Tax Secrets Of The Wealthy.

Most Americans fear being audited by the IRS based on the knowledge that, if it is deemed that they have not paid their fair share, they could face penalties, garnishment of wages and/or possible imprisonment. Yet some of the wealthiest Americans and multinational corporations apparently have no such fear. It’s not enough that these people and organizations have used their wealth to lobby Congress to create a myriad of tax write-offs and corporate welfare schemes. Many find tax shelters to avoid paying taxes altogether.

According to the Financial Secrecy Index created by the Tax Justice Network, “An estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world.” The organization uses the term “secrecy jurisdictions” rather than the more common “tax havens” because the secrecy provided by these jurisdictions does more than aid tax avoidance. The secrecy is key to such illicit activities as fraud, money laundering, insider trading, and avoidance of regulations. Moreover, it allows the wealthy to hide their assets while forcing those less fortunate to subsidize their needs and to shoulder their nations’ resulting debt.

In other words, most of us are making up for the taxes that the wealthy refuse to pay.

Even some of those at the highest levels of the US government have taken advantage of secrecy jurisdictions. For example, in the Panama Papers (a list of the wealthy who used the services of a Panamanian law firm to set up tax shelters) Donald Trump’s name shows up 3,450 times. And, recently, The Intercept published a story revealing the use of one of the world’s most secret tax havens by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Elaine Chao, both of whom have avoided taxes while cashing US government paychecks! Former Massachusetts governor, GOP presidential candidate and current Utah senate candidate Mitt Romney also has reportedly taken advantage of multiple tax havens.

Many of the wealthy don’t even have to send their money offshore to evade taxes. Some of the most active tax shelters are right here in the United States! As reported by The Washington Post, “Contrary to popular belief, notorious tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey and the Bahamas were far less permissive in offering the researchers shell companies than states such as Nevada, Delaware, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and New York…” Indeed, The Washington Post found that US regulations for setting up shell companies are more lax than any country in the world, except Kenya!

Ironically, all of this is aided by a financial industry taxpayers saved from bankruptcy after the financial crash of 2008. According to the Tax Justice Network, “A global industry has developed involving the world’s biggest banks, law practices, accounting firms and specialist providers who design and market secretive offshore structures for their tax- and law-dodging clients.”

It’s not unlikely that such tax evasion will eventually have disastrous economic consequences for the US. But, when it does, the wealthy will simply pull up roots and relocate to another country where they can resume their form of legalized larceny leaving the rest of us to clean up their mess.

The Reality Of Gun Violence In America.

As a long-time self-defense instructor, I taught students that the first rule of self-defense is situational awareness. I encouraged them to be aware of the world around them. In the US, that means being aware of guns.

So here’s the uncomfortable reality: Guns are everywhere in our country. One can assume that anyone you meet is potentially armed. There are guns concealed in waistbands, guns concealed in shoulder holsters, guns concealed in purses and guns concealed in cars. But most gun owners (and I used to be among them) never use their guns for anything other than hunting or target shooting. However, there are a few people who are compelled to harm others. It may be that they have been bullied and pushed to a point where they seek revenge. It may be that they have been filled with hate by some of our vile propagandists and political ideologues. Most are mentally unstable. But few are truly mentally ill.

With more than 33,000 gun deaths in the US each year, it’s clear that we don’t just have a gun problem. We have a political problem.

For example, the vast majority of gun deaths in this country are the result of white men…many of them with a history of domestic abuse. Yet we do little to track home-grown terrorists and domestic abusers still have ready access to guns. A substantial majority of gun owners in the US are right-wing conservatives – people who fear our government. They have been convinced that they need military-style weapons to defend freedom. Many of the most fervent gun owners are white supremacists who believe “the others” are coming for them.

Following the script provided by the NRA, GOP politicians say that guns are not the problem, the real problem is mental illness. But those same politicians have cut the funding for mental health programs and mental health institutions. Indeed, one of the current Congress’s first acts was to pass a law repealing a measure that made it easier to prohibit the sale of firearms to people deemed “mentally defective.”

The NRA and the GOP say, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” Yet, according to an FBI report which analyzed 160 mass shooting events between 2000 and 2013, only 1 in 5 active shooting incidents were stopped by a potential victim at the scene, and most of those were stopped by someone who was unarmed! Only 3 percent were stopped by “good guys with guns.” Further, the Violence Policy Center found that, over a 5-year period, guns were used by civilians to stop fewer than 1 percent of crimes.

In fact, those who carry concealed guns are highly unlikely to use their weapons to defend themselves or anyone else. They are far more likely to have their guns stolen or to have the guns used against themselves.

After each mass shooting, GOP politicians offer “thoughts and prayers” and say, “Now is not the time to talk about guns.” Then they do nothing. For example, after the Las Vegas mass murder, Congress proposed a ban on “bump stocks” to prevent gun owners from giving a semi-automatic rifle the capability of a machine gun. But the GOP blocked the bill in the Senate. And, in the days before the school shooting in Parkland, the GOP was pushing a universal gun bill that would negate state gun laws and allow owners to legally carry guns – even banned guns – across state lines.

NRA-backed politicians say that strict firearm legislation doesn’t work. Yet a study by Boston’s Children’s Hospital found that states with the most firearm legislation had a 42 percent lower overall firearm-associated mortality rate than states with the least legislation. In fact, after Connecticut passed the nation’s strictest gun laws in 1994, gun killings dropped by 40 percent!

The NRA says it stands between us and tyranny. Yet, allegedly, much of the millions it contributed to GOP candidates in the 2016 election was laundered for Russian oligarchs. How does helping a foreign enemy meddle in our elections protect our democracy?

The NRA says that, if guns weren’t available, the killers would find another weapon of choice, perhaps knives. But guns, especially military-style guns and semi-automatic pistols, allow murderers to kill more people in less time. How many people do you think would have died in the Parkland school, if the killer was armed with a knife or a six-shot revolver? How many of those who attended the Las Vegas concert would have been killed with a knife, a shotgun or a large caliber, bolt-action hunting rifle?

The fact is, firepower matters. And, in countries that have fewer guns, there are fewer gun deaths!

With 33,000 gun deaths in the US each year and at least 25 mass shootings already this year, it’s not hyperbole to say that the NRA leaders and the gun manufacturers they represent are accomplices to murder. So, too, are the politicians who receive large sums of money from the NRA.

Here’s another sad reality of gun violence: After each mass shooting, the sales of guns – particularly assault weapons – go up. A reality that only encourages NRA-backed politicians to continue to block common sense gun legislation.

How Low Can He Go?

Every few days, we are given a new reminder of the character of the man who now occupies the White House (at least when he’s not taking a government-paid golf vacation at one of his own resorts).

Before the 2016 election, we knew that Donald Trump was a womanizer – thrice married and involved in more extramarital affairs than we could count. From the Access Hollywood “grab ’em by the pussy” tapes and his appearances on Howard Stern’s radio show, we knew he was a misogynist. And from the Panama Papers where his name appeared in tax haven documents more than 3,500 times, we knew he was a tax evader.

We knew that he was a racist who had been taught to hate people of color from an early age by his KKK member parents. We knew he viewed those less fortunate than he with contempt – “it’s a matter of breeding.” We knew that he considered brown people from south of our border as rapists and thugs. We knew about his racist “birtherism.” And we knew that he attacked a federal judge for his Mexican heritage.

From reports by investigative journalists, we knew that the Donald had a long history of connections with organized crime. From hundreds of court cases, we knew that he had built his empire on the backs of small businesses that he refused to pay for their services. We knew that he was no business genius for having failed to make money with casinos – casinos for God’s sake! And his pathological narcissism was obvious thanks to the enormous letters spelling out his name on each of his gaudy resorts and office buildings.

We knew that Trump was a bully who used his lawyers to threaten anyone who refused to go along with his plans or raised questions about his numerous failures. We knew that he was a con man, having defrauded hundreds of people through scams such as Trump “University.” We knew that he funneled monies intended for charity into his own pockets through his Trump Foundation.

As a political candidate, we knew that he disrespected and attacked the very institutions our nation was built on. We knew that he bullied and threatened the news media, calling them “enemies of the people.” We knew that he verbally attacked a Gold Star family. We knew that he encouraged violence against peaceful demonstrators. We knew that he threatened to “lock up” his political opponent. And we knew that he had little understanding of the issues of governance.

But, despite all this, a minority of Americans voted for him anyway.

And what has happened in the year since Trump took office? He has continued to reveal even more of his character – or, more precisely, his lack of character. He has lied at an astonishing rate, beginning with the size of his inaugural crowd. He defended white supremacists as “nice people” while demeaning those who stood against them. He has expressed great admiration for leaders who are dictators and fascists. He has appointed unqualified ideologues to lead government agencies with the express purpose of undermining the agencies and ultimately destroying them.

Trump has engaged in a Twitter war with the leader of a nation that poses a nuclear threat to us by claiming that his nuclear button is bigger. Never mind the millions who will certainly die if the two actually get into a dick-measuring contest.

He has dragged down America’s standing with virtually every nation on the planet. He has offended a large portion of the world population by openly asking why the US takes so many immigrants from “shithole” countries like Haiti and those in Africa instead of those from countries like Norway. And he has threatened the very existence of our planet with his ignorance about climate change.

Despite promises to help working Americans and to “drain the swamp,” Trump led the Wall Street-backed charge to pass a tax cut for billionaires and large, multinational corporations paid for by the poor and future generations.

The most recent example of the new standard of behavior Trump has set for the office is the revelation that Trump’s lawyer paid off a porn star to buy her silence regarding his extramarital affair with her. Nevertheless, details of him chasing her around the room in his tightie whities came out anyway. And, in a particularly telling testament to Trump’s character, the porn industry has expressed concern that the association with Trump might tarnish its image and negatively impact its finances!

None of this should come as a surprise to any of us. As Maya Angelou said, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them; the first time.” And Trump clearly showed us who he is – a liar, a misogynist, a philanderer, a con artist, a bully, a grifter and a racist who is uniquely unqualified to lead the world’s most powerful nation…or even a banana republic.

His actions should cause us all to ask, “How low can he go?” But since 39 percent of those who voted for Trump still support him, perhaps a better question to ask is, “How low can they go?” Was Trump correct when he bragged “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”?

Manafort = Trump’s Mini-Me.

Former Trump campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, and his business partner, Rick Gates, have been indicted with 12 counts including conspiracy against the US, conspiracy to launder money, false statements and failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts. These are serious charges and, likely, they would not have been filed if the special counsel was not certain that he could obtain convictions.

As serious as those charges are, it’s important to note that Trump could well be guilty of many of the same things.

With regard to money laundering. Trump mysteriously received multi-million-dollar loans from Deutsche Bank – a bank fine $10 billion for Russian money laundering – after failing to obtain business loans from every large bank in the US. In addition, Trump sold multiple properties to Russian oligarchs at prices dramatically higher than market value.

As for failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, Trump’s name appeared 3,450 times in the Panama Papers – leaked documents that exposed financial accounts associated with offshore tax havens. It’s possible that his name appears simply because of the wide range of his international business activities. But why else would his name be listed if he was not involved in tax evasion?

Though Manafort’s indictment doesn’t include criminal activity with criminal mob figures, it has been reported that Manafort has ties to Russian mobsters. Likewise, it has been long reported that Trump has ties to mobsters. Indeed, given the fact that he is a developer in New York City and in New Jersey, it would be surprising if he didn’t.

Both Trump and Manafort have enjoyed lavish lifestyles. And both men have faced financial setbacks – failures that made them desperate enough to engage in illegal activity.

And though Manafort is charged with conspiracy against the US based on his failure to file reports of foreign bank and financial accounts, serving as an unregistered agent of the pro-Russian government of Ukraine, and false and misleading statements regarding the foreign agent registration act, it pales by comparison to potential charges against Trump.

Trump’s conspiracy likely involves working with a US rival to undermine our democracy and to steal the highest office in the land. So far, much of the evidence is circumstantial, but that evidence is overwhelming.

Consider the number of Trump associates who reportedly have ties to Russia: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, Michael Flynn Sr, Michael Flynn Jr, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Felix Sater, Michael Cohen, Erik Prince, and Donald J. Trump himself.

America first? More like Russia first.

What’s Really Behind America’s Gun Deaths?

Following the most lethal mass shooting in US history, it’s once again time to take a serious look at the cause. By all accounts, the Las Vegas shooter was not a terrorist – at least not in the traditional sense. He was no Osama bin Laden. He was not a member of ISIS. Moreover, he had no criminal record. He had no history of mental illness. And he had no history of domestic abuse.

What he did have was a penchant for collecting a large number of military-style weapons and an enormous amount of ammunition. The shooter was one of a tiny minority of Americans with such stockpiles. According to a study by Northeastern University and Harvard University reported by the Guardian, 130 million of America’s guns are in the hands of just 3 percent of American adults. That means each of these Americans, mostly men, own an average of 19 guns!

For what purpose? Why do these people feel the need to own such an arsenal?

Certainly, a small percentage of these people are collectors of war memorabilia and antique weaponry. But what about the others? What drives them? 19 guns are 18 more than necessary for self-protection. 19 guns are at least a dozen more than necessary for the most avid hunter of game large or small. And 19 is many times the number of guns needed for target shooting.

So how do we explain the rest?

I believe these owners are driven by a combination of anti-government paranoia and a fascination with all things military. In other words, we have a number of apparent Seal team wannabes who have become convinced – likely by the NRA and right-wing conspiracy theorists – that the government is coming for their weapons; people who fear that the US will be taken over by the United Nations; who believe that immigrants – especially those of color – are coming for their jobs and wealth.

These are also men who were militarized from an early age; from the endless displays of military might; from the military flyovers before football games and other large events. Maybe they are motivated by the plethora of TV shows, movies and video games based on the military. If so, they aren’t be alone. Far too many Americans can only define patriotism in military terms.

Have you ever asked yourself why? Is there really no other way to share our love of country than to display weapons of war? To superficially thank veterans for their service? To adorn our homes with flags?

More to the point, why are military-style weapons in high demand when they are of little use for hunting or self-defense? Who but an assassin needs a .50 caliber sniper rifle? Who but a mass shooter or a criminal needs a device to make a semi-automatic weapon mimic the rate of fire of fully-automatic military assault rifles? Who but a law enforcement officer or a bodyguard would feel the need to carry a concealed gun? And what civilian other than a bully or someone with a very small penis would want to strap a gun over his shoulder or onto his hip to intimidate those around him?

Why do so many of our citizens think education and health care are too expensive for our government to afford, yet think nothing of spending many times more money on new military weapons systems? Have we become so affected by right-wing propaganda that we think the military is the answer to every conflict? Horrifyingly, a large percentage of our population – mostly Republicans – now believe a military takeover of our government could be a good thing in certain circumstances.

Can you imagine the reaction of our founders if they were alive to see that?

Admittedly, there are far more questions than answers; questions that everyone should be asking of themselves and those around them.

If we are to ever end the outrageous number of gun deaths in the US, we need to regulate the number of guns and limit their firepower. But that alone won’t end the shootings. We need to transform our collective psyche from one that celebrates violence and war to one that celebrates life and accomplishments. That doesn’t require our nation to weaken our military. It simply means that we put violence in perspective as a last resort…a necessary evil that is only rarely necessary for survival. Not as something to be used whenever it serves our purposes; to bully others into deferring to our wishes.

The reality is that guns aren’t the cause of our mass shootings. They’re the means. They’re also a symptom of a much larger problem.

Now Is Exactly The Time To Talk About Guns.

Each time there’s another mass shooting event, the GOP is quick to say, “Now is not the time to talk about politics.” In other words, “Let’s address the symptoms, but not the cause.” That happened after Columbine, after Sandy Hook, after Charleston, after Orlando…after every single mass shooting.

The motive, of course, is to delay discussion until memories of the event become faded – only to be replaced with the trauma of the next shooting.

It is precisely the result of this strategy that more than 15,000 people died in 2016 as the result of gun violence; a figure that does not even include suicides. And that’s why 2016 saw more than one mass shooting per day (a mass shooting defined as events during which at least 4 people are injured or killed).*

Republicans must not be allowed to get away with it this time!

And it’s not just the inaction of Republicans that has allowed the gun violence to continue. It’s also their collusion with the gun lobby which has resulted in easy access to weapons of ever-increasing lethality. Thanks to the GOP and the NRA, people have been allowed to purchase weapons of war. They have made it legal for virtually anyone to carry a semi-automatic handgun without obtaining a license. They have made it legal to purchase .50 caliber sniper rifles that can blast a hole through a vehicle’s engine block at a distance of hundreds of yards.

The GOP made it illegal for the Centers for Disease Control to track gun deaths. The GOP made it illegal for physicians to discuss gun safety with parents. And the GOP made it illegal for the gun registry to create an electronic database for guns. That means the registry will have to sort through hundreds of thousands of paper documents to track the sale of the guns used by the Vegas shooter.

More recently, Trump repealed a rule designed to prevent certain mentally ill from buying guns. After all, who would want to deny the mentally ill their 2nd Amendment rights?

Even as the shooting in Las Vegas was unfolding, the GOP Congress was preparing to vote on a bill that would legalize the sale of silencers and armor-piercing ammunition! For what purpose?

Imagine if the shooter holed up in the Mandalay Bay Hotel had access to silencers. Instead of taking 15 minutes to locate and disrupt the shooter, it may have taken 2-3 times as long. How many more people would he have been able to kill in that time? How many of the SWAT team would have died as the result of the ammo penetrating their body armor?

The GOP and its NRA sponsors must not be allowed to ignore the impact of their actions any longer. They must not be allowed to continue to place profits above lives. It’s long past time for common sense gun legislation for universal background checks; to implement a one-week waiting period for all gun purchases; to create an electronic gun registry; to ban large capacity magazines; to limit the quantity and type of ammunition; to ban the open carry of guns.

This mass shooting is the fault of the shooter, the NRA and the GOP. If we do nothing, the next mass shooting will be our fault.

*Statistics from the Gun Violence Archive

How Russia Stole Our Conscience.

Though the Robert Mueller investigation has not yet been completed, it’s clear that Russia meddled with our election. Disregarding possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and the many meetings between Trump associates and Russian operatives, we’re already certain that Russia controlled the election outcome using a variety of techniques for the benefit of Trump and other Republican candidates.

Here’s what we know so far:

Russian hackers stole information from the email servers of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – information that was used by the Trump campaign and other Republican candidates. These crimes alone were far more serious than Watergate (the break-in and cover-up that resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon).

And the computer break-ins were just the beginning of Russian interference on behalf of Trump and other Republicans.

Russian oligarchs donated millions to Republican PACs and Super PACS to help the re-election of Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican candidates. Hundreds of Russian operatives secretly set up fake social media accounts designed to circulate anti-Clinton propaganda. Russians bought advertising on Facebook and Twitter to attack Clinton. Russia created dozens of “news” websites to publish false and misleading stories designed to undermine Clinton’s campaign. And Russia’s RT Television Network and Sputnik News Agency ran hundreds, if not thousands, of anti-Clinton “news” stories.

In addition, Russia hacked into voter data in several swing states, changing addresses and other information to cause registered Democrats to be turned away from the polls. There are even indications that Russia actually changed votes from Clinton to Trump in at least three swing states. (As Bill Palmer pointed out in his Palmer Report, it is statistically impossible that election results in those three swing states would all three go to Trump by the exact same one percent margin after all of the polls showed Clinton with substantial margins just days before.)

Russia’s actions not only prevented Clinton from winning. Their result was to install an occupant in the White House committed to the deconstruction of the government of Russia’s greatest adversary. Whatever you think of Der Gropenfuhrer himself, you must admit that his appointments have resulted in a kakistocracy – a government run by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous citizens.

For example, the Department of Justice is led by a known racist. The Department of Energy, which controls our nuclear arsenal, is led by someone who previously called for dismantling the department without even knowing what it does. The Department of Education is led by a woman who never attended a public school and has spent millions to replace public schools with religious schools and for-profit private schools. The EPA is led by someone who prioritizes religion over science and who has repeatedly sued the agency he now heads on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. Most recently, Trump appointed a climate change denier with no background in science to lead the nation’s cutting-edge science agency – NASA.

The list of such appointees is quite lengthy.

In an act of extreme cruelty and hubris, the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cause more than 22 million Americans to lose access to affordable health care. Failing that, they sabotaged the health care law by cutting its funding.

They have withdrawn from the Paris climate accords, which puts our entire planet at risk. Trump has dropped protections for the LGBTQ community, women, minorities and immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He has vilified Muslims and banned refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations. He refused to hold Nazis and White Supremacists accountable for the violence in Charlottesville. And he ordered the deportation of women and children who are refugees from widespread violence in several Central American nations, placing their lives in serious jeopardy.

Further, Congress is poised to vote on tax reform that will give huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. At the same time, the proposed budget is expected to cut funding for numerous safety net programs, such as those designed to provide food for poor children, the elderly and the disabled.

Considering the impact of all these actions, one has to conclude that Russia not only stole our election. They stole our collective conscience.

Yet most Republicans still refuse to acknowledge Russia’s role in the election results, likely because doing so would undermine the legitimacy of their gains in 2016. Likewise, they refuse to implement changes in order to prevent foreign interests from dictating election results again. As a result, we can’t be certain that the same type of meddling won’t take place in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

One wonders how those same Republicans would react if such interference stole an election from them.

It’s Time For White People To Face Facts.

Given that our Racist-in-Chief excused and encouraged the worst elements of our society – white supremacists and neo-Nazis – this might be a good time to share a chapter from my book Antidote to Fact-Free Politics: Debunking the Falsehoods, Fabrications and Distortions Told by Conservatives and Perpetuated by the Media.

LIE #1: “America is a post-racial society.”

One has to wonder, which America are they talking about? They most certainly cannot be referring to the United States of America. Try telling the families of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and other unarmed African-Americans who have been murdered that they live in a post-racial America. Try explaining why their killers have not faced consequences for their actions. Try telling the people of Ferguson, Missouri that it was not just African-Americans who were subjected to unjust traffic tickets and escalating fines in order to finance the city’s services. Try telling the members of Black Lives Matter that America is no longer divided by race, and that people of color are no longer singled out for police brutality. Try telling people of color that they are treated fairly in the media.

For example, faced with the Black Lives Matter movement, the pundits on Fox News Channel and other networks quickly pointed to black-on-black crime, implying that ordinary black people don’t deserve protection from police and the courts until they end violence in their neighborhoods. Producers for TV entertainment shows and commercials deny all but a small percentage of leading roles to black actors. And police “reality” shows focus almost exclusively on crimes committed by blacks while ignoring crimes committed by whites. When asked why one show ignored white collar crime, the producer said something like, “Because no one wants to see old white men in cuffs with their shirts off.”

The fact is that white Americans ignore racism because it seldom negatively impacts them. After all, it’s not white Americans who have their job applications ignored because they don’t have the right kind of names. It’s not white Americans who have to tell their children not to wear hoodies for fear they will be shot. It’s not white Americans who are racially profiled and their cars routinely pulled over. It’s not white people who were singled out as part of New York City’s ill-conceived “stop and frisk” policy.

Today, African-Americans face discrimination in ways that are not all that different from the days of the civil rights movement in the 1950s and 60s. For example, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the 4th quarter of 2015, the unemployment rate for whites was 4.1 percent, while the unemployment rate for African-Americans was 10.5 percent.

The discrimination starts early in life as shown by a report from the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR).

After compiling data from all of the nation’s 97,000 public schools representing 49 million students, the OCR released a comprehensive report on the promise of equal education.

Among the report’s key findings:

Students of color are “…disproportionately affected by suspensions and zero-tolerance policies in schools.” In fact, black students represent 18 percent of preschool enrollment but 42 percent of the students who are suspended once and 48 percent of the students suspended more than once. The report also concluded, “Suspended students are less likely to graduate on time and more likely to be suspended again. They are also more likely to repeat a grade, drop out, and become involved in the juvenile justice system.”

In addition, the report found that students of color are more likely to have teachers with less experience. The students also have significantly less access to a full range of math and science courses in high school.

According to the Frontline documentary on PBS, A Return to School Segregation in America?, 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education – the landmark Supreme Court decision that ruled segregated schools are unconstitutional – gains in desegregation have been lost. The documentary cited a report by UCLA’s The Project on Civil Rights, which found that the nation has suffered a gradual re-segregation fueled by court rulings that have allowed states to set aside integration orders.

By 1988, the percentage of black children in white schools across the South began to rise steadily from zero to nearly 44 percent. But that’s where it peaked as Republican administrations began pushing “school choice” – code for re-segregation. By 2011, the percentage of black students in white schools was just 23.2 percent – lower than it was at the end of the civil rights movement in 1968! This is despite studies which have found that students who attend integrated schools perform better socially and psychologically, and that being exposed to different viewpoints in schools helps students better develop critical thinking skills.

Following the election of the nation’s first president of African-American descent, it may be understandable for white Americans to think racism is behind us. But very few of our nation’s leaders are black. Congress is still disproportionately controlled by white men. The vast majority of state governments are controlled by white men. And the leaders of US corporations are still disproportionately white men.

Fact is, our nation is only 3-4 generations removed from black slavery; only 50 years removed from Jim Crow laws; less than 50 years removed from “red-lining” – the practice of banks refusing to write mortgages for black people trying to purchase a home outside of a black area.

When African-American slaves were freed, they had nothing of their own…no land, no jobs, no homes, no education, no vote and few personal possessions. Indeed, many former slaves had no families, as their family members had often been sold away from their plantations. And the concept of slaves having been given 40 acres and a mule following the Civil War is largely fiction.

It takes generations for people to recover from such a plight – a plight made all the more difficult by prejudice and segregation.

Our Racist-In-Chief.

Unfortunately, the hatred and bigotry that claimed the national spotlight on Saturday was highly revealing.

President Trump’s tepid condemnation and initial refusal to call out the hateful groups responsible for the violence in Charlottesville called attention to the White House’s deep ties to the “alt-right.” Indeed, Trump has a long history of racism. His parents were members of the KKK. His father taught him the importance of breeding, likening humans to race horses. Early in his business career, Trump Management Corporation was sued by the Department of Justice for refusing to rent to non-whites in violation of the Fair Housing Act of 1968. Later, he ran a full-page ad that many saw as racist. In it, he called for the return of the death penalty for five non-whites accused of raping a woman who was jogging in Central Park. (The men were later cleared of the charges.) And, of course, he was the most prominent leader of the racist “birther” movement, calling Obama an illegitimate president.

Trump began his campaign for president by making racist claims about Mexicans and promising to build a border wall that would be paid for by Mexico. For a campaign slogan, he chose Make America Great Again, which in itself was a clarion call to racists. And the racists responded. The KKK endorsed Trump for president. Numerous other racist groups, such as Vanguard America, were formed as a result of Trump’s campaign. (The alleged driver of the car which killed one and injured at least 19 others in Charlottesville was photographed wearing a Vanguard America uniform and holding a Vanguard America shield.)

An examination of Trump’s voters is more telling. 62 percent of non-college educated white women voted for Trump. 56 percent of college-educated white women voted for Trump. And 63 percent of white men voted for the Donald. As a result, for the first time in generations, we have a white supremacist in the White House. And Trump is not the only one.

His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is largely responsible for making Breitbart News “the platform for the alt-right” – a virtual megaphone for bigots and neo-Nazis. The White House is also the workplace for at least two other racists. Steven Miller is Trump’s senior adviser for policy and Sebastian Gorka serves as a deputy assistant to Trump. Not coincidentally, both have gone on record denying the threat of domestic terrorist groups.

Want more proof of Trump’s connections to the alt-right?

He appointed Jeff Sessions as US Attorney General, who in 1986 was denied a federal judgeship when his former colleagues testified that Sessions used the n-word and joked about the Ku Klux Klan, saying he thought its members were “okay, until he learned that they smoked marijuana.”

In almost every conceivable way, not the least of which is color, Trump is the polar opposite of his predecessor. He is clueless and classless with no discernible redeeming traits. Indeed, he is the anti-Obama. Obama entered office saying, “There is not a liberal America and a conservative America – there is the United States of America. There is not a Black America and a White America and Latino America and Asian America – there’s the United States of America.” President Obama reached across the political divide to appoint 18 Republicans to his administration. He repeatedly called for unity. By contrast, Trump has done nothing to reach across the divide. In fact, he has deepened the chasm and widened it. He verbally attacks anyone who disagrees with him. And his furor isn’t limited to Democrats and liberals. He has repeatedly assaulted the media and virtually everything his opponents hold dear. He has continued his assault on immigrants, on the environment, on regulations designed to protect citizens, on health care…he has even attacked the law and the Constitution.

Yet Trump has been reluctant to say anything negative about Nazis and racists.

Only when he was backed into a corner did he tepidly denounce the support for his campaign by David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK. And only when there was a near universal outcry following the violence in Charlottesville did he finally, and hesitantly, call out the alt-right groups that fomented the violence. Even the Nazis and white supremacists didn’t believe he was sincere in his denunciation. Indeed, David Duke was quoted as saying, “He has our back.”

By failing to wholeheartedly condemn Nazis and racists, there is reason to wonder if Trump is trying to give the alt-right what it wants – a race war. It doesn’t take much of an imagination to realize that increased violence would give Trump the opportunity to do what the dictators he seems to idolize (Putin, Duterte, Erdogan, et al) have done and declare martial law.

Yet, as Trump has willingly become a symbol of racism in America, a bigger problem is the racists next door who enable him. They are your neighbors and your family members. They are students, laborers, truck drivers, farmers, realtors, lawyers, business executives, police officers, sheriffs, border patrol and many others. Their racism is seldom obvious. They don’t bother to wear sheets and hoods. They rarely gather to burn crosses.

Instead, they gather on websites like Breitbart, the Drudge Report, Fox News, and the Daily Stormer. They listen to hate-filled radio programs hosted by Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Laura Ingraham and dozens of others. Like the man in the White House, they choose to bully and threaten from afar. They troll social media like Facebook and Twitter.

More worryingly, they hoard high-powered weaponry and ammunition. Many are members of the NRA. Many belong to militias such as the Oath Keepers and the Border Guard. Others are sovereign citizens who refuse to follow laws or to pay taxes. And they have been placed on alert by Trump with his warnings that his “enemies” are trying to steal his office.

It is the people who support Trump despite his overt bigotry, his birtherism and his dismissal of all Latinos as rapists and “bad hombres” who allow the alt-right to exist. It is the people who cheer Trump’s bluster and verbal attacks against the media and his political opponents who are responsible for the extreme divisiveness we face. It is the people who politely laugh when they hear racist jokes; who are willing to look the other way when they see examples of bigotry who are just as responsible for racial violence.

If we are ever to heal the divisions – racial and political – in this nation, we must be willing to call out violence and bigotry whenever we see it or hear it. We must put humanity, compassion and kindness above self. We must elect politicians who will put an end to policies that have resulted in economic inequities based on color, gender, sexual orientation or religious beliefs. We must encourage everyone to vote and remove from office those who try to suppress minority votes. We must put nation above tribal politics. And we must call out all those who refuse to do so.

America First? Not From My Perspective.

In the past week, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the Alps of Bavaria. Not only were we treated to the splendor of one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We were able to observe a country that works.

Though Germany may not be a military super-power, it is an economic power. More important, it is extremely successful in delivering to its citizens a high quality of life. As you fly across Germany, you notice a relatively pristine landscape with cities and farmland surrounded by large forests. Instead of clear-cutting those forests for timber, the Germans appear to use selective harvesting methods which preserves the beauty of the forests and limits the potential of wildfires while still providing timber for construction.

Virtually all of the homes are well-kept and many feature solar panels on their roofs. Indeed, solar generation accounts for nearly 7 percent of Germany’s power needs as compared to just 1.5 percent in the US. This is despite the fact that large portions of the US have many more days of sunshine than Germany. (For comparison, one of our sunniest states – Arizona – generates just 3.4 percent of its needs with solar.)

There is little visible trash. The rivers, even the roadsides, are clean, likely the result of an aggressive recycling program. Recycling and trash receptacles are everywhere. And many supermarkets have efficient programs that provide refunds for returning plastic bottles. Further, most Germans use recyclable shopping bags without complaint.

Though often narrow, all of Germany’s roads and bridges seem in good repair, especially in comparison to our crumbling infrastructure. And many German commuters have the option of traveling to and from work in electric trains.

All German citizens enjoy access to quality health care, the cost of which is split between the government and private insurers much like our Medicare. In addition, German workers enjoy considerable time off for their families and for travel. They have the right to be represented by labor unions. Many workers even enjoy representation on the boards of directors of their companies.

There is no visible poverty – at least not in comparison to large portions of the US. Germany not only grows most of its food, its produce is untainted by GMO. The nation is also phasing out the use of pesticides. As a result, German produce tastes as though you just picked it from your own garden.

Despite stereotypes, the German people are active, many of them regularly hiking in the mountains. Indeed, on a mountain trail, we encountered everyone from families with young children to a woman in her nineties. Though obviously suffering from osteoporosis and using a cane, she seemed to be not even breathing deeply as she climbed past us on a steep trail. Perhaps that’s why Germany’s life expectancy is longer than that of the US.

Gun violence in Germany is virtually non-existent, especially compared to the US. Per capita, German gun deaths are less than a tenth of those in the US.

America first? American exceptionalism?

Yes, the United States is the world’s most powerful nation militarily and economically. But, in the things that really matter, such as quality of life, we are falling behind…far behind.