Do We Really Need The Mueller Report To Know That Trump Colluded With Russia?

Here’s what we already know about Trump’s business ties to Russia:
1. When US banks refused to lend to his organization after his multiple bankruptcies, Trump sought and received funding from Russian investors.
2. Eric Trump told golf writer, James Dodson, “… we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”
3. A Russian mobster was among the first to buy luxury condos in Trump Tower. And David Bogatin purchased not one, but five condos. (Real estate is one of the Russians’ preferred ways to launder money illegally obtained.)
4. Two Russian mobsters are serving time in prison for running an illegal sports betting operation out of Trump Tower just a few floors below Trump’s living quarters.
5. Russian oligarchs have purchased nearly $100 million worth of real estate in Trump buildings in Florida.
6. A Russian oligarch paid $93 million for a Trump-owned mansion in Palm Beach, Florida – well over the market price – only to have it demolished and the property divided into three lots.
7. Trump made his first visit to Moscow in 1987 and he has pursued a deal to build Trump Tower Moscow ever since. His personal attorney was engaged in talks with Russian oligarchs about the proposed project through the first half of 2016.
8. In 2013, the Trump-owned Miss Universe pageant was hosted by Moscow and a Putin ally.
9. A Trump business associate, Russian-born Felix Sater (born Felix Mikhailovich Sheferovsky), who has ties to Putin pleaded guilty to a $40 million stock fraud scheme orchestrated by the Russian mafia.

Here’s what we know about the Trump campaign connections to Russia:
1. In late 2015, Ivanka Trump connected Michael Cohen with a Putin ally who promised business and political synergy with the Trump organization and the Trump campaign.
2. In early 2016, a Russian with ties to Putin ally, Alexander Torshin, offered Trump a meeting with Putin.
3. In 2016, Torshin attended the NRA’s annual convention where he met with Donald Trump, Jr.
4. George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy advisor, spoke with well-connected Russians who proposed a Trump-Putin meeting.
5. Paul Manafort, a longtime consultant to the Russian-backed president of the Ukraine who was overthrown in 2014 and has a history of multi-million dollar deals with Russian oligarchs, was hired as Trump campaign manager. (Manafort has since been convicted on multiple counts of tax fraud.)
6. Carter Page, a Trump foreign policy advisor with business ties to the Russian state-owned oil company Gazprom, traveled to Moscow in July 2016 with the Trump campaign’s approval. While there, he gave a speech criticizing the US and other Western nations.
7. During the campaign, Trump foreign policy advisor Michael Flynn was paid $45,000 to speak at a Russia Today banquet in Moscow where he was seated at a table with Vladimir Putin.
8. In April of 2016, Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak attended a conservative event where Trump spoke. Kislyak sat in the front row and spoke with both Jared Kushner and then-senator Jeff Sessions, who led the campaign’s foreign policy team.
9. In May 2016, Trump consultants Michael Caputo and Roger Stone communicated with a Russian using the name Henry Greenberg who offered damaging information on Clinton.
10. Donald Trump, Jr. received an email requesting a meeting with a Russian lawyer who claimed to have dirt on Hillary Clinton. His response was “I love it.” The meeting took place in Trump Tower on June 9, 2016. (The lawyer has since been tied directly to the Kremlin.)
11. In July of 2016, Trump called for Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s email. Hours later, Russian intelligence targeted Clinton’s email account along with more than 70 other Clinton campaign accounts.
12. Trump campaign advisor and personal confidant, Roger Stone, claimed to be friends with Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and seemingly tweeted advance knowledge of the release of emails stolen from Clinton campaign chair John Podesta.
13. After Trump won the GOP nomination, the Republican platform was changed to remove references to US sanctions on Russia.
14. Russian ambassador Kislyak attended the Republican national convention in July of 2016 where he again met with Sessions.
15. During the campaign, Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort offered briefings on US politics to Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska. (It is now known that Manafort shared Trump campaign polling data with Russia.)
16. Ambassador Kislyak had a private meeting in Sessions’ office in September 2016.
17. After Russians stole data from the Democratic National Committee which included information on more than 120 million voters, they began a Kremlin-sanctioned program to use social media for the benefit of the Trump campaign.
18. The Trump campaign changed its entire social media campaign within days after the Russians hacked the DNC voter data.
19. After the election, and before Trump’s inauguration, Russian ambassador Kislyak maintained regular contact with Kushner and Michael Flynn. The three met in Trump Tower December 1, 2016 where they discussed mitigating US sanctions on Russia. In addition, they discussed creating “back channels” between Russia and the Trump administration.
20. Investigators have found emails, text messages, phone calls and meetings between members of the Trump campaign and numerous other Russians including Evgeny Shmykov, a former military intellence officer, and Dmitry Peskov, Vladimir Putin’s spokesman.
21. The Trump transition team led by VP Mike Pence was warned by the FBI that General Michael Flynn was acting as a foreign agent. Yet they named him National Security Advisor anyway.
22. In January of 2017, Trump campaign advisor and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, traveled to the Seychelles to meet with a Russian oligarch where they reportedly discussed a back channel between Trump and the Kremlin.
23. Leonard Blavatnik, a Ukrainian-born billionaire who is tied to Putin and a Russian bank, contributed $7.35 million to Trump and the political action committees for Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, Lindsey Graham, John Kasich and John McCain.
24. Maria Butina, the young Russian operative with ties to the NRA and GOP politicians met with Don Jr. during the 2016 campaign to seek a back channel between Trump and Putin. (Butina has since pleaded guilty to conspiracy and has agreed to cooperate with prosecutors.)

Here are but a few of the yet-to-be-substantiated claims:
1. Igor Sechin, CEO of Rosneft, Russia’s state oil company, offered former Trump adviser Carter Page and his associates an opportunity to broker a 19 percent stake in the company in exchange for lifting US sanctions on Russia.
2. Computer scientists claim to have identified a computer link during the campaign between a Russian bank and the Trump organization.
3. Russia pressured Trump to not name Romney Secretary of State and instead he name Rex Tillerson, a Russian friend, to the office.
4. Russian oligarch Alexander Torshin funneled millions to the Trump campaign through the NRA.

Here is evidence of obstruction of justice by Trump and his administration:
1. Trump asked FBI director James Comey to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn.
2. When Comey refused, Trump fired him. He then told Russian visitors to the White House, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job.” He went on to say, “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”
3. During the Senate confirmation process, several of the Trump administration nominees lied under oath about their Russian contacts.
4. In his application for security clearance, Jared Kushner omitted his contacts with Russia.
5. Trump fired AG Jeff Sessions over his recusal from the Mueller investigation and installed an acting FBI director who has been outspoken against the investigation.
6. Trump committed witness tampering by calling Michael Cohen a rat for cooperating with the Mueller investigation and praising Roger Stone for saying he would never testify.
7. He helped craft a misleading public statement about the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr. and the Russians.
8. He lied to reporters about his role in hush money payments to Stormy Daniels and others.
9. He dangled pardons to Manafort and others who might testify against him.

As you can see, there is abundant evidence that Trump is in the White House only because of Russian interference and a conspiracy between the Trump campaign, the GOP and Russia. Further, it is clear that Trump has made numerous efforts to obstruct justice.

The only question is: What are we going to do about it?

America’s On-going Unnatural Disaster.

It has been nearly a year since a former student walked into the Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, pulled out a military-style weapon and shot 34 students. 17 of those students died. 17 more were seriously wounded. And many of those who escaped will likely suffer from PTSD for the rest of their lives.

Let that sink in for a moment.

High school students who were merely sitting in a classroom now share a disability with many of our military personnel returning from war zones! Even worse, Parkland was only one of 340 mass shootings that took place in the United States in 2018. Including Parkland, those shootings claimed 354 lives and wounded or injured 1,341.

Still worse, according to GunViolenceArchive.org, in 2018, there were 56,768 incidents in which an American pointed a gun at another and pulled the trigger. That’s an average of roughly 155 shootings per day, or about 6.4 shootings an hour!

In total, an astounding 14,600 people were killed by guns in the US last year. And that doesn’t even include gun suicides, which amount to almost twice the number of people shot by others. We see reports of these shootings in the news every day. We learn of the domestic violence killings; of the murder-suicides; of the road rage killings; of those being killed by stray bullets; of the children who discover a gun and unintentionally kill themselves or a playmate.

And what do we do about all of this?

We simply move on to the next news story or turn the page because we’ve come to accept this slaughter as normal. Or we accept it as the penalty our society must suffer in order to protect the 2nd Amendment.

But let me remind you. This is far from normal in the civilized world. No other advanced nation experiences such slaughter. Indeed, there are more casualties in the US from guns than there are in some nations that are considered war zones!

Let me also remind you that the Founding Fathers never intended the 2nd Amendment to allow US citizens gun down each other. It was only included in the Constitution to provide a mechanism for the defense of our nation. We did not yet have a standing army – indeed, the Founders were exceedingly wary of authorizing one – so they included the right to bear arms as part of a “well-regulated” state militia.

Further, as interpreted by the courts, the 2nd Amendment was not without limitations. The courts have consistently ruled that various jurisdictions can ban certain types of guns and ammunition. They have also ruled that certain people can be legally prevented from purchasing or owning firearms.

If our nation experienced even a small percentage of these deaths and injuries from other causes, there would be a loud uproar. People would be calling for the heads of the executives or politicians responsible. For example, in 2014, much of our population was panic-stricken over two deaths from Ebola in the US. Two! Allow me to do the math for you: That’s 14,598 fewer people who died from Ebola in the history of the US than died as the result of shootings last year alone.

And many of our citizens are willing to spend tens of billions of dollars and compromise the very fabric of our nation to prevent refugees from crossing our borders for fear a tiny percentage of them might commit a crime. But gun violence? Many of those same people won’t lift a finger or spend a dime of taxpayer money to reduce it.

Seriously, does that make any freaking sense?

Some Political Conspiracies Are More Than Theory.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four Potential Outcomes Of The Mueller Investigation.

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

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

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

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

In my opinion, here are the most likely outcomes:

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

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

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

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

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

To My Trump-Supporting Friends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Add all of that to the questions that remain unanswered.

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

There are still more questions.

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

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

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 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.

Are The Latest Russian Sanctions Mere Window-Dressing?

Last year, Congress passed a bipartisan bill calling for stricter sanctions against Russia in response to its meddling with our 2016 election. But, with no explanation given, the Trump administration failed to implement any further sanctions until after the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy in England. Even then, it appeared that the administration was reluctantly responding in support of our closest ally.

Now, months after congressional action, the Trump administration has imposed sanctions designed to harm Russian oligarchs close to Putin. Among others, the oligarchs named include Oleg Deripaska, former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort’s long-time benefactor, and Alexander Torshin, the Russian who gave millions to the NRA to be used to aid GOP candidates during the 2016 campaign. One has to ask why those guys? Why now?

After all, these men would seem to be allies of Trump, the GOP and the NRA. And we know that Trump has never uttered a harsh word about Russia or Putin – quite the opposite. He has repeatedly gone out of his way to praise Putin despite the investigations by Congress and the special prosecutor.

I believe a recent post from a Facebook friend, who is obviously wiser and perhaps even more cynical than I am, offers a possible answer. Could it be that the long delay between the congressional sanctions and the implementation by the Trump administration was designed to allow Putin and his pals to minimize the consequences? Did the delay allow them to transfer their billions out of accounts in the US and other western nations? Did the delay allow Trump to pretend to be tough on Russia, as he now claims, and demonstrate to GOP members of Congress and his right-wing base that he did not conspire with Russia to help his campaign?

More to the point, will the delayed sanctions convince GOP members of Congress to ignore the coming reports from Robert Muller and refuse to impeach Trump? Will they further free Fox News, right-wing radio hosts, and Sinclair Broadcast Group to launch a propaganda campaign to support Trump and portray the Russian investigations as a hoax?

Based on what we’ve seen in the past year and a half, I think the answer to all of those questions is a resounding “yes.”

Revisiting The Second Amendment And Gun Violence.

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

I draw your attention to the full text of the amendment since the first 12 words are seldom mentioned. In fact, in the NRA headquarters, only the last half of the text is emblazoned on the wall. But, if you believe in the wisdom of the authors of our Constitution, you cannot parse the words to suit your own purposes. You must accept the document in its entirety.

We once had a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States who believed so. In a 1991 PBS interview, he stated, “The Gun Lobby’s interpretation of the 2nd Amendment is one of the greatest pieces of fraud – I repeat the word fraud – on the American people by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime. The real purpose of the 2nd Amendment was to ensure that state armies – the militia – would be maintained for the defense of the state. The very language of the 2nd Amendment refutes any argument that it was intended to guarantee every citizen an unfettered right to any kind of weapon he or she desires.”

The point is that the amendment was written to ensure for the defense of the US against foreign governments at a time when our nation had no standing army, no Navy, no Air Force, no Marine Corps, no Coast Guard. Instead, the nation’s defense relied upon state militias comprised of volunteers…what have, in effect, become our state governed National Guard units.

Now that we have the world’s most effective military, the 2nd Amendment is no longer necessary. Since our government is “of the people, by the people and for the people,” the military serves us. There is no longer a need for citizens to bear arms as part of a well-regulated militia. What about the potential for government tyranny? The current administration aside, that is a remote possibility. And even if the government decided to impose martial law on the land, no disorganized band of civilians armed with an arsenal of AR-15s and AK-47s will prevail against a well-trained government army with tanks, artillery, fighter jets and nuclear weapons.

That said, let’s talk about our gun problem and what can be done to reduce gun violence, including mass shootings.

There are an average of 297 shootings each day in the US – more than 108,000 per year! Those shootings result in 11,000 murders per year and an uncounted number of wounded – many with lifelong debilitating injuries. There are 20,000 suicides from guns each year, resulting in an annual total of 33,000 deaths from guns.

More than 2,600 hundred children are killed by guns each year.

The US averages more than one mass shooting per day (as defined by 4 or more victims per shooting). Since the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, there have been 1,500 mass shootings resulting in more than 1,700 people killed and more than 6,000 wounded (not counting those who were likely shot and killed today).

If you’re human; if you live in America, those statistics should frighten you! But before you run out and purchase a gun for self-defense, consider this: Guns are not defensive weapons. They are offensive weapons. In a gun fight, the first person to pull their gun usually wins. So, if someone points a gun at you, your own gun will do you little good. In fact, if you have a gun in your house, you’re 80 percent more likely to use it on yourself than any criminal.

To further debunk the “good guy with a gun myth,” consider the FBI analysis of 160 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2013, excluding shootings related to gang or drug violence. Those incidents resulted in 1,043 casualties – 486 killed, 557 wounded. The FBI found that 1 in 5 were stopped by a potential victim at the scene and most of those were unarmed! Only 5 were stopped by “good guys with guns.” And, in 21 of 45 incidents that required law enforcement to engage the shooter, 9 officers were killed and 28 were wounded, despite their training and their body armor!

Do you still think arming teachers is the answer to school shootings?

Every independent study shows a clear connection between gun violence and the number of guns. Nevertheless, Americans now own more than 300 million guns. Despite the fact that the number of individuals who own guns is actually declining, the number of gun sales is increasing dramatically. That’s because 6 million Americans – mostly white men -now own 10 or more guns. There are studies that show many of those people have psychological problems. And there are additional studies that show a clear connection between gun violence and domestic violence or violence against animals.

The only apparent answer to our epidemic of gun violence is to treat it as we do other epidemics – with intervention, outreach, and education. We should institute universal background checks and a database of gun ownership. To make the ATF’s job easier, we should institute a waiting period for anyone wanting to purchase a gun. We should ban both open and conceal carry – going back to the policies before the lobbying of the NRA. We should ban all semi-automatics. Not just military-style weapons. That’s because most semi-automatics can be just as deadly. And bolt-action, pump-action and lever-action are perfectly acceptable for most hunters. We should limit magazines to 9 rounds. We should limit the quantities of ammunition sold. And we should take weapons away from violent felons, domestic abusers, animal abusers and the mentally ill who are diagnosed with violent tendencies – toward others or themselves.

It’s time to ignore the NRA and the GOP. It’s time to change!