To My Trump-Supporting Friends.

Your hero continues to deny any “collusion” with Russians to interfere with the 2016 election. He implies that the interference could have come from anyone. He calls the Mueller investigation a “Witch Hunt.” And he labels anything that conflicts with his statements as “Fake News.”

So let’s look at what we know. These are not suppositions or fake news. They are proven facts.

1 – Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did interfere with our elections. They hacked the emails and websites of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. They also successfully hacked the voter registration data for at least 3 states and tried to hack voter data for many others. The intelligence community presented detailed information about the interference two days before the inauguration.

2 – About the same time, Russian operatives also tried to attack US nuclear, aviation and power grid infrastructure. Our intelligence agencies say Russia is continuing the attacks. And they say that the system is “blinking red” that Russia intends to interfere with the mid-term elections. Despite the warnings, Trump announced that he believes Putin’s denials – that there is no on-going threat – and he eliminated the position of National Cybersecurity Coordinator.

3 – 12 Russians have been indicted by the Mueller investigation for election meddling. Thus far, the Mueller investigation has also obtained indictments or guilty pleas from 3 companies and 20 more people, including four former Trump advisers.

4 – The Mueller indictments revealed that the Russian hacking began the same night that candidate Trump said at a press conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.” After the Russian hacks of DNC analytics, the Trump campaign clearly changed campaign strategies.

5 – There have been at least 50 documented contacts between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign team at the highest levels, including campaign chair Paul Manafort, campaign adviser and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, campaign adviser and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and many, many more . And a number of those people lied about their Russian contacts under oath.

6 – We know about the infamous meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump, Jr., a lawyer representing Russia and others. Emails show that the ostensible purpose of the meeting was to reveal dirt on Hillary Clinton.

7 – Shortly after the Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump announced that he would soon reveal “big news” about Hillary Clinton.

8 – It is now known that President Trump dictated the false and misleading response to the Trump Tower meeting on Air Force One.

9 – It has been documented that Russian oligarchs close to Putin have purchased approximately $100 million in property from the Trump organization. At least 13 people with links to Russia lived in Trump properties prior to the election, including one who ran an illegal gambling ring in the apartment below Trump’s.

10 – Trump adviser, convicted felon, and part of Putin’s inner circle, Felix Sater, helped set up shell corporations and arrange funding for Trump projects, including plans for Trump Tower Moscow. (Interestingly, 77 percent of the apartments in Trump Soho were purchased by shadowy shell corporations.)

11 – The financial backing for Trump Tower Toronto came from a Russian-Canadian with proceeds from the sale of a Ukrainian steel mill. The chair of the bank that financed the deal is none other than Vladimir Putin.

12 – One of the Trump casinos was found in violation of federal money-laundering rules 100 times. (Money-laundering is popular among Russian oligarchs so they can turn their ill-gotten gains from crime into “clean” money that they can invest in the West. This is even more necessary due to US and EU sanctions on Russia.)

13 – For most of his career, developer Donald Trump proudly called himself the “King of Debt.” He bragged about building his empire with others’ money. But during the Great Recession, no US banks would loan him money because of his large debt. As a result, Trump casinos filed for bankruptcy with $1.8 billion of debt. Despite that Deutsche Bank loaned hundreds of millions to Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. (Deutsche Bank was fined $450 million for helping Russian oligarchs launder more than $10 billion.)

14 – About the same time, both Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump were on record saying that the Trump organization didn’t need to rely on US Banks, “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

15 – Beginning in about 2014, the “King of Debt” mysteriously began purchasing golf courses in the UK, eventually spending about $400 million in cash.

16 – When the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) received documents listing the names of clients using off-shore tax havens, the Trump name was listed 3,540 times.

17 – Trump is accused of demanding loyalty from FBI director James Comey and asked him to go easy on Michael Flynn. When Comey refused, he was fired. Trump later told Russian officials in the Oval Office that the pressure was off after firing that “nutjob” Comey.

18 – It has been documented that, in 2016, Russian oligarchs who are friends of Vladimir Putin funneled $30 million through the National Rifle Association (NRA) to benefit Republican candidates.

19 – The Department of Justice (separate from the Mueller investigation) indicted and arrested Russian national, Maria Butina. She is accused of cultivating GOP contacts through the NRA, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), and the National Prayer Breakfast. She was photographed with a number of GOP candidates and conservative leaders.

20 – Butina and her Russian handler (a friend of Putin’s) led a delegation from the NRA (including some connected to the Trump campaign) to Russia.

21 – In a television broadcast seen nationwide in Russia, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Russian lawmaker and leading member of Putin’s United Russia Party boasted that Russia stole the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump.

22 – Sean Illing, the editor of a Russian newspaper stated that the Kremlin considers Trump “a stupid, unstrategic politician.” He continued, “Putin is confident that he can manipulate Trump to his advantage and he should be.” That was obvious for all the world to see in Helsinki. And it came after he insulted our allies.

23 – Trump unilaterally instituted tariffs against some of our leading trading partners. Not surprisingly, they responded with matching tariffs on our exports. Now Trump says he is considering more with no plan for ending the trade war he began.

All of these are documented facts. They are not suppositions. They are not “fake news.” And we’re likely to see much more revealed in the coming weeks and months. Yet Trump continues to raise questions about Russian interference. He refuses to confront Putin or say anything negative about him. He seems intent on weakening NATO and the EU – two of Putin’s most obvious goals. He continues to divide our nation by promoting cruel and hateful policies against refugees, immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, and women. And that’s not even considering his personal indiscretions with porn stars and Playboy models, his admission of sexual assaults on Access Hollywood and the Howard Stern Show, or rumors of pee-pee tapes.

Add all of that to the questions that remain unanswered.

Why was nominee Trump’s only change to the GOP platform to reduce the sanctions on Russia? Why did he allow Russian diplomats into the Oval Office along with Russian media while keeping US media out? Why his deference to the world’s worst dictators? Why did he delay further sanctions against Russia after they were passed by Congress? Why did he recommend that Russia be allowed to rejoin the G7? Why has he stated that Crimea logically belongs to Russia because many of its citizens speak Russian?

There are still more questions.

Why has he twice arranged to meet Putin in private with no diplomats or staff allowed? What was discussed between the two men in private? What agreements were made? Why did his joint press conference in Helsinki appear to be that of a Russian leader with his asset? Why does Trump seem unable to confront or criticize Putin? Why his reluctance to support the findings of US intelligence agencies? Why his refusal to accept warnings that Russia is still attacking us? Why does he lie to us so often?

Of course, there is an even more important question. What if our president really has been compromised by our greatest global rival? I know Trump supporters enjoy punishing liberals – the so-called “libtards.” But is that worth sacrificing our democracy?

How The Senate And The Electoral College Distort Voter Representation.

After the 2016 presidential election, Democrats rightly raised questions about the Electoral College, a anachronistic remnant of the compromises made to unite the northern and southern states following the American Revolution.

After all, Republican candidates had been awarded the White House following two of the last five presidential elections despite the fact that a majority of Americans had voted for the Democratic candidates. To understand the problem, it’s helpful to look at what led to the creation of the Electoral College during the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

Among the thorniest issues faced by the Founders were determining how to democratically elect our government and how to prevent “tyranny by the majority.” (Remember: the whole idea of democracy was new back then.) The Founders eventually settled on a structure based on the Iroquois Nation – a bicameral Congress with the House of Representatives based on the population of each state and a Senate comprised of two members per state.

It was an idea that has served us well for most of our nation’s history. However, things have dramatically changed since 1787.

When the Constitution was drafted, the most populous state had 10 times as many people as the least populous state. But the most populous state (California) now has more than 68 times more people than the least populous state (Wyoming). As a result, California has 19.77 million people per senator while Wyoming has only 289,657 people per senator. That means a person living in Wyoming has more than 68 times the representation in the Senate as a person living in California! The difference is nearly as pronounced for Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. This should also explain why some people want to divide California into 3 states.

The inequity also extends to the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was created because the Founders were somewhat wary of the democratic process. They didn’t fully trust the citizens’ ability to make decisions as important as choosing the officers of our government. Indeed, Alexander Hamilton described the Electoral College this way: “A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated tasks.”

The founders assumed the electors would be chosen district by district. But only California, Maine and Nebraska use this “congressional district method. Most use a “winner-takes-all” approach. That clearly ignores votes of the minority.

And the way the number of electors are decided makes matters worse.

The number of electors is based on each state’s combined total of senators and representatives. As a result, there are a total of 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 representatives and 100 senators, plus 3 electors for the District of Columbia. Therein lies the problem.

Since the red states – particularly Wyoming, Montana, Alaska and the Dakotas – are over-represented in Congress, a vote in Wyoming – with 3 electoral votes and a population of less than 580,000 – has 3.7 times the influence of a vote in California – a state with 55 electoral votes and a population of 39.54 million. That’s why the maps you see after presidential elections are so deceptive. Most of the map is red. But that only represents the geography controlled by each party. A map or chart showing votes based on population would be mostly blue.

Combine these issues with Gerrymandering – creating legislative and congressional districts to marginalize the impact of opposing voters – and you have an electoral system that is very much rigged for the benefit of the GOP.

That is why, despite Democrats having numerical advantages in 2016, Republicans now control the White House, the Senate, the House and a majority of statehouses.

Views Versus News. Facts Versus Truths.

When a Facebook friend recently shared a news story, a woman responded by saying “Gosh, I wish I was smart enough to find news I want to read but obviously you don’t think anyone else is smart enough to find the news they want to see and make their own decisions.” She inadvertently hit upon the very thing that divides us: What we define as news.

Far too many Americans seek the news they want – news that conforms with their long-held beliefs. They dismiss any news that conflicts with those beliefs. And, far too often, they confuse news reporting with political punditry. This is at the very heart of our national problem.

Before the end of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, Americans had a shared version of news. For those of you too young to remember, the Fairness Doctrine was a policy of the United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that required the holders of broadcast licenses both to present controversial issues of public importance and to do so in a manner that was – in the Commission’s view – honest, equitable, and balanced.

When the Fairness Doctrine was ended, we suddenly saw an onslaught of radio programs and TV networks that presented opinion as legitimate news. And those very same people boosted their ratings by telling their viewers and listeners that the “Mainstream Media” are lying – that only they present the real story.

That is, in fact, what most of them present: A story.

As a trained journalist (I have a journalism degree and, early in my career, I worked as a news reporter), such people offend me. I know that real journalists spend many hours sitting through tedious meetings, poring over financial records, combing through documents, uncovering secrets and often risking their lives in war zones and dictatorships to report the truth. They are not intentionally biased. Indeed, their work is usually reviewed and scrutinized by a team of editors who are tasked with ensuring that the reports are substantiated. Even when, as humans, they inevitably make mistakes, they are held accountable. They not only offer retractions. They can be sued for defamation or libel.

The mainstream news media depend on these people.

Many political pundits and commentators, on the other hand, sit behind desks offering opinions and bias while pushing a variety of conspiracy theories not based on truth or reality. They are seldom held accountable. They are concerned about one thing and one thing only: Their ratings. The higher their ratings (or readership, or clicks) the more money they are paid.

Too often, that same goal drives politicians and their political parties. They believe that, by creating anger, resentment or fear, they can generate more support, more donations and more votes. In order to do that, they often make statements loosely based on facts. Some rely on no facts at all.

One of the all-time great journalists, Walter Cronkite, once said, “My job is not to tell you the news you want to know. My job is to tell you the news you need to know.” He also said, “Objective journalism and an opinion column are about as similar as the Bible and Playboy magazine.

If we are ever to unite as a nation, we must inform ourselves with the truth. Not just facts and opinions that support our point of view. We must make an effort to inform ourselves. We must consume news and information from journalists – real journalists. We must look at both sides of a story. We must seek the truth, wherever it leads us. And we must vote for politicians and officials who honor that truth.

13 Ways The GOP Suppresses, Manipulates and Marginalizes Votes.

For years, GOP strategists have tried to sow doubt in our electoral process. They claim that there is widespread voter fraud; that thousands of Democratic votes have been cast by dead people; that ACORN illegally registered Democratic voters with names like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck; that college students have illegally voted in both their hometowns and their campus towns. And, of course, there is Donald Trump’s absurd claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton. Yet no government or independent study has revealed more than a miniscule amount of illegal voting.

A five-year voter fraud investigation conducted by the George W. Bush administration “turned up virtually no evidence” of organized fraud. Out of hundreds of millions of votes cast, the investigation yielded 86 criminal convictions. But many of those were the result of people misunderstanding eligibility rules or filling out paperwork incorrectly. And, in one of the most comprehensive studies, the Loyola Law School found only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014 – one out of every 32 million votes cast.

So why do Republicans continue to adhere to the fantasy of voter fraud? The fear of millions of undocumented immigrants voting makes it easier for them to erect barriers for minorities, poor and elderly in the spirit of Jim Crow laws. Following are examples of tactics used by Republican-controlled states to suppress Democratic votes:

1. Denying Felons The Vote
Each election, approximately 1.4 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on felony convictions, despite having completed their sentences. The GOP has used these restriction to deny others their right to vote. Consider what happened in Florida in 2000. Weeks before the election, Gov. Jeb Bush and Sec. of State, Katherine Harris hired a Louisiana firm to compile a list of felons to be removed from voter lists. In Democratic-leaning counties, people with names similar to those of felons were not allowed to vote. As a result, it’s estimated 57,700 people, mostly Democrats of African-American or Latino descent, were incorrectly prevented from voting – more than enough to overcome Bush’s 305 statewide margin over Gore.

2. Electronic Voting Machines
During the same 2000 election in Volusia County, Florida, electronic machines deleted 16,022 votes for Gore. Election officials and Diebold blamed the problem on faulty memory cards, yet at least one investigative journalist concluded that the issue was likely intentional and more widespread. Yet the conservative-controlled Supreme Court’s decision prevented further investigation. In 2004, there were allegations of similar problems in Ohio, the state that tipped the election to Bush over John Kerry.

3. Strict Photo ID Laws
In at least 19 states, Republicans have passed strict photo ID laws forcing tens of thousands of voters to obtain new IDs available only at MVD locations – often many miles away. This is particularly problematic for the poor and elderly who do not drive or own a car. They are forced to take days off from work and find someone to drive them, in some cases, 100 miles or more. To illustrate the impact of such laws, the Charlotte Observer reported that, in North Carolina, as many as 800,000 registered voters lacked the necessary photo ID, and more than 556,000 had no ID at all.

4. Blocking College Students from Voting Where They Attend School
Numerous states have passed laws which force students to travel to their home cities or states to vote. And, in some of the states that require a photo ID for voting, they have denied the use of student IDs.

5. Barring People from Voting over Small Discrepancies
This technique most often affects women who have recently married and changed their last names. In some states, women have been denied the right to vote because their drivers’ licenses listed their maiden name as their middle name instead of their given middle name.

6. Scrubbing of Registered Voters Who Have Not Voted in Consecutive elections
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority recently ruled 5-4 that Ohio can purge voters who have failed to vote for six years and have not confirmed their residency. The ruling protects similar laws in six other states, including several that will be electing governors or U.S. senators this fall. According to some observers, the ruling disproportionately affects minorities and the poor – especially those who rent.

7. Reducing The Number of Polling Sites for Largely Democratic Areas
In 2016, there were 868 fewer voting sites nationwide as a result of the Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. There were 403 fewer sites in Texas alone. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina also dramatically cut the number of polling places, resulting in people waiting hours in line. And, in Georgia, Reuters found at least two Georgia counties where the changes disproportionately affect blacks.

8. Reducing Voting Hours in Democratic Areas
This was an enormous problem in Cleveland during the 2004 presidential elections. People in largely black, Democratic areas were forced to stand in lines for hours. In Indiana, state and local Republicans expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted it in Democratic areas, according to an IndyStar investigation.

9. Reducing The Number of Early Voting Days
After the 2012 election, President Obama noted the long waits in Florida and Ohio which were the direct consequence of GOP efforts to curtail the number of days and hours people had to vote. He ordered a bipartisan election commission to determine how voting could be smoother, faster and more convenient. The commission urged states to expand the period for voting. But many GOP-controlled states moved in the opposite direction, reducing access to the ballot instead of expanding it. For example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation eliminating early voting hours on weekends and evenings when it’s most convenient for voters. Wisconsin Republicans then reduced the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks and only one weekend. Then they eliminated weekend voting altogether.

10. Intimidation
In some minority areas, where people have routinely been victimized by police harassment, GOP-led governments have placed armed police near the entrance to polling places to discourage people from voting.

11. Misinformation
GOP campaigns and GOP-led governments have sent out mailings that deliberately provide the wrong date and wrong locations for voting. And, as demonstrated during 2016, they used social media and GOP propaganda outlets to make false accusations against candidates.

In addition to suppression, there are at least two things that have allowed the GOP to manipulate and marginalize Democratic votes:

12. Gerrymandering
Though it’s true that both parties have used Gerrymandering to their benefit, the GOP has taken it to extremes – mostly to marginalize minority votes. For example, 30 years ago, the Supreme Court prohibited a then-common practice known as racial gerrymandering, which consisted of spreading minorities across voting districts, making it virtually impossible to elect their preferred candidates. So the Court required states to create “majority-minority” districts — districts in which the majority of the population belonged to a single minority. Unfortunately, the GOP quickly discovered that, instead of giving African-Americans more political power, such districts could actually deprive them of power. By concentrating the minority vote into a few districts, minority influence could be minimized elsewhere. The impact of Gerrymandering can be shown with statistics from the 2016 election. On average, Democratic candidates won by about 112,000 votes while Republicans won by 97,000. And Hillary Clinton garnered nearly 3 million votes than Trump. So clever Gerrymandering allowed Republicans to take control of the White House, the Senate, the House and a majority of statehouses.

13. Electoral College
The strength of the GOP is in the least populous states. Yet, despite their lower numbers, the structure of the Electoral College gives those states an outsized influence on the vote. For example, in 2016, the voters of Wyoming had 3.6 times the influence on the Electoral College as voters in California and other populous states.

And, if all of this isn’t bad enough, some GOP strategists have begun pushing for restricting voting to only those who own property! It leads one to question: If the GOP is pro-democracy and confident in its policies, why does it go to such great lengths to keep people from voting and to make its opponents votes count less?

Why I Won’t Be Celebrating This July 4th.

In the US, the 4th of July is recognized as Independence Day – a day to celebrate our independence from the British empire. A hard-won independence that required the blood sweat and tears of our ancestors to defeat the most powerful military forces on earth. Indeed, a least eight of my ancestors fought for the Continental Army, one suffering through a devastating winter at Valley Forge. As a result, Independence Day has been an important holiday for my family for generations. And though I have long been bothered by the extreme militarization of our nation and the accompanying politicization of patriotism – an unprincipled “our country right or wrong” kind of patriotism – I have proudly celebrated the holiday along with everyone else.

But this year is different. This year, I fear that our independence is in danger as never before.

We have reached a point where the founding principles of our nation are being compromised by a winner-takes-all, pay-to-play political party that ignores the majority of its constituents to serve the interests of a few. A political party that has turned our democratic republic into an oligarchy. A party that is now led by an unethical and immoral bully who gained office with the help of our nation’s most dangerous rival and support from evangelical “Christians” – religious zealots who have sold their souls to the man based on the belief that controlling women’s bodies to “save” fetuses is more important than preserving our nation’s core values.

Our first president, George Washington, was guided by 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. But if the man who now occupies the White House has a guide, it’s likely to be titled The Art of the Insult. Indeed, he takes a perverse pride in putting down others in order to feed his all-too-fragile ego.

So I cannot, in good conscience, stuff my cheeks with hot dogs and watch the “bombs bursting in air” when I know that our government has greeted refugees fleeing violence, repression and abject poverty – conditions every bit as severe as those that brought our ancestors to these shores – by arresting them and even wrenching their children from their arms.

I cannot celebrate a nation that takes pride in feeding our bloated defense department with hundreds of billions of dollars while, at the same time, denying food stamps and medical care to the poor.

I cannot proudly wave the flag when our Congress and state legislatures are constructing new barriers to deny minorities their right to vote.

I cannot sing the Star-Spangled Banner knowing that it was written by a racist and that those who are not white or heterosexual are still treated as second-class citizens.

I cannot celebrate when our government refuses to lift a finger to stop gun violence and the mass shootings of school children.

I cannot celebrate freedom when so many of our citizens have none – imprisoned for victimless, non-violent crimes.

I cannot celebrate when the president continues to call the independent press – one of our most precious institutions – the “enemy of the people.”

I cannot celebrate when the president describes his political opponents as un-American and calls for them to be locked up.

I cannot celebrate when the president attacks long-time allies while embracing enemies and brutal dictators.

I cannot celebrate after watching Trump appoint a group of corrupt and unqualified sycophants to government agencies with the express purpose to undermine and damage the agencies they control.

I cannot celebrate a nation governed by people who view the environment as a mere supermarket of resources with no concern for the impact of their extraction on our ecosystem.

I cannot celebrate knowing that our narcissistic president is filling his bank accounts with taxpayers’ hard-earned money in defiance of the Constitution’s emoluments clause; that he refuses to release his tax returns; that he refuses to divest himself of his businesses; and that the Trump name appeared in the Panama Papers (a list of those using off-shore tax havens) 3,540 times!

I cannot celebrate independence knowing that the man was placed in office with the help of Russia; knowing that at least 11 members of his presidential campaign had suspicious contacts with Russians; knowing that Russian oligarchs have invested nearly $100 million in Trump buildings; knowing that the NRA spent more than $30 million on behalf of Trump’s campaign after accepting donations from 23 Russians; knowing that Trump is willing to take Vladimir Putin’s word over that of our own intelligence agencies.

And I cannot sleep knowing that the actions of a man who is, quite likely, illegally occupying the world’s most powerful office cannot be overturned even if, as I suspect, he will be impeached and removed from that office.

So call me un-American if you want. But the America I celebrate is almost completely at odds with that of the president and his followers. I believe in an America that embraces the words on our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” I believe in an America that cherishes equality, fairness and opportunity for all.

Until we become that nation again; until we value human rights over the rights of corporations; until we take more pride in our treatment of the poor than in our latest military technology; until the Oval Office occupant and his administration have been sent packing; until we, once again, strive to live up to the hopes of our Founding Fathers, I’ll sit out the 4th of July celebration. I will be flying the flag. But I will be flying it upside down. Because our nation is most certainly in distress.