Black Lives Matter! A Primer For White People.

When it became evident that an increasing number of black people were being killed by police despite being unarmed and often innocent, some activists formed Black Lives Matter. Given the obvious nature of their complaints, it’s unlikely that the founders thought the organization would be seen as particularly controversial. Yet many white people seemed to miss the point or, more likely, willfully ignored it. In response, they proclaimed that all lives matter.

Of course all lives matter! So do white lives and blue (police) lives. But such statements ignore the issue. The BLM organizers weren’t saying that black lives matter more than others. After reeling from police killings of unarmed black people: Eric Garner, Michael Brown, John Crawford, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland – the list is depressingly long – the activists were simply saying that black lives should matter as much as others! But the ongoing police murders of unarmed black people, black children, black people with their hands up in a clear sign of surrender, and black people in police custody clearly demonstrated to them that many police seem to assign a lesser value to black lives.

What the activists were really saying is that black lives matter, too! And the reason they took offense at the responses of All Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and White Lives Matter is that those slogans entirely ignored the issue. They showed a lack of empathy and understanding of racism, even if the responses are well-intended.

Even when the Department of Justice (DOJ) released its scathing report on the Ferguson Police Department, many Americans failed to get the point. They again showed a lack of understanding when the DOJ released an equally scathing report on policing in Baltimore. Even as the officers who killed unarmed black people continued to escape charges or were acquitted for their actions, many white Americans either ignored the developments or chose to demonize the members of Black Lives Matter as engaging in reverse racism. We continue to see signs and chants of Blue Lives Matter, All Lives Matter, White Lives Matter.

The backlash reached a crescendo when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem prior to a NFL exhibition game (an anthem which, by the way, was written by a slave-owner and includes racist text in its second verse). Kaepernick was quickly dismissed as un-American and many accused him of disrespecting veterans who fought for our country. Of course, he was doing neither. He was exercising his First Amendment right to call attention to the disparity in policing of blacks and whites. In doing so, he was trying to improve the country; to make it live up to its promise for all Americans.

Here’s the thing: Until the police, the white supremacists and the clueless supporters of Donald Trump pull their heads out of their collective behinds, the BLM movement will grow.

What will it take to make Black Lives Matter end the demonstrations? That’s simple. The answer is for law enforcement officers and the justice system to end the unequal treatment of minorities. That will require higher standards and more intensive training for police. No more 16-week wonders who trade in their police academy books for guns. No more militarized police departments who treat policing as war. No more bullies with badges.

Police Chiefs must be tasked with identifying the bad apples within their departments and firing them. More important, the good police officers (and there are many of them) must end the practice of covering up for the racist and incompetent officers. Likewise, the police unions must hold their members accountable. When bad cops are allowed to continue to dispense street justice in a disproportionate way, everyone loses, including the good officers who place their lives on the line to ensure public safety for all of the people in their communities.

Finally, the state Attorneys General and the DOJ should track arrests and the penalties meted out in all communities across the nation. When they discover disparities they must hold the cities responsible to correct the issues or lose their state and federal funding.

No group of people should be allowed to think that their lives matter less than others. Black Lives Matter, too!

Ending Racism: A Proposal.

America has a problem with racism that we have not yet adequately addressed. Sure, we passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, but those actions didn’t actually solve racism. Far from it. They merely altered it by making it somewhat less obvious and making it uncomfortable for racist white people to express their inner feelings.

Then along came Donald Trump and his attacks on political correctness, which freed racists to make public their long-held beliefs. In a way, such displays of overt racial hatred along with Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem can be seen as a good thing by bringing the issue back to the forefront. And I would suggest that it’s long overdue.

The problem stems from the fact that the US stands virtually alone in refusing to acknowledge its ugly past. For example, after Germany was defeated in World War II, it was forced to deal with the reality that it had committed genocide. As a result, it created memorials to those who were killed in Nazi death camps. It created textbooks for children detailing the horrors and explaining Hitler’s rise to power. And it banned any positive references to Nazism. It even banned the sale of copies of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Only recently has Germany again permitted the sale of the book, and only then if it includes notations regarding Nazi crimes.

Other nations have faced their ugly pasts is a similar manner. But the US refuses to do so. Our textbooks have been scrubbed of most references to the genocide of Native Americans. Likewise, they address slavery in a superficial, sanitized manner. And, instead of creating memorials to the victims of our genocide and to the victims of slavery, we have memorials to those who committed these vile acts. The former Confederate States of America have largely refused to acknowledge that their secession was motivated by their desire to continue the enslavement of blacks. Indeed, these states still celebrate the Confederacy, its leaders and, until recently, they still flew the Confederate battle flag.

There has been no restitution to the former slaves and their families. Indeed, the idea that they were given 40 acres and a mule is largely a myth. Lacking resources and possessions – and, in many cases, even a sense of family – following their emancipation many former slaves were employed by their former masters and corporations through a more acceptable form of economic slavery. As a result, today, more than 150 years after the end of the Civil War, we are still plagued by racism. Our schools are even more segregated now than during the late 1960s. And it has been estimated that it will take 228 years for the average black family to accumulate the wealth of the average white family!

Obviously, we have a problem.

So how can we fix it? How can we level the playing field for the descendants of African slaves and the Native Americans who had their land, their way of life and their identities stolen by our ancestors? How can we restore the well-being of cultures that were so thoroughly defeated and depressed? The answers are far more complicated than most white Americans are likely willing to accept. But I’ll make the attempt.

The solution to racism must begin with our nation, like Germany, finally acknowledging our past transgressions. As any therapist can tell you, there can be no healing as long as there is denial. And since the lingering effects of those impacted by our past actions are largely economic, we must work to provide blacks and Native Americans with opportunities. We must improve their education systems, making certain that they have the same resources and school budgets as our most affluent white suburbs. For those working in low-paying jobs, we must raise the minimum wage to a living wage. We must finally commit to universal healthcare so that all families have equal access to prenatal and childhood healthcare. We must commit to universal pre-school which has been proven to level the playing field and create lasting change. We must make certain that all families have food stability and access to healthy foods, which have been shown to improve performance in schools. We must commit to rebuilding our infrastructure, offering high-paying jobs to those without college degrees.

We must require national standards and training for those in law enforcement to eliminate racism within police departments and to ensure that all citizens are treated equal. We must end predatory city and community laws that treat citizens as a source of income for minor violations. We must pass universal background checks for gun purchases and pass other safety measures to get guns out of the hands of criminals and off of our streets. We should decriminalize and regulate drugs in order to rid the streets of predatory drug dealers. We should treat addictions with treatment instead of prison time. For the 1 in 9 black men who have already been sentenced to prison – often for petty, non-violent crimes – we should commit to rehabilitation programs to help them integrate back into society when they are eventually released.

And, most important of all, we should commit to thoroughly investigating every single claim of racist behavior – especially racism committed by those in power.

All of that may seem expensive and daunting, but it is all necessary. There can be no shortcuts – no half measures. After all, our nation benefited greatly from the labor of slaves and the resources stolen from natives. The problem of racism in this country has existed for centuries. It cannot be fixed easily or quickly.

And, if you’re wondering how our nation can pay for all of these things, just look to the cost overruns on the Pentagon’s weapons systems, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter – a fighter that has exceeded its budget by tens of billions of dollars. Also, you should consider the cost to society of not addressing racism – the cost of incarceration, lost tax revenue and the lost contributions from those who have neither the education nor the opportunity to shine.

How Trump Has Forever Changed The Standard For Presidential Candidates.

Prior to this election campaign, political candidates – especially presidential candidates – were held to almost impossibly high standards. They not only had to show experience that qualified them to hold the office. They had demonstrate a great depth of understanding about critical national and international issues. In addition, they were expected to be of great moral character. Moreover, they were expected to conduct themselves in a manner that seemed presidential.

Any exceptions to those standards were cause for disqualification. For example, when former Senator Gary Hart was accused of being involved with another woman, he was forced to withdraw from the 1988 presidential race. Senator Thomas Eagleton was forced to withdraw from the 1972 race as the Democratic vice-presidential candidate over a history of depression. And former Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis lost the 1988 presidential race for seeming “unpresidential” for appearing in a military tank with a tanker’s helmet. Over the years, many other candidates also found their campaigns in crisis over sexual affairs, drug use, even allegations that they were secretly separated from their wives or about to divorce.

Yet, beginning in 2008, with the selection of Sarah Palin as the GOP vice-presidential nominee, the standards seemed to change when she was found to be woefully ignorant about government and foreign affairs. But this year’s GOP primary voters showed that they have stunningly low standards for president when they voted to nominate Donald J. Trump as their preferred presidential candidate.

Following is a short list of just a few of the things that this orange-stained imitation of Benito Mussolini has said or done that would have previously disqualified any other candidate from running for our nation’s highest office:

1. He is twice divorced (because, you know, he believes in “family values”).
2. He said he would like to have sex with Ivanka if she wasn’t his daughter (because, you know, more “family values”).
3. There are serious questions about the circumstances of his current wife’s immigration (immigrants are bad, unless they’re female models).
4. His current wife posed for nude and suggestive photos (yet the GOP platform calls for banning porn).
5. He is accused of sexually assaulting a minor.
6. It has been reported that he has connections to the mob in New York and New Jersey.
7. He has failed to pay numerous small suppliers to his businesses (because they’re not “winners” like him).
8. He has been named in lawsuits more than 3,000 times.
9. He has filed for bankruptcy at least 4 times.
10. He called for the US to default on its debt (because that strategy has worked so well for him).
11. His Trump “University” is being sued for fraud.
12. He called Mexican immigrants murderers and rapists.
13. He called Sen. McCain a loser for being a POW.
14. He has repeatedly insulted and demeaned women, including Megyn Kelly.
15. He insulted and mocked a reporter for a physical disability.
16. He called a judge biased and unfit to serve because of his Mexican heritage.
17. He has vowed to unconstitutionally deny Muslims entrance to the US.
18. He has vowed to unconstitutionally track Muslims already in the US.
19. When skipping a GOP debate, he held a fundraising event for military veterans then failed to donate the money until confronted by the media.
20. There are serious questions about his financial ties to Russian oligarchs.
21. He hired a campaign manager with deep ties to Russia’s President Putin.
22. He called for a foreign nation (Russia) to hack his Democratic opponent’s email and US State Department emails.
23. He has embraced racists.
24. He has repeatedly incited violence by calling for supporters to assault protestors.
25. He refused to disavow support by former KKK Grand Wizard David Duke.
26. He has refused to release his income tax returns.
27. He insulted a Gold Star family for daring to criticize him.
28. He has repeatedly called the election system “rigged”.
29. He called for his supporters to shoot Hillary Clinton if she’s elected.
30. He has lied about his “huge” donations to charity. (By contrast, the charitable works of the Clinton Foundation have helped hundreds of thousands of people around the world.)
31. He has used the donations to his presidential campaign in order to enrich his businesses and himself.
32. Almost every statement out of his mouth has been exposed as a lie by fact-checkers.
33. His attacks on “political correctness” have coarsened political debate for a generation.

In addition, Trump has no government experience; no understanding of foreign affairs; no appreciation for those who serve in our military. Yet more than 40 percent of our nation’s registered voters are ready to make him president. And, because Hillary Clinton used a private email to keep in touch with her staff while serving as Secretary of State, a surprising number of voters think she is less trustworthy than the Cheeto Benito who routinely spews lies and hatred. Really?

A Stark Contrast.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It has nominated Donald J. Trump for president!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What The GOP Wants.

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

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

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

The platform only goes further downhill from there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thoughts And Prayers Will Not Stop Shootings.

After Columbine, there were thoughts and prayers. There were more thoughts and prayers after Aurora, Sandy Hook, Charleston, San Bernardino, Orlando and, now, Dallas. After Eric Garner, after Michael Brown, after Timor Rice, after Ezell Ford, after John Crawford III, after Jonathon Ferrell, after Alton Sterling, after Philando Castile, and after the deaths of 5 Dallas police officers, there were more thoughts and prayers. Yet the shootings continue.

Obviously, thoughts and prayers alone aren’t working. They may make us feel better. But they do nothing to stop the shootings. And because the shootings continue to divide us, there will be many more thoughts and prayers.

What we need, instead, are common sense laws to improve gun safety. Ideally, that would mean banning military-style semi-automatic weapons and semi-automatic handguns. Unfortunately, that genie is out of the bottle. Even if we banned the sale of them tomorrow, there would still be millions in circulation. But what we can do is to repeal all open carry laws. Even in the Old West, open carry was banned in towns…in “polite society.” We can do that again.

We can pass laws for universal background checks on ALL gun sales to close the so-called “gun show loophole.” We can ban the sale of guns to those on the no-fly list until they can prove that they are not dangerous. We can ban the sale of guns to those who have been convicted of domestic assault or are under restraining orders. We can ban the sale of guns to those who have been convicted of any violent crimes. We can require gun safety training to those who have conceal and carry permits. And we can take the words of the Dallas Police Chief to heart and discourage people from carrying guns in public places.

We can, once again, ban silencers and large caliber sniper rifles…rifles so powerful that they can blow a sizeable hole in an engine block. We can ban large capacity magazines, except at gun ranges.

We can reinstate funding for the Center for Disease Control to study gun violence. And we can reinstate funding for services to help the mentally ill – one of the three largest groups of victims of gun violence.

We can increase budgets for police departments that will allow more training in the de-escalation of violent situations. We can make certain that our police know how to safely disarm those who are armed with weapons other than guns, such as clubs and knives. We can assess police officer candidates for personality traits so that we hire the best possible candidates and eliminate those who are racist or trigger happy. And since, we will demand more of the police, we can pay them appropriately.

There are many things we can do to help police and limit the number of senseless shootings. But, if we rely on thoughts and prayers alone, they are certain to continue.

How Has Racism Plagued The Obama Administration? Let Me Count The Ways:

I have conservative friends who deny that President Obama has been treated any differently than previous presidents. Setting aside the prolonged fishing expedition to find dirt on the Clintons and the natural reaction to a stolen election and the lies told by the Bush administration to justify its invasion of Iraq, (yes, I proudly wore an “Impeach Bush” button) let’s look at the conservative response to the nation’s first African-American president.

Even before he was nominated, Obama was beset by claims that he was not an American citizen. For the first time in US history, the political opposition demanded to see a presidential candidate’s birth certificate.

On the day of his inauguration, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, GOP leaders met to formulate a strategy to make him fail. At so-called Tea Party rallies, protestors carried racist images of Obama. They also showed up at presidential speeches armed with loaded guns and threatened to “exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.” At the same time, rednecks all over the South dug out their Confederate battle flags, planting them in their yards, on their houses and flying them in the back of their pickup trucks. Many covered their vehicles with stickers that read “NObama,” “One Big Ass Mistake America” and more blatantly racist slogans.

The Secret Service saw a dramatic increase in threats on the President’s life. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted a dramatic rise in hate groups. At the same time, rightwing radio hosts and the NRA claimed that Obama was “coming for your guns,” which, in turn, dramatically increased gun sales.

When Obama prepared a video to encourage students to work hard and stay in school (something that other presidents have routinely done), conservatives howled, claiming that Obama was going to “indoctrinate” their children. They also ridiculed the First Lady for encouraging students to move for fitness and to make more nutritious choices for meals.

When Obama first addressed a joint session of Congress, a racist congressman openly shouted “You Lie.” In another joint session, conservative Supreme Court justices visibly shook their heads in disgust at the President’s justifiable criticism of the Citizens United ruling. (At least in my long lifetime, such displays of disrespect for the president have never previously occurred.)

In the Senate, the GOP blocked the President’s initiatives with a record number of threatened filibusters. Republicans also blocked a record number of administrative appointments and a record number of nominees for federal courts. And Obama’s most recent nominee to the Supreme Court has been waiting for a vote for a record length of time as a result of the GOP attitude that, with nearly a year left in office, Obama was to be considered a “lame duck.”

There have been a record number of conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama, including the lunacy surrounding the military exercise known as Jade Helm. There have been claims that he would declare martial law or, worse, declare Sharia law. Conservatives have claimed that he is a secret Muslim at the same time they have accused him of following a radical Christian pastor. They blamed him for the national debt, for shipping jobs overseas, for abandoning Iraq (even though our departure was negotiated by the Bush administration) and the creation of ISIS.

They accused him of coddling terrorists; of selling out Israel by negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear program; of bowing to foreign leaders; of “selling out” to the communist Castro regime by normalizing relations with Cuba. They accused him of failing to secure our borders despite a record number of arrests and deportations. And, for the first time in US history, the GOP Congress invited a world leader (Netanyahu) to speak to a joint session without following protocol and going through the executive branch and the State Department.

Conservatives have circulated false emails and social media memes that falsely claim that Obama ordered crosses removed from military cemeteries, banned prayer at the military academies, and worse. They have compared the Obamas to gorillas. They have boldly stated that the First Lady is transgender and called for the Obama’s beautiful daughters to be raped.

At the same time, conservatives have not given Obama any credit for the good things he has done. They would have you believe that he only got Osama bin Laden based on previous efforts by the Bush administration. They have not credited him for trying to nominate a record number of members of the opposing party to his cabinet. They have not credited him for saving the US auto industry. They have not credited him for arresting the precipitous slide of our economy or for policies that have caused the stock markets to soar to record highs. They have not credited him for cutting the national deficit faster than any previous president. They have not credited him for preventing health insurance companies from exempting people for pre-existing conditions. And, instead of congratulating him for making health care available to millions of Americans, they have voted to repeal “Obamacare” dozens of times.

They have called President Obama the “food stamp” president, the “Imperial” president, the anti-gun president, a socialist, a fascist, and a n***er. They have blamed him for the gang violence in Chicago and violence against the police. They even blame him for the shootings of unarmed black men by police.

Finally, in a stunning show of hypocrisy, they actually have the chutzpah to blame him for increasing racism in the US! And the presumptive GOP presidential nominee who should never again be named is running on the slogan “Make American Great Again” – a dog whistle call to racists that may as well say “Make America White Again.”

Mass Shootings Now Define Our Civilization.

Since the tragedy at Columbine, I have written blog posts calling for common sense gun safety. I have written and called my congressional representatives asking for universal background checks. I have taught self-defense classes debunking the notion that guns are a defensive weapon. I have demonstrated that carrying a gun does not protect you against an armed assailant who has the advantage of surprise. I have explained that being in a crowd of armed people makes you less safe. I have passed along academic studies that show that more guns equal more gun violence. I have tried to debunk the notion that an assault weapon is good for anything other than killing people. And millions of like-minded people have spoken out against gun violence.

None of it has worked.

Since Columbine, we have seen an average of more than one mass shooting (defined as incidents in which at least 4 people are killed or wounded) per day in the US. We’ve seen more than 100,000 shootings in our nation each year. We have seen lunatics with legal access to guns kill men and women. We’ve seen them murder theater-goers, church-goers and party-goers. We’ve seen them target black people, brown people, white people and gay people. We’ve seen them shoot doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, teachers, government workers and a congresswoman. We’ve even seen them murder school children!

Over all that time, I’ve seen people use the 2nd Amendment to defend the rights of any individual to gain access to weapons of war. I’ve seen the NRA bribe legislators and congressional representatives to create even greater access to such weapons. I’ve heard political leaders foment hate, then call for national prayer when people act on that hate. I’ve heard so-called religious leaders (and I use the term loosely) claim that mass shootings are God’s vengeance for abortions, for accepting gays, for legalizing gay marriage, for allowing transgender people to use the bathroom. I’ve heard friends and relatives claim that mass shootings are merely the price we pay for freedom.

For whatever reason, we’ve been convinced to view gun violence as a matter of politics; as a matter of religion or policy. It is not. In fact, it’s the very essence of who we are as individuals. It defines our society.

If you think discrimination against others for any reason is acceptable, you cannot call yourself religious. If your pastor damns any group of people – whether they are people who look different, pray differently, love differently or have different beliefs – you do not belong to a church. You belong to a cult of hate. If you support politicians who privately accept money from the NRA to vote against gun safety bills then publically pray for the victims of gun violence, you are an accessory to murder. If you think someone who performs a legal medical procedure should be stopped at any cost, you do not understand what it means to be an American, because you neither believe in democracy nor in the rule of law. If you think those who speak in favor of discrimination and hate speak for you. If you are someone I know who actually believes any of these things; if you prefer to embrace hate rather than kindness, I cannot call you a friend.

I’m not even certain that I can call you human.

Understanding The Trump Phenomenon.

The success of Trump the candidate seems to have confused liberals and conservatives alike. But it’s really not that difficult to understand if you look at the underlying causes.

First, there is great dissatisfaction among many Americans on both sides of the political spectrum. Both sides see growing poverty and a struggling middle class while, at the same time, a privileged few are thriving. Both see a dysfunctional Congress that now represents only a fraction of its constituents – those with the money and power to call in political favors.

As a highly accomplished con man, Trump has tapped into the voters’ smoldering anger toward government, fueled by Fox News Channel and virtually the entire radio spectrum of rightwing, hate radio. Using a tactic perfected by unsavory dictators, he has successfully focused the blame for our problems on outsiders and those on the fringes of our society. He has convinced a substantial portion of our population that the nation is struggling as the result of Mexican immigrants, Muslims, China and “political correctness” – an oversensitivity for minorities, Muslims, immigrants, women and the disabled. That has invited angry white men to dig out their Klan sheets and to say whatever racist, sexist things that cross their degenerate minds.

Far from being the successful business leader his supporters believe him to be (he is one of the few to ever lose money as the owner of a casino), Trump is really only accomplished at the arts of persuasion and branding. He refuses to deal in specifics, understanding that emotions matter more than facts or even truth.

Capitalizing on what I would call the Kardashian effect, Trump understood that his celebrity and outrageous statements are good for media. As a result, he has been able to manipulate the media’s greed to the point that CNN and even the so-called liberal cable network, MSNBC, were willing to spend airtime focused on an empty Trump podium waiting for Trump’s latest rant than to cover a policy speech by Hillary or a large rally for Bernie.

Trump has benefited from the chronically short attention spans of the public – a public unwilling, or unable, to research or to comprehend the issues. A public that disdains nuance and complicated answers for complex subject matter. An impatient public that views the world as black or white; good or bad; right or wrong. He has also benefited from a political environment based on tribalism – knowing that even those members of his party who despise him and everything he stands for will eventually fall in line to support him. And he has seemingly embraced the strategy of former GOP strategist, Paul Weyrich, who correctly posited that suppressing the vote – even if it means alienating a majority of potential voters – benefits Republicans.

Finally, he has benefited from a chronically disorganized and divided Democratic Party – a Party that lacks clear, decisive leadership; a Party that, without control of the media, has struggled to articulate its accomplishments and its message; a Party that has made it easy for people like Trump, Cruz, Ryan, McConnell, et al to promise everything, but deliver nothing.

Trumped-Up Presidential Qualifications.

Given that Donald J. Trump will soon be named the Republican nominee for president, there’s more than a little irony that, when we describe something that has been fabricated, concocted or fictitious, we commonly use the words “trumped-up.”

In fact, nothing could better describe the qualifications of the Republican nominee.

Yes, Republican voters have winnowed through all of their presidential hopefuls and decided that the best option to become leader of the free world; the best candidate to represent our nation; the one to implement changes in our economic system; the one to negotiate treaties and trade deals with other countries; the one to have access to our nuclear codes is The Donald.

They have decided that substance, facts and reason no longer matter. For them, it’s enough that Trump has promised to “make America great again.”

They have anointed Trump as their presidential candidate despite his history of more than 3,500 lawsuits – mostly against those who dared to disagree with him or to say or write the truth about him. They have voted for him despite the fact that he judges all women through the misogynistic eyes of a beauty pageant owner. They have selected him despite his reputed mob ties. They have touted his business acumen despite the fact that he has filed for bankruptcy four times; despite the fact that much of his financial success is based on tax avoidance and government subsidies; and despite the fact that he would actually have more money today if he had simply invested his inheritance in an index fund.

Republicans have convinced themselves that Trump is trustworthy and that his support cannot be bought because he is independently wealthy. Yet he was caught exploiting veterans. He and his failed Trump “University” are currently being sued for fraud. He is being investigated for bribery of state officials. Unlike every other presidential candidate for the past 40 years, he has refused to release his tax returns. And, when the Panama Papers were released, his name was reportedly mentioned hundreds of times in connection with offshore tax havens.

Trump supporters have deluded themselves into believing that the Donald is immune to corruption because he is “self-funding” his campaign. However, he has quietly accepted campaign contributions and used them to pay his own corporations for travel, hotels, even his New York campaign headquarters, thereby lining his pockets.

Many poor and middle class Americans seem to think that Trump cares about workers, yet it has been well-documented that a new hotel in Dubai bearing his name is being built with slave labor. They seem to think that he will end illegal immigration despite the fact that he has hired undocumented workers for his own projects. They believe that he will negotiate more advantageous international trade deals despite the fact that many world leaders find him abhorrent.

Republicans say they admire Trump’s “authenticity” despite the fact that he consistently fails most every fact check. (Thus far, during this presidential race, he has lied more than all of the other candidates combined.)

Trump supporters admire his aversion to political correctness which, in reality, is nothing more than being polite. He has freed them to say and do virtually anything they please, exposing a substantial undercurrent of racism in his campaign. He has emboldened and encouraged his supporters to commit acts of violence against protesters. And, not surprisingly, he has accepted endorsements from known racists, even leaders of the KKK.

Through the entire primary campaign, Trump has spoken in grandiose terms about his plans. Yet he has offered few specifics, and the few he has put forward have been proven completely unworkable. For example, his budget plan would add trillions to the national debt. Is it any wonder, then, that former Presidents and Secretaries of State (including those from Trump’s own party), military leaders, leaders in the intelligence community, business leaders, even the conservative Wall Street Journal have warned against voting for Trump?

In reality, Trump is the sort of divisive, narcissistic, self-aggrandizing bully not seen on the world stage since Benito Mussolini – the man who quite literally created fascism. (Think that’s too harsh? Then I’d suggest you compare videos of Mussolini with those of Trump – Il Duce versus Il Douche. Try to convince yourself that the postures, the attitudes, the smug expressions and the pouting lips aren’t identical.)

Supporters say they want to elect Trump because he’s different. He certainly is that – different, as in totally unqualified, as in wholly lacking the knowledge and temperament to be president. One can only conclude that America has gone mad – at least a significant portion of it.