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.

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.

Beyond Tribalism.

Today, most Americans are members of a political tribe – Trump’s tribe, the Republican tribe, the Conservative tribe, the Libertarian tribe, the Democratic tribe, the Liberal tribe, the Evangelical tribe. But no matter which of the labels we prefer, we should find many issues upon which we can all agree.

On the most important issues, we should all be members of the same tribe – the American tribe.

So, for the time being, let’s set aside the questions of possible conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign and whatever Hillary Clinton was accused of doing or not doing. We should all be concerned that all of our intelligence-gathering agencies agree that Russia – one of our greatest rivals – interfered with our elections. If we, as Americans, are to have confidence in our elected leaders, we need to know that they were fairly elected.

In addition, there should be plenty of other areas of agreement among ordinary Americans. For example, we should all be worried that many of our longest-standing institutions – the press, FBI, CIA, justice system, educational system, science, even the truth – are under attack. Moreover, it should be abundantly clear that there is also an all-out attack on America’s working class.

Ideology aside, we should all be horrified that corporations and the very rich received 83 percent of the benefits from the most recent tax cuts – cuts resulting in deficits that will add multiple trillions to our national debt. We should all be concerned that the president ignores the Constitution’s emoluments clause by spending nearly every weekend at one of his resorts in order to charge taxpayers millions for the rooms needed for Secret Service, as well as government and foreign officials.

We should all be outraged over reports that the president’s longtime lawyer – his “fixer” – paid hundreds of thousands to buy the silence of women with whom he had affairs. And we should be even more troubled by reports that the same “fixer” was apparently selling access to the White House and accepting millions from a Russian oligarch.

We should be skeptical of Betsy Devos’s push to privatize education, thereby taking money away from public schools in order to finance parochial and private schools for the well-heeled. We should recoil at the dozens of reports detailing Scott Pruitt’s corruption and his rollback of environmental protections, thereby threatening clean air and water.

We should be angered by Steven Mnuchin’s use of government planes for his honeymoon and other private trips. We should be equally alarmed at Ryan Zinke’s taxpayer-funded vacations, his unjustified cuts to national monuments and his sweetheart deals for campaign donors who have placed bids for drilling rights on public lands. We should be universally sickened by Ben Carson’s plan to triple the cost of rent for poor Americans (many of them seniors) who live in public housing while others in government scheme to cut funding for food assistance, Medicaid, Medicare, SNAP and Social Security.

It cannot be stated often enough or strongly enough: This is not normal!

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.

Tax Secrets Of The Wealthy.

Most Americans fear being audited by the IRS based on the knowledge that, if it is deemed that they have not paid their fair share, they could face penalties, garnishment of wages and/or possible imprisonment. Yet some of the wealthiest Americans and multinational corporations apparently have no such fear. It’s not enough that these people and organizations have used their wealth to lobby Congress to create a myriad of tax write-offs and corporate welfare schemes. Many find tax shelters to avoid paying taxes altogether.

According to the Financial Secrecy Index created by the Tax Justice Network, “An estimated $21 to $32 trillion of private financial wealth is located, untaxed or lightly taxed, in secrecy jurisdictions around the world.” The organization uses the term “secrecy jurisdictions” rather than the more common “tax havens” because the secrecy provided by these jurisdictions does more than aid tax avoidance. The secrecy is key to such illicit activities as fraud, money laundering, insider trading, and avoidance of regulations. Moreover, it allows the wealthy to hide their assets while forcing those less fortunate to subsidize their needs and to shoulder their nations’ resulting debt.

In other words, most of us are making up for the taxes that the wealthy refuse to pay.

Even some of those at the highest levels of the US government have taken advantage of secrecy jurisdictions. For example, in the Panama Papers (a list of the wealthy who used the services of a Panamanian law firm to set up tax shelters) Donald Trump’s name shows up 3,450 times. And, recently, The Intercept published a story revealing the use of one of the world’s most secret tax havens by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his wife, Elaine Chao, both of whom have avoided taxes while cashing US government paychecks! Former Massachusetts governor, GOP presidential candidate and current Utah senate candidate Mitt Romney also has reportedly taken advantage of multiple tax havens.

Many of the wealthy don’t even have to send their money offshore to evade taxes. Some of the most active tax shelters are right here in the United States! As reported by The Washington Post, “Contrary to popular belief, notorious tax havens such as the Cayman Islands, Jersey and the Bahamas were far less permissive in offering the researchers shell companies than states such as Nevada, Delaware, Montana, South Dakota, Wyoming and New York…” Indeed, The Washington Post found that US regulations for setting up shell companies are more lax than any country in the world, except Kenya!

Ironically, all of this is aided by a financial industry taxpayers saved from bankruptcy after the financial crash of 2008. According to the Tax Justice Network, “A global industry has developed involving the world’s biggest banks, law practices, accounting firms and specialist providers who design and market secretive offshore structures for their tax- and law-dodging clients.”

It’s not unlikely that such tax evasion will eventually have disastrous economic consequences for the US. But, when it does, the wealthy will simply pull up roots and relocate to another country where they can resume their form of legalized larceny leaving the rest of us to clean up their mess.

The Real State Of Our Union.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evangelical Extremists.

I’ll begin by admitting that I have always struggled with the idea of a group of people – any group of people – trying to push their ideas of morality onto others. I was horrified when I discovered that my family church was more interested in paying for building improvements than in helping others. I have marveled at the lack of substance and critical thinking of those who ring my doorbell wanting to “share the good news.” I have recoiled at the lavish structures and amenities of mega-churches paid for with the help of taxpayer money.

I was horrified to learn of pastors preaching partisan politics from the pulpit in direct violation of the Johnson Amendment. I was stunned by the belief that actions don’t matter – only faith will determine your afterlife. And I was shocked to learn of the advent of “prosperity gospel” – the stronger your faith, the more you will be rewarded with money and possessions.

Despite all of this I have remained relatively silent with regard to one’s religious beliefs. Whoever and however you choose to worship should mean little to those who believe differently than you…unless you make it their business by asking them to support and help pay for your beliefs.

That brings me to the subject of this post.

Churches only became tax exempt in 1954. Before the anti-communist Christian revival of the 1950’s, churches were subject to paying taxes as do most other private clubs. But accepting them as 501(c)(3)s, in effect, blurred the Founders’ intent of separation of church and state. It was predicated on the belief that churches contributed to the health of society – by feeding the hungry and sheltering the homeless. But, for the most part, that belief is based on churches of another time. For example, how does that comport with “prosperity gospel?” How does it fit with mega-churches operating as private clubs in which church members only do business with other church members? How does it fit with subsidizing Israeli development of Palestinian land in order to speed the Rapture?

Initially, obtaining 501(c)(3) status required churches to fill out an application and agree to the stipulation that they operate exclusively in the public interest. More recently, it was decided that churches, their integrated auxiliaries, and conventions or associations of churches no longer need apply. They no longer have to tend to the needy to be tax-exempt. In fact, churches no longer need to adhere to any real guidelines of operation in order to avoid taxes on their buildings, their religious schools, even their businesses.

This new reality is horrifying to those of us who reject organized religion. (And before you start moralizing, recent studies have shown that those of us who do not participate in organized religion are actually more generous and more compassionate than those who do.) If Hobby Lobby can avoid paying for their employees’ contraception based on religious grounds, why must we subsidize their properties?

All of this is bad enough. But, for many evangelical churches, there are no longer any apparent standards of acceptable behavior. There is only politics.

For example, when President Obama was in office, many evangelist leaders called him the anti-Christ despite the fact he regularly attended a Christian church. Evangelists demeaned the First Lady when she wore a sleeveless dress to a public event. They openly opined that the Obamas were trying to indoctrinate children. And they were furious that President Obama helped the LGBTQ community achieve civil rights.

Then along came the Donald.

Although his orangeness rarely, if ever, attended church, the evangelicals supported him. They looked the other way at Trump’s three marriages and adulterous behavior. Of the First Lady’s nude photos, Pat Robertson, pronounced them art. They have ignored Trump’s racist and hateful comments. They ignored his bragging of sexual assaults. They ignored reports of rape, including one from a minor. And they have taken a “hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil” approach to Trump’s marital infidelity with porn stars as his wife was recovering from childbirth.

As former RNC chair, Michael Steele, recently said of evangelical leaders, “I have a very simple admonition. Just shut the hell up and don’t preach to me about anything ever again. After telling me who to love, what to believe, what to do and what not to do and now you sit back and the prostitutes don’t matter, the grabbing the you-know-what doesn’t matter, the outright behavior and lies don’t matter, then shut up…[Evangelicals] have no voice of authority anymore for me.”

Well said! But I’d take it a step farther. Why don’t you shut up and pay up? Why don’t you admit that you don’t belong to a church? You are merely leaders of a political club. It’s time you pay taxes on your property: Your mega-churches, your extravagant sound and video systems, your elaborate fund-raising schemes, your child-indoctrinating schools, your “religious” businesses, your palatial estates, your limos, and your private jets.

You aren’t religious leaders. You are mere con men, much like the president you have chosen to support come hell or high water. And frankly, I hope it’s both.

Where Has All The Money Gone?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RIP, USA.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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