The True Enemies Of Democracy.

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

That is not a claim that I make lightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republicans, Do You Ever Listen To Yourselves?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our Political Divide Is More The Result Of Differences In Personality Than Issues.

Political pundits have expended a lot of effort to try to understand our political divide. In particular, they want to understand what led so many people to vote for a man who outwardly defies their oft-stated values. Was it the browning of America? Was it the loss of manufacturing jobs? Was it the decline of rural, small-town America? Was it that Hillary Clinton seemed to be a flawed candidate? Was it a backlash to the Obama years?

All of those may have been factors. But I believe those explanations fall short. I believe there are emotional and psychological issues that have created the chasm between liberal and conservative Americans fed by the fragmentation of media. Since the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, conservative propagandists have been able to feed their audiences a steady stream of outrage and lies. So, too, have websites and social media. Many Americans now expose themselves only to “news” stories that fit their preconceived ideas. And the once unifying presence of evidence-based network news is now dismissed by a large percentage of conservatives as “fake” news. This new media reality has tapped into the long-seething anger and fear of conservative Americans who feel they are ignored and left behind by Washington and the so-called intellectual elites.

As an accomplished con-man, Trump recognized the vulnerability of these conservatives and, with the help of Russian interference, he was able to manufacture and exaggerate their outrage. It was his ability to manipulate them that ultimately led him to the White House.

Let me be clear, I don’t believe that today’s conservatives are bad people. But, for the most part, they lack a curiosity for the unfamiliar. They lack compassion and empathy for people unlike themselves. They are fearful of change, even if that change promises to make things better. They see compromise as a weakness. And they have far too much regard for authority, especially when it is accompanied by the American flag and the Bible. It is because of these characteristics that they are especially vulnerable to being manipulated by unscrupulous politicians and pastors. To fully understand what I mean, let’s examine those characteristics one at a time.

CURIOSITY – Studies have shown that fewer conservatives have passports than liberals. They are less likely to travel outside of our country and, when they do, they tend to travel to countries where they don’t have to try to understand another language or another culture. This lack of curiosity has also led to their growing contempt for science – a discipline that is based on curiosity.

COMPASSION – Liberals are quick to support charitable causes to aid the impoverished, to preserve the environment, and to support human rights. But studies show that conservatives contribute even more money to charity. However, most of that money is donated to churches. Further, their compassion is too often limited to those they know or those who are like them. Want an example? Conservatives, especially evangelicals, are horrified when a white, evangelical pastor is imprisoned in Turkey for trying to convert Muslims to Christianity. But they are unmoved by the plight of brown Christians fleeing violence in Central America and Syria. And they seem perfectly okay with brown refugee children being ripped away from their parents and held in cages along our southern border.

CHANGE – For the most part, liberals see change as good if it promises improvement – improvement in the quality of life; improvement in the lives of others; improvement of the environment. Conservatives, on the other hand, seem to embrace change only if it directly helps them (America First). Otherwise, they seem bound by the rules of what once was (Make America Great Again). They would rather deny freedoms to thousands in the LGBTQ community rather than accept them as they are. They refuse to accept people of another color or another religion unless they personally know them. And they refuse to risk changing our economy to address climate change, even when it has been proven that it would improve our environment and the economy at the same time.

COMPROMISE – Many conservatives see the world in stark contrasts of black and white. Of winners and losers. Having embraced the sports axiom that a runner-up is the first loser, they have even learned to despise average. To the people who support Trump, negotiations are a zero sum game. There is no such thing as a win-win solution. There is no place for political compromise or moderation. It is that philosophy that led to Mitch McConnell’s decision to block nearly every one of President Obama’s initiatives and appointments regardless of its merits. It is what caused them to rail against the Affordable Care Act, a Republican idea. It is what caused them to block the Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland, a man who was selected precisely for his moderate views. It is that attitude, and that attitude alone, that led to today’s hyperbolic political partisanship despite conservative claims that both parties are equally at fault.

AUTHORITY – Liberals often pride themselves on questioning authority and showing a healthy skepticism of those in power. On the other hand, conservatives, especially those who have embraced Trump, display a blind, unquestioning loyalty to their leaders. Moreover, like their leaders, they will never admit to a mistake. In the minds of conservatives, people like Trump and Charles Koch are winners to be admired and emulated despite their ethical and moral failures. To today’s religious conservatives, such “winners” didn’t inherit their wealth from their fathers or steal it through bullying and accounting tricks. They actually believe that those “winners” were chosen by God.

So, my liberal friends, I submit to you that it will do you no good to reason with today’s conservatives. They may hear you, but they will not listen. They will not change. They will not compromise. But they will undoubtedly expect you to do what they won’t.

Camp Trump’s Unholy Connection To Russia.

Aside from the myriad of meetings and financial connections between the Trump campaign and Russia, there are two less obvious threads that bind the two together: Religion and discrimination – discrimination against the LGBTQ community, discrimination against black and brown people, discrimination against refugees, and discrimination against non-Christians.

Following the atheist days of the Soviet Union, many Russian Orthodox Christians believe that Vladimir Putin resurrected the church. They believe that he was “inspired from above.” To support their view, they point to his last name. “Put” in Russian means “the path” or “the way.” The former KGB agent who would have happily killed anyone, including church leaders, who challenged the authority of the Soviet Politburo, oversaw the reconstruction of more than 23,000 churches. As a result of Putin’s support, the church has returned to its former position of power as the state religion of Russia. In a further show of support, Putin has embraced the Church’s positions that abortion and homosexuality are unforgiveable sins.

As a result, Russia bans abortion after 12 weeks and, under Putin, the government has abused, beaten, and jailed anyone accused of being gay or lesbian.

Not surprisingly, many American evangelical leaders envy the power of the Russian Orthodox Church. They long to see Christianity declared the state religion of the US. (Never mind that doing so would be unconstitutional and in direct conflict with the beliefs of our Founding Fathers.)

Likewise, American evangelicals would love to see a federal ban on abortions, a ban on gay marriage, a federal ban on gay adoption, a ban on gays in the military, a ban on transgenders.

And the American evangelicals’ view of Trump is not unlike the Russian Christians’ view of Putin. In a textbook example of the ends justify the means philosophy, they overlook Trump’s many moral and ethical transgressions. In fact, some admire them as signs of success, masculinity and power. Instead of holding him accountable for his excesses, they applaud his anti-choice judicial appointments and his support for “religious freedom” – the freedom to discriminate against anything and anyone based on religious beliefs.

In twisted evangelical logic, these so-called “family values Christians” even support the administration’s policy of kidnapping children from refugees at the border. They support the separation of families through deportation. Indeed, they support anything that will stop what they consider “cultural genocide” committed by those who do not fit the mold of a bygone era based on white Christian male superiority. Some are even delusional enough to believe that Trump is an agent of God.

Of course, the narcissistic sociopath-in-chief rewards such adoration by pandering to the Christian right at every opportunity.

All of this explains the unbreakable bond between Trump and his supporters. It explains why they are not swayed by Trump’s obvious deference (I would argue subservience) to Putin. Their support is immune to facts and truth. It’s about faith.

13 Ways The GOP Suppresses, Manipulates and Marginalizes Votes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Where Is Our Compassion?

This past week, the Bully-In-Chief further divided Americans by ordering Homeland Security to wrench children from the arms of refugees seeking asylum. That such behavior is in violation of international laws and the US Constitution is less important than the fact it is in violation of the norms of human kindness and moral behavior.

It is stunning to me that the administration’s actions are considered controversial. Yet some people I know, some of whom I grew up with – people I know to be loving, caring individuals – support traumatizing children in order to deter immigration. I can only assume they don’t understand what led to the refugees seeking asylum and our nation’s role in helping to create their misery.

So, here’s a primer in the geopolitics of US immigration.

First, nearly half of the undocumented immigrants in our country did not cross our borders illegally. They came to the US on visas and overstayed their visas. No wall would have blocked them.

Second, most of the immigrants crossing our southern border are from three Central American nations – El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras – not, as Trump suggests, Mexico. To understand why, you need to look back to the 1800s when three US corporations controlled the land, transportation, and banana production in these countries. They also controlled their governments, installing puppets to ensure control of cheap labor.

Such arrangements were good for the corporations and the US. Not so good for the people of these so-called Banana Republics.

US political meddling continued through the 1980s when the Reagan administration offered arms and training to the Central American governments in order to put down rebellion. The Reagan support included the sale of arms to Iran in order to surreptitiously obtain funds to support government death squads (see Iran-Contra scandal). That led to a wave of refugees into the US. In Los Angeles, the Salvadoran refugees were bullied by gangs leading some Salvadorans to create the MS-13 gang. When MS-13 gang members were inevitably arrested and imprisoned, they became more violent. And, when we eventually released and deported them, we effectively exported their violence.

It is the violence created by MS-13 gang members in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, that has displaced Central Americans – mostly women and children – forcing them to seek asylum in the US.

Third, US policies have created crushing poverty in Central America. Corn production was an important part of their economies. But, after the implementation of CAFTA, US grain companies dumped large quantities of corn into Central America at prices that made it impossible for small, Central American farmers to compete. That inevitably forced them into bankruptcy and into the cities looking for jobs. The resulting poverty has been crushing.

Fourth, when the refugees arrived at our ports of entry to apply for asylum, they were forced to wait in long lines for days all the while trying to tend to their children. Some, having grown impatient, crossed the border elsewhere and turned themselves in to authorities. These are the people who were detained and had their children – some only a few months old – ripped from their arms.

They are not criminals, murders and rapists. They are not MS-13 gang members. They are desperate people – mothers, fathers and children. They are not just seeking a better life. They have left behind what little they had and came here hoping to survive. And, if we send them back, they are very likely to die.

Such treatment is not Republican, Democrat, American or Christian. It’s not even human.

For Many, This Administration Will Be Fatal.

Much has been written about the Trump effect – Trump’s impact on civility, ethics and morality. Certainly, the impact has been serious. It has led to rifts among friends and families. It has led to more conflicts based on race and religion. And it has led to a diminished respect for our democratic institutions, including traditional news media, the FBI, the CIA and our judicial system.

In addition, Trump’s disregard for the truth, his extramarital affairs with porn stars and the numerous credible accusations of sexual assault victims have set a horrific example for children.

But the administration is having a much more onerous impact on our nation and, indeed, the entire world.

For example, the Trump administration recently ousted the head of global health security and cut the agency’s budget the same week it was announced that there is a new Ebola outbreak in Africa. As a result, it is now unclear who in the administration will be charged with reacting to an international pandemic. But that’s only a potential disaster in the making. Millions of lives have already been put at risk by The Donald and his troupe of ideological and unqualified sycophants. By pandering to racists and neo-Nazis, Trump unleashed a flurry of attacks on minorities.

Trump’s decision to block refugees, deport undocumented immigrants, and undermine DACA represents a mass murder in slow motion. Within 3 weeks of his deportation, a high school dreamer from Iowa who was brought to the US at age 3 died as a result of gang violence in Mexico – likely due to misidentification. (He and a friend were in the wrong place at the wrong time.) And that young man is but a single example of the administration’s turning a cold shoulder to women and children seeking refuge in the US from violence – violence often caused by US policies! Further, it has been revealed that the administration is ripping families apart and taking children as young as 18 months away from mothers and fathers who are seeking refuge. The impact on those young lives will be devastating and lasting.

In Puerto Rico, the Trump administration made the Bush-era response to Hurricane Katrina look like a model of efficiency. According to a recent Harvard study, more than 4,600 Puerto Ricans have died as a result of Trump ineptitude. That’s more than twice as many Americans who died as a result of Hurricane Katrina!

The piece-by-piece dismantling of the Affordable Care Act will result in millions losing access to health care and thousands of preventable deaths. The administration has threatened to cut CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program) which now provides health care funding for 9 million children and pregnant women. Similarly, it has plans to make deep cuts in Medicaid which provides health care to disabled, elderly and poor Americans. And the Medicare program for seniors is also in the administration’s crosshairs.

Not satisfied with those draconian cuts, Trump and the GOP have plans to cut benefits to Social Security recipients. And they have plans to cut $150 billion from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) which could leave millions hungry.

To be clear, all of these cuts are planned to help pay for the administration’s tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy.

In addition, there will be thousands of deaths caused by the continued indifference of Trump and the GOP toward gun violence. Already this year there have been more than 100 mass shootings in the US and hundreds of deaths. And the year is only half over.

And when you consider the consequences of Trump’s foreign policies, things look even more bleak!

By moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, the administration ignited a powder keg in Gaza and the Middle East. Ensuing protests along the Palestinian/Israeli border resulted in the deaths of hundreds of Palestinians, including children and aid workers. And, by announcing its withdrawal from the Iran nuclear agreement, the administration has released Iran to restart its efforts to create nuclear weapons and has encouraged Iran to increase its support of terrorist groups in the Middle East.

If the agreement with North Korea fails, as it is likely to, Trump will almost certainly return to his game of brinksmanship with a nuclear nation (brinksmanship and bullying are the only forms of negotiation Trump knows). A potential war on the Korean peninsula would result in millions of deaths of Koreans and Americans. It could also cause China and Russia to enter into war with the US.

Trump’s refusal to condemn Russian meddling in the elections of western countries, including the US, and his burgeoning trade war with allies weakens NATO and long-time alliances, destabilizes the West, and makes it easier for Putin to invade countries beyond the Ukraine.

Finally, there is the devastating impact of the administration on the environment. By pursuing oil drilling in sensitive areas preserved for wildlife and by failing to protect endangered species, the administration threatens the entire ecosystem. And by withdrawing US support for the Paris climate agreement, the US is now the only nation in the world that is not part of the agreement to curb carbon emissions. If the world’s climate scientists are correct – and, so far, their estimates of destruction have proven to be conservative – Trump’s decision puts millions of future lives at risk.

So, instead of snickering at the latest revelations of Trump’s philandering; instead of being outraged at his insensitive and immature statements on Twitter; instead of decrying the coarseness of his language and his repugnant treatment of the press; consider the real damage his administration is doing. And VOTE!

The Great American Con.

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

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

The definition fits Trump to a T.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.