Some Political Conspiracies Are More Than Theory.

It seems that every week conservative politicians, media pundits and, especially, President Trump come up with another unfounded conspiracy theory. On a regular basis, they have attacked the press, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, and others as operatives of the “Deep State” intent on undermining the Trump administration.

In order to foment fear before the midterm elections, they trotted out the wild conspiracy that George Soros and the HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) organized a caravan of “terrorists” to “invade” the United States. And, following the midterms, they have claimed that Democrats are committing election “fraud” by counting all of the votes, including mail-in votes from military personnel serving oversees.

Such crazy claims are not new. Nixon and Agnew claimed that they were victims of the “liberal” press even as they ordered the break-in of the Democratic National Committee and organized dirty tricks to frustrate and damage their Democratic rivals. But they really took root during the Clinton administration when, after the end of the Fairness Doctrine regulating broadcast media, Rush Limbaugh and others took to the airwaves to claim the Clintons defrauded investors in a real estate development named Whitewater. They claimed that Hillary Clinton ordered a contract killing of Vince Foster (he committed suicide) to cover up another fake conspiracy labeled Travelgate.

And the conspiracy theorists worked overtime during the administration of our nation’s first black president. They famously claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya making him ineligible to hold the office. They claimed he “palled around with terrorists.” They claimed he was only elected as the result of massive voter fraud aided by ACORN. They claimed the New Black Panthers intimidated GOP voters at the polls. They claimed he was working with the UN to take away Americans guns. They said that Agenda 21, the UN plan to prevent climate change and feed the planet, was a “black helicopter” operation to sell out the US. They claimed that Jade Helm 15, military exercises in the southwestern US, were an Obama plot to institute Sharia law, jail dissenters and to take over the US (never mind that it would be unnecessary since Obama, as president, already controlled the US government).

Then, of course, there was Benghazi, the supposed betrayal of a US ambassador by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the belief that Hillary’s use of a private email server for unclassified communications compromised US security. (Interestingly, the GOP is silent on President Trump’s use of an unsecured mobile phone for his Tweets and private conversations.) There was Pizzagate, the theory that Hillary was trafficking children out of the non-existent basement of a DC pizza parlor. And, perhaps, the most dangerous theory is the ongoing belief in QAnon, the fictitious anonymous operative (or operatives) within the Deep State who releases supposed classified information revealing the conspiracy against Trump.

All of these theories are not only wholly unfounded. They defy logic. Moreover, they may indicate a serious mental health crisis in the US.

On the other hand, there are GOP actions once believed to be conspiracy theories that have since been proven true beyond doubt. The most famous of these is Watergate. But there is also then GOP-candidate Nixon’s treasonous interference in the Vietnam Peace Talks that resulted in his election, but cost thousands more lives. (Nixon’s actions are documented in the upcoming program “Betrayal” on MSNBC. Similarly, the Reagan campaign is known to have interfered in the Carter administrations negotiations with Iran for the release of US diplomatic hostages.

There is the Iran-Contra affair, which consisted of the Reagan administration illegally selling arms to Iran, despite sanctions, in order to fund the anti-socialist Contra rebels in Central America. There is George W. Bush’s 2000 election “victory” in Florida that has been proven the result of voter suppression and outright election fraud orchestrated by his brother. There are the false claims of Iraqi WMD that led to the Iraq War. There is 2016 theft of emails from the DNC, the DCCC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager that were used by GOP candidates to gain power. There are the proven connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. There are the multi-million dollar donations to the NRA by a Russian oligarch to help fund GOP candidates in 2016. And there is the Russian interference in the 2016 elections for the benefit of Trump.

There are the ties between Trump administration officials and white supremacist groups revealed by Trump’s comments following Charlottesville. There is the obvious violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause by Trump and his family. And, of course, there is the cover-up of Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels culminating in a Trump-ordered payoff in exchange for her silence.

The point is, when you hear a conspiracy theory, consider the source – especially if it comes from the Trump administration, Fox News Channel, InfoWars or any other conservative pundit. More likely than not, it will be nothing more than an attempt to deceive or GOP wishful thinking.

Democrats’ Dilemmas.

Now that Democrats have overcome the Republican’s extreme gerrymandering and voter suppression to take control of the US House of Representatives, they face a serious dilemma. If they reach across the aisle and cooperate with the president to pass legislation on behalf those who elected them, Trump will take credit for it. (No one is better at claiming credit for others’ efforts.)

On the other hand, if Democrats obstruct Trump’s sinister agenda, Republicans will call them obstructionists and use their propaganda networks to undermine the Democrats’ chances of re-election. (Seemingly, only Republicans are able to obstruct without paying a price.)

And, as of today, Democrats are faced with an even more serious challenge following the forced resignation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions. By passing over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to install one of his compliant lackeys, Trump is clearly obstructing justice by taking responsibility for the Robert Mueller investigation away from Rosenstein. As the new Acting Attorney General, Matthew Whitaker will not have to recuse himself. Moreover, he will be able to block any further indictments or, worse, prevent the Special Counsel’s report from becoming public. Of course, this comes on the heels of the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court likely based on Kavanaugh’s belief in the supremacy of the presidency – that the president is above the law.

The result is a constitutional crisis most Americans have been wanting to avoid – the modern equivalent of Watergate’s Saturday Night Massacre which ultimately led to Nixon’s resignation.

Lest you dismiss Trump’s actions as mere politics as usual, you should consider the fact that the Trump campaign’s conspiracy involving Wikileaks and Russia is actually far worse than Watergate. Both consisted of interference in a presidential election. Both were break-ins – one into an office, the other into computers. Both involved the theft and use of Democratic documents. Both involved dirty tricks. And both led to indictments and convictions of the presidents’ campaign operatives. The difference is that Watergate did not involve a foreign government hostile to the United States.

All of this means that the new, Democratic-controlled House will be forced to take measures to ensure that the Mueller investigation continues unimpeded until we get to the bottom of the Trump campaign’s conspiracy. And to determine, once and for all, whether or not the president was directly involved and aware of the conspiracy.

How Democrats go about these tasks may determine the outcome of the 2020 elections. If they do not protect Mueller and do not let the investigation continue to its conclusion, they will be punished at the polls by Democratic voters who will be understandably infuriated at their failure to hold Trump accountable. But, if their actions seem too partisan, and if they ignore the many other serious issues facing this nation, they will be punished by independents and swing voters.

Democrats will be walking a tightrope. It will take much thought, foresight and balance to attain their goals. Let’s all hope they are up to the task.

A Culture Of Corruption.

Trump used his campaign and his first year in office to line his pockets with donors and taxpayers’ money. His businesses have raked in an estimated $15.1 million since he began his presidential campaign and he continues to use campaign contributions as his personal bank account. And he’s only getting started. But Trump is not the only member of the administration to play fast and loose with taxpayer money.

Trump changes cabinet members more often than he changes wives. Yet despite the record-setting turnover within the administration, to date, only one member of the administration has left the job under pressure for corruption and ethics violations leaving us to wonder: Are members of the administration and Trump’s advisers merely following their leader’s example? Or were they chosen for their positions precisely because of their lack of ethics?

Even those who haven’t been caught with their hands in the proverbial cookie jar have committed serious lapses in judgment or have seriously damaged the departments they were chosen to lead.

For example, before being fired via a presidential Tweet, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson virtually dismantled the department. The New Yorker magazine described his time in office this way: “His tenure may well be regarded as the most consequential in postwar American history: not for what he built but for what he destroyed. In only ten months, Tillerson, the former C.E.O. of ExxonMobil, has presided over the near-dismantling of America’s diplomatic corps, chasing out hundreds of State Department employees and scaling back the country’s engagement with the world. Most alarming has been the departure of dozens of the foreign service’s most senior officials—men and women who had spent their careers living and working abroad, who speak several languages and who are experts in their fields.”

The person nominated to replace Tillerson, current CIA Director Mike Pompeo, may be no better as he is known to be virulently anti-Muslim and a denier of Russia’s interference in our elections.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin conveniently failed to disclose $100 million of investments prior to his confirmation. And, since taking office, the billionaire has spent millions of taxpayer money for the personal use of government planes, including one for his honeymoon. In addition, he used a government plane to fly his bride to Fort Knox so they might better view the solar eclipse.

Before becoming Secretary of Commerce, Wilbur Ross was known as the “King of Bankruptcy” for plundering companies before forcing their closure. He repeatedly exaggerated his net worth – a lie that fits right in with those of his new boss.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue displayed a penchant for corruption before assuming his current position. While governor of Georgia, 13 complaints were filed against Perdue with the State Ethics Commission, which on two occasions ruled that he had violated state ethics laws. The commission took the unusual step of fining Mr. Perdue while he was governor. Yet before he was done, Perdue pushed through a bill to give himself a $100,000 tax break.

Billionaire Betsy DeVos used her money to push charter schools in her home state of Michigan for more than 20 years. The result is that the state’s schools failed to keep pace with the academic progress of other states. Indeed, Michigan now ranks near the bottom for fourth- and eighth-grade math and fourth-grade reading on a national test. But in Trump’s mind, that somehow qualified her to become Secretary of Education – public education.

Trump’s original choice for Secretary of Health and Human Services was pushed out of office for spending roughly $1 million on charter jets when commercial flights were readily available. He repaid the department just $60,000 for the travel. But Trump adviser Kellyann Conway, who accompanied him on many of the flights, has not paid a dime. And Price’s replacement, Alex Azar, is accused of gaming the patent system for Eli Lilly’s Cialis by promoting its use for male children who suffer from a rare muscle-wasting disease. The product failed to help, but it allowed the patent to be extended for another six months and another billion dollars of profit.

As Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson ordered a dining table for his office at a price of $31,000. Worse, he is reversing the department’s efforts to enforce fair housing laws and sidelining those who are aggressively pursuing civil rights cases.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and her family recently donated $40 million to the Harvard Business School to be used for a building that will bear their name. Interestingly, that the money was withdrawn from an account in an off-shore tax haven. That’s right, a long-time government employee, and the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is using an off-shore account to avoid paying taxes!

Not to be outdone, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, treats his job as though he’s either the CEO of a multinational company or royalty. He, too, has spent millions of taxpayers’ money on private charters when he could be flying coach. Worse, he has sold off public lands and national monuments to his friends in the fossil fuel industry. And he’s the one responsible for awarding a $300-million contract to a two-person start-up company in his home state to rebuild Puerto Rico’s electrical grid.

Finally, we come to the man who has become the symbol of the administration’s corruption – the Environmental Protection Agency’s Scott Pruitt. So far, Pruitt has demoted and pushed aside senior EPA officials and scientists who raised concerns about his direction for the agency and his spending habits. He took advantage of a sweetheart deal for a Washington condo co-owned by an energy lobbyist. He brought in two friends from Oklahoma as aides and gave them huge raises taken from a budget intended for environmental emergencies. He has a 24-hour security staff of at least 20 people that accompany him even on personal trips, such as a family trip to Disney World. Like other Trump appointees, he also misuses government planes and charter jets. And, when he does fly commercially, he travels first-class on taxpayer money.

Pruitt spent more than $25,000 on a secure, sound-proof phone booth. And it’s alleged that he uses phones other than his own to deal with some EPA matters so the calls won’t show up in his call log. Further, he has avoided the creation of written records of meetings in order to circumvent FOIA laws and to hide his actions.

Given the incompetence and corruption of Trump’s cabinet, we all should be asking ourselves: Is Trump trying to manage the government? Or is he actually trying to destroy it?

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.