By Ralph Nader
It is not just Donald Trump whose rhetoric is chronically bereft of reality. Politicians, reporters, commentators and academics are often similarly untethered to hard facts, albeit not for narcissistic enjoyment. There are many patterns of fact, relevant to a subject being discussed, that are off the table—either consciously or because they are deemed inconvenient. Rarely are there omissions due to the facts being hard to get or inaccessible.
That in mind, here are a few examples that warrant our scrutiny:
Consider the immense public attention to health insurance and health care and the recent struggles over Obamacare and now Ryancare. Conspicuously absent from the dialogues that pundits, politicians and reporters carry on is that the third leading cause of death in the U.S. is “medical error.” According to a Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine report last May, over 250,000 people lose their lives yearly in U.S. hospitals from “diagnostic errors, medical mistakes and the absence of safety nets” to stop hospital-induced infections, incompetent personnel, dangerous mixes of prescribed drugs and more. Yet in the debate surrounding the health care industry, this huge annual human casualty toll is unmentioned and, for many, intentionally “off the table.”
From a financial perspective, all the coverage of the costs of health insurance and health care excludes at least an estimated $340 billion (according to, among other sources, the leading expert, Professor Malcolm Sparrow of Harvard University) lost annually as a result of computerized billing fraud and abuses—expenses for which taxpayers and consumers must eventually pay. All of this is “off the table.”
Despite all the attention currently being paid to Trump’s proposed $54 billion increase to the military budget, media coverage nonetheless neglects to mention the immense waste, fraud and redundancies already embedded in the roughly $600 billion that account for the Pentagon’s direct annual budget.
A mass of Government Accountability Office (GAO) reports for the Congress, Pentagon audits, and reports by reliable citizen groups regularly document this immense waste. Specifically, the annual cost of the anti-ballistic missile defense program in the Pentagon is over $9 billion—about the same as the budget of the lifesaving Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that Trump wants to cut by almost a third.
The anti-missile defense technology taxpayers are paying Raytheon and other defense contractors to work on is unworkable. Who says anti-missile defense programs are ineffective? The American Physical Society—more than a few of whom consult with the Department of Defense—as well as the very knowledgeable MIT professor Theodore A. Postol in his Congressional testimony, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Along with numerous other infirmities of this boondoggle, it is too easy to decoy the ballistic missiles, not to mention alternative ways for adversaries to endanger our country without signaling a return address as ballistic missiles would. Yet year after year, starting with Ronald Reagan, the money is automatically doled out uncritically by the Congress, backed by its generous contractors’ lobby, deeply entrenched in a system of unaccountable corporate welfare. For the gigantic Pentagon budget is unauditable, according to the GAO.
The Israeli/Palestinian struggle, when hostilities burst forth, is reported routinely as being one started by Palestinian “terrorists” versus Israeli defenders and retaliators. Little emphasized is the reality that the Israeli government is the illegal occupier, colonizer, invader and resource exploiter of the remaining Palestinian lands. Almost never mentioned is that, since 2000, the overwhelming majority of fatalities and injuries in the conflict have been innocent Palestinian civilians, including many children, at the hands of the powerful Israeli military.
Of course, readers can come up with their own examples arising out of local, state, national and international issues. When constantly subjected to a media and political system driven by distraction, one can’t help but ask the question, “Why are they focusing on this instead of that?” One reliable answer is that the powers-that-be work overtime to exclude such embarrassing realities, to assure that, as with corporate crime waves, they’re often not even counted or measured.
If you want a continuing frenzy of reality-exclusion, look no further than the Republicans and their forked tongues. They’re always complaining about deficits, while cutting taxes for corporations and the wealthy, overlooking real problems they pay lip service to such as “government waste.”
But here is what takes the cake. For six years the Republican House of Representatives has been slicing off more and more of the Internal Revenue Service’s slim budget. With Republicans now controlling both houses of Congress, they want to drive it below $10 billion for next year. Apart from resulting in your waiting forever to get someone from the IRS on the phone to answer your questions, there is the modest result of over $400 billion in yearly uncollected taxes.
When you ration tax collectors, how can you fairly enforce the law, reduce the deficit or, heaven forbid, repair America’s streets, bridges, drinking water systems, public transit and schools?
John Adams said that, “Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.” The verity of our second president’s words should serve as a call to action against the “alternative facts,” lies and myths, which have already come to define the current Trump administration and pose so grave a threat to our weakened democratic society and its level of freedom and justice.