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.

Risking Your Safety And Wasting Your Time.

The growing threat of terrorism, increased air travel and a shortage of security agents have led to long lines and growing frustration at airport security checks. As a result, it’s fashionable to blame the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the problem. Indeed, Republicans would have you believe that the problem is just another example of an incompetent and inefficient federal government. That would seem to be a good explanation. It’s just not true.

Certainly, the problem is the fault of government. But the real culprit is the GOP-controlled Congress.

To get a clear picture of the problem, you must first understand that TSA agents have a difficult, almost impossible, job. They are expected to keep a watchful eye through grueling work shifts while dealing with long lines of frustrated, disrespectful and often clueless people; people who are laden down with a growing list of “necessities” as carry-on baggage; people who try to sneak any number of prohibited items through the screening process; people who fail to follow instructions then defiantly protest when they are confronted for their stupidity – all the while delaying those in line behind them. Yet those same people expect the agents to keep them safe. There is no margin for error.

Such stressful, yet monotonous work and low pay have led to an exceptionally high turnover of TSA agents – more than 20 percent annually.

In an attempt to alleviate the problem, TSA management offered a pre-clearance program that was expected to reduce the number of agents required while, at the same time, improving the flow of passengers through security. It was a good idea. But, unfortunately, significantly fewer passengers than expected signed up for the program. That forced TSA to increase its workforce. But given the low starting salary, the extensive background checks needed for such a sensitive position, and the training required, TSA has been unable to react quickly.

All of that set the stage for Republican congressional representatives to really screw things up. Despite fomenting fear by pointing to the threat of ISIS and claiming that immigrants could likely be terrorists, they swept money from TSA’s budget in an attempt to further cut the deficit. Then they pointed fingers at TSA for the resulting lines. The hope is that a backlash from passengers will help Republicans attain one of their ideological goals – to privatize airport security and most other functions of government.

Just what we need – to turn our security over to a corporation that got the contract as the lowest bidder, then competes with fast food companies to hire a bunch of underpaid, under qualified and disgruntled workers in order to meet its CEO’s profit goals. Or maybe congressional Republicans could give another no-bid contract to Halliburton – the oily company once run by Richard “The Dick” Cheney that wasted hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conservative author and humorist P. J. O’Rourke described it best by writing, “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”

The Planned Dysfunction Of Our Government.

As has been repeatedly demonstrated, Republicans and conservatives have mastered the art of telling lies. And, on the rare occasions when the corporate-owned media challenge those lies, they seldom bother to correct their falsehoods, choosing instead to double-down. Why wouldn’t they? After all, there are rarely any consequences for lying. For example, Politifact.com has ruled that more than 90 percent of Donald Trump’s statements are false. Yet his supporters don’t seem to care.

For many, facts no longer matter. They’d rather rely on their guts than their heads – a phenomenon that, if Trump becomes president, is likely to result in a severe case of national indigestion.

How did we reach the point where candidates can lie with impunity? How could a candidate like Trump become the presumptive presidential nominee while spreading falsehoods and fomenting hate? He is only taking advantage of a political climate created by the Republican Party – a culture of fear and a deep-seated hatred of the federal government.

This didn’t happen overnight. It began in the 1970s with the party’s “southern strategy” which was designed to capitalize on white anger with the Civil Rights Act. It was furthered by Paul Weyrich, who famously said, “I don’t want everybody to vote. Elections are not won by a majority of people. They never have been from the beginning of our country, and they are not now. As a matter of fact our [Republican] leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Of course, the GOP embraced Weyrich’s beliefs. Through obstruction and their refusal to compromise, Congressional Republicans have created voter anger and apathy which, ironically, serves to further their cause.

There’s more.

The GOP pandered to evangelicals by promoting a variety of “social” issues. They told voters that gay rights would diminish their own rights and destroy our military; that gay marriage would destroy traditional marriage; that a woman’s right to control her own body was “against God’s will” and that it would destroy our culture; that the inclusion of contraceptives in employer-based insurance policies destroys the freedom of religion. But, in reality, all of these issues are simply a way to generate fear and to permit government-sanctioned discrimination.

In the eighties, Ronald Reagan verbally attacked the government and Grover Norquist hatched a plan to defund the government in order that Republicans might “starve the beast.” Then, in the nineties, former Speaker Newt Gingrich superimposed another destructive philosophy on Congress. A longtime fan of European-style parliamentary politics, Gingrich convinced his GOP colleagues to vote as a unified bloc on every bill. Any Republicans who had the audacity to defy the leadership and vote his or her conscience was labeled a RINO (Republican In Name Only). The party punished them by withdrawing support for their re-election campaigns and redirecting support to their primary opponents.

Through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the GOP turned over control of state legislatures to their corporate sponsors. And, through funding from the Koch brothers, the same anti-government philosophies are now being promoted in city and county elections.

That is how the GOP has become what it is today – a party that, on the day of the inauguration, chose to vote in lock-step to obstruct every one of President Obama’s initiatives, even if the initiatives were based on Republican ideas, such as Obamacare or Cap and Trade. It is now a party that willfully ignores the needs and the wishes of the voters while pandering to the very wealthy and the powerful.

Fed up with such inequality and governmental dysfunction, a large number of voters have jumped on board the Trump train thinking that an outsider can change things. Really? He is running as a Republican, representing the very party that created this mess. And, far from being an outsider, he is one of the wealthy puppeteers who pull the strings of government officials in order to further enrich themselves, all the while taking advantage of tax loopholes and offshore shell companies to avoid paying taxes.

In other words, a vote for Trump and his Republican colleagues is a vote for those who have willfully destroyed “a government of the people, for the people and by the people” and replaced it with a functioning oligarchy. It’s impossible to imagine that even the Republican Party’s founder, Abraham Lincoln, would want that.

Public Lands: A Matter Of “Me” Versus “We”.

For the past several decades, the anti-government neo-confederates (otherwise known as the Tea Party) have howled about a so-called “federal land grab.” They claim that federal ownership of any property is unconstitutional.

In fact, they have it backwards.

Their attempts to force the federal government to give public lands to the states and private enterprise is the real land grab. That’s because, from our country’s very beginning, most of the land has been considered property of the federal government until Congress chooses to dispose of it. That principle was codified in 1870 at the Congress of Confederation, which called upon all states to relinquish claims to territories outside their boundaries to federal control so that they might be administered for the common benefit of the new nation. The principle was confirmed in 1789 as Article 4, Section 3 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power “to dispose of and make all needful rules and regulations respecting territory or other property belonging to the United States.”

Federal lands included those taken from Native Americans, as well as those acquired from France in the Louisiana Purchase, from Britain in the Red River Valley of the North, from Spain in Florida, from Mexico in the Texas Annexation, from Mexico in the American Southwest, from Britain in the Oregon Territories, from Mexico in the Gadsen Purchase and from Russia in the Alaska Purchase.

In other words, the federal government once owned all of the land outside of the original colonies.

Over the decades, Congress has chosen to give some of the lands to cities, counties and states in the form of parks or land trusts intended to be used or sold for public good. It retained forest lands and lands deemed critical for watersheds or those unsuitable for traditional farming. And it voted to save other lands for posterity.

For example, in 1864, Congress named Yosemite Valley as the first federally-owned land to be set aside for preservation and public use. In 1872, it set aside portions of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho Territories for the world’s first National Park – Yellowstone. In 1906, Congress passed the Antiquities Act which allows the President of the United States to preserve and protect “prehistoric, historic, and scientifically significant sites on public lands” through the creation of national monuments, leading President Roosevelt to create the first national monuments at Devils Tower in Wyoming, El Morro in New Mexico, and Montezuma Castle and Petrified Forest in Arizona.

The federal lands, national parks and national monuments are not the result of federal land grabs.

They are the result of Congress maintaining control of public lands for the people it represents – all of the people. As a result, the people of the United States have millions of acres to use for recreational purposes, such as hiking, hunting, fishing and camping. In addition, the people own millions of acres that can be leased for commercial purposes that benefit the public…for transportation, for cattle grazing, for mining, for timber production, and for oil and gas production. These leases generate revenues that reduce taxes.

So, if federal ownership and management of lands is constitutional and, if it benefits the public, why would the so-called “Freedom Caucus” and other right wingers object?

In a word, greed.

They want the federal government to place all lands under state control, so the Republican-controlled western states and southern states can sell the lands for commercial development. They want to give mining companies (most of them foreign-owned) the freedom to extract uranium from the Grand Canyon, making the Colorado River radioactive in the process. They want to let private hotels, restaurant chains, tour companies and amusement parks set up shop inside National Parks. They want to let lumber companies, once again, clear-cut our old-growth public forests under the guise of “fire prevention.” They want to let home-builders sell homes on the rim of the Grand Canyon to the highest bidder.

Now that would be a real land grab.

Journalism, RIP.

Regardless of what happens in the upcoming presidential race, one thing has been forever changed…journalism.

Though the competition for ratings has long influenced the news – forcing news editors to adopt the “if it bleeds, it leads” philosophy – the demand for ratings has relegated newscasts to stories of violent crimes, accidental deaths, and confrontations only occasionally interrupted by feel-good “human interest” stories. Instead of informing the public about issues that really matter (pending legislation, environmental destruction, corporate influence in government, foreign policy decisions, and government and corporate corruption), the philosophy governing reporting by corporate-owned news media seems to be to keep the public perpetually frightened and stupid.

Newscasts have become little more than infotainment.

How else do you explain Donald Trump’s ability to manipulate the media into providing his campaign with roughly $3 billion of free news coverage – many times that of his competitors? How else do you explain the lack of coverage for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, even though he has drawn larger crowds than Trump at every stop? How else do explain the media’s reporting of the latest accusations about Hillary Clinton’s emails without facts or context?

When I earned my journalism degree, every story was expected to contain the basics of who, what, where, when, why and how. Rumors and accusations were not, in themselves, considered news. No story could be printed or aired if it didn’t include those basic elements. What’s more, the story had to be verified by two independent sources – more if the story was deemed to be exceptionally controversial.

Journalists like me were inspired by giants: Edward R. Murrow, John Cameron Swayze, Walter Cronkite, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley. News gathering operations like CBS had news bureaus and reporters located around the globe based on the concept that it was not enough to tell the story, it was important to provide context and real understanding. It was considered more important for reporters to be right than to be first. Opinion was clearly labeled as such and not permitted to contaminate a news story. And there was an impenetrable firewall between the business side of the media and the news department, except in the not-so-rare instances where the owner of the media was also a journalist.

Such news departments exposed the viciousness of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Bob Woodward’s and Carl Bernstein’s reporting brought down the criminal enterprise otherwise known as the Nixon administration. Seymour Hersh’s reporting laid bare the horrors of the My Lai Massacre. Cronkite’s reporting was credited with ending the Vietnam War.

In more recent times, based on the woeful state of modern journalism, the corporate news media made it possible for the Bush administration to lead our nation to war in Iraq based on propaganda and lies. And they didn’t just report Trump’s ascendency to the GOP presidential nomination. In search of ratings and ever-larger profits, they actually created the Trump we see today.

Each day, the “news” is dominated by Trump. The media rarely fact-check his rants, provide context for his claims, point out inconsistencies in his statements, or broadcast alternative views. Unlike opposing candidates, he doesn’t need to waste campaign funds on airtime. In fact, he has actually made money by using campaign funds to pay his own companies for transportation, lodging and more.

In the heyday of broadcast journalism, reporters and news anchors tried to create a signature to be used to end a broadcast. For Murrow, it was “Good night, and good luck.” For Cronkite, it was “And that’s the way it is.” Now that the media are no longer willing to hold their newscasts to the standards of journalism, I’d suggest a slightly different slogan – “Another day, another dollar.”

That’s all the corporate media seems to care about.

On Earth Day, An Assessment.

Each year, we celebrate our planet for a single day. On that day, there are a variety of gatherings, speeches and warnings. It’s not enough. Not nearly enough. The remainder of the year, most of us continue to trash the planet. Some liken our actions to filling our living rooms with garbage. But it’s worse than that. What we’re really doing is fouling our air, our water, our climate, even the food we eat.

So, on this Earth Day, let’s forgo the platitudes and the entertainment and focus on the status of our planet.

– 15 of the 16 hottest years on record have occurred since 2001 and 2016 is likely to set another record.
– 2015 was the first year that global average temperatures were 1 degree Celsius above the 1880-1889 average (the start of the industrial revolution).
– Atmospheric CO2 is now 401.58 parts per million (ppm) and rising. (400 ppm has long been considered the climate tipping point.)
– Arctic sea ice has declined 13.3 percent per decade.
– As the Arctic ice melts, the underlying tundra is exposed, releasing methane, which is 25 times worse than CO2.
– The Greenland Ice Sheet is losing 8,000 tons of ice per second 24/7.
– Antarctic ice is melting far faster than even the most alarming scientific predictions.
– Scientists have discovered that 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has been damaged by coral bleaching (in other words, it is dying).
– Global warming and overfishing have pushed the world’s oceans to the brink of extinction, reducing some species by more than 90 percent.
– Dozens of animal species are endangered and many more are vulnerable, including such iconic species as Rhinos, Elephants, Lions and Tigers.
– Deforestation is occurring on a massive scale with more than 18 million acres lost each and every year, much of it the result of corporate greed.
– Global sea levels are rising at the rate of 3.24 mm per year, and the rise is accelerating.
– Our oceans are warming, resulting in changes in ocean currents. In turn, that results in new, and more extreme, weather patterns.
– The ice melt and degradation of our aquifers have led to the shifting or the Earth’s axis by nearly 17 centimeters per year.

As bad as all of that is, we can stop the destruction and even begin to reverse it. But it will take a concerted effort by all of the planet’s residents. Today’s signing of the Paris climate agreement by 170 nations is a start. But only a start. We can’t rely on governments alone to save the planet. We all have to do our part.

For example, we can all try to make better choices. We can drive less to burn less fuel or, better yet, take public transportation. We can better insulating our homes to reduce the fuel needed to heat and cool them. We can demand that our representatives vote to keep fossil fuels in the ground and focus on increasing renewable energy. We can purchase or lease solar panels for our homes and can purchase hybrid and electric cars. We can replace traditional light bulbs with energy-efficient LEDs. We can end our throwaway mentality, cut waste and recycle. We can eliminate or reduce consumption of meat – especially beef – which is carbon-intensive. We can buy locally-grown produce to cut transportation-cause carbon emissions. We can reduce water consumption. We can plant carbon-absorbing trees. And, most important, we can elect candidates that will work to stop the destruction of our environment. The list of things we can each do is long, and every little bit helps.

Of course, the most important thing we can do is to think about our planet every day…to make every day Earth Day. We have only one chance to get things right. There will be no do-overs

The Panama Papers? Why Not The Delaware Papers?

While the Panama Papers exposed thousands of politicians and billionaires who have used off-shore tax havens to hide trillions of dollars from taxes, the leaked papers will likely have little effect on Americans. It’s not that American corporations, billionaires and politicians are any more trustworthy than their foreign counterparts. It’s just that they don’t need to hide their money in the Cayman Islands when they can hide it in a much safer and less transparent refuge…the United States.

That’s right, the US is quickly becoming the world’s capital for money-laundering and tax shelters. Outside of Kenya, the US is now the easiest country in the world to open an anonymous shell corporation. No need to move your money off shore; no need to hire a Panamanian law firm; no need to place your trust in the economy of a third world country. Instead, you can open a shell company in Delaware, Nevada or South Dakota that will allow you to invest your money anonymously.

A recent article in the Washington Post noted that, if it weren’t for such schemes, the US Treasury would annually collect an additional $36 billion from wealthy individuals and an additional $88 billion from multinational corporations. That’s $124 billion a year that could be used to pay for public schools, to rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, and to improve public transportation!

And US citizens are not the only ones who are taking advantage of our lax tax laws.

According to TaxHavenUSA.com, the US has become the world’s largest tax haven for wealthy non-residents. You see, Congress, in an attempt to encourage more investment in US securities, made it easier for non-residents to invest through “pass through” or “disregarded” tax entities. These are the same vehicles the Koch brothers and their wealthy rightwing friends are using to influence elections without disclosing the source of their funding.

Through these LLCs, non-residents can easily open US financial accounts and make investments in securities without paying US taxes on the income they earn. They can avoid US capital gains taxes. Further, the investors in these entities can operate businesses outside the US while taking advantage of US corporate tax write-offs and incentives. Thanks to a variety of treaties, non-resident investors can reduce their tax liabilities in other countries, as well. They can transfer income to other, lower tax nations. All the while their investments are protected by the full faith and credit of the US. Their US bank accounts are even protected by the FDIC! Best of all, the investors in these entities can all remain anonymous.

So if you’re expecting the Panama Papers to reveal names like Charles Koch, David Koch, Sheldon Adelson, Mitt Romney, or Donald Trump alongside such people as David Cameron, Vladimir Putin and the House of Saud, don’t hold your breath. Like me, you’re probably going to be sorely disappointed.

Our Present And Future With Guns.

According to Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center, only 22% of Americans are gun owners. Yet there are an estimated 300 million guns in the US, not including those owned by our military. More than 6 million Americans own 10 or more guns. 10 or more? Seriously? Let’s see…a small gauge shotgun for small birds, a large gauge shotgun for larger birds, a small caliber hunting rifle for small game, a large caliber hunting rifle for large game, a small caliber handgun for accuracy, a large caliber handgun for “stopping” power, a military-style assault weapon for potential government tyrants, a .50 caliber sniper rifle for assassinations and blowing holes in the occasional engine block, and…??? That’s only 8. What am I missing? I’m at a loss to explain what more a 2nd Amendment-spouting, freedom-protecting “patriot” could need to arm themselves for any eventuality.

Obviously, the US has a love affair with guns. But though we all face the consequences, that love affair is far from universal.

As previously stated, the majority of guns are in the hands of a few. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, consider this: A large percentage of those 300 million guns are in the hands of the members of the 784 hate groups as recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, Skinheads, Black Separatists, Neo-Confederates, Anti-LGBT, Christian Identity and other assorted general hate groups and individuals, such as the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Shockingly, a not insignificant percentage of their members are ex-military, active-duty military, former law enforcement officers and border patrol…even active-duty law enforcement (which may help to explain the increase in police brutality against minority populations)!

These people seem to believe that guns are the answer to most every conflict – a view endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and modeled in many US-made movies, television programs and video games. But our choices of entertainment are, most certainly, not the root of our gun problem. In fact, the source of our problem is the NRA and the gun manufacturers it represents, which have flooded our communities with guns – guns that are becoming increasingly more lethal. Though other nations share our taste in entertainment and celebrate our culture, and though many other nations are less religious than the US, no other advanced country rivals the US when it comes to the number of gun deaths (including homicides)!

The glaring difference between the US and those other countries is the availability of guns.

For example, in a recent attempt to determine how easy it is to obtain guns in the US, a reporter for The Guardian found that it took just 2 hours for him to be offered an AK-47, an illegally-modified fully-automatic AR-15 and numerous handguns – some of which had been smuggled and some of which had been purchased legally. His experience is hardly unique. In many neighborhoods in many of our nation’s cities, you can purchase a gun within a few minutes, local gun laws be damned. For example, many of the guns used in crimes in Chicago are originally purchased legally in Indiana and cities along the I-35 corridor where gun laws are weak. They are then resold in Chicago to individuals wishing to avoid background checks. This pattern is supported by studies that show the majority of guns used in crimes are purchased illegally from unlicensed gun dealers or uncaring dealers in states with the greatest gun culture and the weakest gun laws.

And, thanks to the NRA’s stated belief that the best solution for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, there is a growing vigilante movement in the US exemplified by the armed woman who took it upon herself to shoot at shoplifters in the parking lot of The Home Depot in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Contrary to the gun lovers’ beliefs, such behavior is the worst nightmare of most law enforcement officials. After all, imagine you’re an officer responding to an active shooter situation and you see several armed people shooting at one another. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Are they all bad guys? You simply have to treat them all as threats.

And what about the legal implications of the “good guy” behavior? Disregarding the fact that few crimes are stopped by armed citizens and that armed citizens are more likely to be shot with their own guns than to stop a crime, such vigilante behavior poses problems. Police are supposed to be restricted from shooting at a suspect in a non-life-threatening situation. What about the armed “good guys?” Is it acceptable for a private citizen to shoot and kill a shoplifter? If the criminals are not armed and not threatening others, is it legally permissible to shoot to kill? If an unarmed shoplifter is subject to lethal force, is a bully engaged in a fistfight? How about a citizen engaged in a shouting match? An unarmed robber? An armed robber? Where do we draw the line?

The fact is, this nation is being held hostage by the gun lobby. We have allowed the NRA to write Conceal and Carry, Open Carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws that encourage people like George Zimmerman to shoot innocent, unarmed people. The NRA wants even more people to be armed. And it refuses to consider common sense gun safety laws. Despite a large majority of its members supporting more thorough, universal background checks, the NRA leadership has drawn a bright line in the sand. Any restriction on gun ownership is seen as a violation of the Constitution (if you choose to ignore the first phrase of the 2nd Amendment). Moreover, mass shootings are good for business as demonstrated by the gun shop owner in Roseburg, Oregon who stocked up on guns and ammo following the shooting at nearby Umpqua Community College. She knows that there is always a run on guns and ammo following mass shootings. Such greed aside, more guns are not the answer to gun violence. In fact, numerous studies have clearly shown that more guns equal more gun violence. Not less.

More important, the blatant lies of the NRA which pronounce guns the solution, not the problem, may well lead to a breakdown in our legal system. Vigilante “justice” could soon replace our courts. The entire US could resemble the Old West – only with more shootings and less shame.

Time To Extinguish Liberty’s Torch?

The European response – especially that of the Germans – to mass migration from the Middle East and Southwest Asia stands in stark contrast to the immigration policies of the US. What makes this all the more remarkable is that Germany had relatively little to do with events that led to the crisis. On the other hand, the refugee crisis is almost certainly a direct result of US misadventures in the Middle East – most notably the Bush-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the US has steadfastly refused to help those who were dislocated as a result of our meddling. Likewise, many of our so-called allies in the region have refused to help.

This is not the first time we have turned our backs on those fleeing violence and poverty caused by our actions.

Just last summer, we saw thousands of women and children flood our southern border seeking refuge from the violence and poverty in Honduras and El Salvador – violence for which we bear much of the responsibility. And how did we greet the dispossessed? We herded them into makeshift prisons. Conservatives confronted their buses screaming obscenities and making it abundantly clear that they were not welcome here. If they had no families or relatives in the US, we sent them home to certain poverty and almost certain death.

This is how America welcomes immigrants today.

Where we once welcomed the tired, the poor, the streaming masses yearning to breathe free, we now turn them away. We vilify them and blame them for all of our nation’s ills. We treat them as something less than human. We call them names, order them to speak American, then hire them for all the jobs we consider too distasteful to do ourselves. We underpay them and cheat them. And we applaud people like Sheriff Joe Arpaio for arresting them.

This is America today. A political atmosphere driven by the “We’ve got ours. You can’t have yours” crowd; by the Trumps, the Palins, the McCains and the Cheneys. An America dominated by the loudest, most angry and most heavily armed; where a feeble and compliant press reports only the most sensational statements made by a group of boorish loud-mouths who have little compassion for the poor and disadvantaged. They may claim to be religious, but their only religion is money. And they refuse to share it.

Instead of seeing those who have suffered only because they were born in the wrong place and time, these arrogant buffoons see only “takers” – people they believe only come here to suckle off of the government teats.

Based on all of this, maybe it’s time to send Lady Liberty packing. Maybe we should send her back to Europe where she came from; a place where she will likely feel more at home.

Our Other Civil War.

This past Labor Day should give us pause to consider its real meaning. More than a 3-day weekend, the unofficial end of summer and a shopping holiday, it’s a celebration of labor – the hard-working men and women who built this nation. In many ways, it also represent the end of our second civil war.

The war began in the late 1800’s when wealthy industrialists discovered they could exploit the flood of new immigrants by forcing them to work long hours in dangerous conditions, all the while paying them barely subsistence wages. The battlefields were in Boston, Chicago, Minneapolis, Reading, San Francisco, and on Blair Mountain, West Virginia. The combatants were ordinary working people demanding living wages and safe working conditions who were often attacked by armies of security companies, law enforcement…even veterans from the American Legion.

The battles raged for decades until workers finally won the right to organize and negotiate with their employers. This collective bargaining, as it came to be called, eventually brought us the 5-day, 40-hour work week. It brought us paid holidays, paid sick leave, workers’ compensation insurance, and retirement benefits. Collective bargaining ended the practice of forcing men, women and children to work in dimly-lit, poorly-ventilated sweat shops. It ended company stores which were used to accumulate workers’ debt and hold workers captive from cradle to grave.

Even if you have never joined a labor union, you benefit from the efforts of those brave enough to fight the establishment.

Unfortunately, the exploitation only ended in the United States and other advanced nations. The descendants of the industrialists – the CEOs and directors of large, multi-national corporations – merely exported the exploitation elsewhere…to countries lacking collective bargaining. They simply moved their factories to China, to Bangladesh, to India, to Pakistan, to Indonesia, to Malaysia, to Viet Name and elsewhere. In those countries which have few government regulations and no labor unions, they are free to force workers to slave away in sweat shops, often paid by the piece and made to work seven days a week.

Of course, this is no longer called exploitation. It is now called globalization. And, whether or not we care to admit it, we all participate in this exploitation. US corporations get their products made at lower cost and American consumers benefit from lower prices. Corporate shareholders see dividends and higher profits. And while the corporations despoil the land, air and water of other countries, we can breathe more easily because the pollution is out of our sight and, therefore, out of our minds.

So what can you do to stop the exploitation? You can vow to purchase products that are humanely made and sustainably grown. You can divest your investment portfolio of the corporations that are the worst offenders. You can write letters to the leaders of those companies. You can boycott their products. And we can end the current war on collective bargaining began when Ronald Reagan, a former union leader himself, betrayed PATCO, the air traffic controllers’ union. You can support collective bargaining for teachers, first responders and government workers. And you can demand that your company have a representative of its workers on the Board of Directors as is the case in many European companies.

Then, and only then, will we be able to truly celebrate Labor Day.