Should Americans Be Afraid Of Socialist Democrats?

Republicans are trying to frighten voters away from politicians who refer to themselves as Socialist Democrats, stating that these are people who want to give you “free stuff” with other people’s money. There is a small kernel of truth to that. But that has been the case for Americans since the very beginnings of our country.

In fact, the preamble of our Constitution can be interpreted as a statement of socialism: “We the People of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

Moreover, history tells us that the Founders called for the Constitutional Convention in order to form a central government that could raise taxes to pay for the nation’s defense and to pay off the debts accumulated during the Revolutionary War. Clearly, the Founders were seeking ways to pay for the common good of all our citizens. That is a form of socialism.

Still not convinced? Then what do you make of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address in which he described our nation as “Of the people, by the people and for the people.” There has never been a more powerful description of a socialist democracy!

Of course, democratic socialism can take many shapes. As Wikipedia states, “There are many varieties of socialism and there is no single definition encapsulating all of them, though social ownership is the common element shared by its various forms.” Today, most successful democracies, like the US, balance socialism and capitalism.

For example, our defense budget is derived from taxes, making our military a product of socialism. So, too, is the budget for FEMA, TSA and the other arms of the Homeland Security Department. Our public schools and, for the most part, our infrastructure – roads, seaports, airports and dams – are the products of socialism. Even our power grid and communications systems are a combination of private and public investment. Rural electric lines and many rural telephone lines were built as socialist projects by rural (socialist) cooperatives. Our public libraries, city halls, courthouses, sports venues and parks are paid for, or subsidized, by members of our communities.

In fact, most all of the things our city, county, state and federal governments do are supported by taxes, which amount to a form of socialism. Our space exploration and all of its discoveries, many of which benefited private corporations, were funded by our citizens. Similarly, many other scientific breakthroughs were the result of public investment. When our large corporations receive government incentives and subsidies, such as tax-increment financing and research grants, they are recipients of socialism. That is also true when those corporations pay such meager salaries that their employees have to rely on government programs in order to live. And it was certainly the case after the economic crash of 2008 when banks and auto manufacturers were bailed out by the federal government.

Even property and medical insurance are examples of socialism because those who don’t have insurance claims help pay for those who do. In fact, our Social Security and Medicare programs are a form of insurance. And don’t forget that all churches and church property are exempt from taxes, which means they are also subsidized through socialism.

Truth is, socialism doesn’t inhibit our freedom. Much to the contrary, it’s liberating. It is because of the things created by socialist policies that Americans have had the ability to learn, to light their homes, to travel as desired, to build businesses, to rebuild following natural disasters, and to create without fear of failing. Indeed, it is because our Founding Fathers had the wisdom to create a form of government that allowed people to live independently while sharing the burdens of defense, education, and infrastructure that our nation became great.

And, of course, we’re not alone. Most advanced nations in the world are socialist democracies. Many of them offering more “free stuff” than our Socialist Democrats propose, such as universal healthcare, low-cost or no-cost college educations, low-cost or no-cost daycare, state-controlled pensions and more. Taxes in those countries may be higher than ours. But they consistently outrank us with regard to longevity, infant mortality and, just as important, happiness.

Any attempts to discredit Democratic Socialists and to further privatize such things as education, infrastructure, health care and retirement will only serve to weaken us and make our future bleak.

The “Enemies Of The People” Versus The Enemies Of Democracy.

Since he began his campaign for the White House, Trump has lied to the media. Then, when they have fact-checked and reported on his lies, he has attacked them. Among other things, he has called them horrible, disgusting people. He has labeled the media “fake news” and, most recently, “enemies of the people.”

These so-called enemies are the people who risk their lives in war zones so that we might know the truth. They are the people who dig through stacks of financial documents in order to ferret out the cheaters and criminals. They are the people who sit through hours of mind-numbing meetings to report the actions of local governments to their citizens. They are the people who endure constant abuse to report on the actions of this corrupt and abusive administration.

The only media that seem exempt from Trump’s wrath are Fox News (Shepard Smith and Chris Wallace excepted), Breitbart, the Daily Caller, InfoWars and both Sputnik News and Russian TV. All of which report Trump’s legion of lies without question.

For the most part, the so-called patriots who identify themselves as Republicans have gone along with Trump’s attacks in order to accomplish their Koch brothers funded goals of reshaping the judiciary, further cutting taxes for the wealthy and corporations, eliminating environmental and financial regulations, rewriting the Constitution, privatizing schools, and privatizing or eliminating Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and the VA. If institutions such as news organizations stand in the way, so be it. Apparently, in the minds of Republicans, the sacrifice will be worth it.

In a recent poll, fully 43 percent of Republicans would give Trump the power to shut down media that he dislikes. Never mind that such action would be unconstitutional. Never mind that it would eliminate one of the very few institutions in a position to hold a corrupt administration accountable.

To far too many Republicans, it seems the ends justify the means. Even if those ends are achieved by destroying our government and, indeed, our democracy.

Thankfully, the vast majority of our news organizations and reporters are exercising their First Amendment rights. In defiance of Trump and his GOP enablers, more than three hundred newspapers across the nation have joined forces on this day to publish editorials in support of a free press and against anyone who would seek to diminish their responsibility to report the truth no matter how ugly.

And, given the actions of this administration, in the history of our nation, it has never been uglier.

So, today, in honor of real journalism, take some time to read the newspaper editorials and to explore reports from news media you don’t often read, watch or hear. Open your minds to the truth whatever it may be. It certainly isn’t coming from the White House.

Camp Trump’s Unholy Connection To Russia.

Aside from the myriad of meetings and financial connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, there are two less obvious threads that bind the two together: Religion and discrimination – discrimination against the LGBTQ community, discrimination against black and brown people, discrimination against refugees, and discrimination against non-Christians.

Following the atheist days of the Soviet Union, many Russian Orthodox Christians believe that Vladimir Putin resurrected the church. They believe that he was “inspired from above.” To support their view, they point to his last name. “Put” in Russian means “the path” or “the way.” The former KGB agent who would have happily killed anyone, including church leaders, who challenged the authority of the Soviet Politburo, oversaw the reconstruction of more than 23,000 churches. As a result of Putin’s support, the church has returned to its former position of power as the state religion of Russia. In a further show of support, Putin has embraced the Church’s positions that abortion and homosexuality are unforgiveable sins.

As a result, Russia bans abortion after 12 weeks and, under Putin, the government has abused, beaten, and jailed anyone accused of being gay or lesbian.

Not surprisingly, many American evangelical leaders envy the power of the Russian Orthodox Church. They long to see Christianity declared the state religion of the US. (Never mind that doing so would be unconstitutional and in direct conflict with the beliefs of our Founding Fathers.)

Likewise, American evangelicals would love to see a federal ban on abortions, a ban on gay marriage, a federal ban on gay adoption, a ban on gays in the military, a ban on transgenders.

And the American evangelicals’ view of Trump is not unlike the Russian Christians’ view of Putin. In a textbook example of the ends justify the means philosophy, they overlook Trump’s many moral and ethical transgressions. In fact, some admire them as signs of success, masculinity and power. Instead of holding him accountable for his excesses, they applaud his anti-choice judicial appointments and his support for “religious freedom” – the freedom to discriminate against anything and anyone based on religious beliefs.

In twisted evangelical logic, these so-called “family values Christians” even support the administration’s policy of kidnapping children from refugees at the border. They support the separation of families through deportation. Indeed, they support anything that will stop what they consider “cultural genocide” committed by those who do not fit the mold of a bygone era based on white Christian male superiority. Some are even delusional enough to believe that Trump is an agent of God.

Of course, the narcissistic sociopath-in-chief rewards such adoration by pandering to the Christian right at every opportunity.

All of this explains the unbreakable bond between Trump and his supporters. It explains why they are not swayed by Trump’s obvious deference (I would argue subservience) to Putin. Their support is immune to facts and truth. It’s about faith.

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.

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.

The Bleak Future Of The US As Envisioned By Today’s GOP.

Forget for a moment, if you can, the man currently occupying the White House. As bad as he and his cartel of corrupt officials are, in many ways, Trump is merely an aberration – a con man running a scam to enrich himself with taxpayer money at the expense of decency and world peace.

The real threat is taking place in Congress and behind the scenes, perpetuated by GOP leaders and their sponsors. For example, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan is a devotee of Ayn Rand, the “philosopher” who rejected religion, morality, ethics, altruism and, most of all, any government actions for the common good. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell skillfully blocked virtually every initiative of the previous president, stole a Supreme Court seat for the GOP and evangelicals, and as one of the largest recipients of campaign funds from the NRA, staunchly supports guns as a replacement for law and civility.

Charles Koch, the oily ideologue who has poured hundreds of millions into GOP campaigns in order to change local, state and federal governments by electing those who embrace his libertarian beliefs, is a disciple of renegade “economist” F.A. “Baldy” Harper who vehemently argued against labor unions, the five-day work week, child labor laws, employer benefits such as health insurance and pensions, the minimum wage and mandatory public education.

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson has donated hundreds of millions to GOP candidates who will remake the US government in the mold of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli administration – an administration whose vision of peace is imprisoning and murdering Palestinians, threatening its neighbors with pre-emptive military strikes and launching disproportionate military responses to any provocation. Adelson’s most recent contributions resulted in Trump replacing the few moderates in his administration with war-hawks such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. His donations are also the primary motivation behind Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement and, along with it, our allies.

Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, bankrolled Trump’s campaign for office. Together with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and the Sinclair Broadcast Group, they have changed the national dialogue about news media and factual reporting by attacking the free press and creating a multimillion dollar propaganda network. They, or more precisely, their millions in donations have given us Trump, Breitbart, Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Nigel Farage.

So what is their end game?

They all seem to have visions of returning the US to the “Gilded Age” when it was controlled by a few oligarchs and large corporations. They prioritize property above people, viewing workers as mere commodities to be used as needed and discarded when they are no longer of value. They want to be free to extract natural resources, and therefore wealth, without fear of regulation or repercussions. They want complete control of their billions – all of their billions – without being obligated to pay taxes. They want to eliminate social welfare programs and safety nets, such as SNAP, CHIP, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They even want to eliminate public education in order to control thought.

Of course, ordinary taxpayers and voters would be repulsed by their plans if they were openly stated. So, in order to accomplish their objectives, the oligarchs have chosen to disguise their intent. Instead of presenting their vision to the public, they have used their billions to commandeer an entire political party. They have persistently proposed balanced budget amendments to the Constitution which, combined with a growing defense budget, would end many social programs. Failing that, they are electing those who will pass a never-ending series of tax cuts designed to starve the government of the funds needed to enforce regulations; to pay for welfare programs; to pay for safety nets.

In doing so, they hope that, by expanding the national debt to a crisis level, the voting public will have no choice but to accept such draconian cuts.

Beyond Tribalism.

Today, most Americans are members of a political tribe – Trump’s tribe, the Republican tribe, the Conservative tribe, the Libertarian tribe, the Democratic tribe, the Liberal tribe, the Evangelical tribe. But no matter which of the labels we prefer, we should find many issues upon which we can all agree.

On the most important issues, we should all be members of the same tribe – the American tribe.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the questions of possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and whatever Hillary Clinton was accused of doing or not doing. We should all be concerned that all of our intelligence-gathering agencies agree that Russia – one of our greatest rivals – interfered with our elections. If we, as Americans, are to have confidence in our elected leaders, we need to know that they were fairly elected.

In addition, there should be plenty of other areas of agreement among ordinary Americans. For example, we should all be worried that many of our longest-standing institutions – the press, FBI, CIA, justice system, educational system, science, even the truth – are under attack. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that there is also an all-out attack on America’s working class.

Ideology aside, we should all be horrified that corporations and the very rich received 83 percent of the benefits from the most recent tax cuts – cuts resulting in deficits that will add multiple trillions to our national debt. We should all be concerned that the president ignores the Constitution’s emoluments clause by spending nearly every weekend at one of his resorts in order to charge taxpayers millions for the rooms needed for Secret Service, as well as government and foreign officials.

We should all be outraged over reports that the president’s longtime lawyer – his “fixer” – paid hundreds of thousands to buy the silence of women with whom he had affairs. And we should be even more troubled by reports that the same “fixer” was apparently selling access to the White House and accepting millions from a Russian oligarch.

We should be skeptical of Betsy Devos’s push to privatize education, thereby taking money away from public schools in order to finance parochial and private schools for the well-heeled. We should recoil at the dozens of reports detailing Scott Pruitt’s corruption and his rollback of environmental protections, thereby threatening clean air and water.

We should be angered by Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes for his honeymoon and other private trips. We should be equally alarmed at Ryan Zinke’s taxpayer-funded vacations, his unjustified cuts to national monuments and his sweetheart deals for campaign donors who have placed bids for drilling rights on public lands. We should be universally sickened by Ben Carson’s plan to triple the cost of rent for poor Americans (many of them seniors) who live in public housing while others in government scheme to cut funding for food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Social Security.

It cannot be stated often enough or strongly enough: This is not normal!

The Constitutional Crisis That Is Donald Trump.

Russian meddling in the 2016 election has created a crisis the Founders never could have imagined – a greedy, narcissistic con man holding the highest office in the land supported by a sympathetic Congress that likely, too, was elected with the help and interference of a foreign enemy.

The Founding Fathers did put into place a system that provided for the removal of a president from office for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which certainly would apply to a man who conspired with an enemy to attain office, defied the Constitution’s emolument clause to enrich himself and his family, and appointed Cabinet members with the sole purpose of deconstructing the agencies they head – all the while ignoring every established norm of presidential behavior.

What the Founders failed to anticipate was a Congress simultaneously controlled by a party that is equally corrupt – a Congress comprised of members who, themselves, may have been elected with the help of the same foreign enemy and foreign money illegally funneled through the NRA. As a result, the Constitution has no provision for nullifying the results of elections illegally decided by external forces; no way to erase widespread electoral mistakes.

So what happens if (more likely, when) Special Counsel Mueller proves that the president, his campaign, and numerous members of his staff conspired with Russia in order to steal the election? What then? Certainly, the president could be impeached if Republicans finally agree to place country above party. Certainly, those involved could be charged with crimes and brought to trial. But what about the members of the president’s party in Congress who also benefited from the conspiracy? Can they, too, be removed? And what of the many decisions that have been made since January 20, 2017?

If the president was, indeed, put into office as the result of a conspiracy, will his many appointments to the judiciary be allowed to stand? These are appointments that could impact judicial decisions for generations.

If Republicans were found to have gained control of Congress as the result of unconstitutional gerrymandering, voter suppression, illegal campaign contributions, and foreign interference, will the bills they passed without input from the opposition party be allowed to stand? What of the deficit-ballooning corporate tax cuts? What of the changes to the Affordable Care Act? What of the stolen seat on the Supreme Court?

And what of the decisions made by the president’s appointees? What of the deregulation of the nation’s greatest polluters? What of the damage done to our public school system? What of the money squandered on private jets and $31,000 dining sets?

Worst of all, what of the damage done internationally – to our trade agreements, to our strategic defense pacts, to our standing with allies?

If the decisions made by illegally and unconstitutionally elected officials are allowed to stand, what’s to prevent it from happening again? What’s to prevent unscrupulous individuals from a party – either party – from scamming the system to win and, in doing so, ensure that it can ideologically remake America in its image for decades to come?

We need a constitutional amendment to nullify election results – all of the results – if it can be unequivocally proven that an election was stolen.

Revisiting The Second Amendment And Gun Violence.

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I draw your attention to the full text of the amendment since the first 12 words are seldom mentioned. In fact, in the NRA headquarters, only the last half of the text is emblazoned on the wall. But, if you believe in the wisdom of the authors of our Constitution, you cannot parse the words to suit your own purposes. You must accept the document in its entirety.

We once had a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States who believed so. In a 1991 PBS interview, he stated, “The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to ensure that state armies – the militia – would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the 2nd Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”

The point is that the amendment was written to ensure for the defense of the US against foreign governments at a time when our nation had no standing army, no Navy, no Air Force, no Marine Corps, no Coast Guard. Instead, the nation’s defense relied upon state militias comprised of volunteers…what have, in effect, become our state governed National Guard units.

Now that we have the world’s most effective military, the 2nd Amendment is no longer necessary. Since our government is “of the people, by the people and for the people,” the military serves us. There is no longer a need for citizens to bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia. What about the potential for government tyranny? The current administration aside, that is a remote possibility. And even if the government decided to impose martial law on the land, no disorganized band of civilians armed with an arsenal of AR-15s and AK-47s will prevail against a well-trained government army with tanks, artillery, fighter jets and nuclear weapons.

That said, let’s talk about our gun problem and what can be done to reduce gun violence, including mass shootings.

There are an average of 297 shootings each day in the US – more than 108,000 per year! Those shootings result in 11,000 murders per year and an uncounted number of wounded – many with lifelong debilitating injuries. There are 20,000 suicides from guns each year, resulting in an annual total of 33,000 deaths from guns.

More than 2,600 hundred children are killed by guns each year.

The US averages more than one mass shooting per day (as defined by 4 or more victims per shooting). Since the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been 1,500 mass shootings resulting in more than 1,700 people killed and more than 6,000 wounded (not counting those who were likely shot and killed today).

If you’re human; if you live in America, those statistics should frighten you! But before you run out and purchase a gun for self-defense, consider this: Guns are not defensive weapons. They are offensive weapons. In a gun fight, the first person to pull their gun usually wins. So, if someone points a gun at you, your own gun will do you little good. In fact, if you have a gun in your house, you’re 80 percent more likely to use it on yourself than any criminal.

To further debunk the “good guy with a gun myth,” consider the FBI analysis of 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, excluding shootings related to gang or drug violence. Those incidents resulted in 1,043 casualties – 486 killed, 557 wounded. The FBI found that 1 in 5 were stopped by a potential victim at the scene and most of those were unarmed! Only 5 were stopped by “good guys with guns.” And, in 21 of 45 incidents that required law enforcement to engage the shooter, 9 officers were killed and 28 were wounded, despite their training and their body armor!

Do you still think arming teachers is the answer to school shootings?

Every independent study shows a clear connection between gun violence and the number of guns. Nevertheless, Americans now own more than 300 million guns. Despite the fact that the number of individuals who own guns is actually declining, the number of gun sales is increasing dramatically. That’s because 6 million Americans – mostly white men -now own 10 or more guns. There are studies that show many of those people have psychological problems. And there are additional studies that show a clear connection between gun violence and domestic violence or violence against animals.

The only apparent answer to our epidemic of gun violence is to treat it as we do other epidemics – with intervention, outreach, and education. We should institute universal background checks and a database of gun ownership. To make the ATF’s job easier, we should institute a waiting period for anyone wanting to purchase a gun. We should ban both open and conceal carry – going back to the policies before the lobbying of the NRA. We should ban all semi-automatics. Not just military-style weapons. That’s because most semi-automatics can be just as deadly. And bolt-action, pump-action and lever-action are perfectly acceptable for most hunters. We should limit magazines to 9 rounds. We should limit the quantities of ammunition sold. And we should take weapons away from violent felons, domestic abusers, animal abusers and the mentally ill who are diagnosed with violent tendencies – toward others or themselves.

It’s time to ignore the NRA and the GOP. It’s time to change!

False Patriotism.

A few years ago, a local chapter of the VFW asked me to judge a group of essays written by middle schoolers on the subject of patriotism. As a writer and former teacher, I was honored to do so. But, after reading them, I realized that none of the students knew the real meaning of patriotism. To all of them, patriotism revolved around the military, military hardware, the flag and the national anthem. Not the Constitution. Not the ideals established by the Founders. Not the American dream. Not exercising our right – our responsibility – to vote. Not affording equal rights to our fellow Americans – all of our fellow Americans.

Of course, the students were only parroting what they had been taught by their teachers and parents.

Like many Americans, they did not understand that, though admirable, military service is only one way to show patriotism toward their country. They did not understand that displaying a flag, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance, and placing a hand over their heart for the national anthem are only a show of patriotism – mere symbols. (It’s good to remember that the flag was not adopted until more than a year after the beginning of the Revolution, that our nation did not have a standing army until 1789 – 12 years after the United States became a country, and that the Star-Spangled Banner did not become the national anthem until 1931 – more than 150 years after the shots were fired on Bunker Hill!)

The students did not understand that, in certain circumstances, it can be an act of patriotism to refuse military service; to stand up to government leaders by refusing to fight in an ill-conceived and illegal war. Were the soldiers who refused to follow orders and reported the war crimes at My Lai not more patriotic than those who murdered innocent men, women and children? Was not Daniel Ellsberg, who exposed the lies of the Vietnam War, more patriotic than the politicians and generals who expanded the war based on false information? Were the Americans who protested and demonstrated against our pre-emptive invasion of Iraq not more patriotic than the administration who led us into it on false pretenses?

Of course they were!

If the kids’ definition of patriotism has become the accepted version, it’s not difficult to understand why our nation is perpetually at war. It’s not difficult to understand why our military budget dwarfs those of other nations. And if we honor the flag and the anthem without embracing the ideals they represent, is it any wonder so many Americans are willing to deny equal rights to those who look different; to those who love someone of the same sex; to those of a different faith, or those of no faith?

If we become outraged at football players who refuse to stand for the national anthem as a means of protest in order to draw attention to injustice while we praise the flag-waving bullies who threaten them, we have failed to grasp the Founders’ vision for our democracy. One in which it is as patriotic to call attention to our nation’s failings as it is to celebrate its successes. Indeed, it may well be more patriotic!

So what is patriotism?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” It’s fitting that the definition is so expansive. After all, there are many ways to love. And that definition is especially fitting for Americans, since the vision of our nation’s Founding Fathers was equally expansive. It’s why the Constitution they created has served us so well for so many years.