GOP Government Setting New Standards For Corruption.

While most of the nation’s attention is focused on the immigration ban, the level of this administration’s corruption has been largely overlooked. It began even before Donald Trump took office when he became the first presidential candidate since Gerald Ford who refused to release his tax returns. As you no doubt recall, the reason given was that his returns were being audited by the IRS. But, after his election, Trump now claims that only the media are interested.

Why is he the first president in 40 years to break with tradition? Likely because his returns will show that he is not as successful as he claims and that, as many have reported, he owes a fortune to Russian oligarchs with ties to Putin.

But that is only one example of Trump’s new standard for lack of transparency.

It is now know that Trump used his campaign to funnel $14 million into his company coffers. Following his election, he refused to place his business interests into a blind trust to prevent conflicts of interest. This is important because Trump has business dealings around the globe – any one of which could violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause (Article 2, Section 1) which is cause for impeachment. Despite such concerns, immediately following the election, Trump used a phone call with the Japanese prime minister to request special handling of a hotel permit.

More worrying is the fact that Trump’s transition team tried to eliminate all Inspectors General which are responsible for investigating misconduct, waste, fraud and abuse of government procedures. The moment Trump was sworn into office (actually, it was the majority of Americans who were doing the swearing), Trump was in violation of the terms of his DC hotel lease. Eric Trump’s recent trip to Uruguay for Trump’s business interests cost taxpayers $97,830 in hotel bills (at a Trump Hotel, of course) for his accompanying security. And not to be left out, Melania’s attorneys argued as part of her libel suit against the Daily Mail that a story cost her a once in a lifetime chance to make millions in her business pursuits based on her new status as First Lady.

And the Trumps are not alone with their disregard for ethical standards.

The very first act of the new GOP-controlled Congress was to try to eliminate the independent Congressional ethics office with an early morning vote. They were stopped only when Democrats called attention to the vote and when Trump tweeted his displeasure (likely not with the action itself, but with the appearance of his complicity).

Despite reports from US intelligence agencies that Vladimir Putin interfered with our elections by ordering the hacks of the email accounts of the Democratic National Committee, the DCCC, and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and by paying young adults to serve as pro-Trump social media trolls, Congress has refused to authorize a special prosecutor to investigate. In fact, they have given the reports far less attention than the multiple investigations of Benghazi. And though, Republicans were horrified by Clinton’s use of a private email server, they seem totally unconcerned that Trump’s White House advisers are using private email accounts.

Moreover, many of Trump’s cabinet nominees and White House advisers have long-time ties to Putin. Trump himself has spoken in glowing terms about Putin and has drawn parallels between Putin’s strong arm tactics and the US. There are credible reports that Trump is being blackmailed by Putin as a result of a dossier on Trump’s actions while visiting Russia. In addition, there are allegations that Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s state oil company, offered Trump ally Carter Page a 19 percent stake in the company in exchange for Trump’s lifting of US sanctions on Russia. Though the economic sanctions have not yet been lifted, disregarding Trump’s executive order removing sanctions on the sale of cyber-technology to the Russian intelligence agency, there are reports that 19.5 percent of the Russian oil company was sold to anonymous buyers through a labyrinth of shell companies – a fact that should give us pause since it equals the exact amount promised to Trump plus the requisite brokerage fees!

In addition, White House insiders have reported that the Oval Office recorder was turned off during Trump’s phone conversation with Putin (shades of Tricky Dick Nixon). Yet Congress still refuses to have a serious investigation into Trump-Putin ties.

Domestically, Congress and Trump plan to gut Dodd-Frank, the law designed to prevent another financial meltdown such as the banking collapse of 2008. Trump overturned the fiduciary rule put in place by former President Obama to require financial planners to work in the best interests of their clients. The Senate confirmed Trump’s unqualified nominee for Secretary of Education likely due to the millions donated by DeVos and her family to help elect Republican candidates. And the Senate has voted to repeal the Dodd-Frank anti-corruption rule – a decision that benefits only too-big-to-fail banks and other large, multinational corporations.

Of course, there is much more.

Congress has promised to repeal the Affordable Care and Patient Protection Act. There are bills to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency and The Department of Education. And, given Trump’s cabinet nominees, it would seem that many other government agencies and departments, including the Labor Department, Energy Department and Health and Human Services are earmarked for destruction.

It cannot be said loud enough or repeated often enough: THIS IS NOT NORMAL!

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.”

Exposing Republican Lies And The Failures Of A Compliant Media.

I hope you will indulge me for promoting my new book, Antidote to Fact-Free Politics: Debunking the Falsehoods, Fabrications and Distortions Told by Conservatives and Perpetuated by the Media. It’s a culmination of months of research into the partisan lies that are unchallenged by the media, and repeated so often that they have become accepted as true.

The new book addresses 159 of these lies (I could easily have covered hundreds more) and refutes them with facts drawn almost entirely from government and nonpartisan sources. In fact, of the book’s 566 pages, 43 of them are devoted to references. Following is an excerpt taken from the Foreword that may better explain the book’s purpose:

“Why were Democrats unable to leverage the Bush failures and the resulting Great Recession into a majority that lasted at least through two terms of the Obama presidency?

Republicans would have you believe that it is because President Obama was a failure – the worst president in US history. They claimed that the President and a compliant Democratic-controlled Congress were leading the US down a path toward oblivion. Yet, by every objective measure, based on studies by world-renowned economists, the Obama administration was wildly successful in steering the economy back onto firm footing even as much of the world continued to struggle.

Certainly, the Democratic National Committee has to assume some responsibility for the GOP’s resilience. It has failed to create a brand message that clearly and succinctly states the Democratic Party’s core beliefs. As a result, it has had difficulty communicating with voters, and it has been unable to unite the diverse groups and interests that comprise its membership. In fact, the Party seems to foolishly pride itself on living up to the long-ago quote by humorist Will Rogers, “I’m not a member of any organized political party. I’m a Democrat.”

But the lack of branding, alone, does not explain what has happened in recent years. The truth of the matter is that Republicans have a number of structural advantages, including financial support from billionaires and many of the world’s largest corporations. They have an impressive number of litigation-minded “think tanks” determined to shape policy. Until recently, they enjoyed a majority in the US Supreme Court. They benefit from a network of media outlets that allow them to dominate media and control the message. In addition, over the past several decades, they have focused on building an advantage at the state and local level through gerrymandering and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a group that writes legislation on behalf of corporate sponsors, peddling it to its many conservative legislative members.

In January of 2009, on the very day that President Obama was being sworn into office, Republicans began exploiting all of these advantages in their attempts to undermine the new president and the newly-elected Democratic Congress. Republican congressional leaders agreed to block and filibuster every Democratic initiative in order to make Barack Obama a one-term president. In doing so, they rendered Congress gridlocked and led voters to believe that Democrats were ineffectual.

At the same time, Republican representatives and former Bush officials flooded Sunday morning news shows to peddle a combination of distortions, fabrications and lies – lies that were seldom challenged by the shows’ moderators. The pundits on Fox News Channel repeated the same lies and more. They questioned the President’s birthplace, his religion and his patriotism, not to mention his policies. Talk radio, which has long been dominated by rightwing radio hosts, did the same, often going much farther. They called him a fascist, a socialist, a communist, even a racist. The rightwing blogosphere was worse, offering “proof” that the President was a Muslim interloper determined to destroy the US.

The performance by this combination of ideological zealots, demagogues and cynical opportunists would have made Richard Nixon and his “plumbers” of Watergate fame proud. And it has worked.

In this book, I strive to expose the lies. In doing so, I have relied on a combination of government reports, fact-checking organizations, peer-reviewed academic studies, investigative news reports and government statistics. Bear in mind that Republicans have also used statistics to bolster their narrative. But how you parse the numbers matters. For example, if you judge the Obama administration’s economic policies based on spending and unemployment numbers from the day President Obama took office, you would conclude that he has overspent and underperformed. In fact, that’s what his opponents want you to do. But if you consider what he inherited and the difficulties he faced – a failed economy, high unemployment and a Middle East embroiled in war – and then adjust the numbers accordingly, you will see quite a different picture.”

The book covers a wide range of subject matter ranging from lies about African-Americans to lies about war, and virtually everything in between. If you care about the future of our nation, indeed the future of our planet, I hope you will check it out.

Scandals That Weren’t.

Since Teapublicans took control of the House in 2011, Rep. Darrell Issa, Rep. Paul Gosar and other extremists have conducted a barrage of hearings with the intent of exposing the misdeeds of the Obama administration. They began by examining government loans made to administration “loyalists” at Solyndra, a start-up manufacturer of solar panels. They moved on to the failed ATFE “gun-running” program in Arizona. After that it was Benghazi, Benghazi, Benghazi, interrupted briefly by IRS scrutiny of conservative “non-profits.” Finally, they turned to the Ebola crisis.

After dozens of hearings, numerous investigations and millions of dollars in expenses, here’s what they found:

The loans to Solyndra were initiated during the George W. Bush administration and finalized during the first year of the Obama administration. The company failed when faced with competition financed, in part, by the Chinese government. And, instead of losing millions as Teapublicans claimed, the government actually made a $5 billion profit on the sale of Solyndra’s assets.

Though Issa and his Teapublican investigations found that Fast & Furious resulted in hundreds of guns being trafficked across the border into Mexico; and though Teapublicans blamed the Department of Justice, calling for the resignation of Attorney General Eric Holder; the facts show that the blame was entirely misplaced. Yes, the ATFE allowed guns to cross the border with hopes of tracking them to the leaders of Mexican drug cartels. But, thanks to Arizona’s loose gun laws, guns have been trafficked across the border for decades. Fast & Furious was created out of frustration with the courts’ refusal to allow charges against so-called straw buyers. The hope was that, by tracking the guns, the ATFE would be able to disrupt the pipeline of illegal weapons.

With regard to Benghazi, contrary to an endless stream of Teapublican propaganda, 7 non-partisan investigations have found absolutely no wrongdoing by the administration or anyone else. There were no orders for rescuers to stand down. And absolutely no evidence of an administration cover-up. It was simply an unexpected and spontaneous attack by terrorists resulting in the deaths of 4 Americans…the kind of attack that led to many more deaths in American embassies under previous administrations. Yet, despite the findings of 7 investigations, Teapublicans are still insisting on spending millions more for yet another investigation by a “select” committee of Teapublican fools.

As for the IRS scandal, there is little evidence of wrong-doing. Yes, Lois Lerner and her IRS colleagues compiled a list of watch words indicating a political committee disguised as a charitable non-profit in order to ferret out those intent on skirting election laws to flood political campaigns with dark money. Yes, that list included numerous words used by Teapublican groups. And, yes, more Teapublican groups were subjected to extra scrutiny by the IRS. But it is also true that, thanks to the Koch brothers and other right wing billionaires, more Teapublican groups had applied for non-profit status than Democratic groups. Moreover, following a series of questionable Supreme Court decisions, Lerner’s IRS department was overwhelmed with such requests. And none of the groups affected were denied such status.

Finally, the Teapublican’s weakest attempt to scaremonger was the Ebola “scandal.” So far, only two people have died of the disease in the US. And though it appears that the Dallas hospital was ill-prepared to deal with the disease, the CDC and NIH quickly responded. There have been no further events and no “epidemic” despite the fact that Teapublicans dramatically cut the budget for the Center for Disease Control, making it unable to conduct necessary research.

And what were the Obama administration’s failures in all of these scandals? None. Yet, thanks to Teapublican control of Congress, the investigations, and the propaganda, will continue.

UPDATE: It is estimated that the direct costs of investigations by Issa’s committee have exceeded more than $26 million to date. The indirect costs of the time needed to provide thousands of documents in compliance with the committee’s demands may have exceeded $1 trillion.

Illusion Of Democracy.

The passage of SB 1062 by the Arizona legislature and subsequent veto by Governor Brewer drew national attention. But there’s one aspect of the incident that has gone largely overlooked…the fact that the legislation was not written by an Arizona legislator. It was written by a national stink tank, Alliance Defending Freedom and pushed by the ultra-right wing Center for Arizona Policy. In fact, most state legislation is no longer authored by legislators. The bills are written by lawyers working for the American Legislative Exchange Council, the State Policy Network, lobbyists for large corporations, the National Rifle Association and other conservative stink tanks.

Is it any wonder, then, that our Congress and our legislatures don’t seem to represent the will of the people?

The system of state legislators and congressmen sponsoring bills written by outsiders gives the illusion of representation. But the bills are written for the benefit of a few and to push a narrow ideology. They seldom benefit the majority. For example, the Iowa House recently passed a bill to legalize silencers for guns. How many Iowans will that benefit? The Ohio legislature passed a bill limiting voting hours. How many voters will that benefit? Other states have passed strict voter ID laws despite a lack of in-person voter fraud. The result will be to prevent many of the poor and the elderly from voting. Who will that benefit?

As a result of gerrymandering, issues with voter registration and the dark money used for campaign finance, a study by the non-partisan Electoral Integrity Project as reported by The Washington Post now ranks the US 26th in the world for electoral integrity and worst of all Western nations. And the situation will only get worse if Republicans and their stink tanks continue to push bills intended to rig elections.

How do we stop this blatant takeover of our democracy? Here’s an idea: Let’s ask candidates to reject any bills written by outsiders. Let’s demand that they solve problems for the majority of their constituents. Let’s treat all bills designed to limit civil rights with the same outrage as that for SB 1062. Let’s threaten to boycott states that pass such laws. Let’s refuse to do business with corporations that have co-opted our democracy.

Let’s make our votes count while we still have them.

Congress Versus The American People.

Politicians, especially Republicans, are fond of saying that they have faith that the American people will always do the right thing. Hmmm…that raises a number of questions.

If politicians believe the American people are so smart, why don’t they do what the people want them to? Why have they refused to vote for universal background checks on all gun purchases when more than 90 percent of Americans demand them? Why has the House refused to support bills that would create the jobs Americans want? Why has the House delayed action on immigration reform supported by more than 70 percent of Americans? Why has the House refused to vote for equal pay for women? Why has it refused to raise the minimum wage? Why do Republicans refuse to vote for gay marriage? Why do they refuse to decriminalize marijuana? Why have they failed to vote for tax reform and equal enforcement?

Why do more than 80 percent of Americans despise Congress?

At least we have an answer for one of those questions.

Extremists And Cowards.

Bullies and weaklings; a**holes and chickensh*ts; Teapublicans and Democrats.  Whatever you want to call them, many of the people who now take up seats in Congress generally fall into one of these two categories. Never has the distinction been more obvious than following the latest vote on “Obamacare.” 39 cowards chose to join the right wing extremists by voting for a bill to “fix” the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by requiring insurance companies to continue to sell junk insurance policies.

The cowards are Democrats who have revealed themselves to be far more concerned about being re-elected and doing what’s best for themselves than doing what’s right for their constituents and their country. Indeed, they are Democrats who have sold out their constituents, their campaign contributors, their congressional caucus and the president. Instead of standing up for health care reform, they stood up for the status quo. They stood up for insurance company profits. They stood up for lobbyists. They stood up with their hands out looking for large campaign contributions from the insurance industry and Big Pharma.

Certainly, many of these weaklings have been targeted by the Republican National Committee and its billionaire sponsors. I have a certain amount of sympathy for these people since right wing Super PACs have already spent millions to attack them more than a year before the mid-term elections. But, if you’re a progressive voter, what’s the point of supporting a representative who refuses to support you on something as important as the ACA? These cowards are forcing their supporters to hold their noses and choose the lesser of the two evils.

For the record, I don’t believe in so-called litmus tests for politicians. I believe in compromise and bipartisanship, but not at the expense of betraying those they are elected to represent. Voting to undermine the ACA by eliminating insurance standards is just such a betrayal.

From the beginning, the ACA has been a difficult undertaking. Everyone knew that its implementation would not be smooth, even in the best of circumstances. (We all know that the roll-out of Social Security, Medicare and Part D did not go smoothly.) In order to get the bill passed, the administration was forced to drop the public option that was intended to keep insurance companies honest by providing more competition. Congressmen and senators spent months and months adding amendments that would weaken the bill. Then many of those same people voted against it anyway.

The ACA faced unparalleled opposition from both inside and outside the beltway; from lobbyists; from the insurance industry; from the pharmaceutical industry; from the medical supply industry and more. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been spent in very public attempts to block it. Teapublicans have spent years bad-mouthing it and predicting that it would be a “train wreck.” They mischaracterized it as a “government takeover” of medicine. They said it would result in “government death panels.” The right wing media has called it “an end to liberty,” “socialism,” “fascism” and worse. The mainstream media has thrived on the controversy, reporting it as though it was some sporting event, trumpeting every setback and glitch. Now they are scoring the ACA by the numbers of people who have registered and purchased insurance policies.

Teapublicans made their opposition to the ACA the centerpiece of two election cycles. They have attempted to repeal the ACA or defund it more than 40 times. They even shut down the government in an attempt to defund the ACA.

Many Teapublican-controlled states refused to expand Medicaid leaving millions of their citizens without health insurance. Many of those same states refused to create insurance exchanges, forcing the federal government to pick up the slack and directing millions more Americans to the healthcare.gov website. At the same time, they cut funding for the website. They funded cyber attacks to disrupt the website. Then they held congressional “investigations” in order to call attention to the glitches.

And now, NOW, 39 so-called Democrats add to the headwinds by voting for a bill that would undermine the ACA? I can think of only two words to describe such a vote…cowardice and treachery! I spent the last election cycle supporting some of these people. I donated to their campaign funds. I can hardly wait until I receive another email from them asking for my support.

They won’t like the answer any more than I like their vote.

If Corporations Are People…

In its Citizens United decision, the US Supreme Court ruled that corporations are people – with all of the rights of individuals. The “justices” didn’t mention the responsibilities that go along with those rights. Like the responsibility to care for your neighbors.

But, just for a moment, let’s assume that those five old men in black robes who voted in the majority were right. If corporations really were like people, one-sixth, including their CEOs, would be unable to afford health insurance. One-sixth would not have enough food to eat. They would not be able to afford lobbyists. Few would have pension plans and large investment accounts. Most would not be able to retire when they became elderly. And most would not have enough money to contribute to political candidates.

If corporations were like people, they would not be able to negotiate a plea after committing illegal acts, then pay a small fine and deny any admission of guilt. They would go to prison.

If corporations were like people, they would receive no tax-free subsidies to acquire space and land. They would have to pay property taxes on their buildings. Other states and cities would not offer them millions in incentives to relocate. All but a tiny percent would have to pay their fair share of sales taxes and income taxes.

And what if the members of Congress were like the people they’re supposed to represent?

Instead of being paid $174,000 per year, representatives would be paid an average salary of $50,502. Half would make less than $27,000 and 16 percent would live in poverty. Some would be hungry and homeless. They would have no staff to do their work for them. They would actually have to read the bills before they vote.  And they wouldn’t begin fundraising and campaigning for the next election the day after they’re elected.

We’ve come a long way from the representative government our Founders envisioned. A lo-o-o-o-o-ng way!

Artificial Intelligence.

In an age of political irony, the committee assignment for Rep. Michele Bachmann stands out. Believe it or not, she is a proud member of the House Intelligence Committee!

Clearly, GOP leaders have no understanding of the word’s meaning. As I’m sure you know, intelligence is defined as “the ability to learn facts and skills and apply them, especially when this ability is highly developed.” It may also be defined as “information about secret plans or activities, especially those of foreign governments, the armed forces, business competitors, or criminals.”

Do either of those definitions have any obvious relationship to Bachmann? Seriously?

In all her years in office, Bachmann has displayed no aptitude for learning. She has demonstrated no understanding of history, our Founders, our Constitution or any other aspect of government. Neither has she demonstrated an ability to keep her lack of knowledge secret. Honestly, the woman can’t keep her mouth shut!

For example, Bachmann says that we are now living in the end of times. She’s not only a believer in Biblical Armageddon. From her politics, one might rightly conclude that she’s trying to rush to the end by defunding the federal government, defaulting on government loans, denying the science of climate change, fighting against gun safety, pushing for more fracking and oil drilling, and denying equal rights for all Americans.

However, if you listen to her long enough, you find that she admits to having no mind of her own. Like Sarah Palin, she claims that God tells her what to do. How sacrilegious is that!? She would have us believe that God would consistently tell her to say and do the wrong thing?

I find that offensive!

As a child, I was told that God is omniscient and omnipotent. Bachmann? Not so much. That leaves only two possible explanations for Bachmann’s failures. Either God doesn’t really speak to Bachmann. Or he has one heck of a sense of humor!

Another Debt Ceiling Debacle?

Teapublicans are always fond of relating government budgets to your household budget. It’s a lousy analogy. But let’s use it for the purposes of the debt ceiling debate.

Imagine if your family, concerned about its spending and debt, had a meeting and decided that you no longer wanted to pay any debts above…let’s say, $10,000.  And let’s say that your family couldn’t agree on spending cuts. For example, the father just doesn’t want to stop collecting expensive guns and driving luxury cars, the mother doesn’t want to give up health insurance and the 401K, and the kids don’t want to give up school and food.  So your family agrees to stop paying the mortgage, the utilities and the credit card companies.

What do you think would happen?

The mortgage company would foreclose on your home, the utilities would cut off electricity, water and gas, and the credit card companies would cut off any new purchases in addition to adding large penalties and interest to your outstanding balance.  Moreover, your family would be unable to borrow money from anyone else. And, if someone else was willing to risk loaning your family money, it would be at exhorbitant interest rates.

Does that sound like something you want to intentionally do to your family? No? Then why would you want to do that to your country?

What we have is a Republican Party that doesn’t want to give up the world’s most lavish military budget or tax cuts and welfare for our largest corporations. The Democratic Party doesn’t want to give up Social Security, Medicare, and access to health care and food stamps for the working poor. And the Tea Party parasites don’t want to spend anything because they don’t like the government anyway.

During the 2012 presidential election, we had a national debate about the direction of our nation and its budget. On these issues, the voters overwhelmingly supported the Democratic Party.  The results of that election should direct the conversation about government spending. Most important, there should be a conversation with all parties sitting down together and having an adult conversation about our nation’s future.

Unfortunately, the Tea Party parasites don’t want to do that, and the gutless Republican leaders are kowtowing to them.