

The 2014 mid-term election confirmed voter antipathy to Wall Street:  According to a Hart Research poll of 2014 voters, the most important issue in the election was the economy and 80% of voters agreed with the statement that “politicians from both the Democratic and Republican parties do too much to support Wall Street financial interests and not enough to help average Americans;” only 13% disagreed.  It is not plausible that voters in 2016 are going to feel much differently or want to support a candidate so closely associated with the financial industry as Hillary has been.

Clinton is no more in-tune with her Democratic base on foreign policy issues than on domestic issues. She is not simply a hawk at a time when the Democratic base (and the country) is sick of expensive and counter-productive foreign adventures, she is a superhawk, consistently trying to outflank Republicans on foreign policy issues. We all know she voted in favor of invading Iraq in 2003, despite the fact that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11 and despite the fact that evidence of WMDs was sketchy at best. She has never recanted that vote, shown any remorse about not examining classified reports about Iraq, reports that were made available to her before the vote nor expressed any qualms about the fact that the U.S. blew $3 trillion down a rat-hole in Iraq and Afghanistan with nothing to show for it. Then, five years later, with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan collapsing, she strongly urged new President Obama to escalate the commitment of troops in Afghanistan, advice that proved disastrous. It is no surprise that General David Petraeus has endorsed Clinton for President. He knows a military hawk when he sees one.

More recently, she supported invading Libya and bombing Syria. And, at a time when Obama was trying to moderate Putin’s behavior in the Ukraine and get our European allies to support economic sanctions against Russia, Clinton threw gasoline on the fire by comparing Putin to Hitler, a comparison which is ridiculous on many counts, but which played very badly with our allies.

Ironically, Rand Paul represents the concerns of the Democratic base far better than Clinton about foreign interventions and the excesses of the National Security State and if he were the Republican presidential candidate, would undermine her support among Democrats in an unprecedented way.

4. Assets

Clinton’s biggest asset, in my opinion, is that she is a woman, and America is long past the time when a woman should be elected President. But Democrats already win the women’s vote and lose the vote of men, so what is the net advantage? She also has the highest name-recognition of any candidate, which is why she is polling so highly in Democratic polls, but name-recognition evaporates in any high-profile campaign and is an ephemeral asset.

Indeed, that is the essence of her problem: She has a small and active hardcore base of feminist supporters and donors; a large core of conservatives who hate the Clintons; and among others, her support is a mile wide and two inches deep — which is why a relative unknown ran her down and beat her in 2008.

5. Bill’s Legacy

Hillary Clinton’s campaign will harken back to the glory years of the Clinton administration, but is a campaign based on nostalgia really going to work, particularly with disengaged young voters the Democrats need to win? Certainly, Bill Clinton deserves credit for some things. He increased taxes on the rich, wages grew in his second term and jobs were created in his eight years as President (helped in no small part by the tech revolution and the financial bubble he helped create and which ended in disaster 10 years later). Bill also expanded the earned income tax credit, which helped working people. But there are a lot of things his administration did which don’t look very good in hindsight.

With help from Newt Gingrich, he enacted a Draconian welfare reform program; he overrode the opposition of labor to enact NAFTA, again with mostly Republican support; and, he repealed the Glass-Steagall Act, which deregulated Wall Street. He deregulated the telecom industry, and that deregulation now has put net neutrality in jeopardy, while enriching the big telecom companies.  As he described himself to Bob Woodward, “I hope you’re all aware we’re all Eisenhower Republicans. We stand for lower deficits and free trade and the bond market. Isn’t that great?” Conservative Alan Greenspan, whom Bill twice appointed to chair the Federal Reserve Board, said, “Bill Clinton was the best Republican president we’ve had in awhile.”

So here we are, 20 years later, with wages of average workers in decline, CEO pay and Wall Street bonuses accelerating at obscene rates, pensions disappearing, the loss of millions of jobs to developing countries thanks to NAFTA and exploding wealth inequality. Yes, we can blame Bush/Cheney for their contributions to these trends, but the major policy changes that started the ball rolling steeply downhill for workers and the middle class began in the Clinton Administration.

6. Accomplishments

There is no question Hillary Clinton is smart, hard-working and competent. She does her homework, shows up for work every day and works long hours. Yet she has been on the world stage for more than 20 years, so it is fair to ask what are her accomplishments over those 20 years. She led a healthcare task force in Bill Clinton’s first term, but that effort failed, largely because she was not collaborative and failed to involve Congress, despite the fact Democrats controlled it. She repeatedly claims credit for the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, passed during Bill Clinton’s second term, and while her role has been disputed even by the bill’s sponsors, she played an important role in supporting it within the White House and later publicly.

In 2008, however, she tried to bootstrap many accomplishments of her husband by exaggerating her role as First Lady and got roundly mocked for her exaggerations. She had a term as U.S. Senator, and was re-elected, but can anyone identify anything of consequence that she accomplished during that period other than facilitating Republican idiocy by supporting Bush’s war in Iraq? Then she spent four years as Secretary of State, which certainly improved her public profile, but can anyone identify any substantial accomplishments she had as Secretary of State?

Clinton came to the role of Secretary of State with a huge asset — her strong relationship with AIPAC and the Israeli government. She, like President Obama, supports a two-state solution, opposes Jewish settlements in Palestinian territory and seeks peace with the Palestinians. There was hope when she was appointed that she would leverage her strong relationship with AIPAC and move Israel away from aggressive settlement activity and toward the peace process. That did not happen. Clinton is cautious, by nature, and I have little doubt she feared angering her wealthy Jewish donors by pushing them hard on peace negotiations. So she didn’t act and whatever leverage she had was wasted; it was not until John Kerry replaced her as Secretary of State that peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine resumed. Likewise with Iran, as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was a consistent advocate of tough sanctions and serious peace negotiations did not begin until John Kerry replaced her.

7. Foreign Policy Credentials

The Arab Spring exploded on her watch, but Clinton and U.S. foreign policy drifted. There were no long-term strategies and with her stewardship, America supported whoever looked like a winner. When it was Mubarak, she supported Mubarak. When he was going down, she supported elections. Then when they had elections and the military tossed out the winners, she supported the military. Of course, she is not the only person responsible for the policy drift, but where did she leave a positive imprint on the direction of American foreign policy?

In my opinion, she has been wrong about almost every major foreign policy question in recent American history. She probably lost the Democratic presidential primaries and the presidential nomination due to her ill-advised vote to start a war in Iraq, a vote which ultimately gave Obama’s candidacy substantial impetus, and it is reasonable to assume she will face some amount of accountability with voters for her consistently hawkish and unpopular views on foreign interventions.

In the past few months, Hillary has double-downed on her hawkish positions in the Middle East by her continued unconditional support for Israel, despite its murderous assault on Gaza which killed 2,000 mostly defenseless people, her criticisms of President Obama for not arming Syrian rebels fast enough and her hawkish stance about making a peace deal with Iran.

In an August interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, published in The Atlantic, and elsewhere, Hillary said, “The failure to help build up a credible fighting force of the people who were the originators of the protests against Assad — there were Islamists, there were secularists, there was everything in the middle — the failure to do that left a big vacuum, which the jihadists have now filled.” This is mostly fantasy. The U.S. invested trillions of dollars in Iraq, including hundreds of billions trying to train an Iraqi Army, and utterly failed in the effort. What could possibly make Clinton think the U.S., with far fewer resources available for Syria, had the capacity to train a competent rebel army, let alone even determine who the “good rebels” were?  Is she unaware of how bad—and counter-productive—America’s track record has been arming and training fighters in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere? And, if she really believed Syrian rebels needed to be armed, why didn’t she protest publicly at the time? The fact that she remained silent as Secretary of State shows lack of conviction and no courage.

In the interview, Hillary also took a very hard line on Obama’s negotiations with Iran’s nuclear expectations: “I’ve always been in the camp that held that they [Iran] did not have a right to enrichment,” Clinton said. “Contrary to their claim, there is no such thing as a right to enrich. This is absolutely unfounded. There is no such right. I am well aware that I am not at the negotiating table anymore, but I think it’s important to send a signal to everybody who is there that there cannot be a deal unless there is a clear set of restrictions on Iran. The preference would be no enrichment. The potential fallback position would be such little enrichment that they could not break out.” When asked if the demands of Israel, and of America’s Arab allies, that Iran not be allowed any uranium-enrichment capability whatsoever were militant or unrealistic, she said, “I think it’s important that they stake out that position.”

Claiming Iran has “no right to enrichment,” is a half-truth. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty does not expressly grant a right to uranium enrichment to any nation, but it also doesn’t prohibit enrichment, so long as enrichment is not done secretly. Hillary, of course, knows this, but by choosing to emphasize only parts of the Treaty and ignore the rest, she is misleading and inflaming the discussion. In the case of Iran, misinformation feeds right-wing opposition and potentially could jeopardize a peace agreement with a country with an educated population and democratic traditions [destroyed by the CIA coup in 1953] which could be a stabilizing force and America’s ally in the Middle East.

Ironically, as Secretary of State, Clinton explicitly recognized that Iran could enrich uranium under the terms of a negotiated comprehensive deal, which, of course, is exactly what Obama is seeking to do, but now, as a potential Presidential candidate, Hillary appears to want to forget her own history and criticize Obama from the right.  Does that sound like opportunism to anyone other than me?

Concerns about these types of hawkish positions by Clinton are not academic or inconsequential. Becoming enmeshed unnecessarily in long-term sectarian conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq killed hundreds of thousands of people, including 5,000 Americans, and cost U.S. taxpayers $3+ trillion, and counting, as 500,000 war-damaged American vets get healthcare, most for the rest of their lives. Worse, U.S. military intervention inflamed a situation America never had control over, or ever could have control over, promoted recruitment of thousands of militants by terrorist organizations, and made America, despite this huge investment, less safe.

It has been a total clusterfuck, to be sure, but apparently Hillary Clinton is willing to repeat the policy mistakes which caused it. Voters should be, and I think will be, concerned.

Is There a Democratic Alternative?

Bernie Sanders has declared his intent to run, but Sanders is technically a socialist; more importantly, his candidacy is unlikely to present a formidable challenge to Clinton.

The name on people’s lips is Elizabeth Warren, who is the harshest critic of Wall Street excesses and who speaks to the populist zeitgeist. Would she run, despite having said she is not interested?

I think we should take her protestations of disinterest seriously. Running for President is a brutal task: Two years of living in motels; two years of banquets and bad food; two years of glad-handing people; two years of dialing for donor dollars; two years of facing attacks from Republicans. No rational person would do it. Unless they wanted to change the world.

I believe there are five scenarios that would make it possible, perhaps even likely, for Elizabeth Warren to run in 2016:

  1. Elizabeth Warren ran for the U.S. Senate because she wanted to change the world, most immediately to break the stranglehold on American politics and the economy that Wall Street currently holds. If she sees Hillary Clinton continuing to suck up to the financial industry and offering the failed economics and deregulation beliefs of Bob Rubin, Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, Warren might rethink what she can accomplish in the U.S. Senate. She is a person of great principle; she has fought for her principles, often against brutal odds. In the end, principles could prove more compelling than the easier and more comfortable path of stepping back.
  1. I have been told by friends of hers that Warren likes her job as senator and thinks she can make important contributions in that role. But now that the Democrats have lost control of the Senate, she might want to rethink that, because as a member of the minority in a rigidly controlled Republican Senate, it is unlikely she could accomplish anything other than increase her level of frustration.
  1. Warren might rethink the clock. She is 65 now and would be 67 on Election Day 2016, so 2016 could be the only chance she has to run for President.
  1. Clinton could choose not to run. In December 2012, she suffered dehydration and fatigue, fainted, fell and hit her head, suffering a concussion. She was re-hospitalized two weeks later and her condition was described as a clot between her brain and skull. She previously had suffered a large blood clot in her leg. These medical issues could cause her to rethink undertaking the rigors of a presidential campaign, which are brutal.
  1. Warren raised a record $42.5 million to run for the Senate and Democratic donors would come out in droves to fund her presidential campaign. A challenge to Clinton and Democratic Party orthodoxy by Warren would be like catnip to the media. So the minute Warren declared to run for President, she would have $100 million worth of free advertising from the media telling her story and playing up the differences between her and Clinton. Even if Warren lost, she would have pushed Clinton away from Wall Street and toward more progressive Democratic Party positions and ignited a new generation of Democrats opposed to neoliberalism and dedicated to making America a more fair and equal society.

Barbara Bush recently commented that America should have more choices for President than two family dynasties. This may be the first time I have ever agreed so strongly with Barbara Bush.

Cows, Rice Fields and Big Agriculture Consumes Well Over 90% of California’s Water

Low-flow shower heads help save much less water than people think.

California is experiencing a serious drought and the media is filled with recommendations about how to save water: Switch to dry landscaping; don’t run water when you are shaving or brushing your teeth; install low­-flow shower ­heads; and don’t wash your car. All those ideas would help, but much less than people think.

When I ask people to guess how much personal consumption accounts for water usage in California, people guess 20­-40%, which sounds reasonable; ­­­after all, there are 38 million people in California and they have lawns to water, teeth to brush, toilets to flush, cars to wash, and showers to take. But 20-­40% is not even close to being accurate.

  • ­­­According to a 2012 report by the Pacific Institute, only 4% of California’s water is used by individuals
  • ­­­An astounding 93% of California’s water goes to agriculture; and most of that 93% is misused or wasted

Drive down I­nterstate 5 in the middle of summer in 100-plus-degree weather and you will see huge sprinklers spraying water in the middle of the day and fields being flooded­­­ in the process, losing huge amounts of water to evaporation. Very few crops and very little acreage is watered with drip irrigation in California compared to other arid regions of the world.

California agriculture also concentrates on growing the thirstiest foods­­­ derived from animals, mainly beef, dairy and eggs. One pound of animal protein requires 100 times more water than producing one pound of grain protein. Producing one pound of beef requires 2,500 gallons of water, compared to 100 gallons for a pound of wheat.

  • ­­­Humans drink less than one gallon of water per day
  • ­­­A cow drinks 23 gallons per day—and we have 5.5 million of them

Not only does it take huge amounts of water to hydrate animals, it takes billions of additional gallons of fresh water to irrigate the feed for livestock, wash excrement off concrete floors, and clean blood and grease from equipment used in the butchering process. A dairy operation that uses an automatic flushing system can use 150 gallons of water per cow, per day.

Crops like corn and soybeans­­­ made cheap by government subsidies­­­ used to fatten up cattle also waste water.

And why does California grow water-­intensive crops like rice, which requires the flooding of fields, and cotton? Shouldn’t water-­hogging crops like cotton and rice be grown in the southeast United States, which has abundant water?

Most people shower once a day and use an average of 14 gallons of water. You could save more water by reducing your beef intake by one pound than by not showering for six months!

People think grass-fed beef is the ecological answer, but pasture-­raised animals require more water than factory-farmed beef because they have higher activity levels and spend more time in the sun. Grass-­fed cows produce 60% to 400% more methane. (Of course, there are compelling health reasons to switch to grass-fed beef, as grass-fed cows are far healthier and organic beef will be free of chemicals, hormones and antibiotics.)

But none of that is the worst of the story. Agriculture uses 93% of California’s water and almost half of that is devoted to growing alfalfa for shipment to the Far East, mainly China, to feed their cows. California is, in effect, shipping almost half its precious water to China.

And none of this would have been possible without the help of Democrats. The extravagant waste of California water by California agriculture is the result of cheap water, water subsidized by state and federal water projects begun more than 50 years ago.

When water is cheap­­­ and the state is willing to continue building water infrastructure like viaducts and tunnels­­­ there is little incentive for California agri­business to do anything but continue to feed California politicians. Yes, California agri­business supports Republicans too, but the Democrats get most of the big agriculture money because Democrats have delivered the water for Big Ag. Jerry Brown’s father, Pat, delivered the California Water Project in 1959, and Jerry Brown supported the Peripheral Canal 30 years ago and supports the Twin Tunnels project today.

Stewart Resnick, an agri­business tycoon who owns 115,000 acres of farmland in Kern County, has funneled $4 million to politicians, mostly to Democrats, including $99,000 to Jerry Brown in 2010. Resnick has been repaid handsomely for his political donations, most notably the creation of the Kern County Water Bank, which has pumped water underground and is one reason Central Valley reservoirs were drained so low the last few years. The book How Limousine Liberals and Water Oligarchs are Hijacking Our Water, by Yasha Levine, says, “through a series of subsidiary companies… Roll International [owned by Resnick] has been able to convert California’s water from a public, shared resource into a private asset that can be sold on the market to the highest bidder.”

There is a saying, “Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.” Unfortunately, to date, the fight mostly has been about moving water from north to south at public expense. Missing in this fight is any serious discussion about how California agri­business could stop wasting California’s water. As we go forward into more years of potential drought, California needs to change the conversation. We need to reassess the blame and point fingers at the real users and abusers of California water.