Some Political Conspiracies Are More Than Theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Democrats’ Dilemmas.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Election Winners Live Up To Their Promises?

Over the past year, Americans have been subjected to non-stop campaigning by national, state and local candidates. They and their affiliated Political Action Committees fueled by billions of dollars have papered our cities with flyers and ads. They have held thousands of campaign rallies. They have run tens of thousands of commercials on television and social media. And many of those commercials and ads have tried to create fear about the opposition.

We have been told that an invasion is coming – an invasion of MS-13 gang members, terrorists and thugs from Central America. We have been told that, if the angry mob of Democrats win, they will turn the US into a socialist country, and we will forever lose our democracy. We have been told that many of the candidates are corrupt. We have been told that if the opponents get to Washington, they will raise our taxes, bankrupt our nation and turn our health care over to a government bureaucracy.

Both sides have told us that they, and they alone, can end the division.

Both sides have told us that they will preserve our access to affordable health care. Both sides have promised to protect those with pre-existing conditions. Both sides have promised to preserve Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Both sides have promised to improve education and the economy. Both sides have promised to create jobs. And, ironically, many on both sides have promised to be independent and to reach across the aisle for our benefit.

Really?

To the last claim, I’ll simply respond this way: If every candidate who promised to work across the aisle actually worked across the aisle, Congress and our country would not be so divided.

The True Enemies Of Democracy.

Many Republicans, led by Donald J. Trump, have labeled the press “enemies of the people.” In addition, they have called the Democratic Party an “angry mob.” But the facts are abundantly clear that Republicans are the true enemies of the people. Indeed, today’s Republican Party represents a greater threat to our democracy than any other enemy, foreign or domestic.

That is not a claim that I make lightly.

Take, for example, the 5-4 decision by the conservative majority of the US Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder which gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Immediately following the decision, 846 polling places closed or were moved, especially in areas with large minority populations. And, by 2016, more than 2,000 polling places had closed. Most of these were within states that previously had been under federal oversight.

The attack on the Voting Rights Act was quickly compounded by an onslaught of strict voter ID laws that have disenfranchised thousands of voters – mostly minorities and the elderly who are unable to travel to faraway Motor Vehicle offices to obtain proper IDs. Some are too poor to pay for copies of their birth certificates in order to obtain the new IDs. Some are unable to take time away from work. And some do not have access to transportation.

To more fully understand the impact of these laws, in North Carolina, the Charlotte Observer reported that, at the time the state’s new voter ID law was passed, as many as 800,000 registered voters lacked the necessary ID to allow them to vote! And with similar laws in at least 19 states, imagine how many American citizens can be denied their right to vote!

Another decision by the Supreme Court’s conservative majority allowed states to purge their voter rolls of citizens who have not voted in two consecutive elections. Not surprisingly, the purges have mostly occurred in Republican-controlled states.

More recently, the US Supreme Court ruled that North Dakota (another Republican-controlled state) could deny citizens the right to vote if they did not have a voter ID with a current street address. Since Native Americans living on reservations do not have street addresses, the result is to disenfranchise most of the state’s Native American population. And, in Georgia, the Republican Secretary of State who is running for governor, has put on hold 53,000 voter registrations for inconsistencies with IDs such as differences in abbreviations (Ave vs. Av) and even differences in punctuation. 70 percent of those registrations are for minorities who are most likely to vote for the Republican’s opponent.

In many states, the Republican snakes who control legislatures have drawn serpentine congressional and legislative districts in their own image with the intent of marginalizing Democrats and minorities. In North Carolina, when a Democrat won the governor’s race, the GOP-controlled legislature even passed laws to minimize the governor’s power before he took office.

During the Obama administration, Republicans in the Senate blocked dozens of nominees for judgeships, including Supreme Court nominee, Merrick Garland. Most, including Garland, never even received a hearing. As a result, the then-Democratic-controlled Senate changed the rules to end filibusters of judicial nominees. And now that Republicans are in control, they have stacked the courts with two conservative Supreme Court nominees and 84 federal court nominees who will decide cases based on the Republican ideology.

In addition to these threats to civility and majority rule, we must consider the fact that 2 out of the past 5 presidential elections were won by Republicans despite losing the popular vote. The first was stolen with the help of George W. Bush’s brother and the last one with the help of Vladimir Putin.

As evidenced by Trump’s response to Leslie Stahl’s questions about cruelly mocking Dr. Christine Blasey Ford: “Who cares? We won,” it’s clear that Republicans will do anything to win. Even destroy our democracy.

Four Potential Outcomes Of The Mueller Investigation.

We don’t yet know the extent of what the Special Counsel and his team have found. We know that Russia, at the direction of Vladimir Putin, interfered with our election by hacking into voter databases. And we know that Russia hacked into Democratic websites and databases, and stole emails.

We know that Don Jr. and other members of the campaign met with Russians in hopes of obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton. We know that Don Jr. and his father lied about the meeting. We know that Russia provided the stolen emails to Wikileaks, apparently at Trump’s request. And we have seen numerous stories by investigative reporters that have raised questions about a potential conspiracy involving Russia, the Republican National Committee (RNC), several congressional representatives, the National Rifle Associations (NRA), members of the Trump campaign, and members of the current administration.

We know that there were dozens of contacts between Team Trump and Team Putin. We know that members of the Trump campaign lied about those contacts under oath. And, most damning, we know that the Mueller investigation has obtained at least 5 guilty pleas and 17 indictments.

Yet, to date, we have seen little evidence that directly ties Trump to a conspiracy. The ultimate results of the investigation are still a mystery. And it’s worth considering what will happen when Mueller releases his findings. After all, those findings will likely impact the very future of our nation for generations to come.

In my opinion, here are the most likely outcomes:

1 – Mueller finds no conspiracy directly involving Trump. A few more of his campaign people (and maybe even his family) are indicted, Republicans maintain control of Congress and the administration continues unchecked.

2 – Mueller finds no evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in a conspiracy. More members of his campaign are indicted and convicted, Democrats take control of Congress after the midterms and serve as a check on Trump’s power.

3 – Mueller reveals evidence of a wide-ranging conspiracy involving Trump and numerous members of his campaign. Mueller indicts the Trump family, members of the campaign, members of the RNC and GOP members of Congress. He finds evidence that the Trump family is guilty of money-laundering and turns that information over to the NY Attorney General who, in turn, files charges. News of Trump’s treachery and the complicity of the GOP leads to a turning point which causes the majority of Americans to rethink political loyalties, to bolster election systems, to rebuild respect for government institutions, to renew respect for facts and science, and to review how we cooperate with the world in the interest of peace and the maintenance of our shared ecosystem.

4 – Revelations of Trump’s involvement in a political conspiracy to steal the election lead to numerous charges and convictions. Yet Trump’s supporters believe the evidence is fraudulent. They refuse to accept the findings and the process. That leads to even more division, more anger and a virtual (if not a literal) American civil war.

For the future of our nation; for the future of democracy, let’s all hope it’s not the latter.

To My Trump-Supporting Friends.

Your hero continues to deny any “collusion” with Russians to interfere with the 2016 election. He implies that the interference could have come from anyone. He calls the Mueller investigation a “Witch Hunt.” And he labels anything that conflicts with his statements as “Fake News.”

So let’s look at what we know. These are not suppositions or fake news. They are proven facts.

1 – Every US intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did interfere with our elections. They hacked the emails and websites of the Democratic National Committee (DNC), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) and John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager. They also successfully hacked the voter registration data for at least 3 states and tried to hack voter data for many others. The intelligence community presented detailed information about the interference two days before the inauguration.

2 – About the same time, Russian operatives also tried to attack US nuclear, aviation and power grid infrastructure. Our intelligence agencies say Russia is continuing the attacks. And they say that the system is “blinking red” that Russia intends to interfere with the mid-term elections. Despite the warnings, Trump announced that he believes Putin’s denials – that there is no on-going threat – and he eliminated the position of National Cybersecurity Coordinator.

3 – 12 Russians have been indicted by the Mueller investigation for election meddling. Thus far, the Mueller investigation has also obtained indictments or guilty pleas from 3 companies and 20 more people, including four former Trump advisers.

4 – The Mueller indictments revealed that the Russian hacking began the same night that candidate Trump said at a press conference, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you find Hillary Clinton’s missing emails.” After the Russian hacks of DNC analytics, the Trump campaign clearly changed campaign strategies.

5 – There have been at least 50 documented contacts between Russian officials and members of the Trump campaign team at the highest levels, including campaign chair Paul Manafort, campaign adviser and former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, campaign adviser and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, and many, many more . And a number of those people lied about their Russian contacts under oath.

6 – We know about the infamous meeting in Trump Tower between Donald Trump, Jr., a lawyer representing Russia and others. Emails show that the ostensible purpose of the meeting was to reveal dirt on Hillary Clinton.

7 – Shortly after the Trump Tower meeting, Donald Trump announced that he would soon reveal “big news” about Hillary Clinton.

8 – It is now known that President Trump dictated the false and misleading response to the Trump Tower meeting on Air Force One.

9 – It has been documented that Russian oligarchs close to Putin have purchased approximately $100 million in property from the Trump organization. At least 13 people with links to Russia lived in Trump properties prior to the election, including one who ran an illegal gambling ring in the apartment below Trump’s.

10 – Trump adviser, convicted felon, and part of Putin’s inner circle, Felix Sater, helped set up shell corporations and arrange funding for Trump projects, including plans for Trump Tower Moscow. (Interestingly, 77 percent of the apartments in Trump Soho were purchased by shadowy shell corporations.)

11 – The financial backing for Trump Tower Toronto came from a Russian-Canadian with proceeds from the sale of a Ukrainian steel mill. The chair of the bank that financed the deal is none other than Vladimir Putin.

12 – One of the Trump casinos was found in violation of federal money-laundering rules 100 times. (Money-laundering is popular among Russian oligarchs so they can turn their ill-gotten gains from crime into “clean” money that they can invest in the West. This is even more necessary due to US and EU sanctions on Russia.)

13 – For most of his career, developer Donald Trump proudly called himself the “King of Debt.” He bragged about building his empire with others’ money. But during the Great Recession, no US banks would loan him money because of his large debt. As a result, Trump casinos filed for bankruptcy with $1.8 billion of debt. Despite that Deutsche Bank loaned hundreds of millions to Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner. (Deutsche Bank was fined $450 million for helping Russian oligarchs launder more than $10 billion.)

14 – About the same time, both Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump were on record saying that the Trump organization didn’t need to rely on US Banks, “We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

15 – Beginning in about 2014, the “King of Debt” mysteriously began purchasing golf courses in the UK, eventually spending about $400 million in cash.

16 – When the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) received documents listing the names of clients using off-shore tax havens, the Trump name was listed 3,540 times.

17 – Trump is accused of demanding loyalty from FBI director James Comey and asked him to go easy on Michael Flynn. When Comey refused, he was fired. Trump later told Russian officials in the Oval Office that the pressure was off after firing that “nutjob” Comey.

18 – It has been documented that, in 2016, Russian oligarchs who are friends of Vladimir Putin funneled $30 million through the National Rifle Association (NRA) to benefit Republican candidates.

19 – The Department of Justice (separate from the Mueller investigation) indicted and arrested Russian national, Maria Butina. She is accused of cultivating GOP contacts through the NRA, the Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC), and the National Prayer Breakfast. She was photographed with a number of GOP candidates and conservative leaders.

20 – Butina and her Russian handler (a friend of Putin’s) led a delegation from the NRA (including some connected to the Trump campaign) to Russia.

21 – In a television broadcast seen nationwide in Russia, Vyacheslav Nikonov, a Russian lawmaker and leading member of Putin’s United Russia Party boasted that Russia stole the 2016 presidential election for Donald Trump.

22 – Sean Illing, the editor of a Russian newspaper stated that the Kremlin considers Trump “a stupid, unstrategic politician.” He continued, “Putin is confident that he can manipulate Trump to his advantage and he should be.” That was obvious for all the world to see in Helsinki. And it came after he insulted our allies.

23 – Trump unilaterally instituted tariffs against some of our leading trading partners. Not surprisingly, they responded with matching tariffs on our exports. Now Trump says he is considering more with no plan for ending the trade war he began.

All of these are documented facts. They are not suppositions. They are not “fake news.” And we’re likely to see much more revealed in the coming weeks and months. Yet Trump continues to raise questions about Russian interference. He refuses to confront Putin or say anything negative about him. He seems intent on weakening NATO and the EU – two of Putin’s most obvious goals. He continues to divide our nation by promoting cruel and hateful policies against refugees, immigrants, Muslims, African-Americans, and women. And that’s not even considering his personal indiscretions with porn stars and Playboy models, his admission of sexual assaults on Access Hollywood and the Howard Stern Show, or rumors of pee-pee tapes.

Add all of that to the questions that remain unanswered.

Why was nominee Trump’s only change to the GOP platform to reduce the sanctions on Russia? Why did he allow Russian diplomats into the Oval Office along with Russian media while keeping US media out? Why his deference to the world’s worst dictators? Why did he delay further sanctions against Russia after they were passed by Congress? Why did he recommend that Russia be allowed to rejoin the G7? Why has he stated that Crimea logically belongs to Russia because many of its citizens speak Russian?

There are still more questions.

Why has he twice arranged to meet Putin in private with no diplomats or staff allowed? What was discussed between the two men in private? What agreements were made? Why did his joint press conference in Helsinki appear to be that of a Russian leader with his asset? Why does Trump seem unable to confront or criticize Putin? Why his reluctance to support the findings of US intelligence agencies? Why his refusal to accept warnings that Russia is still attacking us? Why does he lie to us so often?

Of course, there is an even more important question. What if our president really has been compromised by our greatest global rival? I know Trump supporters enjoy punishing liberals – the so-called “libtards.” But is that worth sacrificing our democracy?

How The Senate And The Electoral College Distort Voter Representation.

After the 2016 presidential election, Democrats rightly raised questions about the Electoral College, a anachronistic remnant of the compromises made to unite the northern and southern states following the American Revolution.

After all, Republican candidates had been awarded the White House following two of the last five presidential elections despite the fact that a majority of Americans had voted for the Democratic candidates. To understand the problem, it’s helpful to look at what led to the creation of the Electoral College during the 1787 Constitutional Convention.

Among the thorniest issues faced by the Founders were determining how to democratically elect our government and how to prevent “tyranny by the majority.” (Remember: the whole idea of democracy was new back then.) The Founders eventually settled on a structure based on the Iroquois Nation – a bicameral Congress with the House of Representatives based on the population of each state and a Senate comprised of two members per state.

It was an idea that has served us well for most of our nation’s history. However, things have dramatically changed since 1787.

When the Constitution was drafted, the most populous state had 10 times as many people as the least populous state. But the most populous state (California) now has more than 68 times more people than the least populous state (Wyoming). As a result, California has 19.77 million people per senator while Wyoming has only 289,657 people per senator. That means a person living in Wyoming has more than 68 times the representation in the Senate as a person living in California! The difference is nearly as pronounced for Alaska, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. This should also explain why some people want to divide California into 3 states.

The inequity also extends to the Electoral College.

The Electoral College was created because the Founders were somewhat wary of the democratic process. They didn’t fully trust the citizens’ ability to make decisions as important as choosing the officers of our government. Indeed, Alexander Hamilton described the Electoral College this way: “A small number of persons, selected by their fellow-citizens from the general mass, will be most likely to possess the information and discernment requisite to such complicated tasks.”

The founders assumed the electors would be chosen district by district. But only California, Maine and Nebraska use this “congressional district method. Most use a “winner-takes-all” approach. That clearly ignores votes of the minority.

And the way the number of electors are decided makes matters worse.

The number of electors is based on each state’s combined total of senators and representatives. As a result, there are a total of 538 electors, corresponding to the 435 representatives and 100 senators, plus 3 electors for the District of Columbia. Therein lies the problem.

Since the red states – particularly Wyoming, Montana, Alaska and the Dakotas – are over-represented in Congress, a vote in Wyoming – with 3 electoral votes and a population of less than 580,000 – has 3.7 times the influence of a vote in California – a state with 55 electoral votes and a population of 39.54 million. That’s why the maps you see after presidential elections are so deceptive. Most of the map is red. But that only represents the geography controlled by each party. A map or chart showing votes based on population would be mostly blue.

Combine these issues with Gerrymandering – creating legislative and congressional districts to marginalize the impact of opposing voters – and you have an electoral system that is very much rigged for the benefit of the GOP.

That is why, despite Democrats having numerical advantages in 2016, Republicans now control the White House, the Senate, the House and a majority of statehouses.

13 Ways The GOP Suppresses, Manipulates and Marginalizes Votes.

For years, GOP strategists have tried to sow doubt in our electoral process. They claim that there is widespread voter fraud; that thousands of Democratic votes have been cast by dead people; that ACORN illegally registered Democratic voters with names like Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck; that college students have illegally voted in both their hometowns and their campus towns. And, of course, there is Donald Trump’s absurd claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted for Hillary Clinton. Yet no government or independent study has revealed more than a miniscule amount of illegal voting.

A five-year voter fraud investigation conducted by the George W. Bush administration “turned up virtually no evidence” of organized fraud. Out of hundreds of millions of votes cast, the investigation yielded 86 criminal convictions. But many of those were the result of people misunderstanding eligibility rules or filling out paperwork incorrectly. And, in one of the most comprehensive studies, the Loyola Law School found only 31 credible instances of voter impersonation out of more than 1 billion votes cast between 2000 and 2014 – one out of every 32 million votes cast.

So why do Republicans continue to adhere to the fantasy of voter fraud? The fear of millions of undocumented immigrants voting makes it easier for them to erect barriers for minorities, poor and elderly in the spirit of Jim Crow laws. Following are examples of tactics used by Republican-controlled states to suppress Democratic votes:

1. Denying Felons The Vote
Each election, approximately 1.4 million Americans are denied the right to vote based on felony convictions, despite having completed their sentences. The GOP has used these restriction to deny others their right to vote. Consider what happened in Florida in 2000. Weeks before the election, Gov. Jeb Bush and Sec. of State, Katherine Harris hired a Louisiana firm to compile a list of felons to be removed from voter lists. In Democratic-leaning counties, people with names similar to those of felons were not allowed to vote. As a result, it’s estimated 57,700 people, mostly Democrats of African-American or Latino descent, were incorrectly prevented from voting – more than enough to overcome Bush’s 305 statewide margin over Gore.

2. Electronic Voting Machines
During the same 2000 election in Volusia County, Florida, electronic machines deleted 16,022 votes for Gore. Election officials and Diebold blamed the problem on faulty memory cards, yet at least one investigative journalist concluded that the issue was likely intentional and more widespread. Yet the conservative-controlled Supreme Court’s decision prevented further investigation. In 2004, there were allegations of similar problems in Ohio, the state that tipped the election to Bush over John Kerry.

3. Strict Photo ID Laws
In at least 19 states, Republicans have passed strict photo ID laws forcing tens of thousands of voters to obtain new IDs available only at MVD locations – often many miles away. This is particularly problematic for the poor and elderly who do not drive or own a car. They are forced to take days off from work and find someone to drive them, in some cases, 100 miles or more. To illustrate the impact of such laws, the Charlotte Observer reported that, in North Carolina, as many as 800,000 registered voters lacked the necessary photo ID, and more than 556,000 had no ID at all.

4. Blocking College Students from Voting Where They Attend School
Numerous states have passed laws which force students to travel to their home cities or states to vote. And, in some of the states that require a photo ID for voting, they have denied the use of student IDs.

5. Barring People from Voting over Small Discrepancies
This technique most often affects women who have recently married and changed their last names. In some states, women have been denied the right to vote because their drivers’ licenses listed their maiden name as their middle name instead of their given middle name.

6. Scrubbing of Registered Voters Who Have Not Voted in Consecutive elections
The Supreme Court’s conservative majority recently ruled 5-4 that Ohio can purge voters who have failed to vote for six years and have not confirmed their residency. The ruling protects similar laws in six other states, including several that will be electing governors or U.S. senators this fall. According to some observers, the ruling disproportionately affects minorities and the poor – especially those who rent.

7. Reducing The Number of Polling Sites for Largely Democratic Areas
In 2016, there were 868 fewer voting sites nationwide as a result of the Supreme Court decision to gut the Voting Rights Act in Shelby County v. Holder. There were 403 fewer sites in Texas alone. Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, South Carolina, and North Carolina also dramatically cut the number of polling places, resulting in people waiting hours in line. And, in Georgia, Reuters found at least two Georgia counties where the changes disproportionately affect blacks.

8. Reducing Voting Hours in Democratic Areas
This was an enormous problem in Cleveland during the 2004 presidential elections. People in largely black, Democratic areas were forced to stand in lines for hours. In Indiana, state and local Republicans expanded early voting in GOP-dominated areas and restricted it in Democratic areas, according to an IndyStar investigation.

9. Reducing The Number of Early Voting Days
After the 2012 election, President Obama noted the long waits in Florida and Ohio which were the direct consequence of GOP efforts to curtail the number of days and hours people had to vote. He ordered a bipartisan election commission to determine how voting could be smoother, faster and more convenient. The commission urged states to expand the period for voting. But many GOP-controlled states moved in the opposite direction, reducing access to the ballot instead of expanding it. For example, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed legislation eliminating early voting hours on weekends and evenings when it’s most convenient for voters. Wisconsin Republicans then reduced the early voting period from three weeks to two weeks and only one weekend. Then they eliminated weekend voting altogether.

10. Intimidation
In some minority areas, where people have routinely been victimized by police harassment, GOP-led governments have placed armed police near the entrance to polling places to discourage people from voting.

11. Misinformation
GOP campaigns and GOP-led governments have sent out mailings that deliberately provide the wrong date and wrong locations for voting. And, as demonstrated during 2016, they used social media and GOP propaganda outlets to make false accusations against candidates.

In addition to suppression, there are at least two things that have allowed the GOP to manipulate and marginalize Democratic votes:

12. Gerrymandering
Though it’s true that both parties have used Gerrymandering to their benefit, the GOP has taken it to extremes – mostly to marginalize minority votes. For example, 30 years ago, the Supreme Court prohibited a then-common practice known as racial gerrymandering, which consisted of spreading minorities across voting districts, making it virtually impossible to elect their preferred candidates. So the Court required states to create “majority-minority” districts — districts in which the majority of the population belonged to a single minority. Unfortunately, the GOP quickly discovered that, instead of giving African-Americans more political power, such districts could actually deprive them of power. By concentrating the minority vote into a few districts, minority influence could be minimized elsewhere. The impact of Gerrymandering can be shown with statistics from the 2016 election. On average, Democratic candidates won by about 112,000 votes while Republicans won by 97,000. And Hillary Clinton garnered nearly 3 million votes than Trump. So clever Gerrymandering allowed Republicans to take control of the White House, the Senate, the House and a majority of statehouses.

13. Electoral College
The strength of the GOP is in the least populous states. Yet, despite their lower numbers, the structure of the Electoral College gives those states an outsized influence on the vote. For example, in 2016, the voters of Wyoming had 3.6 times the influence on the Electoral College as voters in California and other populous states.

And, if all of this isn’t bad enough, some GOP strategists have begun pushing for restricting voting to only those who own property! It leads one to question: If the GOP is pro-democracy and confident in its policies, why does it go to such great lengths to keep people from voting and to make its opponents votes count less?

How Much Smoke Do You Need To See To Know There’s A Fire?

For those who believe the Special Counsel investigation of a potential conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign is a “witch hunt,” here’s a large dose of reality.

Every US agency and many of their European counterparts have determined that Russia interfered with our 2016 elections to benefit Trump. Also, it has been proven that Russians hacked the election apparatus in numerous states and their hacking attempts were blocked by many more. It has been proven that Russia purchased advertising on social media to sow division among US citizens. Russian trolls and bots also created fake news to further Vladimir Putin’s goals.

There were wide swings in several key swing states between the usually reliable polls and election results. Additionally, there were suspicious vote totals in the same states with each of them showing almost exactly the same 1 percent margin in favor of Trump (a near statistical impossibility) – enough to help him win the electoral college despite losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes.

Looking further into the matter, a shocking number of Trump campaign officials and associates are known to have met with Russian officials and Putin-linked oligarchs: Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Flynn, Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Rex Tillerson, George Papadopoulis, Carter Page, Michael Cohen, Erik Prince and, possibly, others. Many of those people also have long-standing connections with Russian officials and oligarchs who are close to Putin.

It has been established that Don Jr., Kushner, Manafort and possibly Trump, himself, met with a Russian attorney at Trump Tower with hopes of receiving damaging emails stolen from the DNC, DCCC and Clinton’s campaign chair. We know that, after Trump won the GOP nomination, the party’s platform was suspiciously revised to soften language against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine. And we now know that longtime Trump attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, was selling access to President Trump through a Russian-connected company following the election. (That same Russian-linked company registered a number of alt-right websites during the election.)

We know that, prior to the campaign, numerous Putin-linked Russian oligarchs purchased Trump properties for prices well above the market rate. And we know that at least one Russian oligarch rented space in Trump Tower.

We know that, faced with a financial crisis in the 1990s, the Trump organization approached nearly every US bank for loans and that their requests were rejected. Yet, beginning in 2005, the organization went on a buying spree, spending more than $400 million in cash on new properties. There are well-founded suspicions that the money may have come from Russian oligarchs through Deutsche Bank – a bank fined for its involvement in a $10 billion Russian money-laundering scheme. About the same time, Trump’s own sons and son-in-law began bragging about the Trump organization’s connections to Russia, stating that, as a result, they no longer needed loans from US banks. And Donald Trump Jr. went on record at a real estate conference in 2008, stating, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

Are you choking on all the smoke and gasping for air yet? If not, there’s more.

Following the election, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, telling the Russian foreign minister and US ambassador during an Oval Office meeting, “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” He likely had assistant FBI Director Andrew McCabe fired for similar reasons. And after Congress passed a bipartisan bill to increase sanctions over our elections, Trump delayed them. And he continues to speak about Vladimir Putin only in glowing terms.

So far, Flynn, Papadopoulis, Richard Pinedo, and Alex van der Zwaan have all pleaded guilty to various offenses related to the Trump campaign. In addition, Gates has accepted a plea deal. And 13 Russian nationals have been indicted.

Now we have learned that a Russian official courted Republicans beginning in 2009 – at least 5 years before the international community imposed sanctions on Russia as a result of its invasion of the Ukraine. That same Russian official, along with 22 other Russia-linked individuals also gave millions to the NRA – money that is believed to have been used for the campaigns of GOP candidates. And it has been reported that another Russian oligarch funneled $7.35 into the campaigns of GOP candidates, including Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain.

Given all of this, is it really possible that the Mueller investigation is a “witch hunt” orchestrated by the Democratic Party? I hardly think so.

Beyond Tribalism.

Today, most Americans are members of a political tribe – Trump’s tribe, the Republican tribe, the Conservative tribe, the Libertarian tribe, the Democratic tribe, the Liberal tribe, the Evangelical tribe. But no matter which of the labels we prefer, we should find many issues upon which we can all agree.

On the most important issues, we should all be members of the same tribe – the American tribe.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the questions of possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and whatever Hillary Clinton was accused of doing or not doing. We should all be concerned that all of our intelligence-gathering agencies agree that Russia – one of our greatest rivals – interfered with our elections. If we, as Americans, are to have confidence in our elected leaders, we need to know that they were fairly elected.

In addition, there should be plenty of other areas of agreement among ordinary Americans. For example, we should all be worried that many of our longest-standing institutions – the press, FBI, CIA, justice system, educational system, science, even the truth – are under attack. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that there is also an all-out attack on America’s working class.

Ideology aside, we should all be horrified that corporations and the very rich received 83 percent of the benefits from the most recent tax cuts – cuts resulting in deficits that will add multiple trillions to our national debt. We should all be concerned that the president ignores the Constitution’s emoluments clause by spending nearly every weekend at one of his resorts in order to charge taxpayers millions for the rooms needed for Secret Service, as well as government and foreign officials.

We should all be outraged over reports that the president’s longtime lawyer – his “fixer” – paid hundreds of thousands to buy the silence of women with whom he had affairs. And we should be even more troubled by reports that the same “fixer” was apparently selling access to the White House and accepting millions from a Russian oligarch.

We should be skeptical of Betsy Devos’s push to privatize education, thereby taking money away from public schools in order to finance parochial and private schools for the well-heeled. We should recoil at the dozens of reports detailing Scott Pruitt’s corruption and his rollback of environmental protections, thereby threatening clean air and water.

We should be angered by Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes for his honeymoon and other private trips. We should be equally alarmed at Ryan Zinke’s taxpayer-funded vacations, his unjustified cuts to national monuments and his sweetheart deals for campaign donors who have placed bids for drilling rights on public lands. We should be universally sickened by Ben Carson’s plan to triple the cost of rent for poor Americans (many of them seniors) who live in public housing while others in government scheme to cut funding for food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Social Security.

It cannot be stated often enough or strongly enough: This is not normal!