What Trump And A Live Grenade Have In Common.

There’s a growing movement in the US of voters disenchanted with the system and fueled by rightwing news outlets (I’m thinking of you, Fox News Channel and all of you hate radio clowns) that have decided to destroy our government rather than try to fix it. Nothing else could explain how the Great Pumpkin won the GOP nomination for president.

They see in The Donald a strong man – a father figure – who will go to Washington to clean house. They believe, somehow, that Daddy will make everything all right. They don’t seem to care about the damage that could be done; the destruction of decades-long relationships with our allies; the wars we could be drug into as a result of the Orange Ape’s short temper; the jobs lost by ill-conceived plans. For example, Moody’s Analytics examined both Trump’s and Clinton’s economic plans and found that Trump’s could cost 3.6 million jobs over 4 years, while Clinton’s would create 10 million jobs over the same time period. Other economists have noted that Trump’s tax plan would add trillions to the national debt.

Trump voters are willing to overlook his bombastic attacks and lack of presidential demeanor because they want to see a true outsider in the White House. They actually admire his insulting tirades against those who disagree with him. They excuse his racist statements because they claim to be tired of political correctness. They ignore his ill-conceived plans that are almost entirely without substance or detail. They forgive his anger; his obvious narcissism; his lack of character; his apparent lack of a moral compass. In fact, they have lowered the bar for Trump by almost every measure. But like a 1950s limbo dancer, he still seems to crawl under it. Indeed, after his vicious attacks on a Gold Star family mourning the loss of their son who was valiantly killed in Iraq, they continue to make excuses for their leader. And now they are trying to vilify the family.

Why?

Some are simply so partisan that they can’t accept the idea of a member of the competing party becoming president. They have been so brainwashed by rightwing media; so convinced that mainstream media are lying; that they are willing to vote against their own self-interests – to vote for someone who will cut taxes for the wealthy and powerful while shoving more of the burden onto those who can least afford it. These people have been around since the 1970s. But, today, there is a new kind of voter.

These are people who don’t care if a presidential candidate will work on their behalf to make our nation stronger and better. They don’t care if the candidate will work across the aisle to get things done. They don’t care if the candidate will try to improve government. They’d rather tear it down. Indeed, they are little more than terrorists who want to throw a grenade into the room – our government – to see how people react. They want to watch the chaos; to watch everyone run for cover. They care little about what will happen when that grenade inevitably goes off. They know there will be a mess. But they don’t really care.

However bad things get, they will have sent their message.

A Stark Contrast.

I truly appreciate the views of my conservative friends with regard to politics. After all, I was raised in a reliably Republican household. I believe in eliminating government waste. I believe that people should take responsibility for the own lives and their own actions. Even after the GOP was over-run with religious extremists, I shared many of the party’s beliefs. For most of my life, I was an independent voter.

The party lost me was when the Nixon-Agnew ticket used propaganda and lies to divide us; when Nixon intervened in the Paris peace talks with North Vietnam for political advantage; when the Nixon administration created the War on Drugs for the purpose of marginalizing and incarcerating minorities which were seen as political opponents; when Nixon tried to subvert our democracy by ordering the burglary of the DNC offices in the Watergate complex.

I was further alienated when Ronald Reagan reportedly sent envoys to meet with Iran’s Islamic leaders to delay the release of our embassy hostages until after his election; when the GOP tried to marginalize those who disagreed with its “Moral Majority” presuming that its opponents were immoral; when the Reagan administration eliminated the tax write-offs for interest on loans other than mortgages creating history’s largest tax increase on the middle class; when the Reagan administration trained Central American death squads and was caught selling weapons to Iran in order to meddle in Central American politics.

As someone with a journalism degree, I was horrified when President H.W. Bush engineered the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine – an action that turned our electronic news media into little more than megaphones for the propaganda spewed by Fox News Channel and the rantings of conservative radio hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Alex Jones, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and the dozens of other hate-mongers who dominate more than 90 percent of talk radio.

As a former business owner, I was infuriated when my larger competitors received a myriad of GOP-initiated tax breaks and subsidies that were unavailable to my company.

I was shocked when then Florida governor Jeb Bush corrupted the Florida elections that his brother might be awarded the White House – a fact later proven by a consortium of independent media. I was infuriated when, after reading Richard (the Dick) Cheney’s Plan for a New American Century which included a call for the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration acted on the plan based on false and misleading information. I became disgusted when the GOP co-opted the US flag and patriotism by denigrating anyone who opposed its ill-conceived wars.

I could go on to include the vast increases in our national debt caused by Reagan and Bush tax cuts that largely benefited the very rich, the attack on labor unions, the undermining of defined benefit pension plans, the housing crash and subsequent financial collapse of 2008, the utter disregard for the poor and the hungry, the attempts to privatize our public lands – including numerous national treasures – for development, the dismissal of science to maintain the profits of fossil fuel companies at the cost of the health of our planet, and the unfounded and racist attacks on our first black president.

Through all of that, I could still empathize with my conservative relatives and friends and their strongly-held principles of personal responsibility and cutting government waste. But now…now…the party has taken a step way too far.

It has nominated Donald J. Trump for president!

This is a bombastic billionaire who has said and done hundreds of despicable things – any one of which would have disqualified other candidates from pursuing the office. By any traditional measure, he is unfit for the office of dog catcher, let alone the highest office in the land. Following is an abbreviated list:

Family values? Trump is thrice-married and twice-divorced. (Former Senator Gary Hart was famously disqualified for seeking the nomination for a single affair and President Clinton faced impeachment by Republicans over a sexual incident with a White House intern.) He has been accused of a violent rape by one of his ex-wives. He has been accused of sexually assaulting other women, including minors. He has even publicly displayed lechery toward his own daughter, saying if she wasn’t his daughter he’d like to have sex with her!

Demeanor? Trump thrives on name-calling. He encouraged his supporters to assault those who demonstrate against him. And he has talked about physically assaulting those who spoke out against him at the Democratic National Convention.

Patriotism? Trump successfully sought a draft deferment for bone spurs in his foot – an injury that did not prevent him from competing in college athletics. When asked, he said that he couldn’t even remember which foot was injured. He also lied about donating the proceeds of a rally to charity.

Business acumen? Trump inherited much of his wealth yet, even by his own estimation of his wealth, he has earned less than if he had simply invested his inheritance in a stock index fund. He is also one of a very few casino owners who has declared bankruptcy – something previously considered impossible. And he is hated by many in Scotland and Florida for his golf course developments.

Business ethics? He has been involved in thousands of lawsuits – many of them from contractors he refused to pay for their services. He is currently being sued by a girl scout troop that he refused to pay after they performed at a rally. His bankruptcies allowed him to walk away with millions while leaving his creditors – most of them small business owners – in the lurch. And he is currently being sued for fraud over his Trump “University.”

Charity? When it comes to donations to charities, Trump has long been known as a cheapskate and, according to The Washington Post, he has donated precious little to his own Trump Foundation.

Honesty? His acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention contained no fewer than 21 lies! And, according to fact-checking organizations such as Politifact.com, throughout the campaign, he has been the least honest of all of the major party candidates. And it’s not even close.

Empathy? Some have called him a “Blue Collar Billionaire.” Seriously? Is there really such a thing? Trump conducts many of his media interviews while sitting in a gold chair in a gold-decorated penthouse that has more in common with a dictator’s palace than a blue collar family’s home. In addition, he has made numerous racist statements. He is guilty of race-baiting at his rallies. And he famously demeaned a reporter for a physical disability.

Understanding of foreign policy? Republican strategist Nicolle Wallace recently stated that Trump has less knowledge of foreign policy than Sarah Palin! She went on to say that while Palin wanted to learn, but couldn’t, Trump is completely disinterested in the subject. Further, Trump said that the US should exit the WTO (World Trade Organization), a move that would be devastating to US businesses.

Preparedness to lead? Trump has never held office, except in his own corporation. He has no understanding of the workings of our government and no commitment to public service. One has to question if he has even read our Constitution. After all, many of his promises would be blatantly unconstitutional. Maybe that’s why 4 of the last 5 people to receive the GOP nomination for president refused to attend his coronation…er…nomination at the RNC convention. Maybe that’s why the Republican governor of the host state refused to attend. And maybe that’s why none of the living presidents has endorsed him.

Understanding of national security? Trump has stated that he wouldn’t necessarily support our NATO allies against an invasion (presumably by Russia). Worse, he called for Russia to hack the emails of a former cabinet secretary and political opponent! As a result, many in our intelligence community do not want to include him in the customary briefings on national security.

Okay, I know many of my conservative friends and relatives dislike and distrust Hillary. Yes, I know you’ve probably heard accusations that Hillary stole investors’ money in Whitewater; that she unconstitutionally fired those who worked in the White House Travel Office; that she ordered the murder of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster; that she put the US consulate in Benghazi at risk and ordered the military to stand down when it was attacked; that she “illegally” used a private email server for State Department business then, when caught, erased thousands of incriminating emails.

Certainly, Hillary has made mistakes, but they are mistakes made while serving others. Though she misread the commitment of moderate rebels in Libya and Syria, so did most of the world leaders. Though she was horrified at the attack on the consulate, there was no opportunity to save the ambassador and, contrary to right wing claims, she had no authority to tell the military to stand down. Though she admits to making a mistake by using a private email server like her Republican predecessor as Secretary of State, there was no apparent harm done, except to her reputation. And though she has made statements that were later proven false, she is a beacon of honesty compared to her opponent.

Those are not the excuses of an apologist. Those are facts.

Few talk about the many things she has done right during a lifetime of service. Moreover, few people on our planet have undergone such scrutiny as the Clintons. The investigations into the so-called “scandals” have cost roughly $100 million over a quarter century. They have garnered billions of dollars of media coverage in a constant drip, drip, drip that has been orchestrated by her political opponents. Yet, after all of the investigations led by Republicans and government agencies, little of substance has been found – certainly nothing that would disqualify her from seeking the presidency.

Her opponent, on the other hand, constantly demonstrates – with his mouth and his actions – that he is completely unfit for office.

We May Be Living In America’s Golden Age.

Contrary to what some politicians would have you believe, things in the world – and the US in particular – are not bleak. Indeed, a case can be made that things have never been better!

Fareed Zakaria’s Global Public Square on CNN pointed to statistics compiled by two Harvard professors. They show that, despite the events unfolding in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Syria, worldwide, mass killings and genocides are near all-time lows. Violent crimes in the US have steadily declined since the 1990s. Incarceration is dropping. Victimization of children has dropped dramatically. Reported rape and sexual assaults in the US are near all-time lows. And, despite recent events, deaths of police are near an all-time low.

At the same time, Zakaria notes that the US economy is growing. The US emerged from the Great Recession better than any of the world’s other major economies. The US has produced more than 14 million jobs since 2009 – more than the 35 other advanced economies combined. US auto sales have climbed from 9.6 million in 2009 to 16.6 million last year. The US has surpassed Russia and Saudi Arabia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. US unemployment is now below 5 percent nationwide – a figure that is historically considered near full employment. Wages are gradually improving. Our tax burden is low compared to other advanced nations. Despite claims to the contrary, the overall tax burden of US corporations is among the lowest in the OCED (Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development). Inflation is low while stock markets are at record highs. And, contrary to the beliefs of some, since 2009, more Mexican migrants have left the US than have entered it.

That’s right, the net rate of immigration from Mexico is below ZERO!

Those are the facts. If you doubt them, ask yourself: In which time period would you rather be living? The 1700s when the country was being founded on the backs of slaves? The 1800s when the nation was torn apart by slavery and white immigrants were committing genocide of Native Americans? The early 1900s when many of our citizens, including children, were forced to work seven days a week in sweat shops? When women and blacks were denied the right to vote? When we were embroiled in WWI?

How about the 1930s during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression? Or the 1940s when our men and women were dying on the battlefields of Africa, Asia and Europe? Would you rather be living in the 1950s when the top tax rate was 91 percent; when women were relegated to menial jobs and blacks were fighting (and dying) for the right to vote and to attend the same schools as whites; and when Americans were dying in Korea? Would you rather be living in the 1960s when we were fighting in Vietnam and at home over an ill-conceived war? Would you rather be living in the 1970s when both inflation and gas prices soared; when mortgage rates were as high as 25 percent, if you could qualify; and when women were routinely victimized in the workplace?

Would you rather be living in the 1980s when we were still engaged in the Cold War; when the national GDP fell; and when crime rates, incarceration rates and the national debt soared? Would you rather be living in the 1990s when incarceration rates continued to climb; when the economy rose out of the doldrums and when the federal government ran surpluses? Okay, I admit that might be a toss-up.

Would you rather be living in the early 2000s when we suffered the largest terrorist attack on our soil in history; when we invaded Afghanistan; when we invaded Iraq on false pretenses; when the government accumulated massive deficits and debt; and when the housing market caused the economy to implode?

Or would you rather be living now?

If you’re a white Christian male who has grown up believing that you are entitled to a life of privilege and power; if your media choices are Fox News Channel, Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Sean Hannity and the like; or if you believe some of the lies told by politicians, you may want to return to a previous decade, or even a previous century. But, if you believe in science and facts; if you truly believe that all people are created equal regardless of race, religion or gender, you might just realize how lucky we are.

Certainly, there are many problems. Global climate change is a real and gathering threat. Our wilderness and oceans are being destroyed. Many species are being slaughtered. We must honestly face the problems of the past with regard to black slavery and the genocide of Native Americans. We must work to improve our policing and to lower incarceration rates. We must continue to improve Americans’ access to affordable health care. We must improve mental health care. We must find a way to get guns off of our streets. We must improve education and make it more affordable. We must rebuild our outdated and crumbling infrastructure. We must control greed and provide living wages to any who are willing to work full-time. We must find ways to create jobs to replace those that are being lost to robots and technology. We must strengthen our safety net programs for those less fortunate than ourselves. And we must rededicate ourselves to treat all people equally.

Nevertheless, all things considered, I choose to disregard the lies of politicians who portray our nation in crisis and the media who gleefully repeat their claims in search of higher ratings and profits. If not for the political divisiveness created by such people, we might all recognize how good we have it and that, if we choose to work together, things can be even better.

This is a golden age.

How Has Racism Plagued The Obama Administration? Let Me Count The Ways:

I have conservative friends who deny that President Obama has been treated any differently than previous presidents. Setting aside the prolonged fishing expedition to find dirt on the Clintons and the natural reaction to a stolen election and the lies told by the Bush administration to justify its invasion of Iraq, (yes, I proudly wore an “Impeach Bush” button) let’s look at the conservative response to the nation’s first African-American president.

Even before he was nominated, Obama was beset by claims that he was not an American citizen. For the first time in US history, the political opposition demanded to see a presidential candidate’s birth certificate.

On the day of his inauguration, in the midst of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, GOP leaders met to formulate a strategy to make him fail. At so-called Tea Party rallies, protestors carried racist images of Obama. They also showed up at presidential speeches armed with loaded guns and threatened to “exercise their 2nd Amendment rights.” At the same time, rednecks all over the South dug out their Confederate battle flags, planting them in their yards, on their houses and flying them in the back of their pickup trucks. Many covered their vehicles with stickers that read “NObama,” “One Big Ass Mistake America” and more blatantly racist slogans.

The Secret Service saw a dramatic increase in threats on the President’s life. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) noted a dramatic rise in hate groups. At the same time, rightwing radio hosts and the NRA claimed that Obama was “coming for your guns,” which, in turn, dramatically increased gun sales.

When Obama prepared a video to encourage students to work hard and stay in school (something that other presidents have routinely done), conservatives howled, claiming that Obama was going to “indoctrinate” their children. They also ridiculed the First Lady for encouraging students to move for fitness and to make more nutritious choices for meals.

When Obama first addressed a joint session of Congress, a racist congressman openly shouted “You Lie.” In another joint session, conservative Supreme Court justices visibly shook their heads in disgust at the President’s justifiable criticism of the Citizens United ruling. (At least in my long lifetime, such displays of disrespect for the president have never previously occurred.)

In the Senate, the GOP blocked the President’s initiatives with a record number of threatened filibusters. Republicans also blocked a record number of administrative appointments and a record number of nominees for federal courts. And Obama’s most recent nominee to the Supreme Court has been waiting for a vote for a record length of time as a result of the GOP attitude that, with nearly a year left in office, Obama was to be considered a “lame duck.”

There have been a record number of conspiracy theories surrounding President Obama, including the lunacy surrounding the military exercise known as Jade Helm. There have been claims that he would declare martial law or, worse, declare Sharia law. Conservatives have claimed that he is a secret Muslim at the same time they have accused him of following a radical Christian pastor. They blamed him for the national debt, for shipping jobs overseas, for abandoning Iraq (even though our departure was negotiated by the Bush administration) and the creation of ISIS.

They accused him of coddling terrorists; of selling out Israel by negotiating an end to Iran’s nuclear program; of bowing to foreign leaders; of “selling out” to the communist Castro regime by normalizing relations with Cuba. They accused him of failing to secure our borders despite a record number of arrests and deportations. And, for the first time in US history, the GOP Congress invited a world leader (Netanyahu) to speak to a joint session without following protocol and going through the executive branch and the State Department.

Conservatives have circulated false emails and social media memes that falsely claim that Obama ordered crosses removed from military cemeteries, banned prayer at the military academies, and worse. They have compared the Obamas to gorillas. They have boldly stated that the First Lady is transgender and called for the Obama’s beautiful daughters to be raped.

At the same time, conservatives have not given Obama any credit for the good things he has done. They would have you believe that he only got Osama bin Laden based on previous efforts by the Bush administration. They have not credited him for trying to nominate a record number of members of the opposing party to his cabinet. They have not credited him for saving the US auto industry. They have not credited him for arresting the precipitous slide of our economy or for policies that have caused the stock markets to soar to record highs. They have not credited him for cutting the national deficit faster than any previous president. They have not credited him for preventing health insurance companies from exempting people for pre-existing conditions. And, instead of congratulating him for making health care available to millions of Americans, they have voted to repeal “Obamacare” dozens of times.

They have called President Obama the “food stamp” president, the “Imperial” president, the anti-gun president, a socialist, a fascist, and a n***er. They have blamed him for the gang violence in Chicago and violence against the police. They even blame him for the shootings of unarmed black men by police.

Finally, in a stunning show of hypocrisy, they actually have the chutzpah to blame him for increasing racism in the US! And the presumptive GOP presidential nominee who should never again be named is running on the slogan “Make American Great Again” – a dog whistle call to racists that may as well say “Make America White Again.”

Mass Shootings Now Define Our Civilization.

Since the tragedy at Columbine, I have written blog posts calling for common sense gun safety. I have written and called my congressional representatives asking for universal background checks. I have taught self-defense classes debunking the notion that guns are a defensive weapon. I have demonstrated that carrying a gun does not protect you against an armed assailant who has the advantage of surprise. I have explained that being in a crowd of armed people makes you less safe. I have passed along academic studies that show that more guns equal more gun violence. I have tried to debunk the notion that an assault weapon is good for anything other than killing people. And millions of like-minded people have spoken out against gun violence.

None of it has worked.

Since Columbine, we have seen an average of more than one mass shooting (defined as incidents in which at least 4 people are killed or wounded) per day in the US. We’ve seen more than 100,000 shootings in our nation each year. We have seen lunatics with legal access to guns kill men and women. We’ve seen them murder theater-goers, church-goers and party-goers. We’ve seen them target black people, brown people, white people and gay people. We’ve seen them shoot doctors, nurses, lawyers, judges, teachers, government workers and a congresswoman. We’ve even seen them murder school children!

Over all that time, I’ve seen people use the 2nd Amendment to defend the rights of any individual to gain access to weapons of war. I’ve seen the NRA bribe legislators and congressional representatives to create even greater access to such weapons. I’ve heard political leaders foment hate, then call for national prayer when people act on that hate. I’ve heard so-called religious leaders (and I use the term loosely) claim that mass shootings are God’s vengeance for abortions, for accepting gays, for legalizing gay marriage, for allowing transgender people to use the bathroom. I’ve heard friends and relatives claim that mass shootings are merely the price we pay for freedom.

For whatever reason, we’ve been convinced to view gun violence as a matter of politics; as a matter of religion or policy. It is not. In fact, it’s the very essence of who we are as individuals. It defines our society.

If you think discrimination against others for any reason is acceptable, you cannot call yourself religious. If your pastor damns any group of people – whether they are people who look different, pray differently, love differently or have different beliefs – you do not belong to a church. You belong to a cult of hate. If you support politicians who privately accept money from the NRA to vote against gun safety bills then publically pray for the victims of gun violence, you are an accessory to murder. If you think someone who performs a legal medical procedure should be stopped at any cost, you do not understand what it means to be an American, because you neither believe in democracy nor in the rule of law. If you think those who speak in favor of discrimination and hate speak for you. If you are someone I know who actually believes any of these things; if you prefer to embrace hate rather than kindness, I cannot call you a friend.

I’m not even certain that I can call you human.

Risking Your Safety And Wasting Your Time.

The growing threat of terrorism, increased air travel and a shortage of security agents have led to long lines and growing frustration at airport security checks. As a result, it’s fashionable to blame the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) for the problem. Indeed, Republicans would have you believe that the problem is just another example of an incompetent and inefficient federal government. That would seem to be a good explanation. It’s just not true.

Certainly, the problem is the fault of government. But the real culprit is the GOP-controlled Congress.

To get a clear picture of the problem, you must first understand that TSA agents have a difficult, almost impossible, job. They are expected to keep a watchful eye through grueling work shifts while dealing with long lines of frustrated, disrespectful and often clueless people; people who are laden down with a growing list of “necessities” as carry-on baggage; people who try to sneak any number of prohibited items through the screening process; people who fail to follow instructions then defiantly protest when they are confronted for their stupidity – all the while delaying those in line behind them. Yet those same people expect the agents to keep them safe. There is no margin for error.

Such stressful, yet monotonous work and low pay have led to an exceptionally high turnover of TSA agents – more than 20 percent annually.

In an attempt to alleviate the problem, TSA management offered a pre-clearance program that was expected to reduce the number of agents required while, at the same time, improving the flow of passengers through security. It was a good idea. But, unfortunately, significantly fewer passengers than expected signed up for the program. That forced TSA to increase its workforce. But given the low starting salary, the extensive background checks needed for such a sensitive position, and the training required, TSA has been unable to react quickly.

All of that set the stage for Republican congressional representatives to really screw things up. Despite fomenting fear by pointing to the threat of ISIS and claiming that immigrants could likely be terrorists, they swept money from TSA’s budget in an attempt to further cut the deficit. Then they pointed fingers at TSA for the resulting lines. The hope is that a backlash from passengers will help Republicans attain one of their ideological goals – to privatize airport security and most other functions of government.

Just what we need – to turn our security over to a corporation that got the contract as the lowest bidder, then competes with fast food companies to hire a bunch of underpaid, under qualified and disgruntled workers in order to meet its CEO’s profit goals. Or maybe congressional Republicans could give another no-bid contract to Halliburton – the oily company once run by Richard “The Dick” Cheney that wasted hundreds of billions of taxpayers’ money in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Conservative author and humorist P. J. O’Rourke described it best by writing, “Republicans are the party that says government doesn’t work, and then they get elected and prove it.”

Okay, GOP. Now What?

The past weekend’s results in South Carolina and the suspension of Jeb! Bush’s campaign leaves only one GOP candidate with the credentials to be president…John Kasich. And though he is extreme enough to collect the votes of some conservatives, he has little chance of winning.

The only candidates who have a real chance of winning the GOP nomination are a bombastic bully (Donald Trump) who could be the first candidate to actually make money in pursuit of the nomination; a theocratic snake (Ted Cruz) whose unusual version of Christianity led him to call for the indiscriminate carpet bombing of cities; and a remote-controlled robot (Marco Rubio) who takes direction from Glenn Beck and the same group of neo-con warmongers who manipulated the government under George W. Bush.

None of the three has the qualifications to hold the world’s most powerful office. Moreover, they all promise what they can and will do while offering few details of how they will do it. Little wonder. The few detailed plans they have offered are completely unworkable. For example, the tax plans put forward by the top 3 candidates would dramatically escalate both the deficit and national debt. According to the non-partisan Tax Policy Center, Trump’s plan would add $11.2 trillion to the national debt over the next decade. Cruz’s plan would add $10.2 trillion to the national debt. And Rubio’s plan would add a mere $8.2 trillion.

And these are the so-called conservatives?!! By comparison the current president they all hate so much is a piker…a true skinflint.

In addition, the GOP candidates would repeal Obamacare, once again making healthcare unaffordable for tens of millions of Americans. All of them would ignore climate change. Two of the Republican leaders claim they would deport 11 million undocumented immigrants. One (Trump) would ban Muslims from the US – a promise that appealed to 75 percent of the registered Republicans in South Carolina. Is it any wonder then that he won the primary?

For today’s GOP, it’s obvious that facts, truth, constitutionality and morality no longer matter. Instead of appealing to voters’ intellect, these candidates have chosen to appeal to emotions…specifically the emotions of hate and fear. Of course, if you have been paying attention to rightwing radio, Fox News Channel and Republican campaigns for the past several decades, that will come as no surprise.

Meanwhile, Republicans in Congress and rightwing media have done their best to destroy one of the most qualified presidential candidates. They continue to attack Hillary Clinton over her use of a private email server while serving as Secretary of State. Never mind that her immediate predecessors also used private servers and received classified emails. Never mind that she has been cleared of any wrongdoing by the State Department and the FBI. She must have done something wrong if she is a Democrat who worked for President Obama. And Bernie Sanders? Even though he has been largely ignored by the media, he’s a Socialist Democrat! What more do you need to know? And though Republicans have not bothered to attack him, Hillary’s campaign and her surrogates have. Four of Bill Clinton’s economic advisers have pronounced Sanders’ plans as unaffordable. But wait! Other economists, including Robert Reich, Labor Secretary under President Clinton have endorsed Sanders’ plans, saying they could not only work, his universal health plan alone could save trillions of dollars.

But what are you going to trust? The facts and reason? Or your emotions and the lying Republicans?

“Can’t We All Just Get Along?”

As a result of our on-going fight with ISIS, the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, and hateful, uniformed statements by Donald Trump, the amount of anger toward Muslims has increased. Mostly, it’s based on religious differences combined with gross misunderstanding. For example, a post has begun circulating on Facebook asking “Can a good Muslim be a good American?”

You may as well ask, “Can a good Christian be a good American?”

In fact, the same question could be asked of a follower of any faith. After all, virtually every system of faith has its share of fundamentalists who are prone to terroristic acts. Indeed, the Ku Klux Klan has long operated under the veil (or, more properly, the hood) of Christianity.

Disregarding recent research that shows atheists act more ethically and “morally” than those who profess to be religious, let’s examine the claims made by the Facebook author in the text of the post:

The post claims that a Muslim cannot be a good American because no other religion is accepted by His Allah except Islam (Quran, 2:256). If that’s the case, what about Exodus 34:14 of the Christian Bible? It reads: “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

The Facebook post claims that allegiance to Islam forbids Muslims from making friends with Christians or Jews. Since all three religions stem from Abraham, this is patently absurd. Moreover, some of history’s most tolerant rulers were Muslim.

The post claims that Muslims must “must submit to the mullahs (spiritual leaders), who teach annihilation of Israel and destruction of America, the great Satan.” Such beliefs are only taught in the most radical madrasas – most of them based on Wahabism, an extreme and virulent form of Islam that originated in Saudi Arabia. It is this form of Islam that is the basis of ISIS. It should be noted that there are equally intolerant forms of Christianity and Judaism. But Americans don’t treat all Christians and Jews in the same way we currently treat Muslims.

The post claims that Muslim men are “instructed to marry four women and beat and scourge his wife when she disobeys him (Quran 4:34).” There are also passages in the Bible and the Torah, which if taken literally, permit or encourage equally troubling and socially-unacceptable behavior, such as slavery. For example, Exodus 21:7 states, “If a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do.” And Exodus 31:15 orders those who work on the Sabbath to be stoned. Leviticus 19:28 bans tattoos. And Leviticus 19:19 bans the wearing of garments made of fabric blends.

The Facebook post claims that a Muslim “cannot accept the American Constitution since it is based on Biblical principles and he believes the Bible to be corrupt.” First, the Constitution was not based on Biblical principles any more than it was based on Quranic principles. It was based on reason. Second, the Quran declares the Bible to be a true revelation of God and demands faith in the Bible (Sura 2:40-42,126,136,285; 3:3,71,93; 4:47,136; 5:47-51, 69,71-72; 6:91; 10:37,94; 21:7; 29:45,46; 35:31; 46:11). Third, Muslims accept Jesus as a prophet. However, Christians do not acknowledge the Prophet Muhammad.

Finally, the post claims that democracy and Islam cannot co-exist, since every Muslim government is either dictatorial or autocratic. It is true that some Muslim governments are theocracies. But many have at least some form of democracy, including Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Pakistan, Palestine, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and Turkey. Further, recent history has seen many authoritarian Christian nations such as Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. And one could reasonably argue that Israel is not a true democracy, as it denies rights to Palestinians and claims to be a Jewish state.

The point is, no one benefits by making false claims about race and religion; making generalizations about large groups of people; or denying respect to others. As Rodney King said during the 1992 riots over his treatment by police, “Can’t we all just get along?”

After Paris, What Next?

Following the terrorist attacks in Paris, the Republican presidential candidates and others are calling for President Obama to deploy a large force of troops in Iraq and Syria. There are those who want to prohibit Syrian refugees from entering our country…unless they are Christian. And, as with every terrorist attack, there are those who blame all of Islam. Donald Trump even called for the closure of all mosques in the US!

As awful as the attacks were, we all need to take a collective deep breath. Let’s not over-react by trying to punish all Muslims and excluding refugees from western countries. Let’s not allow ourselves to be caught in between the angry religious crusaders on the right and the na├»ve apologists on the left.

It’s important to understand that most Muslims have condemned the attacks and oppose terrorism. The extremists who carried out the attacks on behalf of ISIS do not represent the vast majority of Muslims any more than Westboro Baptist Church represents all Christians. Yet it’s undeniable that the attacks and jihadist extremism are associated with radical Islamic fundamentalists.

Before we act, we should understand that the problem began in Saudi Arabia with a narrow ideology called Wahhabi (aka Salafi) fundamentalism. It divides all people into two groups – the Wahhabis (who will go to heaven) and infidels (Muslims, Christians, Jews, etc. who will not). This divisive belief system is still popular in Saudi Arabia today and it was exported to western Pakistan during the Afghan resistance to the Soviet invasion. It is still taught in Pakistani madrassas with the help of textbooks created by the University of Nebraska at Omaha and paid for by USAid that portrayed the invaders as western infidels. (Not surprisingly, many of the children taught in these madrassas later became the Taliban.) It is still nourished and funded by some Saudi billionaires. And it was used to justify the attacks on 9/11 as payback for the US military presence in Saudi Arabia during the first Gulf War (15 of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi citizens).

This form of Islam (based on 7th century beliefs and laws) became even more virulent following the US invasion of Iraq which led to the disenfranchisement of thousands of Sunnis and the appearance of the US waging war against Islam. Ultimately, this led many Sunnis and desperate youth (who have grown of age in a war zone) to coalesce into what we now know as ISIS.

All of this has been made worse by years of turmoil in the Middle East which has caused Muslim refugees to relocate throughout the region, Europe and the US. While the first generation of these refugees embraced their new countries, their children have too often found themselves feeling isolated, unemployed and the victims of racism and repression. Now in their twenties, some of these second generation refugees are easy marks for extremist recruiters.

What can be done to prevent more terror attacks, such as those that were carried out in Paris?

First, we must be careful not to over-react. As Maajid Nawaz, founder of the counter-terrorist organization, Quillium, said during an interview on Global Public Square with Fareed Zakaria, “Now is not the time to think like ISIS along religious lines.” We must not allow ourselves to follow those who want to attack and isolate Islam. Second, we need to militarily destroy ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Third, we must root out the extremist mullahs and recruiters. But, in doing so, we cannot allow our actions to be seen as a war on Islam. That will only make matters worse.

We must recognize that militarily defeating the ISIS will not, by itself, end terrorism.

More than anything else, we must focus on preventing the next generation of terrorists. We must deal with the conditions and issues that allowed Islamic terrorism to flourish. We must include young Muslim youth in our culture. We must replace their frustration and isolation with opportunity and hope. (The countries that have best succeeded in doing that, such as Germany and the US, have experienced fewer problems with home-grown terrorism than France and others.) And we must starve the extremists of funding.

As Nawaz said, “…this is an ideas problem in a civil society less so than a physical military problem.”

Our Present And Future With Guns.

According to Harvard’s Injury Control Research Center, only 22% of Americans are gun owners. Yet there are an estimated 300 million guns in the US, not including those owned by our military. More than 6 million Americans own 10 or more guns. 10 or more? Seriously? Let’s see…a small gauge shotgun for small birds, a large gauge shotgun for larger birds, a small caliber hunting rifle for small game, a large caliber hunting rifle for large game, a small caliber handgun for accuracy, a large caliber handgun for “stopping” power, a military-style assault weapon for potential government tyrants, a .50 caliber sniper rifle for assassinations and blowing holes in the occasional engine block, and…??? That’s only 8. What am I missing? I’m at a loss to explain what more a 2nd Amendment-spouting, freedom-protecting “patriot” could need to arm themselves for any eventuality.

Obviously, the US has a love affair with guns. But though we all face the consequences, that love affair is far from universal.

As previously stated, the majority of guns are in the hands of a few. If that doesn’t make you uncomfortable, consider this: A large percentage of those 300 million guns are in the hands of the members of the 784 hate groups as recognized by the Southern Poverty Law Center, including KKK, Neo-Nazis, White Nationalists, Skinheads, Black Separatists, Neo-Confederates, Anti-LGBT, Christian Identity and other assorted general hate groups and individuals, such as the Sovereign Citizen Movement. Shockingly, a not insignificant percentage of their members are ex-military, active-duty military, former law enforcement officers and border patrol…even active-duty law enforcement (which may help to explain the increase in police brutality against minority populations)!

These people seem to believe that guns are the answer to most every conflict – a view endorsed by the National Rifle Association (NRA) and modeled in many US-made movies, television programs and video games. But our choices of entertainment are, most certainly, not the root of our gun problem. In fact, the source of our problem is the NRA and the gun manufacturers it represents, which have flooded our communities with guns – guns that are becoming increasingly more lethal. Though other nations share our taste in entertainment and celebrate our culture, and though many other nations are less religious than the US, no other advanced country rivals the US when it comes to the number of gun deaths (including homicides)!

The glaring difference between the US and those other countries is the availability of guns.

For example, in a recent attempt to determine how easy it is to obtain guns in the US, a reporter for The Guardian found that it took just 2 hours for him to be offered an AK-47, an illegally-modified fully-automatic AR-15 and numerous handguns – some of which had been smuggled and some of which had been purchased legally. His experience is hardly unique. In many neighborhoods in many of our nation’s cities, you can purchase a gun within a few minutes, local gun laws be damned. For example, many of the guns used in crimes in Chicago are originally purchased legally in Indiana and cities along the I-35 corridor where gun laws are weak. They are then resold in Chicago to individuals wishing to avoid background checks. This pattern is supported by studies that show the majority of guns used in crimes are purchased illegally from unlicensed gun dealers or uncaring dealers in states with the greatest gun culture and the weakest gun laws.

And, thanks to the NRA’s stated belief that the best solution for a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, there is a growing vigilante movement in the US exemplified by the armed woman who took it upon herself to shoot at shoplifters in the parking lot of The Home Depot in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Contrary to the gun lovers’ beliefs, such behavior is the worst nightmare of most law enforcement officials. After all, imagine you’re an officer responding to an active shooter situation and you see several armed people shooting at one another. Who is the good guy? Who is the bad guy? Are they all bad guys? You simply have to treat them all as threats.

And what about the legal implications of the “good guy” behavior? Disregarding the fact that few crimes are stopped by armed citizens and that armed citizens are more likely to be shot with their own guns than to stop a crime, such vigilante behavior poses problems. Police are supposed to be restricted from shooting at a suspect in a non-life-threatening situation. What about the armed “good guys?” Is it acceptable for a private citizen to shoot and kill a shoplifter? If the criminals are not armed and not threatening others, is it legally permissible to shoot to kill? If an unarmed shoplifter is subject to lethal force, is a bully engaged in a fistfight? How about a citizen engaged in a shouting match? An unarmed robber? An armed robber? Where do we draw the line?

The fact is, this nation is being held hostage by the gun lobby. We have allowed the NRA to write Conceal and Carry, Open Carry and “Stand Your Ground” laws that encourage people like George Zimmerman to shoot innocent, unarmed people. The NRA wants even more people to be armed. And it refuses to consider common sense gun safety laws. Despite a large majority of its members supporting more thorough, universal background checks, the NRA leadership has drawn a bright line in the sand. Any restriction on gun ownership is seen as a violation of the Constitution (if you choose to ignore the first phrase of the 2nd Amendment). Moreover, mass shootings are good for business as demonstrated by the gun shop owner in Roseburg, Oregon who stocked up on guns and ammo following the shooting at nearby Umpqua Community College. She knows that there is always a run on guns and ammo following mass shootings. Such greed aside, more guns are not the answer to gun violence. In fact, numerous studies have clearly shown that more guns equal more gun violence. Not less.

More important, the blatant lies of the NRA which pronounce guns the solution, not the problem, may well lead to a breakdown in our legal system. Vigilante “justice” could soon replace our courts. The entire US could resemble the Old West – only with more shootings and less shame.