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.

America’s Legal Drug Cartel.

A couple of newspaper stories recently caught my attention. The Arizona Republic reported that, in 2016, Mojave County had more opioid prescriptions than people – 127.5 prescriptions for every 100 residents. In another story, The Arizona Republic reported that four Mojave County doctors prescribed 6 million opioid pills in a single year!

Yet another newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail, reported that, over a two-year period, out-of-state drug companies shipped 9 million hydrocodone pills to one pharmacy in Mingo County, West Virginia – a county with a population of about 33,000 people. The newspaper also found that, over a six-year period, drug wholesalers shipped 780 million painkillers to West Virginia pharmacies – more than 400 for every man, woman and child in the state. Further, a congressional committee discovered that, over a decade, out-of-state drug companies shipped 20.8 million prescription painkillers to a West Virginia town with a population of just 2,900 people.

That may explain why the top four counties in the US for prescription opioid drug overdose deaths are all in West Virginia. Yet the problem isn’t limited to West Virginia and Arizona.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported, “In 2016, the five states with the highest rates of death due to drug overdose were West Virginia (52.0 per 100,000), Ohio (39.1 per 100,000), New Hampshire (39.0 per 100,000), Pennsylvania (37.9 per 100,000) and (Kentucky (33.5 per 100,000). Significant increases in drug overdose death rates from 2015 to 2016 were seen in the Northeast, Midwest and South Census Regions. States with statistically significant increases in drug overdose death rates included Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.”

According to the CDC, “Overdose deaths involving prescription opioids were five times higher in 2016 than 1999, and sales of these prescription drugs have quadrupled. From 1999 to 2016, more than 200,000 people have died in the U.S. from overdoses related to prescription opioids.” Overdoses from prescription opioids killed more than 50,000 Americans in 2015 – more than car accidents.

To put that into perspective, Americans seem more fearful of seeing a loved one murdered than of seeing a loved one die from opioid overdose. Yet there were only 15,000 homicides in the US in 2015 – a third as many died from violence as from opioids. And remember the Ebola panic of 2014? Only two Americans actually died of the disease.

A more interesting comparison is to the crack cocaine crisis of the late 1980s. At its height, there were 7,000 deaths a year in the US (14 percent as many as we see from prescription opioids today). In response, we rounded up the dealers and users resulting in dramatic increases of incarceration, particularly among black Americans. But the opioid epidemic mostly involves white people. And the prescription opioid cartel involves doctors, pharmacists, drug wholesalers and large pharmaceutical corporations. So there has been little response from law enforcement.

Only when the prescriptions are stolen or the abusers have turned to illegal drugs, has law enforcement taken action. And, in reality, law enforcement is not the answer. The decades-long War on Drugs has failed. In part, that’s because of our society’s attitude toward drug abusers: that they’re losers incapable of dealing with reality; that they deserve to be punished.

In reality, punishment, fear and loathing are never the answers for drug abuse. Instead, we should be treating abusers as victims. We should be offering them help and non-addictive alternatives to opioid painkillers. We should be offering physicians better education in treating pain. And we should be regulating the distribution of prescription painkillers.

Instead, the Trump Department of Justice has threatened a new crackdown on marijuana, one of the few substances known to offer pain relief without addiction. And despite the fact that the number of known deaths from overdoses of weed is zero!

Evangelical Extremists.

I’ll begin by admitting that I have always struggled with the idea of a group of people – any group of people – trying to push their ideas of morality onto others. I was horrified when I discovered that my family church was more interested in paying for building improvements than in helping others. I have marveled at the lack of substance and critical thinking of those who ring my doorbell wanting to “share the good news.” I have recoiled at the lavish structures and amenities of mega-churches paid for with the help of taxpayer money.

I was horrified to learn of pastors preaching partisan politics from the pulpit in direct violation of the Johnson Amendment. I was stunned by the belief that actions don’t matter – only faith will determine your afterlife. And I was shocked to learn of the advent of “prosperity gospel” – the stronger your faith, the more you will be rewarded with money and possessions.

Despite all of this I have remained relatively silent with regard to one’s religious beliefs. Whoever and however you choose to worship should mean little to those who believe differently than you…unless you make it their business by asking them to support and help pay for your beliefs.

That brings me to the subject of this post.

Churches only became tax exempt in 1954. Before the anti-communist Christian revival of the 1950’s, churches were subject to paying taxes as do most other private clubs. But accepting them as 501(c)(3)s, in effect, blurred the Founders’ intent of separation of church and state. It was predicated on the belief that churches contributed to the health of society – by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. But, for the most part, that belief is based on churches of another time. For example, how does that comport with “prosperity gospel?” How does it fit with mega-churches operating as private clubs in which church members only do business with other church members? How does it fit with subsidizing Israeli development of Palestinian land in order to speed the Rapture?

Initially, obtaining 501(c)(3) status required churches to fill out an application and agree to the stipulation that they operate exclusively in the public interest. More recently, it was decided that churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches no longer need apply. They no longer have to tend to the needy to be tax-exempt. In fact, churches no longer need to adhere to any real guidelines of operation in order to avoid taxes on their buildings, their religious schools, even their businesses.

This new reality is horrifying to those of us who reject organized religion. (And before you start moralizing, recent studies have shown that those of us who do not participate in organized religion are actually more generous and more compassionate than those who do.) If Hobby Lobby can avoid paying for their employees’ contraception based on religious grounds, why must we subsidize their properties?

All of this is bad enough. But, for many evangelical churches, there are no longer any apparent standards of acceptable behavior. There is only politics.

For example, when President Obama was in office, many evangelist leaders called him the anti-Christ despite the fact he regularly attended a Christian church. Evangelists demeaned the First Lady when she wore a sleeveless dress to a public event. They openly opined that the Obamas were trying to indoctrinate children. And they were furious that President Obama helped the LGBTQ community achieve civil rights.

Then along came the Donald.

Although his orangeness rarely, if ever, attended church, the evangelicals supported him. They looked the other way at Trump’s three marriages and adulterous behavior. Of the First Lady’s nude photos, Pat Robertson, pronounced them art. They have ignored Trump’s racist and hateful comments. They ignored his bragging of sexual assaults. They ignored reports of rape, including one from a minor. And they have taken a “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” approach to Trump’s marital infidelity with porn stars as his wife was recovering from childbirth.

As former RNC chair, Michael Steele, recently said of evangelical leaders, “I have a very simple admonition. Just shut the hell up and don’t preach to me about anything ever again. After telling me who to love, what to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter, the grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter, the outright behavior and lies don’t matter, then shut up…[Evangelicals] have no voice of authority anymore for me.”

Well said! But I’d take it a step farther. Why don’t you shut up and pay up? Why don’t you admit that you don’t belong to a church? You are merely leaders of a political club. It’s time you pay taxes on your property: Your mega-churches, your extravagant sound and video systems, your elaborate fund-raising schemes, your child-indoctrinating schools, your “religious” businesses, your palatial estates, your limos, and your private jets.

You aren’t religious leaders. You are mere con men, much like the president you have chosen to support come hell or high water. And frankly, I hope it’s both.

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”?

The Inequities Of Our Political System.

We’ve heard a lot about wealth inequality and how it’s destroying the United States. But it’s merely a symptom – a symptom caused by the growing disparity between the parties in our two-party system. Consider the following:

• Since the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, more than 90 percent of talk radio has been controlled by right-wing conservatives.
• The conservative Sinclair corporation now controls the largest number of local TV stations, forcing its stations to air conservative talking points within local newscasts.
• The guests on network Sunday morning news shows are disproportionately Republican.
• Republican-controlled states have instituted repressive voter ID laws, reduced voting hours in minority districts, reduced polling places in Democratic districts, purged voter rolls, and gerrymandered districts to minimize Democratic votes.
• The majority of Americans now live in large cities, which mostly vote Democratic. But, thanks to the Electoral College, Republican-controlled rural areas have disproportionate representation. For example, based on population, an Electoral College vote from Wyoming counts 4 times as much as an Electoral College vote from California.
• The structure of the US Senate also disproportionately benefits red states. And the disparity is growing worse. By 2040, about 70 percent of Americans will live in the 15 largest states. Yet they will be represented by only 30 senators while 70 senators will represent 30 percent of the population.
• The Supreme Court decisions in Buckley v Valeo and Citizens United v FEC have unleashed billions in dark money for election campaigns which mostly benefits Republican candidates.

The GOP has used all of these advantages to divide our nation and to redistribute wealth upward to corporations and billionaires – taking money from the poorest among us and funneling it upward. This point was made all too clear by the GOP’s latest tax scam.

The greed and cynicism of the GOP is only made worse by the continuing failures of Democratic Party leadership.

For many years, the Democratic Party could count on two things: Its voter turnout operation and its superior data operation designed to target those voters most inclined to support its candidates. Though a majority of Americans have long supported Democratic policies or, at very least, leaned toward those policies, the party has lost its previous political advantages. And it has failed to effectively energize voters to turn out to the polls, especially during mid-term elections. It has failed to create a “brand” – a coherent message that concisely explains why people should vote for Democratic candidates.

The party’s failures were on full display this week when Sen. Chuck Schumer appeared on Late Show with Stephen Colbert. When asked what the Democratic Party stands for, Schumer sidestepped the question and simply referred to the failures of the Trump administration. No one should settle for that answer. Schumer’s dodge was made even more painful when Schumer’s interview was followed by a performance by the Black Eyed Peas with their new song, Street Livin’, which details many of the problems faced by black communities – one of the largest groups of Democratic constituents.

Seriously, Democratic leaders, it’s long past time to tell voters what you’re for. Not just what you’re against.

Why A Third Party Is Unlikely To Win.

I have long wished for a third US political party. Although I mostly agree with the Democratic Party on issues, in my view, the party’s unelected leadership is largely incompetent and strategically clueless. On the other hand, I believe the Republican Party is just flat-out crazy!

With a third party in Congress, it’s unlikely that a single party could hold a majority. That means that, in order to govern, the majority party would have to rely on votes from the other parties. It could permanently end ideological stand-offs. Congressional representatives might have to actually do what they were elected to do…to represent their constituents.

Unfortunately, I believe the chances of a viable third party are slim and none.

It’s not enough for a third party to field candidates for president and Congress. To be truly viable, a third party would need to field candidates for governors, legislators, county commissioners, sheriffs and even school boards. Even more important, it would take organization at every level. It would take volunteers to help get the candidates’ names on the ballots and volunteers to help turn out the votes. It would take extensive, and expensive, media campaigns. And it would take donations – not just from activists – from lobbyists, organizations, corporations, PACs, and billionaires.

It’s impossible to imagine that a third party can accomplish all of that over one or two voting cycles. Or even over a period of one or two decades.
Until a third party can claw its way up to an equal footing with the two major parties, votes for third party presidential candidates tend to benefit those candidates who are most ideologically opposed to the beliefs of third-party voters.

For example, the votes recorded for the Green Party (environmental) candidate in 2016, Jill Stein, likely came from voters more aligned with the beliefs of Hillary Clinton than Donald Trump. In reality, by withholding their votes from Clinton, the Stein voters helped elect an administration that is methodically destroying environmental protections of all kinds.

Another obstacle for a third party is the difficulty in creating a policy platform broad enough to appeal to a large group of voters. Too many voters are focused on a single issue – the environment, education, immigration, taxes, abortion, limited government, etc. Even the two major parties have struggled with that.

For many years, the GOP was merely the opposition party until the billionaires and multinational corporations who benefit from the party’s economic policies were able to coalesce voters (primarily Southern and rural voters) around social issues such as abortion and fear of the “other” (blacks, immigrants, and Muslims).

Likewise, the Democrats have struggled to maintain and inspire their diverse base of voters fighting for civil rights, women’s rights, LGBTQ rights, abortion rights, education, health care, and economic fairness. Depending upon the candidate, the party has a difficult time turning out its supporters for many elections – in effect, handing those elections to Republicans.

In reality, it is more likely that we can enact real change by dropping the dream of a third party and work to change the existing parties from within. That means getting involved and making our voices heard. It means speaking up for the issues that are important to you. It means donating to a party and its candidates. It means holding the party accountable. It means voting – not just in the general elections, but in the primary elections, too. And, most of all, it means a willingness to compromise – to not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Without the involvement of a large majority of eligible voters, it’s all too likely that we’ll continue to be governed by oligarchs, ideologues, the unqualified and the unprepared.

#MeTooLate? #MeTooLittle? Or #MeTooFar?

The #MeToo movement represents a welcome change for our culture. It has drawn attention to a problem that has been allowed to continue for far too long. But it also raises a number of questions.

Should an accusation of unwanted touching be treated in the same way as an accusation of sexual assault or rape? What should be the required burden of proof? What should be the statute of limitations? Do we want to punish those who committed despicable acts decades ago? If so, for what types of actions? Is a single, unsubstantiated accusation enough to destroy a career? Have we suspended the presumption of innocence? What can a person do to reinstate trust?

Senator Al Franken was forced to resign over a photo taken years before he was elected to office. Does the accusation that he rehearsed a kiss and the accusations of inappropriately touching others rise to the same level as the accusations of rape and pussy-grabbing by President Trump? If so, why shouldn’t Trump also be forced to resign? Why was he elected to office in the first place?

I’ve personally witnessed “hands on” management. When I asked my female co-workers about it, I was told not to worry – that the man was harmless. What should I have done? Should I have continued to question his actions? (I was nearly fired for calling attention to the issue.) Should I have reported him to authorities when his victims wouldn’t?

I also worked with two men who were later proven to be sexual predators. I suspected these men of inappropriate behavior. Should I have accused them without evidence? And, if I had, what would have been the consequences?

When I was in a position to hire, I was offered sex by young women who wanted a job. Should I have reported them? A few of my female clients made it clear to me that they wanted a sexual relationship. Should I have reported them? If I did, would anyone listen to me?

These are all serious questions. They deserve serious consideration.

The unfortunate reality is that sexual improprieties are commonplace. We – both men and women – have witnessed them for decades. We have all heard about the “casting couch.” Many of us have made jokes about it. Doesn’t that make us all a little guilty – at least guilty of indifference?

Now that the issue has finally been brought to the forefront, what happens now? Will there be real change? If so, will that change extend, as it should, to all industries? Or will we quickly tire of the issue, pronounce it fixed as we have with other important issues then turn our attention elsewhere?

On The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, Jodie Foster made an excellent point when asked, “What next?” In response, she suggested that, if we are to make real progress toward equality, we need to have a serious conversation about the issue. We need to listen to each other and make a serious attempt to understand all of the issues involved. That’s excellent advice!

False Equivalencies.

For many years, the media, pressured by Republicans, have continued to compare the activities of Democrats with those of Republicans – even when there was no true comparison. For example, most accused the two parties of being equally divisive. (They are not.) And most equated MSNBC with Fox News Channel even though Fox received daily talking points from the RNC. But MSNBC had no such direct ties to the DNC.

During the run-up to the 2016 elections, many in the media equated the allegations against Hillary with the proven transgressions of Trump. What was lost in the conversations was the context. For example, Benghazi, Emailgate, and Pizzagate were all unproven accusations made by highly partisan political opponents while many of the accusations against Trump were actually proven. He had been found to have cheated many suppliers. He had been found to have made fraudulent claims about Trump University. And he had been found to have misused the charitable contributions to his foundation. There was also credible evidence that Trump laundered money for Russian oligarchs, that he was unethically profiting from his campaign contributors and that his campaign was using information stolen from his opponents.

Now the same kinds of false equivalencies are being applied to the men accused of sexual assault.

The long overdue avalanche of such accusations began when Bill Cosby was charged with raping dozens of women who were willing to step forward and publicly tell their stories. The Cosby accusations were followed by news of the many sexcapades of Harvey Weinstein. (Is anyone really surprised that the jokes and stories about Hollywood casting couches are true?)

In the wake of those revelations, we have seen predators such as Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly forced out of their positions at Fox. We have heard credible stories of sexual assaults by celebrities such as Louis C.K., Kevin Spacey, Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose. And we have heard accusations of sexual improprieties by politicians such as President Donald Trump, President H.W. Bush, Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, Rep. John Conyers, and Sen. Al Franken.

In addition, we have heard accusations leveled against a host of former presidents and politicians, such as President Bill Clinton, President John F. Kennedy, President Dwight Eisenhower and President Franklin Roosevelt.

Unfortunately, we are now in the midst of a media feeding frenzy. And far too many people are caught up in a sensational rush to judgment. But, I ask you, are these men all equally guilty? Are the accusations proven? Are the men being afforded a fair hearing?

I submit that they are not.

To start, I see no value in trashing the legacy of someone already dead and unable to defend themselves. Second, there is a great disparity in seriousness of the accusations against these men. For example, in the cases of Cosby, Ailes, O’Reilly, Lauer, Rose, Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore and Donald Trump, multiple individuals willing to be identified have come forward with credible stories of abuse.

Now let’s examine the cases against Roy Moore and Donald Trump.

At least 9 women have told their stories about Moore. We also know that he was banned from a shopping mall for harassing underage women. Yet he is likely to be elected to the US Senate. And at least 16 women have come forward to tell their stories about Donald Trump. These stories range from groping to lurking in beauty pageant dressing rooms among naked – in some cases underage – women to child rape. He was caught on tape bragging about grabbing women by the pussy. Yet he now sits behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office.

At the opposite end of the spectrum are the accusations against President Bill Clinton and Senator Al Franken.

President Clinton was proven to have received consensual oral sex from a 22-year-old White House intern. The key word is “consensual.” So, though his actions may have been unethical, they do not rank alongside the accusations that have been leveled against the others mentioned.

As for Sen. Al Franken, he was accused of sexual harassment during a USO trip to entertain the troops. There was a photo of questionable humor showing him with his hands poised over the accuser’s breasts as she slept. Yet there was no contact since she was still wearing a flak jacket. He was also accused of sticking his tongue down her throat during a rehearsed kiss. But this accusation loses some credibility after it has become clear that she did the same thing – and more – to soldiers on stage. And she loses even more credibility when you realize that she is a “shock jock” and a right-wing political ideologue who is a regular guest on the Sean Hannity Show.

A second woman claims that Franken grabbed her buttocks while posing for a photo with him at the Minnesota State Fair. Really? The photo was being taken by her husband standing just a few feet away! And they were in the midst of a crowd of tens of thousands of people! It’s very difficult to believe that, if he did touch her butt, it was intentional.

Finally, several anonymous women have accused Franken of inappropriately touching them while posing for photos with him at other public events, such as book signings. The key word here is “anonymous.” It’s difficult to believe an accusation from someone who is unwilling to be named. Nevertheless, Franken publicly apologized to his accusers and called for a Senate ethics investigation of himself. Yet many people, including Democratic senators and representatives, are already calling for Franken to resign without waiting for the hearing.

In no way am I condoning sexual assault by anyone, including Franken. But are we really willing to throw someone – especially someone who has been an admired public servant and a staunch defender of women’s rights – under the bus without due process? Without looking at the evidence? Without hearing his side of the story? If so, where do we stop? How much, or how little, evidence is enough to ruin someone’s career or someone’s life?

If Franken is forced to resign, the reality is that we could be replacing a senator accused of inappropriately, and possibly inadvertently, touching one or two women with a senator who has been accused of sexually assaulting women, including at least one woman who was underage at the time!

The offenses are not equal!

Moreover, if we’re willing to demand the resignation of someone – anyone – who has done something deemed sexually inappropriate, why are we willing to overlook the many accusations against der gropenfuhrer – Donald Trump?

The Unholy Marriage Between Evangelicals, Billionaires And Trump.

There’s a long history between the GOP and evangelicals dating back to the late 1800’s. In the book The Family, you’ll read about wealthy industrialists and evangelicals joining forces to keep labor unions from gaining power. In the 1950’s, Eisenhower was put in office with the help of evangelicals. He rewarded them by agreeing to create the National Prayer Breakfast, by agreeing to the addition of “Under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance and by changing the national motto from “E Pluribus Unum” (Out of many, one) to “In God We Trust.”

It was evangelicals who supported Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s abuses in the blacklisting of virtually anyone accused of socialist or communist leanings. It was evangelicals who became an integral part of the GOP’s Southern Strategy after the passage of the Civil Rights Act. And it was evangelicals and Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” who used the anti-abortion movement to help Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush gain office.

All of that is reason enough to question the beliefs of most evangelicals. But, in 2016, these same evangelicals…the purported followers of Jesus…helped a greedy, narcissistic, unqualified billionaire who bragged about his sexual assaults to gain the White House. Why? They were willing to compromise every tenet of their supposed faith based on the promise that Trump would appoint federal judges and Supreme Court justices willing to overturn Roe v Wade to ban abortion.

And that’s only the beginning.

In a number of radio interviews, Jane Mayer has spoken about the wedding of evangelicals and anti-government libertarian billionaires with failed congressman, failed governor and current vice-president, Mike Pence, as the ring bearer.

The billionaires in question are the Koch brothers who have created a large network of dark money groups to fund candidates who support their anti-government philosophies, the Robert Mercer family who bankrolled Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News and the Trump campaign, and the combined families of Erik Prince and Betsy Devos who have used their combined fortunes to fund attempts to privatize our military and our education system.

As Jane Mayer points out, these billionaires essentially share the same belief – that the federal government should do only three things: Provide for the national defense, maintain stability, and provide for law and order. They view social issues, such as abortion and immigration, as mere tools that can be used to divide and influence voters to support their candidates. Focused on such issues, people vote for their candidates unaware of the billionaires’ plans to eliminate Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and all other social safety nets.

Similarly, many voters are oblivious to billionaires’ plans to rewrite the US Constitution to incorporate their narrow-minded beliefs. Indeed, they are just a few states short of the required two-thirds needed to hold a Constitutional Convention.

Having been placed in office as a result of dark money donations from the billionaires, Trump and the GOP congressional leaders are well on their way to cutting taxes for corporations and billionaires. If they succeed, the government will run large deficits until the resulting debt will generate draconian cuts to the safety nets that the billionaires despise. And should Trump be removed from office leaving Pence to replace him, be afraid…very afraid. Though Trump is a willing participant in the billionaires’ plans, his oversized ego makes him highly unpredictable.

The evangelical Pence, on the other hand, is a willing puppet guided as much by his billionaire sponsers as he is by his narrow and hateful interpretation of the Bible.

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.