Exploitation Of The American Dream.

The American Dream is a belief firmly rooted in our culture that anyone – regardless of race, gender, or circumstances of birth – can achieve prosperity through determination and hard work. That belief has led to our nation’s success and made it a beacon for people the world over.

Unfortunately, in recent years, the American Dream has been exploited by the wealthy and the powerful to serve their own self-interests. By encouraging you to believe that their success is the result of hard work, they have convinced you that you, too, can be a billionaires or, at very least, a multi-millionaire. All you have to do is work hard and vote to protect their wealth from extraordinary taxes.

But the reality is that most billionaires like Donald Trump achieved their wealth through a combination of luck, unethical or illegal activities, and by inheriting it their families. Indeed, very few Americans will become billionaires. The vast majority will struggle just to make ends meet. Nevertheless, the idea that you, too, can be obscenely rich is persuasive. So many Americans continue to vote against their self-interest by voting for those who propose tax cuts that benefit only the powerful and the wealthy.

Want to know why we can’t afford to rebuild our infrastructure? Why your child can’t afford the tuition of a college or university? Why your children are likely to be worse off than you? It’s because you’ve been conned into supporting tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy.

While you struggle to pay your taxes, the people you admire pay a much smaller tax rate than you. And many don’t pay any taxes at all. Many have hired skilled tax lawyers who help them hide their wealth in shell corporations in places like Bermuda, the Caymans, Luxembourg and Panama. Some of the wealthy don’t even have to go to those lengths. They simply invest in shell corporations located in the on-shore tax havens of Delaware, South Dakota and Nevada. Didn’t know those tax havens exist? That’s because you don’t have the resources to take advantage of them.

And those multinational corporations that promised to create more jobs if only you cut their tax rate? They used the money saved from their lower tax rates to buy back their stock and pay their already wealthy executives bigger bonuses. Some are still stashing their international profits off shore until they can con you into supporting even larger tax cuts.

Don’t be angry at them. The wealthy and the corporations are just doing what they always do – finding ways to make more money. Instead, be angry at yourself. It is your own greed – the idea that someday you, too, will be obscenely wealthy that has led to the current situation. After all, you’re smart. And you’re willing to work hard. But the reality is that you have a better chance of winning the lottery – 175 million to one – than becoming a billionaire by creating a Microsoft or a Facebook.

In other words, you’re being played for a sucker. If you really want to succeed, look to the example of the greatest generation – the generation that survived the Great Depression and World War Following the war, the soldiers then came home to build the American middle class. They taxed the wealthy in order to build roads and all of the things we take for granted today. Executives were content to take a modest salary in order to make their corporations stronger. Unlike today’s generations, they didn’t consider themselves exceptional. They weren’t given Cs for just showing up in class. Most were proud to refer to themselves as just an average Joe or an average Jill. They didn’t expect to become wealthy. They just wanted to work hard, earn a good wage, live comfortably and make things better for their kids than themselves.

For them, that was the American Dream. I believe it should be enough.

“If You’re Explaining, You’re Losing.”

That is the “wisdom” voiced by a number of political reporters when discussing the latest GOP accusations that Social Democracy and Socialism are one in the same…a perfect example of the flaws with today’s headline-driven, sensation-seeking journalism. Those reporters and their editors seem to believe that the American people are incapable of understanding complexity and context. But how would they know? They have seldom tried.

Certainly, local radio and TV newsrooms lack the time, resources and will to analyze complex issues and report them objectively. But the same can’t be said of cable TV networks.

Cable TV networks like CNN, MSNBC and Fox News have both the resources and the time to provide insight and details for complex issues – to help viewers understand social democracy, climate change, immigration, federal deficits, racial disparity and most other issues of our time. Instead, it seems they would rather focus on headlines and details. (One notable exception is Rachel Maddow who often uses her entire hour-long show to accurately explore the details of a single story. At the other extreme is Fox News, which like many talk radio shows, prefers to serve as a cheerleader and propagandist for the Republican Party.)

Want to know the difference between social democracy and socialism? You’d have better success asking a political science professor than watching a newscast. In reality, the only people who are likely to be asked to define social democracy on television or radio are its Republican opponents who will confuse it with communism. They will want to scare the bejeezus out of you to prevent you from voting for programs that might actually benefit you as opposed to their tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations. For the record, most of the nations in the advanced world are successful social democracies. They have universal health care, free education, free daycare and pensions, all paid for by taxes. Instead, the US has gone in another direction. Thanks to sustained GOP tax cuts, the US is now recognized as an oligarchy – a government dominated by the very rich and powerful. But have you seen or heard any broadcast news organization question that? Have you seen GOP politicians and strategists asked to explain and defend the policies that led to oligarchy?

That should tell you everything you need to know about cable TV’s journalistic bias.

Want to know the details and consequences of the two parties’ budget proposals? You’ll have to sort through dozens and dozens of newspaper, magazine and online articles in order to piece together a scant understanding. Want to know the true consequences of unabated carbon emissions on our planet? You’ll need to read detailed reports and studies from the world’s climate scientists. Want to really understand the Green New Deal? You’ll have to wait for an interview with its sponsor. And you’re more likely to find that on a late night TV talk show than in a newscast.

What passes for fairness in television journalism these days is this: The news host presents a news headline or encapsulated story. Then the host brings on pundits or officials from each party to provide their viewpoints on the story. The viewer is then expected to reach their own conclusions. There is no attempt to drill down to the truth. The hosts are more interested in providing equal time.

That’s not journalism! It’s infotainment.

When I attended journalism school, we were taught to search for the facts and truth. Opinions needed to be labeled as such. Equal time was only considered in terms of political campaigns. We were taught that there are not two sides to the truth. There is only the truth. That’s why network news reporters were once ranked as some of the most credible people in the world. They reported the truth without concern for providing time for opposing viewpoints. As Walter Cronkite famously said, “My job is not to tell you what you want to know. My job is to tell you what you need to know.”

No one understands the reality of today’s journalism standards better than reality TV star, Donald J. Trump. During the 2016 election, as Hillary and other Democrats proposed detailed solutions for our nation’s most pressing problems, Trump offered simplistic proposals (“Mexico will pay for the wall”) and sensational attacks against his opponent (“Lock her up”). Not surprisingly, the television news shows ignored substance and, instead, fawned over Trump, giving him endless hours of coverage. Even when he was exposed as a sexual assaulter, racist, fraud and liar, the media continued to host him at every opportunity. In industry parlance, Trump was “good copy.”

Even today, Trump dominates the airwaves. Whether it’s news of the Russia investigation, the corruption of his administration, the criminality of his family and his associates, or his avalanche of lies, the cable TV news channels are virtually all Trump all the time. As a result, the reality of his crimes and corruption are diminished – lost in a sea of stories and commentary by politicians and pundits on both sides.

Of course, there are still many diligent, hardworking reporters writing in newspapers, magazines and online outlets. And, in fairness, there are also many working for television news organizations. But their work is often overshadowed by the TV hosts, the pundits, the political strategists, the fear-mongers and the conspiracy theorists.

Thomas Jefferson once said, “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” We all need to work at educating ourselves. We can’t rely on TV news hosts, radio instigators, and social media platforms populated by Russian trolls to do the job for us. We need to do our own research; to seek out serious journalists; to read academic and scientific studies; to find the purveyors of truth.

It requires effort. But that’s what the nation’s founders would have expected of us.

What If You Just Came Here From Another Planet? A Philosophy.

For many years, I’ve looked at the world around me through the lens “What if I just arrived on Earth from Mars? Does (place anything you want here) make any freaking sense? You often realize that the answer is clearly “No.”

For example, take climate change. Scientists are in almost unanimous agreement that human activity is killing the planet. Yet the issue has become politicized, so we refuse to take serious action to mitigate the damage even when doing so would transform the economy by creating millions of high-paying jobs and dramatically modernize our failing infrastructure. But one political party has convinced enough people to vote to deny that climate change is a serious threat and to maintain the status quo so that a few people in the fossil fuel industry can continue to extract billions from our economy.

Does that make any freaking sense?

Does it make any sense that our government can spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a failed weapons system, but we “can’t afford” to give all of our citizens access to health care? Does it make sense that we spend far more on health care than it would cost to offer our citizens universal care?

And the philosophy is useful for far more than political issues. Take our societal bans on nudity. Men can freely show their chests. But women must keep theirs partially covered. They can show their backs, their bellies their side boobs, their under boobs, their upper boobs, but they must not dare to expose their nipples in public! Why? Their nipples are little different than those of men. And they are necessary to provide nourishment for their babies.

Does that make any freaking sense?

How about our shipping container-based global trade? Scottish fishermen catch cod in the North Atlantic then bring them back to Scottish ports. But instead of processing the fish there, they load them into refrigerated containers and ship them to Asia where they are processed, frozen and shipped back to Europe for distribution.

Does that make any freaking sense?

Or what about commercial sea-going fish factories that sweep the oceans of all sea life, processing the species they want and killing those they don’t? The short-term benefit is cheap seafood. But the long-term consequence is the destruction of our ecosystem.
Does that make any freaking sense?

Or what about the clear-cutting of forests to make cheap, semi-disposable furniture? Or the destruction of rainforests and wildlife habitat to raise palm oil or cattle we don’t really need? Or using caravans of semi-trailers to haul merchandise coast-to-coast instead of more efficient trains? Or denying basic human rights to people based on a 2,000-year-old collection of writings of unknown origin? Or taking children from parents seeking asylum in our nation? Or by treating people differently based on their choice of religion, their language of the color of their skin?

Does any of that make any freaking sense?

When you strip away the traditions, the political labels, the myths and the prejudices, you quickly realize that much of what we do and believe makes no sense. No sense at all! Continuing to do something just because it’s something we’ve always done will only continue to perpetuate our problems. It’s time for change. Time to look at our actions and beliefs from an objective viewpoint – as if we just came here from another planet.

The very future of our civilization, indeed our species, may depend on it.

Where Are Those Patriots Now?

For many years, conservatives have portrayed themselves as some sort of super-patriots. They have displayed the flag and images of the flag at every opportunity – in front of their homes, on their cars, in the rear window of their trucks, on their hats and on their shirts. They have made a show out of saying the Pledge of Allegiance before every meeting. Like robots, they have recited “Thank you for your service” to every military veteran they meet. Without trying to understand the underlying cause, they have expressed their outrage at black football players who protested the treatment of African-Americans by kneeling for the national anthem. And they have told anyone who questions the decisions of our nation’s leaders, “If you don’t like it, leave.” (That is, except for when President Obama was in office.)

They have talked of American Exceptionalism as if the US has some divine right to rule the world. They have seemed to resent any foreigners who have crossed our country’s borders, especially if they are people of color or speak anything but English. And they have seemed all too willing to go to war with any nation that, in their view, doesn’t bow to our economic and military magnificence.

Most especially, these super-patriots despised the Soviet Union and totalitarianism echoing Ronald Reagan’s sentiment that its leaders “are the focus of evil in the modern world.”

My how things have changed.

We now have a so-called conservative in the White House who was put there with the help of Russian interference in our election. Since taking office, Donald Trump hasn’t even bothered to hide his affection and admiration for the Russian president – a former KGB member – who ordered that interference. And we have learned that Trump’s son, Don Jr., met with an Israeli company that presented a plan to use the interference of a foreign government to sway the election. As a result, it seems clear that the Trump campaign followed that plan in coordination with Russia.

In addition, it is known that members of the Trump campaign had at least 101 contacts with Russian officials during the campaign – several of them with the intent to set up a private back channel of communications between Trump and the Russian government. It is known that many of the campaign officials lied to Congress and the FBI about those contacts. And it is known that seven Trump campaign officials have been indicted or pleaded guilty.

It is known that Trump ushered Russian leaders and the Russian press into the Oval Office giving them classified information. It has been well documented that Trump has had multiple private meetings with Vladimir Putin. After the meetings, he collected the translator’s notes to keep the discussions secret. Moreover, Trump and his campaign staff are not the only Republicans with mysterious connections to Russia. It is alleged that some of Trump’s most ardent congressional supporters received campaign funds from Russian oligarchs which were apparently funneled through the NRA.

All of this is in addition to the many known financial connections between the Trump organization and Russian oligarchs.

It begs the questions: Why are those super-patriots not outraged by the Russian interference and Trump’s obvious obstruction of justice? Why are they not calling for Trump’s impeachment? Why do they even refuse to support any investigations into the apparent Trump-Russian conspiracy?

Obviously, Trump is pandering to them by giving them many of the things they have long wanted. They are thrilled with Trump’s nomination of ultra-conservative judges. They are pleased with his repeal of environmental regulations. They are happy to see Trump dismantle our federal government. And they are excited to see his hard-line response to his critics, the media, and people of color – most especially the immigrants seeking asylum from violence and crushing poverty in their own countries. But at what cost? Is any of that worth the damage to our electoral system? To our Constitution?

It’s time these self-described super-patriots consider the consequence of supporting a president who so openly cozies up to Vladimir Putin, a ruthless dictator who is obsessed with returning Russia to its former glory under the Soviet Union. They would do well to remember that Putin’s Soviet Union was our avowed enemy. A fact best expressed by former Soviet leader, Nikita Khrushchev, who once said, “Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you!”

Given current developments, I fear he may have been right.

Healing Our Political Divide Must Begin With The Church.

On a local level, the traditional neighborhood church can be quite useful in helping individuals and families cope with crises in their lives. But, on a national and international level, the church has too often engaged in self-serving politics as a means of increasing its power and diminishing or demeaning people of other faiths. Indeed, unscrupulous pastors – most especially greedy televangelists – have used their positions of authority to help elect those candidates who will be most supportive of their beliefs. This has never been more clear than in today’s political environment.

If you study polling data as I have, you will find that we are not as divided as you might expect – at least not with regard to issues. If you remove the political labels, there is substantial agreement on many issues such as wealth inequality, climate change, common sense gun safety, immigration, health care, safety nets and government spending.

To a great degree, the chasm between us is the result of the church having been co-opted for personal gain and political purposes.

It began in the 1970s when, following President Nixon’s fall from grace, Paul Weyrich saw an opportunity to rebuild the Republican Party by pandering to evangelical fundamentalist Christians. He reached out to them by partnering with Jerry Falwell to found the so-called “Moral Majority.” Their message, which was quickly embraced by other fundamentalist Christian pastors such as Pat Robertson and James Dobson, was that all of the terrible events which plague our nation – mass shootings, drug abuse, even hurricanes and natural disasters – could all be traced to our supposed abandonment of Christian beliefs. The events were God’s punishment for our acceptance of homosexuality and abortion. The result of moral decay enabled by the secularist political elite.

Only by following conservative Christian doctrine, they said, could we return America to its former glory which had been ordained by God.

At Weyrich’s urging, Republican candidates began to embrace fundamentalist Christian issues labeling themselves “family values” candidates. At the same time, they began fomenting fear of the “other” – gays, immigrants, transgenders, and non-Christians. As a result, the Republican Party, which had long been the party of social liberalism and fiscal conservatism, turned its focus to various forms of discrimination. At the same time, the party pushed for states’ rights which would enable it to circumvent the restrictions of federal government. The party became staunchly anti-gay, anti-abortion, anti-evolution, anti-science, anti-transgender, and anti-socialist. The more extreme party members began supporting dominionism (the belief that the nation should be governed only by Christians according to biblical law).

As a result of Weyrich’s efforts, many of our churches today are more political than spiritual. Instead of preaching love and compassion, many pastors subtly foment discrimination and hate against those who don’t believe as they do. Some tell their followers that they will go to hell if they vote for a pro-choice candidate. They use selected passages from the Bible to portray their political enemies and people of other faiths as evil. They use the Bible to justify racism and misogyny. They label as baby-killers those women who have made the heart-wrenching decision to end a pregnancy (usually for health reasons).

Today’s evangelicals and many of the “family values” Republicans have become the ultimate hypocrites – the ends-justify-the-means crowd – willing to overlook the adultery, corruption and predatory behavior of Donald Trump as long as he appoints conservative judges who will rule against legal access to abortion and base their decisions on biblical law. They are obsessed with forcing others to accept their beliefs and practices. They claim piety. But, in reality, their actions are less about religion than control.

That should surprise no one. For millennia, religions competing for control over the minds of people have engaged in wars and destroyed nations to further their interests. We must now acknowledge that that could happen here. As long as one of our two major political parties continues to blend a specific brand of religion with politics; as long as its elected officials continue to view issues through the lens of an unwavering religious belief; as long as they assume their political opponents are evil; there will never be room for compromise. (Would God compromise with Satan?) And the political chasm between us will continue to grow.

If we truly want to heal our nation – to remove the vitriol from politics – we must first acknowledge that the Constitution calls for separation of church and state. And we must be willing to focus on issues that will benefit the nation as a whole. Not any particular belief system.

Suborning Perjury? That’s Where You Finally Draw The Line?

After learning that Trump ordered his personal attorney to lie to Congress about his continued attempts to develop a Trump Tower in Moscow, members of Congress are suddenly willing to speak of impeachment.

Seriously, that’s what finally caused you to grow a spine?

It wasn’t enough that Trump, his entire administration and his congressional supporters have lied to the American public on a daily basis? It wasn’t enough that he stole the election with the help of Russia? It wasn’t enough that Trump embraced dictators and thugs around the world? It wasn’t enough that leaders of his campaign had more than 101 known contacts with Russians during the campaign and accepted illegal campaign contributions from Russians? It wasn’t enough that members of his campaign have been convicted and pleaded guilty of illegal activities?

It wasn’t enough that he appointed a man operating as an unregistered foreign agent as his director of national security?!!!

It wasn’t enough that Trump bragged on tape that he has committed sexual assault? And that it is known that he paid hush money to cover up illicit affairs with a porn star and a centerfold model? It wasn’t enough that Trump has damaged all of our most reliable and necessary institutions, such as the FBI, the CIA and the EPA? It wasn’t enough that he regularly refers to the news media as enemies of the people? It wasn’t enough that Trump appointed a group of sycophants and unqualified toadies to positions of authority? It wasn’t enough that Trump and his cabinet squandered tens of millions on vacations and private interests? It wasn’t enough that his administration sold public and tribal lands to the highest bidders?

It wasn’t enough that Trump undermined NATO and our international relationships with our strongest and most loyal allies – that his administration has broken international laws and treaties? It wasn’t enough that he manufactured an international crisis at our southern border – that he separated thousands of refugee children from their families? It wasn’t enough that his administration’s actions resulted in the deaths of two young children who had survived a thousand mile trek from Central America?

It wasn’t enough that Trump and his supporters have supported racists and Nazis – that they excused racist violence and the death of an innocent young woman? It wasn’t enough that they gave billions in tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy while denying the basic needs of the poor as an extreme act of cruelty? It wasn’t enough that those unnecessary tax cuts ran up approximately $2 trillion in additional debt?

It wasn’t enough that his administration pandered to the victims of disasters in Texas and the southeastern US, while turning their backs on the American citizens of Puerto Rico? It wasn’t enough that Trump blamed the victims of California wildfires for losing their homes and their lives as a result of the climate change he denies? It wasn’t enough that he created trade wars causing Americans to lose markets for their products? It wasn’t enough that he shut down the federal government in a childish temper tantrum?

It isn’t enough that there is abundant evidence that he engaged in treason in plain sight?!!!

But ordering his attorney to lie to you? THAT? That’s where you draw the line?

Confronting Racism Wherever And Whenever You Encounter It.

Though I’m generally reluctant to write about personal experiences, I feel that a recent confrontation might help to illuminate the seriousness of racism in America. Having been invited to Christmas dinner at a friend’s house, I was warned in advance that one of the other guests was a conservative. So I vowed to avoid politics. But as we sat down to eat, this white personal injury attorney announced that while working in a parking lot during his college years, he had been robbed by black men. He went on to state that most crimes are committed by black men. He said he has the statistics to prove it concluding that committing crimes is part of the black culture.

Where to begin? Do you confront such overt racism? Or, not wanting to disrupt a pleasant evening, do you simply let it slide? Before I detail my response to the situation, I should explain a bit about my background.

I am a white male who was raised in a nearly all-white region of the country surrounded by family and friends who often shared racist jokes at gatherings. In addition, my father often vehemently expressed his distaste for African-Americans – in particular Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders of the time. I don’t want to make excuses for these people, but I believe their comments simply showed a lack of knowledge and understanding.

As a young boy, I came to believe such behavior to be normal. But after attending a large university and making friends with people of diverse backgrounds, races, and nationalities, I realized that I could never again sit silent as someone made racist comments or told racist jokes.

Over time, I have witnessed rogue cops commit crimes and blame them on black activists. In my mixed race neighborhood, I saw a cop chain his attack-trained dog so that it could cross the sidewalk and bite any unsuspecting passersby. I learned of the practice of redlining in large cities to prevent black families from buying homes in white areas. I read studies showing that children of color routinely received more severe punishment in school than their white counterparts for the same offenses.

I read reports of corporations refusing to interview job applicants who had black sounding names. I heard my African-American friends tell of police harassment. And I personally witnessed six police officers take turns to brutally beat a black man who was handcuffed and lying on his belly in the snow and ice. (When I took my story to the Assistant Chief, I was told there were no arrests reported in the area on that day. I regret not pursuing the matter farther.)

Despite what many other white people believe, racism didn’t end with the Civil Rights Act or the Voting Rights Act. Nor did it end when we elected our first black president. One need only read the Department of Justice report following the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Or watch the many videos of black harassment posted online. Or watch the video of the neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia. Or watch “President” Trump’s response to the violence in Charlottesville. Or watch the videos of kids in cages at our southern border.

So, yes, I confronted my friend’s dinner guest. I politely explained the racism I have witnessed. I detailed the harassment suffered by my black friends. I patiently explained that we are only a few generations removed from the end of the Civil War and the emancipation of slaves. (I personally met veterans of that war.) I explained that, following emancipation, the slaves had nothing. And that it would take many more generations for black people to achieve financial equality with their white peers.

What was the dinner guest’s reaction? He told me – rather he yelled at me – that racism no longer exists then stomped out.

Call me the Grinch who ruined Christmas, but I believe that failing to confront racism at every opportunity only serves to perpetuate it. I may have ruined a Christmas dinner and caused my friends some grief. But that pales in comparison to what many people of color face on a daily basis. And I vow to do more to confront it.

America’s On-going Unnatural Disaster.

It has been nearly a year since a former student walked into the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, pulled out a military-style weapon and shot 34 students. 17 of those students died. 17 more were seriously wounded. And many of those who escaped will likely suffer from PTSD for the rest of their lives.

Let that sink in for a moment.

High school students who were merely sitting in a classroom now share a disability with many of our military personnel returning from war zones! Even worse, Parkland was only one of 340 mass shootings that took place in the United States in 2018. Including Parkland, those shootings claimed 354 lives and wounded or injured 1,341.

Still worse, according to GunViolenceArchive.org, in 2018, there were 56,768 incidents in which an American pointed a gun at another and pulled the trigger. That’s an average of roughly 155 shootings per day, or about 6.4 shootings an hour!

In total, an astounding 14,600 people were killed by guns in the US last year. And that doesn’t even include gun suicides, which amount to almost twice the number of people shot by others. We see reports of these shootings in the news every day. We learn of the domestic violence killings; of the murder-suicides; of the road rage killings; of those being killed by stray bullets; of the children who discover a gun and unintentionally kill themselves or a playmate.

And what do we do about all of this?

We simply move on to the next news story or turn the page because we’ve come to accept this slaughter as normal. Or we accept it as the penalty our society must suffer in order to protect the 2nd Amendment.

But let me remind you. This is far from normal in the civilized world. No other advanced nation experiences such slaughter. Indeed, there are more casualties in the US from guns than there are in some nations that are considered war zones!

Let me also remind you that the Founding Fathers never intended the 2nd Amendment to allow US citizens gun down each other. It was only included in the Constitution to provide a mechanism for the defense of our nation. We did not yet have a standing army – indeed, the Founders were exceedingly wary of authorizing one – so they included the right to bear arms as part of a “well-regulated” state militia.

Further, as interpreted by the courts, the 2nd Amendment was not without limitations. The courts have consistently ruled that various jurisdictions can ban certain types of guns and ammunition. They have also ruled that certain people can be legally prevented from purchasing or owning firearms.

If our nation experienced even a small percentage of these deaths and injuries from other causes, there would be a loud uproar. People would be calling for the heads of the executives or politicians responsible. For example, in 2014, much of our population was panic-stricken over two deaths from Ebola in the US. Two! Allow me to do the math for you: That’s 14,598 fewer people who died from Ebola in the history of the US than died as the result of shootings last year alone.

And many of our citizens are willing to spend tens of billions of dollars and compromise the very fabric of our nation to prevent refugees from crossing our borders for fear a tiny percentage of them might commit a crime. But gun violence? Many of those same people won’t lift a finger or spend a dime of taxpayer money to reduce it.

Seriously, does that make any freaking sense?

Addressing Rural Decline And Our Political Divide.

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I visited my hometown in rural Iowa. Once a thriving community with a variety of cafes, grocery stores, a five-and-dime, a clothing store, 3 farm implement dealers, 3 car dealers, a couple of hotels and more, it now features more empty storefronts and museums than active businesses…casualties of interstate highways that bypass all but the largest cities, corporate farms that have reduced the farm population by roughly 90 percent, big box stores and online retail.

Is it any wonder that many of the few remaining residents of such towns are frustrated?

As they have watched their town fade away, they have seen job opportunities fade along with it. Their home values have declined. And the decreasing tax base forces them to choose between larger property tax assessments or declining infrastructure.

They mistakenly believe that their income taxes disproportionately benefit large cities (however an Indiana study found that taxpayers in 46 metropolitan counties paid 82.5% of the taxes but received only 76.7% of the expenditures). They feel that their economic futures are no longer in their own control, but in the hands of a group of greedy corporations and politicians. Many believe urban “elites” are the source of all their problems. After all, it was the millionaires and billionaires on Wall Street who used their money to gamble on derivatives leading to the Great Recession.

It’s largely because of their circumstances that they have become susceptible to fake news. They believe (rightfully so) that the mainstream media ignore those living in “flyover land” so they tune to rightwing blowhards who skillfully pander to them by channeling their frustrations and outrage against liberals, immigrants and urban welfare recipients. They have been led to believe that the sensational crimes reported on evening newscasts show that city dwellers are a violent and lawless bunch. Many believe the cities are filled only with criminals and people with advanced degrees who lack common sense. And far too many believe the fear-mongering politicians who tell them that our nation is being over-run by criminals and terrorists.

Instead of finding common ground with the millions of similarly underpaid, overworked and overstressed people who work in large cities, they have been led to believe that they are rivals…indeed, enemies.

I am convinced that, more than anything else, this is what has led to our political divide.

The people living in rural communities similar to my hometown – those that have been persuaded that big city elites are conspiring against them – have an outsized influence on our national politics. Though only 14% of the US population lives in rural areas, the rural population has a disproportionate representation in the US Senate and, therefore, the Electoral College. Indeed, it is primarily because of their frustrations that Donald Trump now sits in the Oval Office despite receiving nearly 3 million fewer votes.

Given this, how can we bridge the rural/urban divide? How can we improve the economic opportunities for rural Americans and help the struggling rural communities?

We can start by telling them the truth – that their cherished lifestyle isn’t coming back until they make some difficult choices and accept monumental change. Despite the promises of some politicians, it’s unlikely that manufacturing plants are going to return to many of these towns and, even if they do, most of the work will be done by robots. And small, independent retail stores are unlikely to return as long as most Americans prefer to shop online and in big box stores.

Ironically, the most likely scenario for rebuilding our rural communities and for bridging our political divide is to commit to an aggressive (and necessary) response to climate change. Decreasing carbon emissions will require less dependence on imports and more demand for local production. It will require that fossil fuels be replaced with sustainable energy sources. Finally, it will require a reduction in the amount of cropland devoted to corn, soybeans and cattle. Instead, much of the land will necessarily be used for locally-grown produce.

In other words, the side effect of heading off climate disaster is to stop arguing and improve the circumstances of all Americans, rural and urban alike.

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.