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

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

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

Does that make any freaking sense?

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

Does that make any freaking sense?

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

Does that make any freaking sense?

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

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

Does any of that make any freaking sense?

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

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

The Shutdown Is Not A Negotiating Tactic. It’s The Goal.

It seems that most Americans and much of the media believe that the shutdown is the result of a failed negotiation between Trump and Congressional Democrats. But, in reality, the great dealmaker has not been negotiating in good faith all along. Indeed, his latest “proposal” was to offer Democrats things that he has previously taken away – DACA protections, immigration judges, etc.

Prior to this January, if Trump wanted $5.7 billion to fund his wall, all he had to do was ask. The Trump sycophants in the Republican-controlled House and Senate have given him everything he wanted. As evidenced by the Trump tax cuts, which have resulted in nearly $2 trillion in additional debt, they certainly weren’t worried about fiscal constraint. And, if Trump and the GOP really wanted to end the shutdown, they could do it today by voting on the budget bill that has already been passed by the House and was previously passed in the Senate by a unanimous voice vote. Or they could accede to the Democrats’ wishes and negotiate funding for increased border security where it would do the most good – at legal ports of entry. That, after all, is where the majority of illicit drugs enter our country in trucks, shipping crates and private vehicles. And they could use the funds to step up the monitoring of the people who enter our country legally and simply overstay their visas. Those people represent approximately half of undocumented immigrants. The Republicans’ failure to do so shows that the shutdown isn’t really interested in border security.

I believe the government shutdown is what Trump and his minions wanted all along.

For Republicans and this outlaw administration, the shutdown serves a variety of purposes. First, it is a distraction from the Russia investigation that is nearing completion. Second, it deprives the incoming Democratic House members the necessary funds to staff their offices, thus potentially impeding their investigations into Trump world. Third, it offers the bully in the White House an opportunity to frustrate and blame Speaker Pelosi. Fourth, in the twisted mind of Trump, the majority of government workers are Democrats, so it’s mostly Democrats who are suffering the consequences. Fifth, if as I believe, Trump really is beholden to Putin, a shutdown throws Russia’s greatest adversary into chaos.

Finally, and most important, Republicans despise government. So the shutdown allows them to call back only those workers that are necessary to their cause. For example, while many in the EPA and Interior are furloughed, Republicans have called back only those Interior employees who are responsible for issuing drilling and mining permits for public lands.

We must all face the reality that the shutdown is a right-winger’s wet dream. The most extreme among them believe the federal government should only be responsible for law and order, the protection of private property and national defense. Anything else – Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, WIC, HUD, the EPA, public education – is, in their minds, a waste of money and an unwelcome intrusion into their ability to plunder the national resources and squeeze money out of the populace.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans, Do You Ever Listen To Yourselves?

You blame Democrats for playing partisan politics with the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the US Supreme Court while withholding mountains of documents from his time as a political operative, including the lengthy period he was investigating President Bill Clinton. You “plow” forward with the judiciary committee hearing while refusing to ask the FBI to investigate credible claims that Kavanaugh may be guilty of sexual assault. You schedule a vote for his confirmation the day after one of his alleged victims was set to testify before listening to her testimony. You say the process must not be delayed even though you left a Supreme Court seat vacant for more than a year, refusing to even schedule a hearing.

And then you voice outrage over politicization of the process? Really? Are you unable to hear the hypocrisy in that?

When pressed, you claim your actions are justified by the failed nomination of Robert Bork. However, you refuse to acknowledge that Bork promised to roll back civil rights gains if seated on the Court and that he had participated in the Watergate cover-up by firing Independent Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox on Nixon’s orders. And I’ll remind you that Democrats weren’t the only Senators who voted to deny Bork a seat on the Court. Six Republican Senators did, as well.

Despite extolling your religious and family values, you engage in victim shaming, saying that Dr. Blasey Ford must be lying since she came forward 36 years after she was nearly raped. Some of you excuse Kavanaugh’s alleged behavior claiming that “boys will be boys” and that “all teenage boys engage in groping and sexual assault.” Even some of your sanctimonious pastors excuse the behavior saying that it wasn’t sexual assault if he stopped short of rape or if she was unable to scream!

Do you not hear how cruel and obnoxious such statements sound? And your outrageous statements surrounding the Senate confirmation are just scratching the surface of your hypocrisy.

Let’s look at your leader. You howl about our government being controlled by the East and West Coast elites, yet you chose to vote for a billionaire from New York who inherited millions. You talk of “draining the swamp.” To do that, you voted for a man who has long-time mob ties and who has bullied the individuals and small businesses who worked for his organization, often refusing to pay them for their work. Moreover, once in office, he filled his cabinet posts with people who have used their positions to fill their own pockets and to offer sweetheart deals to lobbyists.

You angrily protested and threatened President Obama when he signed a stimulus bill to drag the economy out of a ditch – a ditch you created. You screamed that the resulting deficits and the growing national debt were going to ruin our country. But you’re now perfectly okay with the much larger deficits caused by your party’s trillion-dollar gift to the wealthy and corporations in the form of tax cuts.

You claim yours is the party of family values, yet you voted for a man who is thrice married and has bragged about his sexual assaults and perversions. A man who cheated on his wife with a porn star. A man who carried on a near year-long extramarital affair with a Playboy playmate. Worse, his long-time “fixer” pleaded guilty to writing checks on his behalf to cover it up.

You say you want to restore the US as a Christian nation (something prohibited by the Constitution), yet you follow a president who spends his Sundays playing golf at his own resorts so he can charge the government for the rooms and golf carts needed for his Secret Service protection. He couldn’t cite a verse from the Bible if it wasn’t on his teleprompter or scrawled on a note. Even then he’d probably screw it up. You claim that your president was sent by God to save America. Really? Who knew that God so loved pussy-grabbing misogynists and racists?

You blame immigrants for all of your problems. Yet your president hires immigrants to do the labor at his resorts, instead of hiring American citizens. What’s more, his wife is herself an immigrant who, without a green card, illegally took modeling jobs away from American citizens before marrying money. Then she engaged in the so-called chain migration you so deplore by bringing her family to the US.

You chant “freedom” while denying African-Americans, Native Americans, and LGBTQ citizens the same freedoms that you enjoy. At the same time, you refuse freedom to refugees of violence and war. You call for young Latin Americans – even those who have served in our military – to be deported from the only country they’ve ever known. And you praise your leader for ripping immigrant children from the arms of their parents and placing them in cages?

You wave the flag in an ostentatious show of patriotism and you claim to support the troops. Yet you say you hate liberals and Democrats more than the nation that interfered in our democracy. You support our enemies over our long-time, loyal allies. As for supporting the troops, you voted for a gutless man who refused to take a stand on the Vietnam War, instead claiming a deferment for bone spurs. The same man who verbally attacked a war hero who was a member of his own party and a Gold Star family who gave a valiant son in service to our nation. A man who plans to reduce funding for Veteran’s health care.

You claim to believe in the rule of law, but you ignore the growing list of guilty pleas and indictments of the president’s closest friends and campaign staff. You think the Russia investigation is a witch hunt that should be stopped. Instead, you want to conduct yet another investigation of the president’s former political opponent. In fact, you don’t even want to wait for another investigation of her imaginary crimes, as you chant “lock her up.” You look the other way after mass shootings, even after the slaughter of elementary school children, offering nothing more than “thoughts and prayers.” And you stand silent when your president equates Nazis and White Supremacists to those who nonviolently protest their hate.

You and your media pundits claim that Democrats and liberals don’t try to understand you. You claim that we don’t listen to you. I beg to differ. We’ve been listening to your anger and your hatred for the past decade and longer. I wonder if you’ve been listening to yourselves.

Why I Won’t Be Celebrating This July 4th.

In the US, the 4th of July is recognized as Independence Day – a day to celebrate our independence from the British empire. A hard-won independence that required the blood sweat and tears of our ancestors to defeat the most powerful military forces on earth. Indeed, a least eight of my ancestors fought for the Continental Army, one suffering through a devastating winter at Valley Forge. As a result, Independence Day has been an important holiday for my family for generations. And though I have long been bothered by the extreme militarization of our nation and the accompanying politicization of patriotism – an unprincipled “our country right or wrong” kind of patriotism – I have proudly celebrated the holiday along with everyone else.

But this year is different. This year, I fear that our independence is in danger as never before.

We have reached a point where the founding principles of our nation are being compromised by a winner-takes-all, pay-to-play political party that ignores the majority of its constituents to serve the interests of a few. A political party that has turned our democratic republic into an oligarchy. A party that is now led by an unethical and immoral bully who gained office with the help of our nation’s most dangerous rival and support from evangelical “Christians” – religious zealots who have sold their souls to the man based on the belief that controlling women’s bodies to “save” fetuses is more important than preserving our nation’s core values.

Our first president, George Washington, was guided by 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. But if the man who now occupies the White House has a guide, it’s likely to be titled The Art of the Insult. Indeed, he takes a perverse pride in putting down others in order to feed his all-too-fragile ego.

So I cannot, in good conscience, stuff my cheeks with hot dogs and watch the “bombs bursting in air” when I know that our government has greeted refugees fleeing violence, repression and abject poverty – conditions every bit as severe as those that brought our ancestors to these shores – by arresting them and even wrenching their children from their arms.

I cannot celebrate a nation that takes pride in feeding our bloated defense department with hundreds of billions of dollars while, at the same time, denying food stamps and medical care to the poor.

I cannot proudly wave the flag when our Congress and state legislatures are constructing new barriers to deny minorities their right to vote.

I cannot sing the Star-Spangled Banner knowing that it was written by a racist and that those who are not white or heterosexual are still treated as second-class citizens.

I cannot celebrate when our government refuses to lift a finger to stop gun violence and the mass shootings of school children.

I cannot celebrate freedom when so many of our citizens have none – imprisoned for victimless, non-violent crimes.

I cannot celebrate when the president continues to call the independent press – one of our most precious institutions – the “enemy of the people.”

I cannot celebrate when the president describes his political opponents as un-American and calls for them to be locked up.

I cannot celebrate when the president attacks long-time allies while embracing enemies and brutal dictators.

I cannot celebrate after watching Trump appoint a group of corrupt and unqualified sycophants to government agencies with the express purpose to undermine and damage the agencies they control.

I cannot celebrate a nation governed by people who view the environment as a mere supermarket of resources with no concern for the impact of their extraction on our ecosystem.

I cannot celebrate knowing that our narcissistic president is filling his bank accounts with taxpayers’ hard-earned money in defiance of the Constitution’s emoluments clause; that he refuses to release his tax returns; that he refuses to divest himself of his businesses; and that the Trump name appeared in the Panama Papers (a list of those using off-shore tax havens) 3,540 times!

I cannot celebrate independence knowing that the man was placed in office with the help of Russia; knowing that at least 11 members of his presidential campaign had suspicious contacts with Russians; knowing that Russian oligarchs have invested nearly $100 million in Trump buildings; knowing that the NRA spent more than $30 million on behalf of Trump’s campaign after accepting donations from 23 Russians; knowing that Trump is willing to take Vladimir Putin’s word over that of our own intelligence agencies.

And I cannot sleep knowing that the actions of a man who is, quite likely, illegally occupying the world’s most powerful office cannot be overturned even if, as I suspect, he will be impeached and removed from that office.

So call me un-American if you want. But the America I celebrate is almost completely at odds with that of the president and his followers. I believe in an America that embraces the words on our Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” I believe in an America that cherishes equality, fairness and opportunity for all.

Until we become that nation again; until we value human rights over the rights of corporations; until we take more pride in our treatment of the poor than in our latest military technology; until the Oval Office occupant and his administration have been sent packing; until we, once again, strive to live up to the hopes of our Founding Fathers, I’ll sit out the 4th of July celebration. I will be flying the flag. But I will be flying it upside down. Because our nation is most certainly in distress.

The Great American Con.

The news media – the ones Trump so viciously attacks – continue to treat his administration as any other. They devote hours of airtime and barrels of printer’s ink in an attempt to decipher the actions of the Trump administration. But the sad truth is that Trump is not a typical president. He gained the office with the help of Russia and Vladimir Putin while failing to garner a majority of the popular vote. And, since taking office, his actions have defied presidential norms.

What the media fail to recognize or acknowledge is that Trump is nothing more than a con man. A man who, as defined by the dictionary, “Cheats or tricks someone by gaining their trust and persuading them to believe something that is not true.”

The definition fits Trump to a T.

And like any con man, he has chosen his marks. Those consist of evangelical “Christians” who are willing to overlook his many moral and ethical shortcomings as long as he opposes abortion and continues to make judicial appointments who are willing to take away a woman’s right to control her own body.

His other marks consist of angry, disillusioned white people who oppose immigration and who hope the image of financial success portrayed by Trump’s many properties will somehow rub off on them. In addition, he has pandered to a collection of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other deplorables who have been attracted to Trump by his verbal attacks on immigrants and refugees from Mexico, Central America and what Trump describes as “shithole” countries.

And, like any con man, having selected his marks, Trump has bombarded them with promises to return the US to the days when whites were the clear majority, when most immigrants came from Europe, when white male industrialists were in firm control, when businesses could extract natural resources and pollute with impunity, and when you didn’t have to worry about being impolite. Indeed, those promises are all summed up by his slogan “Make America Great Again.”

When he fails to deliver on his promises or when one of his scams is exposed, he either assigns blame to others (usually President Obama, Hillary Clinton or other Democrats) or merely claims success while burying his failures in an avalanche of lies.

Then, with everyone focused on reports of his scandalous behavior or the corruption of his appointees, he claims the prize he is really after: Money. He retreats almost weekly to his own resorts forcing taxpayers to pay for the accommodations of his security detail and those of other government officials. He asks his personal attorney to sell government access to corporations and foreign interests. He asks his cabinet to overturn regulations for the benefit of his own company and those of his friends. He leverages his position and those of his children to pave the way for trademarks, licenses and developments in other countries. And he continues to build his brand for the future.

It’s all a complex game of three card Monte run by a man with all of the sophistication and class of a carnival barker. And it’s long past time for the mainstream media to expose that man for what he really is before he costs us something far more valuable than money: Our democracy.

The Bleak Future Of The US As Envisioned By Today’s GOP.

Forget for a moment, if you can, the man currently occupying the White House. As bad as he and his cartel of corrupt officials are, in many ways, Trump is merely an aberration – a con man running a scam to enrich himself with taxpayer money at the expense of decency and world peace.

The real threat is taking place in Congress and behind the scenes, perpetuated by GOP leaders and their sponsors. For example, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan is a devotee of Ayn Rand, the “philosopher” who rejected religion, morality, ethics, altruism and, most of all, any government actions for the common good. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell skillfully blocked virtually every initiative of the previous president, stole a Supreme Court seat for the GOP and evangelicals, and as one of the largest recipients of campaign funds from the NRA, staunchly supports guns as a replacement for law and civility.

Charles Koch, the oily ideologue who has poured hundreds of millions into GOP campaigns in order to change local, state and federal governments by electing those who embrace his libertarian beliefs, is a disciple of renegade “economist” F.A. “Baldy” Harper who vehemently argued against labor unions, the five-day work week, child labor laws, employer benefits such as health insurance and pensions, the minimum wage and mandatory public education.

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson has donated hundreds of millions to GOP candidates who will remake the US government in the mold of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli administration – an administration whose vision of peace is imprisoning and murdering Palestinians, threatening its neighbors with pre-emptive military strikes and launching disproportionate military responses to any provocation. Adelson’s most recent contributions resulted in Trump replacing the few moderates in his administration with war-hawks such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. His donations are also the primary motivation behind Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement and, along with it, our allies.

Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, bankrolled Trump’s campaign for office. Together with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and the Sinclair Broadcast Group, they have changed the national dialogue about news media and factual reporting by attacking the free press and creating a multimillion dollar propaganda network. They, or more precisely, their millions in donations have given us Trump, Breitbart, Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Nigel Farage.

So what is their end game?

They all seem to have visions of returning the US to the “Gilded Age” when it was controlled by a few oligarchs and large corporations. They prioritize property above people, viewing workers as mere commodities to be used as needed and discarded when they are no longer of value. They want to be free to extract natural resources, and therefore wealth, without fear of regulation or repercussions. They want complete control of their billions – all of their billions – without being obligated to pay taxes. They want to eliminate social welfare programs and safety nets, such as SNAP, CHIP, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They even want to eliminate public education in order to control thought.

Of course, ordinary taxpayers and voters would be repulsed by their plans if they were openly stated. So, in order to accomplish their objectives, the oligarchs have chosen to disguise their intent. Instead of presenting their vision to the public, they have used their billions to commandeer an entire political party. They have persistently proposed balanced budget amendments to the Constitution which, combined with a growing defense budget, would end many social programs. Failing that, they are electing those who will pass a never-ending series of tax cuts designed to starve the government of the funds needed to enforce regulations; to pay for welfare programs; to pay for safety nets.

In doing so, they hope that, by expanding the national debt to a crisis level, the voting public will have no choice but to accept such draconian cuts.

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!

A Culture Of Corruption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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