A Stark Contrast.

I truly appreciate the views of my conservative friends with regard to politics. After all, I was raised in a reliably Republican household. I believe in eliminating government waste. I believe that people should take responsibility for the own lives and their own actions. Even after the GOP was over-run with religious extremists, I shared many of the party’s beliefs. For most of my life, I was an independent voter.

The party lost me was when the Nixon-Agnew ticket used propaganda and lies to divide us; when Nixon intervened in the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam for political advantage; when the Nixon administration created the War on Drugs for the purpose of marginalizing and incarcerating minorities which were seen as political opponents; when Nixon tried to subvert our democracy by ordering the burglary of the DNC offices in the Watergate complex.

I was further alienated when Ronald Reagan reportedly sent envoys to meet with Iran’s Islamic leaders to delay the release of our embassy hostages until after his election; when the GOP tried to marginalize those who disagreed with its “Moral Majority” presuming that its opponents were immoral; when the Reagan administration eliminated the tax write-offs for interest on loans other than mortgages creating history’s largest tax increase on the middle class; when the Reagan administration trained Central American death squads and was caught selling weapons to Iran in order to meddle in Central American politics.

As someone with a journalism degree, I was horrified when President H.W. Bush engineered the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine – an action that turned our electronic news media into little more than megaphones for the propaganda spewed by Fox News Channel and the rantings of conservative radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and the dozens of other hate-mongers who dominate more than 90 percent of talk radio.

As a former business owner, I was infuriated when my larger competitors received a myriad of GOP-initiated tax breaks and subsidies that were unavailable to my company.

I was shocked when then Florida governor Jeb Bush corrupted the Florida elections that his brother might be awarded the White House – a fact later proven by a consortium of independent media. I was infuriated when, after reading Richard (the Dick) Cheney’s Plan for a New American Century which included a call for the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration acted on the plan based on false and misleading information. I became disgusted when the GOP co-opted the US flag and patriotism by denigrating anyone who opposed its ill-conceived wars.

I could go on to include the vast increases in our national debt caused by Reagan and Bush tax cuts that largely benefited the very rich, the attack on labor unions, the undermining of defined benefit pension plans, the housing crash and subsequent financial collapse of 2008, the utter disregard for the poor and the hungry, the attempts to privatize our public lands – including numerous national treasures – for development, the dismissal of science to maintain the profits of fossil fuel companies at the cost of the health of our planet, and the unfounded and racist attacks on our first black president.

Through all of that, I could still empathize with my conservative relatives and friends and their strongly-held principles of personal responsibility and cutting government waste. But now…now…the party has taken a step way too far.

It has nominated Donald J. Trump for president!

This is a bombastic billionaire who has said and done hundreds of despicable things – any one of which would have disqualified other candidates from pursuing the office. By any traditional measure, he is unfit for the office of dog catcher, let alone the highest office in the land. Following is an abbreviated list:

Family values? Trump is thrice-married and twice-divorced. (Former Senator Gary Hart was famously disqualified for seeking the nomination for a single affair and President Clinton faced impeachment by Republicans over a sexual incident with a White House intern.) He has been accused of a violent rape by one of his ex-wives. He has been accused of sexually assaulting other women, including minors. He has even publicly displayed lechery toward his own daughter, saying if she wasn’t his daughter he’d like to have sex with her!

Demeanor? Trump thrives on name-calling. He encouraged his supporters to assault those who demonstrate against him. And he has talked about physically assaulting those who spoke out against him at the Democratic National Convention.

Patriotism? Trump successfully sought a draft deferment for bone spurs in his foot – an injury that did not prevent him from competing in college athletics. When asked, he said that he couldn’t even remember which foot was injured. He also lied about donating the proceeds of a rally to charity.

Business acumen? Trump inherited much of his wealth yet, even by his own estimation of his wealth, he has earned less than if he had simply invested his inheritance in a stock index fund. He is also one of a very few casino owners who has declared bankruptcy – something previously considered impossible. And he is hated by many in Scotland and Florida for his golf course developments.

Business ethics? He has been involved in thousands of lawsuits – many of them from contractors he refused to pay for their services. He is currently being sued by a girl scout troop that he refused to pay after they performed at a rally. His bankruptcies allowed him to walk away with millions while leaving his creditors – most of them small business owners – in the lurch. And he is currently being sued for fraud over his Trump “University.”

Charity? When it comes to donations to charities, Trump has long been known as a cheapskate and, according to The Washington Post, he has donated precious little to his own Trump Foundation.

Honesty? His acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention contained no fewer than 21 lies! And, according to fact-checking organizations such as Politifact.com, throughout the campaign, he has been the least honest of all of the major party candidates. And it’s not even close.

Empathy? Some have called him a “Blue Collar Billionaire.” Seriously? Is there really such a thing? Trump conducts many of his media interviews while sitting in a gold chair in a gold-decorated penthouse that has more in common with a dictator’s palace than a blue collar family’s home. In addition, he has made numerous racist statements. He is guilty of race-baiting at his rallies. And he famously demeaned a reporter for a physical disability.

Understanding of foreign policy? Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace recently stated that Trump has less knowledge of foreign policy than Sarah Palin! She went on to say that while Palin wanted to learn, but couldn’t, Trump is completely disinterested in the subject. Further, Trump said that the US should exit the WTO (World Trade Organization), a move that would be devastating to US businesses.

Preparedness to lead? Trump has never held office, except in his own corporation. He has no understanding of the workings of our government and no commitment to public service. One has to question if he has even read our Constitution. After all, many of his promises would be blatantly unconstitutional. Maybe that’s why 4 of the last 5 people to receive the GOP nomination for president refused to attend his coronation…er…nomination at the RNC convention. Maybe that’s why the Republican governor of the host state refused to attend. And maybe that’s why none of the living presidents has endorsed him.

Understanding of national security? Trump has stated that he wouldn’t necessarily support our NATO allies against an invasion (presumably by Russia). Worse, he called for Russia to hack the emails of a former cabinet secretary and political opponent! As a result, many in our intelligence community do not want to include him in the customary briefings on national security.

Okay, I know many of my conservative friends and relatives dislike and distrust Hillary. Yes, I know you’ve probably heard accusations that Hillary stole investors’ money in Whitewater; that she unconstitutionally fired those who worked in the White House Travel Office; that she ordered the murder of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster; that she put the US consulate in Benghazi at risk and ordered the military to stand down when it was attacked; that she “illegally” used a private email server for State Department business then, when caught, erased thousands of incriminating emails.

Certainly, Hillary has made mistakes, but they are mistakes made while serving others. Though she misread the commitment of moderate rebels in Libya and Syria, so did most of the world leaders. Though she was horrified at the attack on the consulate, there was no opportunity to save the ambassador and, contrary to right wing claims, she had no authority to tell the military to stand down. Though she admits to making a mistake by using a private email server like her Republican predecessor as Secretary of State, there was no apparent harm done, except to her reputation. And though she has made statements that were later proven false, she is a beacon of honesty compared to her opponent.

Those are not the excuses of an apologist. Those are facts.

Few talk about the many things she has done right during a lifetime of service. Moreover, few people on our planet have undergone such scrutiny as the Clintons. The investigations into the so-called “scandals” have cost roughly $100 million over a quarter century. They have garnered billions of dollars of media coverage in a constant drip, drip, drip that has been orchestrated by her political opponents. Yet, after all of the investigations led by Republicans and government agencies, little of substance has been found – certainly nothing that would disqualify her from seeking the presidency.

Her opponent, on the other hand, constantly demonstrates – with his mouth and his actions – that he is completely unfit for office.

What The GOP Wants.

It’s easy to dismiss the mudslinging and hateful rhetoric of the speakers featured at the Republican National Convention as mere partisanship; as the typical hyperbole of a contested election. But the GOP platform shows that the fear and hate so prevalent at the convention is representative of the party’s deep-rooted beliefs.

On its surface, the GOP platform seems filled with platitudes and grandiose statements that may seem positive or, at worst, relatively harmless. But, if you look deeper, a different – more frightening – picture emerges.

The platform begins with a preamble that reaffirms the party’s commitment to the concept of “American Exceptionalism”… the very idea that led to the genocide of Native Americans, the meddling in foreign affairs, and the creation of “banana republics” as well as other puppet states that would be subservient to the US. And it further represents backward thinking by confusing the Constitution with the Articles of Confederation. (Yes, it’s true that our Founding Fathers originally committed to a limited federal government. But that was as a result of the differing beliefs of the original colonies, not the least of which was the colonies’ differing views toward slavery. But after the Revolution, the Founders wrote and ratified the Constitution which gives great, sweeping powers to the federal government.)

The platform only goes further downhill from there.

Despite our robust recovery from the Great Recession, the platform seeks to reinstate the very policies that led to the recession. It blames Democrats for the national debt despite the fact that the vast majority of the debt is the result of decisions made by the Reagan and George W. Bush administrations. Indeed, both the Clinton and Obama administrations have dramatically cut deficits created by Republicans.

The GOP platform calls for increased defense spending, claiming the Obama administration has shortchanged the defense budget for years despite the fact that the US currently spends more on the military than the next 9 nations combined – 7 of them strong US allies. And it contends that the Obama administration has refused to control our borders despite dramatic increases in border patrols and the apprehension and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

It claims that Democrats have attacked the production of energy and industry-related jobs while ignoring the reality that oil and gas production are at all-time highs, and that alternative energy production (wind and solar) has created millions of jobs. At the same time, the GOP denies the impact of technical innovation on the number of lost manufacturing jobs and its own role in providing tax incentives to multinational corporations that ship jobs overseas and hide profits offshore to avoid taxes.

The platform officially denies human-caused climate change while pandering to voters in coal country by proclaiming coal to be a “clean” energy source. It calls for a commitment to the already discredited “fair tax” that, if implemented, would not only give enormous tax breaks to the top 1 percent. It would add trillions to our national debt. And the platform perpetuates the myth that US corporations face the world’s highest tax obligations when, in reality, the US is tied with Tanzania for 64th in total tax obligations! Moreover, the US corporate tax obligation is lower than 22 of 32 OCED nations.

In addition to Trump’s notorious plan to build a wall along our Mexican border, the GOP would seek to build a virtual wall between us and our trading partners by trying to implement a series of harsh tariffs and other forms of bullying. The GOP would have you believe that Wall Street and corporations can regulate themselves free from any form of regulation. (We already know how disastrous that can be.) The platform pushes individual responsibility while excusing multinational corporations from their actions. At the same time, it seeks to diminish civil rights and equal opportunities for much of our population. It would also deny individuals many of the legal mechanisms needed to fight against injustice and predatory corporations.

The GOP platform calls for investment in our nation’s infrastructure while ignoring the fact that the only reason for our decaying infrastructure is the refusal of the party’s own members of Congress to vote for such initiatives. Moreover, Republicans didn’t just vote against those bills, they blocked many of them from ever coming to a vote. In addition, the platform continues the party’s long-standing attack on labor unions – the very institutions that helped build the middle class as the only way for workers to negotiate with management. (In case you haven’t noticed, as labor unions have been diminished, CEO and shareholder compensation have soared while the compensation of workers has stagnated. At the same time, the GOP has orchestrated the destruction of thousands of pension plans.)

Even more telling is the platform’s focus on exclusion – by unconstitutionally closing our borders to Muslims, by deporting millions of Latino immigrants, by denying civil rights to the LGBTQ community, by unconstitutionally establishing Christianity as the official religion of the US, and by diminishing the rights of women. In practice, GOP policies would diminish the rights of all those who look and think differently than white, male Republicans.

The party platform enshrines the GOP’s unwavering support of the 2nd Amendment. Yet, at the same time it embraces those who own the weapons of war, the GOP turns its back on those who are most vulnerable: Women who find themselves pregnant with a baby they cannot afford, women who wish to terminate a fetus that either endangers the mother’s life or is incapable of ever surviving on its own, the hopelessly impoverished who, without help, cannot reasonably expect to escape poverty; whose schools are underfunded; who live in areas without jobs and without access to public transportation.

The platform reaffirms the party’s intent to stack the judiciary from top to bottom with ideologues like the late Antonin Scalia. It would sell off public lands, including national parks. It would eliminate many regulatory agencies. It would privatize education and anything else that would allow corporations to profit. It would repeal Obamacare and return control of health care to insurance and pharmaceutical companies that would make health care unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. It seeks to privatize Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. It would eliminate or diminish many of our other safety nets, including job training and food assistance.

The GOP platform indicates that the party will continue its assault on voting rights and its commitment to gerrymandering to ensure a GOP majority that does not reflect the composition of the voting public. It foments fear of others and distrust of government institutions. It doesn’t just seek to change government. It goes much further, seeking to impose a narrow set of “values” – to dictate morality and human behavior.

It is, perhaps, the most ideological document ever authored in the name of a political party. And, if implemented, it will negatively impact our nation for generations to come if, indeed, it doesn’t lead to its ultimate destruction. (If you think that’s mere hyperbole, consider the potential impact of the unabated burning of fossil fuels and environmental destruction that will make our planet uninhabitable.)

How Can We Ever Hope To Bring Americans Together?

Regardless of which candidate wins this year’s presidential election, it’s all but certain that Americans will be more divided than ever. We’re divided by far more than politics. We’re divided by ideology; by media choices; by attitudes toward guns and violence; by attitudes toward the environment; by a woman’s right to decide what is right for her own body; by energy policy; by foreign policy and military intervention; by acceptance and tolerance for those who are different than ourselves; by faith.

As the US, like many other nations, lurches farther to the right, it seems that we cannot agree on anything. One side accepts science while the other relies almost exclusively on faith. One side believes in evolution while the other side believes in creationism. One side works to abate climate change while the other side calls it a hoax. One side embraces other cultures and ethnic groups while the other side chooses to discriminate against them. One side accepts authority and bullying while the other fights against it. One side supports corporatism (aka fascism) while the other supports individuals. One side celebrates wealth and power while the other side celebrates the working class. One side worships individualism while the other side worships community and collectivism. One side demands status quo while the other side demands expanded civil rights.

No matter which candidate wins in November, roughly half of the population will vehemently oppose the winner’s policies.

It would seem that the only thing that can possibly pull our nation together is a disaster – a military or terrorist strike against our nation or a financial calamity on the order of the Great Depression. Ironically, the burst of the housing bubble and the ensuing Great Recession were not enough to create unanimity. Ignoring the facts, each side simply blamed the other for their hardships.

In order to seek more palatable solutions, we must first look at how we arrived at this point. It began with the Nixon-Agnew strategy of divide and conquer. It continued with the GOP’s embrace of southern bigots and evangelicals along with Paul Wyerich’s strategy of voter suppression. It accelerated with the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine which allowed electronic media to choose up sides and lie at will. And it was cemented by Newt Gingrich’s embrace of parliamentary-style politics which disdained any form of compromise.

So what can we do?

1. To begin, we should all demand more of our media by reinstating a Fairness Doctrine that would require all media, both electronic and print, to operate in the public interest. That means to tell the truth and hold politicians accountable.
2. We should overturn voter suppression laws and make voting easy, maybe even mandatory, for all American citizens.
3. We should bring transparency to campaign finance and overturn Citizens United.
4. We should, once again, make it illegal for corporations to contribute to political campaigns.
5. We should break the lobbyists’ hold on Congress by passing laws to end the revolving door from Congress to lobbying groups, and to limit lobbyist access to Congress.
6. We should end all forms of gerrymandering by passing laws to put control of congressional redistricting into the hands of independent commissions.
7. We should demand that the IRS reinstate restrictions that prevent non-profits from disguising their political focus, thus doing away with PACs and Super PACs.
8. We should institute term limits on all Senators and Congressional Representatives. If it makes sense to limit the president to two terms, it should make sense to do the same for Congress.
9. We should hold the individuals who manage political campaigns liable for lies and disinformation. That would prevent them from avoiding election fraud by simply dissolving the campaign entities following an election,
10. We should demand more of ourselves. We should each seek to inform ourselves about the candidates and the issues in order to meet the expectations of our Founding Fathers by becoming an enlightened and informed voting public.

Even if you don’t agree with these proposals, we must do something. And we must do it now. It may be our only hope for unifying our nation and moving it forward. Indeed, at the risk of being seen as hyperbolic, it may be the only way to avoid another Civil War.

Risking Your Safety And Wasting Your Time.

The growing threat of terrorism, increased air travel and a shortage of security agents have led to long lines and growing frustration at airport security checks. As a result, it’s fashionable to blame the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the problem. Indeed, Republicans would have you believe that the problem is just another example of an incompetent and inefficient federal government. That would seem to be a good explanation. It’s just not true.

Certainly, the problem is the fault of government. But the real culprit is the GOP-controlled Congress.

To get a clear picture of the problem, you must first understand that TSA agents have a difficult, almost impossible, job. They are expected to keep a watchful eye through grueling work shifts while dealing with long lines of frustrated, disrespectful and often clueless people; people who are laden down with a growing list of “necessities” as carry-on baggage; people who try to sneak any number of prohibited items through the screening process; people who fail to follow instructions then defiantly protest when they are confronted for their stupidity – all the while delaying those in line behind them. Yet those same people expect the agents to keep them safe. There is no margin for error.

Such stressful, yet monotonous work and low pay have led to an exceptionally high turnover of TSA agents – more than 20 percent annually.

In an attempt to alleviate the problem, TSA management offered a pre-clearance program that was expected to reduce the number of agents required while, at the same time, improving the flow of passengers through security. It was a good idea. But, unfortunately, significantly fewer passengers than expected signed up for the program. That forced TSA to increase its workforce. But given the low starting salary, the extensive background checks needed for such a sensitive position, and the training required, TSA has been unable to react quickly.

All of that set the stage for Republican congressional representatives to really screw things up. Despite fomenting fear by pointing to the threat of ISIS and claiming that immigrants could likely be terrorists, they swept money from TSA’s budget in an attempt to further cut the deficit. Then they pointed fingers at TSA for the resulting lines. The hope is that a backlash from passengers will help Republicans attain one of their ideological goals – to privatize airport security and most other functions of government.

Just what we need – to turn our security over to a corporation that got the contract as the lowest bidder, then competes with fast food companies to hire a bunch of underpaid, under qualified and disgruntled workers in order to meet its CEO’s profit goals. Or maybe congressional Republicans could give another no-bid contract to Halliburton – the oily company once run by Richard “The Dick” Cheney that wasted hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conservative author and humorist P. J. O’Rourke described it best by writing, “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”

Journalism, RIP.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming presidential race, one thing has been forever changed…journalism.

Though the competition for ratings has long influenced the news – forcing news editors to adopt the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy – the demand for ratings has relegated newscasts to stories of violent crimes, accidental deaths, and confrontations only occasionally interrupted by feel-good “human interest” stories. Instead of informing the public about issues that really matter (pending legislation, environmental destruction, corporate influence in government, foreign policy decisions, and government and corporate corruption), the philosophy governing reporting by corporate-owned news media seems to be to keep the public perpetually frightened and stupid.

Newscasts have become little more than infotainment.

How else do you explain Donald Trump’s ability to manipulate the media into providing his campaign with roughly $3 billion of free news coverage – many times that of his competitors? How else do you explain the lack of coverage for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, even though he has drawn larger crowds than Trump at every stop? How else do explain the media’s reporting of the latest accusations about Hillary Clinton’s emails without facts or context?

When I earned my journalism degree, every story was expected to contain the basics of who, what, where, when, why and how. Rumors and accusations were not, in themselves, considered news. No story could be printed or aired if it didn’t include those basic elements. What’s more, the story had to be verified by two independent sources – more if the story was deemed to be exceptionally controversial.

Journalists like me were inspired by giants: Edward R. Murrow, John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. News gathering operations like CBS had news bureaus and reporters located around the globe based on the concept that it was not enough to tell the story, it was important to provide context and real understanding. It was considered more important for reporters to be right than to be first. Opinion was clearly labeled as such and not permitted to contaminate a news story. And there was an impenetrable firewall between the business side of the media and the news department, except in the not-so-rare instances where the owner of the media was also a journalist.

Such news departments exposed the viciousness of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s reporting brought down the criminal enterprise otherwise known as the Nixon administration. Seymour Hersh’s reporting laid bare the horrors of the My Lai Massacre. Cronkite’s reporting was credited with ending the Vietnam War.

In more recent times, based on the woeful state of modern journalism, the corporate news media made it possible for the Bush administration to lead our nation to war in Iraq based on propaganda and lies. And they didn’t just report Trump’s ascendency to the GOP presidential nomination. In search of ratings and ever-larger profits, they actually created the Trump we see today.

Each day, the “news” is dominated by Trump. The media rarely fact-check his rants, provide context for his claims, point out inconsistencies in his statements, or broadcast alternative views. Unlike opposing candidates, he doesn’t need to waste campaign funds on airtime. In fact, he has actually made money by using campaign funds to pay his own companies for transportation, lodging and more.

In the heyday of broadcast journalism, reporters and news anchors tried to create a signature to be used to end a broadcast. For Murrow, it was “Good night, and good luck.” For Cronkite, it was “And that’s the way it is.” Now that the media are no longer willing to hold their newscasts to the standards of journalism, I’d suggest a slightly different slogan – “Another day, another dollar.”

That’s all the corporate media seems to care about.

On Earth Day, An Assessment.

Each year, we celebrate our planet for a single day. On that day, there are a variety of gatherings, speeches and warnings. It’s not enough. Not nearly enough. The remainder of the year, most of us continue to trash the planet. Some liken our actions to filling our living rooms with garbage. But it’s worse than that. What we’re really doing is fouling our air, our water, our climate, even the food we eat.

So, on this Earth Day, let’s forgo the platitudes and the entertainment and focus on the status of our planet.

– 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001 and 2016 is likely to set another record.
– 2015 was the first year that global average temperatures were 1 degree Celsius above the 1880-1889 average (the start of the industrial revolution).
– Atmospheric CO2 is now 401.58 parts per million (ppm) and rising. (400 ppm has long been considered the climate tipping point.)
– Arctic sea ice has declined 13.3 percent per decade.
– As the Arctic ice melts, the underlying tundra is exposed, releasing methane, which is 25 times worse than CO2.
– The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing 8,000 tons of ice per second 24/7.
– Antarctic ice is melting far faster than even the most alarming scientific predictions.
– Scientists have discovered that 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has been damaged by coral bleaching (in other words, it is dying).
– Global warming and overfishing have pushed the world’s oceans to the brink of extinction, reducing some species by more than 90 percent.
– Dozens of animal species are endangered and many more are vulnerable, including such iconic species as Rhinos, Elephants, Lions and Tigers.
– Deforestation is occurring on a massive scale with more than 18 million acres lost each and every year, much of it the result of corporate greed.
– Global sea levels are rising at the rate of 3.24 mm per year, and the rise is accelerating.
– Our oceans are warming, resulting in changes in ocean currents. In turn, that results in new, and more extreme, weather patterns.
– The ice melt and degradation of our aquifers have led to the shifting or the Earth’s axis by nearly 17 centimeters per year.

As bad as all of that is, we can stop the destruction and even begin to reverse it. But it will take a concerted effort by all of the planet’s residents. Today’s signing of the Paris climate agreement by 170 nations is a start. But only a start. We can’t rely on governments alone to save the planet. We all have to do our part.

For example, we can all try to make better choices. We can drive less to burn less fuel or, better yet, take public transportation. We can better insulating our homes to reduce the fuel needed to heat and cool them. We can demand that our representatives vote to keep fossil fuels in the ground and focus on increasing renewable energy. We can purchase or lease solar panels for our homes and can purchase hybrid and electric cars. We can replace traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs. We can end our throwaway mentality, cut waste and recycle. We can eliminate or reduce consumption of meat – especially beef – which is carbon-intensive. We can buy locally-grown produce to cut transportation-cause carbon emissions. We can reduce water consumption. We can plant carbon-absorbing trees. And, most important, we can elect candidates that will work to stop the destruction of our environment. The list of things we can each do is long, and every little bit helps.

Of course, the most important thing we can do is to think about our planet every day…to make every day Earth Day. We have only one chance to get things right. There will be no do-overs

The Panama Papers? Why Not The Delaware Papers?

While the Panama Papers exposed thousands of politicians and billionaires who have used off-shore tax havens to hide trillions of dollars from taxes, the leaked papers will likely have little effect on Americans. It’s not that American corporations, billionaires and politicians are any more trustworthy than their foreign counterparts. It’s just that they don’t need to hide their money in the Cayman Islands when they can hide it in a much safer and less transparent refuge…the United States.

That’s right, the US is quickly becoming the world’s capital for money-laundering and tax shelters. Outside of Kenya, the US is now the easiest country in the world to open an anonymous shell corporation. No need to move your money off shore; no need to hire a Panamanian law firm; no need to place your trust in the economy of a third world country. Instead, you can open a shell company in Delaware, Nevada or South Dakota that will allow you to invest your money anonymously.

A recent article in the Washington Post noted that, if it weren’t for such schemes, the US Treasury would annually collect an additional $36 billion from wealthy individuals and an additional $88 billion from multinational corporations. That’s $124 billion a year that could be used to pay for public schools, to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and to improve public transportation!

And US citizens are not the only ones who are taking advantage of our lax tax laws.

According to TaxHavenUSA.com, the US has become the world’s largest tax haven for wealthy non-residents. You see, Congress, in an attempt to encourage more investment in US securities, made it easier for non-residents to invest through “pass through” or “disregarded” tax entities. These are the same vehicles the Koch brothers and their wealthy rightwing friends are using to influence elections without disclosing the source of their funding.

Through these LLCs, non-residents can easily open US financial accounts and make investments in securities without paying US taxes on the income they earn. They can avoid US capital gains taxes. Further, the investors in these entities can operate businesses outside the US while taking advantage of US corporate tax write-offs and incentives. Thanks to a variety of treaties, non-resident investors can reduce their tax liabilities in other countries, as well. They can transfer income to other, lower tax nations. All the while their investments are protected by the full faith and credit of the US. Their US bank accounts are even protected by the FDIC! Best of all, the investors in these entities can all remain anonymous.

So if you’re expecting the Panama Papers to reveal names like Charles Koch, David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Mitt Romney, or Donald Trump alongside such people as David Cameron, Vladimir Putin and the House of Saud, don’t hold your breath. Like me, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed.

Despicable GOP.

No, I’m not just referring to the Republican Party’s current slate of presidential candidates – although they, alone, should be cause for derision. I’m referring to the Party’s ongoing disregard for ethics, human kindness and the Constitution.

Witness former Nixon administration staffer John Ehrlichman’s recent admission during an interview with Dan Baum for Harper’s about the war on drugs. As reported by Jezebel.com, Ehrlichman stated, “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Disgusting as that is, the Nixon campaign’s actions regarding the Vietnam War were worse. It is now known that the campaign intentionally undermined the Paris peace talks to prevent the end of the war before the 1968 election. Of course, the Nixon campaign was also guilty of breaking into the offices of the Democratic National Committee to steal information that would help it win the campaign.

In other words, the GOP candidate was willing to sacrifice the lives of thousands of US soldiers and subvert the electoral process in order to gain office.

The Nixon campaign’s actions lend credence to those who have charged that the Reagan campaign undermined President Carter’s negotiations with Iran for the release of our embassy hostages until after the 1980 election. They also add credibility to charges that, during the Reagan administration, the CIA ran an operation to sell drugs in black neighborhoods in order to finance the Contras in Central America. And those actions neatly align with what has been proven – that the Reagan administration illegally sold weapons to Iran in order to finance the Contras.

There’s more.

In response to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which was signed into law by a Democratic president, it is known that the Republican Party embraced southern racists to improve its ability to win elections. The Party created a war of “social values” (anti-abortion and anti-gay rights) in order to appeal to “Christian” evangelicals. It attacked labor unions to benefit its large corporate donors, and to deny campaign funds to Democratic candidates. It prioritized partisan ideology over respect for the law in its Supreme Court nominations ultimately resulting in a series of court decisions that led to a torrent of money to sway campaigns. And, as I’ve shown in my new book Antidote to Fact-Free Politics, the GOP used those ideological justices on the Supreme Court to quite literally steal the 2000 election from Al Gore.

Since that time, the GOP pursued an ill-advised and unnecessary war. It has resorted to unprecedented obstruction to thwart many of the objectives of the Obama administration. It has used its majorities in red states to gerrymander congressional districts in order to prevent them from ever electing Democrats. It has aligned with the Koch brothers, their billionaire allies, and large corporations to re-write state laws through the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) in order to enact long-term change on behalf of corporate interests. And, despite no evidence of in-person voter fraud, it has imposed voter ID laws to disenfranchise poor and minority voters.

Yet, as the result of the propaganda originated by the RNC and broadcast by Fox News, rightwing radio and the ratings-driven mainstream media, many poor and middle class voters are convinced to vote Republican against their own self-interests.

Is it any wonder that our nation has officially become an oligarchy?

Our Present And Future With Guns.

According to Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center, only 22% of Americans are gun owners. Yet there are an estimated 300 million guns in the US, not including those owned by our military. More than 6 million Americans own 10 or more guns. 10 or more? Seriously? Let’s see…a small gauge shotgun for small birds, a large gauge shotgun for larger birds, a small caliber hunting rifle for small game, a large caliber hunting rifle for large game, a small caliber handgun for accuracy, a large caliber handgun for “stopping” power, a military-style assault weapon for potential government tyrants, a .50 caliber sniper rifle for assassinations and blowing holes in the occasional engine block, and…??? That’s only 8. What am I missing? I’m at a loss to explain what more a 2nd Amendment-spouting, freedom-protecting “patriot” could need to arm themselves for any eventuality.

Obviously, the US has a love affair with guns. But though we all face the consequences, that love affair is far from universal.

As previously stated, the majority of guns are in the hands of a few. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, consider this: A large percentage of those 300 million guns are in the hands of the members of the 784 hate groups as recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, Skinheads, Black Separatists, Neo-Confederates, Anti-LGBT, Christian Identity and other assorted general hate groups and individuals, such as the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Shockingly, a not insignificant percentage of their members are ex-military, active-duty military, former law enforcement officers and border patrol…even active-duty law enforcement (which may help to explain the increase in police brutality against minority populations)!

These people seem to believe that guns are the answer to most every conflict – a view endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and modeled in many US-made movies, television programs and video games. But our choices of entertainment are, most certainly, not the root of our gun problem. In fact, the source of our problem is the NRA and the gun manufacturers it represents, which have flooded our communities with guns – guns that are becoming increasingly more lethal. Though other nations share our taste in entertainment and celebrate our culture, and though many other nations are less religious than the US, no other advanced country rivals the US when it comes to the number of gun deaths (including homicides)!

The glaring difference between the US and those other countries is the availability of guns.

For example, in a recent attempt to determine how easy it is to obtain guns in the US, a reporter for The Guardian found that it took just 2 hours for him to be offered an AK-47, an illegally-modified fully-automatic AR-15 and numerous handguns – some of which had been smuggled and some of which had been purchased legally. His experience is hardly unique. In many neighborhoods in many of our nation’s cities, you can purchase a gun within a few minutes, local gun laws be damned. For example, many of the guns used in crimes in Chicago are originally purchased legally in Indiana and cities along the I-35 corridor where gun laws are weak. They are then resold in Chicago to individuals wishing to avoid background checks. This pattern is supported by studies that show the majority of guns used in crimes are purchased illegally from unlicensed gun dealers or uncaring dealers in states with the greatest gun culture and the weakest gun laws.

And, thanks to the NRA’s stated belief that the best solution for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, there is a growing vigilante movement in the US exemplified by the armed woman who took it upon herself to shoot at shoplifters in the parking lot of The Home Depot in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Contrary to the gun lovers’ beliefs, such behavior is the worst nightmare of most law enforcement officials. After all, imagine you’re an officer responding to an active shooter situation and you see several armed people shooting at one another. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Are they all bad guys? You simply have to treat them all as threats.

And what about the legal implications of the “good guy” behavior? Disregarding the fact that few crimes are stopped by armed citizens and that armed citizens are more likely to be shot with their own guns than to stop a crime, such vigilante behavior poses problems. Police are supposed to be restricted from shooting at a suspect in a non-life-threatening situation. What about the armed “good guys?” Is it acceptable for a private citizen to shoot and kill a shoplifter? If the criminals are not armed and not threatening others, is it legally permissible to shoot to kill? If an unarmed shoplifter is subject to lethal force, is a bully engaged in a fistfight? How about a citizen engaged in a shouting match? An unarmed robber? An armed robber? Where do we draw the line?

The fact is, this nation is being held hostage by the gun lobby. We have allowed the NRA to write Conceal and Carry, Open Carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws that encourage people like George Zimmerman to shoot innocent, unarmed people. The NRA wants even more people to be armed. And it refuses to consider common sense gun safety laws. Despite a large majority of its members supporting more thorough, universal background checks, the NRA leadership has drawn a bright line in the sand. Any restriction on gun ownership is seen as a violation of the Constitution (if you choose to ignore the first phrase of the 2nd Amendment). Moreover, mass shootings are good for business as demonstrated by the gun shop owner in Roseburg, Oregon who stocked up on guns and ammo following the shooting at nearby Umpqua Community College. She knows that there is always a run on guns and ammo following mass shootings. Such greed aside, more guns are not the answer to gun violence. In fact, numerous studies have clearly shown that more guns equal more gun violence. Not less.

More important, the blatant lies of the NRA which pronounce guns the solution, not the problem, may well lead to a breakdown in our legal system. Vigilante “justice” could soon replace our courts. The entire US could resemble the Old West – only with more shootings and less shame.

Our Other Civil War.

This past Labor Day should give us pause to consider its real meaning. More than a 3-day weekend, the unofficial end of summer and a shopping holiday, it’s a celebration of labor – the hard-working men and women who built this nation. In many ways, it also represent the end of our second civil war.

The war began in the late 1800’s when wealthy industrialists discovered they could exploit the flood of new immigrants by forcing them to work long hours in dangerous conditions, all the while paying them barely subsistence wages. The battlefields were in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Reading, San Francisco, and on Blair Mountain, West Virginia. The combatants were ordinary working people demanding living wages and safe working conditions who were often attacked by armies of security companies, law enforcement…even veterans from the American Legion.

The battles raged for decades until workers finally won the right to organize and negotiate with their employers. This collective bargaining, as it came to be called, eventually brought us the 5-day, 40-hour work week. It brought us paid holidays, paid sick leave, workers’ compensation insurance, and retirement benefits. Collective bargaining ended the practice of forcing men, women and children to work in dimly-lit, poorly-ventilated sweat shops. It ended company stores which were used to accumulate workers’ debt and hold workers captive from cradle to grave.

Even if you have never joined a labor union, you benefit from the efforts of those brave enough to fight the establishment.

Unfortunately, the exploitation only ended in the United States and other advanced nations. The descendants of the industrialists – the CEOs and directors of large, multi-national corporations – merely exported the exploitation elsewhere…to countries lacking collective bargaining. They simply moved their factories to China, to Bangladesh, to India, to Pakistan, to Indonesia, to Malaysia, to Viet Name and elsewhere. In those countries which have few government regulations and no labor unions, they are free to force workers to slave away in sweat shops, often paid by the piece and made to work seven days a week.

Of course, this is no longer called exploitation. It is now called globalization. And, whether or not we care to admit it, we all participate in this exploitation. US corporations get their products made at lower cost and American consumers benefit from lower prices. Corporate shareholders see dividends and higher profits. And while the corporations despoil the land, air and water of other countries, we can breathe more easily because the pollution is out of our sight and, therefore, out of our minds.

So what can you do to stop the exploitation? You can vow to purchase products that are humanely made and sustainably grown. You can divest your investment portfolio of the corporations that are the worst offenders. You can write letters to the leaders of those companies. You can boycott their products. And we can end the current war on collective bargaining began when Ronald Reagan, a former union leader himself, betrayed PATCO, the air traffic controllers’ union. You can support collective bargaining for teachers, first responders and government workers. And you can demand that your company have a representative of its workers on the Board of Directors as is the case in many European companies.

Then, and only then, will we be able to truly celebrate Labor Day.