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 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.

A Culture Of Corruption.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.”

The Constitutional Crisis That Is Donald Trump.

Russian meddling in the 2016 election has created a crisis the Founders never could have imagined – a greedy, narcissistic con man holding the highest office in the land supported by a sympathetic Congress that likely, too, was elected with the help and interference of a foreign enemy.

The Founding Fathers did put into place a system that provided for the removal of a president from office for “high crimes and misdemeanors,” which certainly would apply to a man who conspired with an enemy to attain office, defied the Constitution’s emolument clause to enrich himself and his family, and appointed Cabinet members with the sole purpose of deconstructing the agencies they head – all the while ignoring every established norm of presidential behavior.

What the Founders failed to anticipate was a Congress simultaneously controlled by a party that is equally corrupt – a Congress comprised of members who, themselves, may have been elected with the help of the same foreign enemy and foreign money illegally funneled through the NRA. As a result, the Constitution has no provision for nullifying the results of elections illegally decided by external forces; no way to erase widespread electoral mistakes.

So what happens if (more likely, when) Special Counsel Mueller proves that the president, his campaign, and numerous members of his staff conspired with Russia in order to steal the election? What then? Certainly, the president could be impeached if Republicans finally agree to place country above party. Certainly, those involved could be charged with crimes and brought to trial. But what about the members of the president’s party in Congress who also benefited from the conspiracy? Can they, too, be removed? And what of the many decisions that have been made since January 20, 2017?

If the president was, indeed, put into office as the result of a conspiracy, will his many appointments to the judiciary be allowed to stand? These are appointments that could impact judicial decisions for generations.

If Republicans were found to have gained control of Congress as the result of unconstitutional gerrymandering, voter suppression, illegal campaign contributions, and foreign interference, will the bills they passed without input from the opposition party be allowed to stand? What of the deficit-ballooning corporate tax cuts? What of the changes to the Affordable Care Act? What of the stolen seat on the Supreme Court?

And what of the decisions made by the president’s appointees? What of the deregulation of the nation’s greatest polluters? What of the damage done to our public school system? What of the money squandered on private jets and $31,000 dining sets?

Worst of all, what of the damage done internationally – to our trade agreements, to our strategic defense pacts, to our standing with allies?

If the decisions made by illegally and unconstitutionally elected officials are allowed to stand, what’s to prevent it from happening again? What’s to prevent unscrupulous individuals from a party – either party – from scamming the system to win and, in doing so, ensure that it can ideologically remake America in its image for decades to come?

We need a constitutional amendment to nullify election results – all of the results – if it can be unequivocally proven that an election was stolen.

Imaginary Political Purity Of Independents.

In response to a recent post about the cruelty of the GOP’s plan to cut food stamps, a Facebook friend dismissed my opinion as propaganda and smugly commented, “I’m so glad I’m an independent and don’t get caught up with all this left wing right wing bullshit.” Like many voters who are registered as independents, he obviously feels superior to those of us who have chosen to take sides in our nation’s political discourse.

But, as holocaust survivor and political activist Elie Wiesel once said, “We must take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

For me, the cruel plans of our current administration have brought us to one such moment.

Moreover, I would point out that those who claim superiority by refusing to takes sides are cloaking themselves with a false sense of political purity. Though refusing to participate in our two-party system is certainly one’s right, those who refuse to register as a member of a political party are seldom truly independent and very few are moderate. Most consistently lean toward one party’s candidates, have their own political agendas or simply refuse to participate in our electoral process. For example, in Arizona, a large percentage of so-called independents are libertarians who dislike the federal government. And some are part of the Sovereign Citizen movement which refuses to acknowledge any government.

I can attest to that from my own experience.

For most of my life, I was an independent who was fiscally conservative and socially liberal. I had chosen not to take sides because neither party fully represented my views. Moreover, I disdained the business of party politics…the precinct meetings, the caucuses, the state meetings, the platform discussions, the primary battles, the get-out-the-vote efforts. Finally, in 2006, I changed my registration when I realized that I could never again vote for a candidate that represented a political party that led us into a war on false pretenses. A party committed to robbing from the poor to give to the rich. A party that discriminates against minorities, obstructs opposition voters and despises the very government it wants to lead. A party I now consider morally and ethically bankrupt – the GOP.

It was only after I registered as a Democrat that I realized that, far from staking out a position of purity and superiority, being an independent is really a cop-out. As an independent, I was not fully participating in our democracy. By merely voting in the general elections, often griping about the poor quality of candidates put forward by the two parties, and by occasionally voicing my opinion in the media, I was in essence, letting others control our political process, and by default, our government.

The flaw of being independent should have been made abundantly clear during the 2016 election cycle. Sen. Bernie Sanders may have enjoyed the most widespread support of all the presidential candidates. He was supported by many Democrats (myself included) and a great many independents. Yet he overwhelming lost the Democratic primaries. Why? He was a Democrat only for the sake of his presidential run. Though he has always caucused with Democrats in the Senate, he is an independent. That meant that he had not established a great deal of support within the party he hoped to represent. On the other hand, Clinton was a long-time Democrat who had cultivated close relationships with leaders at every level of the party. More important, the independents who supported Sanders could not vote for him in many of the state primaries without first registering as a Democrat. Then, when Sanders lost, many of the independents refused to vote or voted for minority party candidates.

As a result, we have a person in the Oval Office who is the very opposite of Sanders. One who is dismantling almost everything Sen. Sanders has supported during his entire tenure in office!

Now, you may want to fault the system for that. But you should also look in the mirror. The system is the system. And it’s all but impossible to change the system from the outside. You have to be part of it. You have to get your hands dirty to change it. You have to build coalitions. You have to rally others to your cause. You have to make phone calls. You have to connect on social media. You have to walk the neighborhoods and knock on doors.

If you think that’s asking too much, consider the students of Parkland, Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. By reaching out, even as they are hurting; by speaking out through their tears; by refusing to take no for an answer; by organizing, they have accomplished in a few days what many of us adults have failed to do in a lifetime. If they are willing to stay the course as they promise, they can not only reduce gun violence. They can change the world.