America’s Legal Drug Cartel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real State Of Our Union.

Last night, Donald Trump basked in the light of his predecessor, taking credit for declining unemployment, a rising stock market and low African-American unemployment…all things that began under President Obama and have continued as a result of their own momentum combined with improved economies throughout the world.

So what is the real state of our union under Trump?

Since Trump took office, we have seen unparalleled corruption in the executive branch. We’ve seen the president and his cabinet squander hundreds of millions of dollars on trips and vacations using private jets. We’ve seen a growth in the influence of corporate lobbyists, which culminated in a massive tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that was pushed through Congress with such haste most representatives and senators had no time to read it. And, of course, the Congressional Budget Office had no time to fully score its impact.

We’ve seen America’s international standing and its “soft power” precipitously decline. We’ve seen the GOP try to take away access to health care from millions of Americans. We’ve seen consumer and environmental protections diminished. We’ve seen GOP attempts to destroy the world’s greatest public education system and replace it with private schools that prioritize religion and myths over science and facts.

We’ve seen and heard an astounding number of lies emanating from the White House. We’ve seen an unprecedented attack on the free press, accusing the news media of being “enemies of the state.” We’ve seen multiple attacks on free elections by the GOP and Russia. We’ve seen the proliferation of guns continue unabated resulting in the unnecessary deaths of thousands of Americans each year. We’ve seen White House-led attacks on women; on gays; on transgender citizens; on Muslims; on immigrants; on refugees; on the impoverished; on diplomatic norms; on decency itself.

We’ve seen threats of nuclear war tweeted from the White House bed while the “president” consumes Fox News and cheeseburgers. We’ve seen the administration open public lands…even national monuments and parks…to extraction industries with little regard to the long-term environmental impact. We’ve heard Trump’s racist comments about “shithole” countries. We’ve seen Trump ignore the plight of tens of thousands of American citizens in Puerto Rico trying to survive without electricity and clean water. And we’ve seen the administration take giant steps backward on the environment and technology by raising tariffs on solar panels and encouraging more mining of coal.

At the same time, Trump and the GOP have ignored many of the most pressing problems facing the nation and the planet. Trump announced that he would pull the US out of the Paris accords designed to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. There is no plan to deal with the inevitable rising sea levels; no plan to offset the coming tsunami of workplace layoffs created by robotics and artificial intelligence; no plan to modernize our transportation systems.

The state of our union is that we are now living in an oligarchy where the 1 percent control our politics, our government and an astonishing amount of wealth. Indeed, Oxfam stated that the world’s 100 richest people (many of them living in the US) gain enough money each year to end the world’s extreme poverty several times over. Instead, many of these greedy bastards spend their money on lobbyists and political campaign contributions in order to elect a compliant Congress that will help them further increase their power and wealth!

The state of our union is that we have the world’s most inefficient health care system that costs many times more than those of other advanced nations yet leaves millions without access to medical care. The state of our union is that there is little control of the cost or the amount of pharmaceuticals available…where the opioid prescriptions in some counties and states exceed their populations. But we have made a non-addictive alternative – marijuana – illegal. The state of our union is that we have incarcerated a higher percentage of our population than any other nation on Earth. The state of our union is such that the Department of Defense cannot account for trillions in spending that, by some accounts, equals our entire federal debt. Yet we continue to increase its budget.

The state of our union is that, under GOP control, our democracy is crumbling as fast as our infrastructure.

Where Has All The Money Gone?

In 2015, Michigan State economics professor, Mark Skidmore became curious when he heard former assistant secretary of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Catherine Austin Fitts mention that the Pentagon couldn’t account for $6.5 trillion in spending. So he asked Fitts and a team of his graduate students to help him confirm that number. After poring over public documents, the team discovered that the original number was inaccurate.

Instead of $6.5 trillion in unsupported spending, the team found that the actual number is $21 trillion – a sum equivalent to our entire national debt!

Even if that number is flawed (and there’s no reason to believe that it is), there is plenty of evidence to show that the military-industrial complex President Eisenhower warned about has severely damaged our nation’s economic health. For example, it is estimated that our misadventures in the Vietnam civil war cost us $1.3 trillion in 2017 dollars. The cost of care for Vietnam vets has cost us at least $1 trillion to date. And neither of those figures include the billions of dollars wasted on supplies fraudulently sold through the black market in Vietnam.

It is estimated that the Reagan-era tax cuts and military build-up contributed $3 trillion to our national debt. The Bush tax cuts contributed an additional $10 trillion to the debt. The cost of our war in Afghanistan – now our longest-running war – is $2.4 trillion and counting. The cost of care for Afghan war vets is $1 trillion. Our invasion of Iraq cost yet another $2.6 trillion. And the cost of care for Iraq war vets is estimated at $1.3 trillion.

In addition, the US has spent more than $61 billion in the reconstruction of Iraq. Another $8 billion of US funds is missing in Iraq. $45 billion is missing in Afghanistan. And, claiming that the cost of transportation is too great to bring military equipment home, the Pentagon ordered it buried in the sands of Kuwait.

The Pentagon’s F-35 joint strike fighter program has already cost more than $450 billion and is expected to top out at more than $1.5 trillion. Yet it has failed almost every test. In the words of two military analysts, “It can’t turn, can’t climb and can’t run.” And in another blatant display of waste, Congress authorized spending hundreds of millions of dollars for Abrams tanks that the Army doesn’t even want.

How has the Trump administration and Congress responded to all of this spending? They increased the Pentagon budget by another $700 billion! Then they passed a tax cut for corporations and the wealthy that is expected to add yet another $1-2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade!

Of course, the GOP has a plan to pay for all this spending. As articulated by Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, they plan to cut spending through “entitlement reform.” In other words, the GOP plans to cut funding for Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP and Social Security.

Maybe – just maybe – there’s another way. Imagine if, instead of spending our money on unnecessary wars and tax cuts for the rich, we spent that money for good. Imagine if we spent it on health care for our citizens; on education; on rebuilding our infrastructure; on scientific achievements; on lifting people out of poverty; on eradicating disease. We could do all of that and more with just the money the Pentagon wastes.

Author William Blum put our current military budget in context when he said, “Do you know what one year of the US military budget is equal to? One year. It’s equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born.”

And that doesn’t even include the trillions of dollars in Pentagon spending that are missing or unaccounted for.

RIP, USA.

It’s not entirely hyperbolic to say that the latest GOP tax scam could be the final nail in the coffin of the American dream. If the bill is signed into law, it will show that the oligarchs and the con artists are in full control. And our democratic republic may never recover.

Remember when Republicans were outraged when President Obama signed a stimulus bill to dig us out of the Great Recession created by free market GOP policies? Remember the wave of Tea Party candidates in 2010 who were elected based on promises to cut the burgeoning national debt?

Well, when the GOP took control of the Senate, the House and White House at the beginning of this year, they had an opportunity to cut the debt – now $20 trillion and climbing. After all, the economy is now at what most economists consider full-employment. The increased tax revenue from all of those employed individuals, combined with careful budget cuts, could have been used to reduce deficits.

But, now that the GOP is in control, deficits and debt no longer seem to matter.

Almost immediately after assuming control, Republicans actually increased spending by adding $700 billion to the Pentagon budget despite the fact that an audit by the Department of Defense Inspector General could not account for $6.5 trillion in military spending!

Then, after the House passed a so-called tax “reform” bill, the GOP-controlled Senate used a parliamentary trick to pass a gigantic tax cut for corporations and billionaires – a move that will add at least $1.5 trillion to the national debt over the next 10 years, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. More precisely, the GOP plans to take $1.5 trillion from ordinary working families and give it to billionaires and large corporations!

So, despite the fact that the nation is still buckling under the deficits and debt created by the last GOP-fueled recession, the GOP plans to push through a highly unpopular tax bill (a recent poll shows that 59 percent of Americans oppose the bill) based on the widely debunked theory of trickle-down economics. It’s a bill that will affect virtually all of us – most of us negatively. And it’s likely to lead to an economic meltdown even worse than the Great Recession.

Of course, the bill’s very wealthy benefactors have little reason to worry. After all, if the tax scam does lead to an economic crash, they are unlikely to be affected. They seldom ever are. For billionaires, most economic downturns represent years-long Black Fridays in which everything is on sale – yet another opportunity to buy low and eventually sell high. And, by the time the national debt becomes a real problem, they can simply relocate and steal from the citizens of another country.

On the other end of the economic spectrum, ordinary working Americans have been promised a much smaller tax cut. Even that will disappear after a few years. But the cuts for billionaires and large corporations will be permanent.

It’s fitting that the Senate bill was passed at 2 a.m. Like thieves in the night, the GOP raided the homes of working people taking portions of their incomes, their access to affordable health care, even their access to public lands.

The GOP Tax Scam.

For weeks, the GOP Congress has been working behind closed doors to craft a tax “reform” bill. They promise that their bill will “give everybody a raise.” They claim that it will simplify tax codes so much that you will be able to “file your income taxes on a postcard.” And they claim that the tax cuts will accelerate the economy so much that they will pay for themselves.

We’ve heard all of this before. Remember Ronald Reagan’s trickle-down economics? Or how about George W. Bush’s tax cuts?

Instead of stimulating the economy, those plans merely stimulated the bank accounts of the very wealthy while ballooning deficits and our national debt. And though we haven’t yet begun to pay for those tax cuts, the GOP is back with more cuts and more empty promises.

Indeed, most economists who have looked at the GOP plans have concluded that they will result in adding at least $1.5 trillion to the federal deficit over the next 10 years. Further, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation concluded that the impact on economic growth would only pay for about a third of the costs. In other words, in a best case scenario, the tax cuts will add more than $1 trillion to the deficit. And some economists worry that the tax cuts could actually slow economic growth based on increased debt and government borrowing which will result in higher interest rates!

Undeterred, the GOP responded by saying, “We don’t expect the plan to pay for itself. The only way to reduce the deficit is through spending cuts.” What they’re really saying is, “We don’t care about the consequences, the billionaires who fund our campaigns demand tax cuts.” Indeed, the GOP has admitted as much. Both the Mercers and the Kochs have threatened to stop funding GOP candidates unless they get what they want.

And fear of the sponsors is only part of the reason the GOP is in such a hurry to pass the tax cut bills. The temporary spending bill that is funding our government expires on December 8, and the GOP has made tax reform mandatory for a budget deal.

Moreover, by rushing a bill through Congress with little debate, the GOP can bury some unsavory items in the bill. For example, the Senate is considering repealing the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, which would for all intents and purposes repeal Obamacare.

The House tax bill would also repeal the Johnson Amendment which prohibits churches and other nonprofits from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office. Though the amendment is seldom enforced – pastors, especially evangelicals and conservative Catholics have been politicking from the pulpit for years without consequences thanks to GOP. This provision could impact our elections as negatively as the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision that opened the floodgates for campaign donations by nonprofits – all of which can be made anonymously through money laundering from one nonprofit to another.

The House tax bill even includes an abortion poison pill. It has a provision that would, for tax purposes, give a fetus “personhood.” That would make any abortion, for any reason, murder.

However, the most disingenuous claim made by the GOP is that their tax plan will give most working Americans a $4,000 raise – a claim refuted by most economists. But let’s, for a moment, assume that it’s true. Who wouldn’t be in favor of giving less money to the government and having more money to spend on themselves? But what if getting that money meant that there would be a cut to most government services combined with increases in fees?

What if they told you that $4,000 tax cut would be offset by eliminating tax deductions for home mortgage interest, and for state and local tax payments – deductions that could total far more than $4,000. What if they told you that there wouldn’t be enough federal revenue to rebuild our infrastructure and that the result would be toll roads? What if they told you that cutting taxes would result in less money for medical research, less money to help with natural disasters, less money for environmental clean-ups, and less money for food safety inspections?

What if they told you that the tax cuts would mean that the cost of your health care and prescriptions would, once again, skyrocket? What if they told you that, as part of the tax cut, your Social Security savings would be given to millionaires and billionaires? What if they told you that you would be asked to subsidize big bonuses for the executives of multinational corporations? What if they told you that you might have to pay for your parents’ medical costs because their Medicare would be gutted? What if they told you it would mean the end of veteran’s benefits? What if they told you there would be no more money for food stamps and welfare, so millions of Americans would have to beg for food or die? What if they told you that that their tax cut would result in trillions more in debt for your children and grandchildren?

All of those things are likely under the GOP tax plans.

If that doesn’t give you pause, ask yourself this: Since the people writing the bills are millionaires who were put into office with the help of billionaires, do you really think they have your best interests at heart? And, if the GOP ideas for tax reform are so good, why are they being crafted in back rooms out of the view of the public? Why have they not included Democrats in the discussions?

Perhaps the best question of all is one posed by Catherine Rampell of the Washington Post in a recent editorial: “If the tax bill is so great, why does the GOP keep lying about it?”

Keeping Track Of The Trump/GOP Agenda.

Voters and the media are all too aware of The Donald’s Twitter rants and the ongoing investigation into Russian interference in last year’s election. But while we’ve been distracted by the noise, here’s what Trump and the GOP have been doing in the shadows and away from the spotlight:

They passed and signed a bill overturning an Obama initiative to prevent the mentally ill from purchasing guns.

Trump signed an executive order withdrawing the United States from the Paris accords on climate change. We are now one of only 3 nations in the world – the others are Syria and Nicaragua – who are not part of the effort. And Nicaragua only refused to sign because they didn’t think the effort went far enough.

The administration has empowered ICE to arrest and deport thousands of undocumented workers, which has resulted in the separation of families and made it difficult for fruit and vegetable growers to find enough help for harvest.

Trump announced the end of DACA for the “Dreamers” who were brought to the US as children. Now the White House is making funding of a border wall a condition for signing a new bill that would allow Dreamers to stay in the US – the only country they know.

Trump pardoned former sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted for criminal contempt of court after refusing to stop racial profiling of Latinos. Arpaio also boasted of running a “concentration camp” for prisoners. Some even died while in custody.

Trump praised the actions of extreme dictators in Russia, Turkey and the Philippines.

Trump refused to denounce Nazis and white supremacists for the violence in Charlottesville while, at the same time, giving them a voice in the administration.

The DOJ announced that it is ending a program to track domestic terrorists.

They dramatically increased defense spending despite audits that have shown extensive waste and a lack of DOD oversight.

They attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with parliamentary tricks and no debate – an action that would have drastically cut Medicaid, defunded Planned Parenthood, and denied health care access to tens of millions of Americans.

They cut payments to insurance companies that compensate them for losses created by the pent-up demand for health care of new ACA enrollees.

After Congress failed to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, the administration defunded publicity campaigns for ACA enrollment and shortened the enrollment period in an attempt to reduce participation in the ACA marketplaces.

Trump signed an executive order to further undercut the ACA by allowing insurance companies to offer bare bones plans that will effectively encourage the youngest and healthiest people to leave the program and make it financially impossible for insurance companies to offer affordable coverage to those who most need it, especially those with pre-existing conditions.

Trump cut subsidies to help pay the cost of health insurance for low income Americans.

Trump is also considering incentives for employers to set aside money to help employees pay insurance premiums, a move designed to allow them to end traditional employee insurance benefits.

Congress has thus far failed to extend CHIP, which provides health care to millions of poor children who are not eligible for public assistance.

The House passed a bill which would cut $39 billion from SNAP, the food stamp program for the poor.

The House passed a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks and making doctors vulnerable to prison.

They have packed the court system with young, extreme right-wing, anti-choice judges and justices.

Trump has violated the emoluments clause of the Constitution by profiting from foreign guests staying in his Washington, DC hotel.

Trump signed an executive order which allows employers to deny contraceptive coverage to employees forcing tens of thousands of women to pay for contraceptives themselves.

The EPA announced it is ending the Obama era clean energy rules which is designed to replace dirty fuels that contribute to climate change.

The EPA and NASA removed all references to climate change from their websites.

The administration increased the number of mining and oil drilling leases on federal lands, which will allow uranium mining in the Grand Canyon watershed.

The administration has refused to protect Walruses under the Endangered Species Act. At the same time, the administration is considering delisting Gray Wolves, Grizzly Bears and other species.

Trump has waged a name-calling war against the leader of North Korea, putting us on the precipice of nuclear war. Even if only conventional weapons are involved, millions of people would die on the Korean peninsula.

Trump restored many of the Cold War era restrictions on Cuba.

Trump’s proposed budget would make deep cuts to most government agencies, including Health & Human Services, the EPA, the State Department, the Agriculture Department, the Army Corps of Engineers, the National Institutes of Health, the Commerce Department, the Education Department, HUD, the Department of Transportation, the Department of the Interior and FEMA.

Trump’s proposed budget would eliminate numerous programs, including National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration grants and programs that support coastal and marine management. It would cut funding for new transit programs, Amtrak, the UN’s Green Climate Fund, and the Clean Power Plan.

Trump’s proposed budget would make deep cuts to the popular Meals on Wheels program for shut-ins.

Trump has decided to “decertify” the treaty with Iran – an action that will almost certainly accelerate Iran’s nuclear program.

The Interior Department has proposed cutting the number and size of our national monuments.

The administration has proposed opening the Arctic, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling.

Congress and the administration have proposed a tax “reform” bill that will give massive cuts to multinational corporations and the wealthy, provide a tax “holiday” for corporations that have stashed billions offshore to evade taxes, and eliminate the Estate Tax which only affects the very wealthy.

If you don’t think all of that is bad enough, consider the fact that the Trump-led GOP also hopes to replace public education with for-profit private schools, to replace our efficient Medicare program with vouchers and to privatize Social Security, effectively ending safety nets for the elderly and the poor. Or consider the millions spent on Trump’s weekly golf outings at his own properties. Or the millions spent on personal trips in private jets by his cabinet members.

This administration and this Congress are quietly doing everything in their power to undermine the health of our nation, our planet and the well-being of its citizens, except the most wealthy and the most powerful. My advice to voters and the media alike: Stop being outraged by Trump’s Twitter rages and start paying attention to the actions that he and his government are taking behind the scenes.

How Russia Stole Our Conscience.

Though the Robert Mueller investigation has not yet been completed, it’s clear that Russia meddled with our election. Disregarding possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign, and the many meetings between Trump associates and Russian operatives, we’re already certain that Russia controlled the election outcome using a variety of techniques for the benefit of Trump and other Republican candidates.

Here’s what we know so far:

Russian hackers stole information from the email servers of Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee – information that was used by the Trump campaign and other Republican candidates. These crimes alone were far more serious than Watergate (the break-in and cover-up that resulted in the resignation of President Richard Nixon).

And the computer break-ins were just the beginning of Russian interference on behalf of Trump and other Republicans.

Russian oligarchs donated millions to Republican PACs and Super PACS to help the re-election of Speaker Paul Ryan, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other Republican candidates. Hundreds of Russian operatives secretly set up fake social media accounts designed to circulate anti-Clinton propaganda. Russians bought advertising on Facebook and Twitter to attack Clinton. Russia created dozens of “news” websites to publish false and misleading stories designed to undermine Clinton’s campaign. And Russia’s RT Television Network and Sputnik News Agency ran hundreds, if not thousands, of anti-Clinton “news” stories.

In addition, Russia hacked into voter data in several swing states, changing addresses and other information to cause registered Democrats to be turned away from the polls. There are even indications that Russia actually changed votes from Clinton to Trump in at least three swing states. (As Bill Palmer pointed out in his Palmer Report, it is statistically impossible that election results in those three swing states would all three go to Trump by the exact same one percent margin after all of the polls showed Clinton with substantial margins just days before.)

Russia’s actions not only prevented Clinton from winning. Their result was to install an occupant in the White House committed to the deconstruction of the government of Russia’s greatest adversary. Whatever you think of Der Gropenfuhrer himself, you must admit that his appointments have resulted in a kakistocracy – a government run by the worst, least qualified, and most unscrupulous citizens.

For example, the Department of Justice is led by a known racist. The Department of Energy, which controls our nuclear arsenal, is led by someone who previously called for dismantling the department without even knowing what it does. The Department of Education is led by a woman who never attended a public school and has spent millions to replace public schools with religious schools and for-profit private schools. The EPA is led by someone who prioritizes religion over science and who has repeatedly sued the agency he now heads on behalf of the fossil fuel industry. Most recently, Trump appointed a climate change denier with no background in science to lead the nation’s cutting-edge science agency – NASA.

The list of such appointees is quite lengthy.

In an act of extreme cruelty and hubris, the administration and the Republican-controlled Congress tried to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would cause more than 22 million Americans to lose access to affordable health care. Failing that, they sabotaged the health care law by cutting its funding.

They have withdrawn from the Paris climate accords, which puts our entire planet at risk. Trump has dropped protections for the LGBTQ community, women, minorities and immigrants who were brought to the US as children. He has vilified Muslims and banned refugees from seven Muslim-majority nations. He refused to hold Nazis and White Supremacists accountable for the violence in Charlottesville. And he ordered the deportation of women and children who are refugees from widespread violence in several Central American nations, placing their lives in serious jeopardy.

Further, Congress is poised to vote on tax reform that will give huge tax cuts to corporations and the wealthy. At the same time, the proposed budget is expected to cut funding for numerous safety net programs, such as those designed to provide food for poor children, the elderly and the disabled.

Considering the impact of all these actions, one has to conclude that Russia not only stole our election. They stole our collective conscience.

Yet most Republicans still refuse to acknowledge Russia’s role in the election results, likely because doing so would undermine the legitimacy of their gains in 2016. Likewise, they refuse to implement changes in order to prevent foreign interests from dictating election results again. As a result, we can’t be certain that the same type of meddling won’t take place in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

One wonders how those same Republicans would react if such interference stole an election from them.

Can Democrats Win With Identity Politics?

Since the 2016 election, Mark Lilla and others have been decrying Democrats’ efforts to address the needs of individual groups, such as women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, atheists, the LGBTQ community, minimum wage workers, labor unions, teachers, senior citizens, immigrants, environmentalists and others. Such efforts have been decried as “identity politics,” as if that is something negative.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.

The aforementioned groups represent some of the most vulnerable parts of our society. Yet, combined, they make up a significant majority of the nation’s population. And all of these groups are constantly under attack by Republican policies.

Republicans want to deny contraception and abortion to women, taking away their rights to control their own bodies and their lives. In addition, the GOP has used a variety of tricks – including gerrymandering, voter ID laws, reducing the number of polling places and early voting hours to suppress black votes. They have passed “show us your papers” laws to harass Latinos. They have passed laws to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people and non-Christians. They have fought increases to the minimum wage. They have fought collective bargaining. They have fought against raises and pensions for teachers. They’ve tried to take away health care from tens of millions of citizens. And they threaten to reduce or eliminate safety nets for the poor and the elderly.

Protecting these groups does NOT mean the Democrats are engaging in identity politics to show preference for some groups over others. It merely shows that they care for others.

Meanwhile, the GOP has engaged in its own brand of identity politics – focusing on protecting the interests of large, greedy corporations, the wealthy, intolerant evangelical “Christians” and white supremacists. Republicans pander to those who view others as commodities to be exploited or as threats to their dominance. In doing so, they foment fear and hate. Yet few political pundits question their strategy because they believe that is why Republicans have won the Oval Office and the majority of seats in Congress, as well as numerous gubernatorial seats and state legislatures.

However, the pundits tend to ignore the structural advantages that have led to those wins. Republicans control more than 90 percent of talk radio shows and numerous Internet “news” sites that shamelessly create false news stories and narratives.

Republicans benefit from a popular cable network that, under the cloak of a news organization, serves as a megaphone for the Republican National Committee. Through Sinclair Broadcast Group, they will soon control the majority of local TV news programming. They control an organization (ALEC) sponsored by large corporations that writes legislation for conservative legislators. They benefit from the Kochtopus, a maze of non-profit organizations that funnel billions into political races to support right-wing candidates. They even benefit from the sensational supermarket tabloids that specialize in stories attacking celebrities and glamorizing Trump.

All of this makes it easy for Republicans to engage in hateful politics that divide us.

Yet, despite these disadvantages, I believe that Democrats can still win, but not by abandoning the vulnerable. To win, the Democratic Party needs to improve its leadership and unify behind the party’s long-held principles of supporting the majority of Americans, especially those who cash paychecks rather than stock dividend checks. Democrats must continue to reach out to Americans who face discrimination, those who struggle to make ends meet, those who have retired, and those who need a helping hand.

The Democratic Party needs to better communicate its principles. It needs to create a brand; a brand that will make it crystal clear that it is unapologetically committed to improving lives and protecting the dignity of ALL Americans regardless of gender, race, religion, age or economic status.

The Democratic Party needs to hold Republicans accountable for trying to turn Americans against one another. It needs to offer hope for a kinder, more prosperous future.

In other words, it needs to explain that it represents “We the People.”

An Open Letter To Congress.

Dear Senators and Congressional Representatives:

We understand that it’s hard work to win an election. There’s the fundraising, the canvassing, the fundraising, the travel, the fundraising, the public appearances, the fundraising, the baby-kissing and the butt-kissing, the fundraising, the debates, the fundraising, the media interviews, and, of course, the fundraising.

We also believe that, by electing you, we afford you a great honor – the honor of representing us in our seat of government. Given that, we should expect you to appreciate that honor and to do what you can to live up to your campaign promises. We expect you to follow in the footsteps of our Founding Fathers – people like Franklin, Hamilton, Jay, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe and Washington – to do what’s best for us and our nation.

Unfortunately, that seems to be an increasingly quaint and naive notion as evidenced by an exhaustive study by Professor Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Professor Benjamin Page of Northwestern University.

Gilens and Page collected data on your policy decisions from 1981 to 2002. Their report, “Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest Groups and Average Citizens,” concluded that economic elites (the top 1%) and business groups (lobbyists) have substantial impact on your decisions while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little to no influence on your decisions.

In short, the professors found that our democratic republic has become an oligarchy, defined as a small group of people having control of a country or organization. But the Gilens-Page study only confirms what many of us already suspected.

For example, we have seen how members of Congress have prioritized the profits of defense contractors over the needs of our military and over reason itself. We’ve noticed how you repeatedly vote to increase weapons spending despite the fact that the Pentagon cannot account for its spending of more than $7.3 trillion, and despite the fact that our defense budget is greater than that of the next 7 countries combined (5 of which are close allies). And we suppressed our frustration as we watched you vote to require the US Army to purchase tanks and other weapons systems it no longer uses or needs.

We’re all too aware that you seem far more concerned with the profits of pharmaceutical companies and health insurance companies than with the economic and physical health of your constituents. We aren’t blind to the fact that 40 of the lawmakers in your midst held $23 million in shares of health insurance companies as they voted to take health care coverage away from millions of Americans.

We’ve seen how you passed laws prioritizing the desires of Wall Street over the needs of Main Street. For example, in 1999, you voted to deregulate banks, clearing the way for them to gamble with our deposits and pension funds. That decision led to the financial crash and Great Recession of 2008. And yet your GOP members are intent on repealing the regulations enacted to prevent such an event from ever happening again.

We’ve also observed that the majority in Congress is working to eliminate regulations designed to keep our air, water and food clean in order to improve the bottom lines for their large corporate sponsors.

Of course, we have noted that such decisions also improve your campaigns’ bottom lines. Those large corporations reward you with large amounts of money for your re-election campaigns. They pay for junkets to exotic places. They give you tickets to concerts and other galas…the kinds of gifts few ordinary voters can afford.

And though you readily do the oligarchs’ bidding, you hide from your constituents. You avoid town halls. You send letters to constituents that are based on lies. And you have the unmitigated gall to ask your constituents for their money and their support!

Here’s an idea: Instead of beginning fundraising for your re-election campaign the minute you get into office, why not just do the right thing? Why not vote for policies that will help the vast majority of your constituents? Why not vote for better schools, better health care, better roads, safer bridges, better mass transportation and cleaner energy? Why not balance the budget by raising taxes on the fortunate few and cutting taxes for those who are struggling? Why not crack down on those who avoid paying their fair share through the use of offshore tax havens? Why not open your doors to all of your constituents? Not just those with the most money to offer.

Why don’t you treat the office as though you’re in it to serve? Why not prioritize country over party and people over money?

If you do that, believe us, we’ll notice. We’ll ignore your opponents’ attack ads. We’ll contribute to your campaigns. And we will almost certainly vote for you again. And, if you lose to someone better, you can leave office with your head held high knowing that you’ve done everything you can to represent us. You can take solace in the fact that our Founders never intended for public office to become a permanent position. (They sure as hell didn’t expect our nation to become an oligarchy in the mold of Putin’s Russia!)

As reported in John Avlon’s book, Washington’s Farewell, when the father of our nation, George Washington bade farewell to public service, he warned of three things: Hyper-partisanship, excessive debt and foreign wars.

Unfortunately, our nation is now burdened with all three. You may not be personally responsible for creating those burdens. But you can be responsible for ridding us of them…if you just do the right thing.

America First? Not From My Perspective.

In the past week, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the Alps of Bavaria. Not only were we treated to the splendor of one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We were able to observe a country that works.

Though Germany may not be a military super-power, it is an economic power. More important, it is extremely successful in delivering to its citizens a high quality of life. As you fly across Germany, you notice a relatively pristine landscape with cities and farmland surrounded by large forests. Instead of clear-cutting those forests for timber, the Germans appear to use selective harvesting methods which preserves the beauty of the forests and limits the potential of wildfires while still providing timber for construction.

Virtually all of the homes are well-kept and many feature solar panels on their roofs. Indeed, solar generation accounts for nearly 7 percent of Germany’s power needs as compared to just 1.5 percent in the US. This is despite the fact that large portions of the US have many more days of sunshine than Germany. (For comparison, one of our sunniest states – Arizona – generates just 3.4 percent of its needs with solar.)

There is little visible trash. The rivers, even the roadsides, are clean, likely the result of an aggressive recycling program. Recycling and trash receptacles are everywhere. And many supermarkets have efficient programs that provide refunds for returning plastic bottles. Further, most Germans use recyclable shopping bags without complaint.

Though often narrow, all of Germany’s roads and bridges seem in good repair, especially in comparison to our crumbling infrastructure. And many German commuters have the option of traveling to and from work in electric trains.

All German citizens enjoy access to quality health care, the cost of which is split between the government and private insurers much like our Medicare. In addition, German workers enjoy considerable time off for their families and for travel. They have the right to be represented by labor unions. Many workers even enjoy representation on the boards of directors of their companies.

There is no visible poverty – at least not in comparison to large portions of the US. Germany not only grows most of its food, its produce is untainted by GMO. The nation is also phasing out the use of pesticides. As a result, German produce tastes as though you just picked it from your own garden.

Despite stereotypes, the German people are active, many of them regularly hiking in the mountains. Indeed, on a mountain trail, we encountered everyone from families with young children to a woman in her nineties. Though obviously suffering from osteoporosis and using a cane, she seemed to be not even breathing deeply as she climbed past us on a steep trail. Perhaps that’s why Germany’s life expectancy is longer than that of the US.

Gun violence in Germany is virtually non-existent, especially compared to the US. Per capita, German gun deaths are less than a tenth of those in the US.

America first? American exceptionalism?

Yes, the United States is the world’s most powerful nation militarily and economically. But, in the things that really matter, such as quality of life, we are falling behind…far behind.