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Columnist Marty Nathan: Marching for truth in Northampton

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Wednesday, May 31, 2017

It is presumptuous to write about truth. It’s a job for Socrates or Martin Luther King Jr. or maybe Noam Chomsky. Certainly not the domain of the daughter of a bus driver from a small town in Ohio.

I grew up believing that adults in charge knew the facts, spoke them and had the best interests of others in mind. I was white, and though early on I got an inkling about the role of sexism and class (my dad was also a union organizer), I still felt pretty sure that I could trust those in power.

Over the years — with the civil rights movement, Vietnam War, our country’s slaughter in Central America and then in Afghanistan and Iraq — I was disabused of much of that trust and became skeptical of the reality portrayed by corporate interests, the military and much of the media.

However, I never felt, even in the darkest days of the Bush Junior administration, that nearly all federal policy was based on lies. There were always moves toward solution of the real human problems, immigration reform being one, that indicated that there was some official touch with reality.

Not now. We are enveloped by a dizzying web of fabrication that leaves most of us who live, read and think at a loss at where to start to correct the lies that are sprayed so effortlessly from the White House and usually echoed by Congress.

The Russian election-rigging scandal is only the beginning. Former national security adviser Michael Flynn didn’t discuss lifting sanctions with the Russians. (Yes, he did.) Former FBI director James Comey was fired because of his handling of the Clinton email investigation. (No, it was “that Russia thing.”)

Just a few others: Immigrants are criminals. (Less likely than other citizens.) Voter fraud is a significant problem. (No, though voter suppression prevented thousands from casting their ballot in the last year.) Medicaid and food stamp recipients are fraudsters. (No proof, but definitely a lot of hungry and sick people in my clinic.) Repressive Saudi Arabia is making “progress on women’s rights” and deserves a $110 billion arms deal for use in bombing starving civilians in Yemen. (It would take pages to untangle that one.)

All are baseless claims used to deny rights, safety and the necessities of human existence to those in need. Instead, they serve to further tax cuts for the richest, more funding for the military industry, corporate deals specifically for the Trump/Kushner empires and political power to accomplish it all.

One of the most cynically laughable of Trump’s claims came at the recent G-7 conference. “The environment is very, very important to me, Donald Trump,” he declared to leaders arguing with him to stay in the Paris agreement, just days after the delivery of his 2018 budget proposal to Congress. If budgets are statements of priorities, then to Donald Trump the environment isn’t worth a tinker’s dam.

Trump’s proposal slashes the overall Environmental Protection Agency budget by one-third to its lowest level in 40 years, and lays off 3,800 workers. Clean air and water enforcement is reduced by 40 percent. The administration says the states should take over that job, but Trump also proposes cutting by nearly half the federal grants to the states for that purpose.

The office charged with determining safe drinking water standards would be slashed by half. (Think Flint, Michigan.) Many Superfund cleanups will be halted due to a 25 percent hack of its budget. Trump would stop the cleanups of the Chesapeake Bay, Great Lakes and Puget Sound and end funding of the Energy Star Program that helps you and me choose energy-efficient appliances.

Since funding of climate science is “a waste of your money,” according to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, NASA’s Earth-Science Research grants will be cut by $59 million and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s budget will be cut by 20 percent. Both have provided the essentials for our understanding of rapidly developing global warming due to human burning of fossil fuels.

To ensure that we are equally ignorant about the cause and effects of global warming, Trump is ending research on climate change-induced hurricanes in the South, limiting funding of the study of tsunamis on the West Coast and shrinking support of the NASA weather satellite program. The administration doesn’t want to know too much about the chaos it is causing.

Trump will not fulfill Rick Perry’s dream of eliminating the Department of Energy, but he will rid it of any programs to support green energy, including its energy-innovation research and development lab, and many of the loan-guarantee programs that support renewable-energy companies.

Proceeding independently, Trump has ordered the EPA to dismantle President Obama’s Clean Power Plan designed to cut emissions.

Of course, Donald Trump is not an environmentalist. And he is lying when he denies climate science. It is deliberate self-interested misinformation to prop up the reign of the fossil fuel industry in which he and his closest advisers and cabinet members are deeply invested. Lies are a necessary ingredient for the powerful intent on using public resources for an agenda — expanded production and burning of coal, gas and oil — that endangers us all.

On Saturday, I will join a bunch of other folks in Northampton at the March for Truth in the age of Trump. Each of us will have a particular truth to declare.

But our joint demand is to base our country’s actions on honesty and support public, not corporate, welfare. By those standards the U.S. should uphold the climate agreement and work to fulfill our obligation.

Marty Nathan, MD, is a mother and grandmother who lives in Northampton and works at Baystate Brightwood Health Center in Springfield’s North End. She is a steering committee member of Climate Action NOW.