While Exploding Military Spending, Trump Budget Eviscerates Funding for EPA, Healthcare and More
By Julia Conley
Nearly two dozen federal programs and agencies are in danger of losing funding under President Donald Trump's 2019 budget proposal, released Monday. The proposed cuts will potentially result in drastic changes to social welfare programs and other government efforts to improve the lives of working people across the country as well as those in impoverished nations.
While programs heralded by progressives may be in peril, the budget calls for a 13 percent increase in spending by the military, up from the Pentagon's 2017 level of spending. The president is asking for $686 billion in defense spending—$80 billion more than the Pentagon currently receives for its bloated and unaccountable budget.
"When our nation can't manage to turn the lights on for the people of Puerto Rico, when we can't help those suffering from opioid addiction get treatment, and when we can't ensure education and healthcare to all of our citizens, how is it possible we can justify spending billions more on weapons that don't work to fight enemies that don't exist?" said Stephen Miles, head of the peace group Win Without War in a statement last week, ahead of the budget release.
Below are some of the initiatives that the president is asking Americans to sacrifice while ramping up military spending.
International Reproductive Health Aid
As part of the anti-choice global gag order the president reinstated to bar health organizations that rely on federal funding from providing abortion care and counseling, the administration is requesting new investments in family planning efforts, "with an emphasis on evidence-based methods, including fertility awareness"—suggesting funding for contraceptives in impoverished countries will be slashed.
"This budget confirms that Trump and his cronies in his White House of ill-repute are hell-bent on substituting religious dogma for evidence and that the gratuitous cruelty of their first year can be expected in the second as well," said Brian Dixon of the Population Connection Action Fund.
Department of Education (DOE)
The president is requesting a 10.5 percent decrease in funding for the DOE. The budget would eliminate the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program and reduce the number of income-based loan repayment plans offered. Meanwhile, more than $1 billion would be spent on private school vouchers, charter schools and other initiatives that shift funding away from public schools.
Budgets are statements of values. The Trump administration’s budget released today continues a relentless assault… https://t.co/hYRPOywuhW— John King (@John King)1518468008.0
The president is proposing eliminating federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the non-profit which helps finance PBS and NPR, over a two-year period.
The budget cut would likely be rebuked by much of the U.S. population. On Monday PBS released the results of a survey that found that Americans ranked the organization as the number-one most trusted public institution in the country.
"PBS, our 350 member stations and our legions of local supporters will continue to remind leaders in Washington of the significant benefits the public receives in return for federal funding, a modest investment of about $1.35 per citizen per year," PBS President Paula Kerger said in a statement.
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
The president's budget proposal would bring funding for the EPA to its lowest level since 1990, with a 34 percent reduction in spending from 2017. Funding cuts for climate change research, the Environmental Education Program, and programs that protect American waters from pollution are among those that will be made.
"President Trump's budget is nothing short of devastating for all Americans who value clean air, safe drinking water and protected public lands," said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement. "Congress must reject it, and instead invest in a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous future for everyone."
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Under the proposed budget, the Trump administration would cut the budget for SNAP benefits by about 27 percent and would dictate the food that low-income households are able to purchase using the benefits, also known as food stamps. About half of a family's monthly benefits would come in the form of a box of pre-selected food, including "shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals, pasta, peanut butter, beans and canned fruit and vegetables," according to the budget.
"They have managed to propose nearly the impossible, taking over $200 billion worth of food from low-income Americans while increasing bureaucracy and reducing choices," Joel Berg, CEO of Hunger Free America, told NPR.
Medicare and Medicaid
Hundreds of billions of dollars in cuts to Medicare and Medicaid are also included in the budget. On social media, critics summed up the president's plan as consistent with the tax law he signed in December—with sacrifices coming from working families as the wealthy benefit.
Mulvaney on #budget: “Just like every American family, the budget makes hard choices: fund what we must, cut where… https://t.co/MTYqyLlH5x— Chris Lu (@Chris Lu)1518455166.0
To be clear, this Trump budget is not about deficit reduction. Even after cooking to books, they still can’t even b… https://t.co/fCWvFxvmLT— Chris Van Hollen (@Chris Van Hollen)1518462096.0
After running up a $1.5 trillion bill to give massive tax cuts to millionaires, billionaires, and large corporation… https://t.co/cKrKxsAO2I— Jan Schakowsky (@Jan Schakowsky)1518468185.0
"Donald Trump has proposed a federal budget that steals from working families to pay for his massive $1.5 trillion tax cut that largely benefits the wealthy and big corporations," said Frank Clemente, executive director for Americans for Tax Fairness, in a statement. "He's taking away health care from seniors, food from families, college loans for the next generation, and support for people with disabilities to benefit the fortunate few."
To the extent the proposals reach Congress, Clemente added, lawmakers "should reject the Trump budget and create a tax system that makes the rich and corporations pay their fair share so we can invest in all Americans, not take from them."
Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Natural Resources Defense Council.
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By Bob Jacobs
Hanako, a female Asian elephant, lived in a tiny concrete enclosure at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo for more than 60 years, often in chains, with no stimulation. In the wild, elephants live in herds, with close family ties. Hanako was solitary for the last decade of her life.
Hanako, an Asian elephant kept at Japan's Inokashira Park Zoo; and Kiska, an orca that lives at Marineland Canada. One image depicts Kiska's damaged teeth. Elephants in Japan (left image), Ontario Captive Animal Watch (right image), CC BY-ND
Affecting Health and Altering Behavior<p>It is easy to observe the overall health and psychological consequences of life in captivity for these animals. Many captive elephants suffer from arthritis, obesity or skin problems. Both <a href="https://doi.org/10.11609/JoTT.o2620.1826-36" target="_blank">elephants</a> and orcas often have severe dental problems. Captive orcas are plagued by <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank">pneumonia, kidney disease, gastrointestinal illnesses and infections</a>.</p><p>Many animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2017.09.010" target="_blank">try to cope</a> with captivity by adopting abnormal behaviors. Some develop "<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2017.05.003" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stereotypies</a>," which are repetitive, purposeless habits such as constantly bobbing their heads, swaying incessantly or chewing on the bars of their cages. Others, especially big cats, pace their enclosures. Elephants rub or break their tusks.</p>
Changing Brain Structure<p>Neuroscientific research indicates that living in an impoverished, stressful captive environment <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jveb.2019.05.005" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">physically damages the brain</a>. These changes have been documented in many <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.903270108" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">species</a>, including rodents, rabbits, cats and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">humans</a>.</p><p>Although researchers have directly studied some animal brains, most of what we know comes from observing animal behavior, analyzing stress hormone levels in the blood and applying knowledge gained from a half-century of neuroscience research. Laboratory research also suggests that mammals in a zoo or aquarium have compromised brain function.</p>
This illustration shows differences in the brain's cerebral cortex in animals held in impoverished (captive) and enriched (natural) environments. Impoverishment results in thinning of the cortex, a decreased blood supply, less support for neurons and decreased connectivity among neurons. Arnold B. Scheibel, CC BY-ND<p>Subsisting in confined, barren quarters that lack intellectual stimulation or appropriate social contact seems to <a href="https://doi.org/10.1590/S0001-37652001000200006" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">thin the cerebral cortex</a> – the part of the brain involved in voluntary movement and higher cognitive function, including memory, planning and decision-making.</p><p>There are other consequences. Capillaries shrink, depriving the brain of the oxygen-rich blood it needs to survive. Neurons become smaller, and their dendrites – the branches that form connections with other neurons – become less complex, impairing communication within the brain. As a result, the cortical neurons in captive animals <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/cne.901230110" target="_blank">process information less efficiently</a> than those living in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/dev.420020208" target="_blank">enriched, more natural environments</a>.</p>
An actual cortical neuron in a wild African elephant living in its natural habitat compared with a hypothesized cortical neuron from a captive elephant. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Brain health is also affected by living in small quarters that <a href="https://doi.org/10.3233/BPL-160040" target="_blank">don't allow for needed exercise</a>. Physical activity increases the flow of blood to the brain, which requires large amounts of oxygen. Exercise increases the production of new connections and <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw2622" target="_blank">enhances cognitive abilities</a>.</p><p>In their native habits these animals must move to survive, covering great distances to forage or find a mate. Elephants typically travel anywhere from <a href="https://www.elephantsforafrica.org/elephant-facts/#:%7E:text=How%20far%20do%20elephants%20walk,km%20on%20a%20daily%20basis." target="_blank">15 to 120 miles per day</a>. In a zoo, they average <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0150331" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">three miles daily</a>, often walking back and forth in small enclosures. One free orca studied in Canada swam <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00300-010-0958-x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">up to 156 miles a day</a>; meanwhile, an average orca tank is about 10,000 times smaller than its <a href="https://www.cascadiaresearch.org/projects/killer-whales/using-dtags-study-acoustics-and-behavior-southern" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">natural home range</a>.</p>
Disrupting Brain Chemistry and Killing Cells<p>Living in enclosures that restrict or prevent normal behavior creates chronic frustration and boredom. In the wild, an animal's stress-response system helps it escape from danger. But captivity traps animals with <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1215502109" target="_blank">almost no control</a> over their environment.</p><p>These situations foster <a href="https://doi.org/10.1037/rev0000033" target="_blank">learned helplessness</a>, negatively impacting the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1155/2016/6391686" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hippocampus</a>, which handles memory functions, and the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.02.024" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">amygdala</a>, which processes emotions. Prolonged stress <a href="https://doi.org/10.3109/10253899609001092" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elevates stress hormones</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.10-09-02897.1990" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">damages or even kills neurons</a> in both brain regions. It also disrupts the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2005.03.021" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">delicate balance of serotonin</a>, a neurotransmitter that stabilizes mood, among other functions.</p><p>In humans, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/nimg.2001.0917" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">deprivation</a> can trigger <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">psychiatric issues</a>, including depression, anxiety, <a href="https://doi.org/10.3389/fnins.2018.00367" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mood disorders</a> or <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/1073858409333072" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">post-traumatic stress disorder</a>. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s00429-010-0288-3" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Elephants</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pbio.0050139" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">orcas</a> and other animals with large brains are likely to react in similar ways to life in a severely stressful environment.</p>
Damaged Wiring<p>Captivity can damage the brain's complex circuitry, including the basal ganglia. This group of neurons communicates with the cerebral cortex along two networks: a direct pathway that enhances movement and behavior, and an indirect pathway that inhibits them.</p><p>The repetitive, <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.bbr.2014.05.057" target="_blank">stereotypic behaviors</a> that many animals adopt in captivity are caused by an imbalance of two neurotransmitters, dopamine and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2010.02.004" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">serotonin</a>. This impairs the indirect pathway's ability to modulate movement, a condition documented in species from chickens, cows, sheep and horses to primates and big cats.</p>
The cerebral cortex, hippocampus and amygdala are physically altered by captivity, along with brain circuitry that involves the basal ganglia. Bob Jacobs, CC BY-ND<p>Evolution has constructed animal brains to be exquisitely responsive to their environment. Those reactions can affect neural function by <a href="https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/311787/behave-by-robert-m-sapolsky/" target="_blank">turning different genes on or off</a>. Living in inappropriate or abusive circumstance alters biochemical processes: It disrupts the synthesis of proteins that build connections between brain cells and the neurotransmitters that facilitate communication among them.</p><p>There is strong evidence that <a href="https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0577-11.2011" target="_blank">enrichment</a>, social contact and appropriate space in more natural habitats are <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1748-1090.2003.tb02071.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">necessary</a> for long-lived animals with large brains such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0152490" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">elephants</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/13880292.2017.1309858" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cetaceans</a>. Better conditions <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5543669/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reduce disturbing sterotypical behaviors</a>, improve connections in the brain, and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/cdd.2009.193" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trigger neurochemical changes</a> that enhance learning and memory.</p>