How The GOP Embraced A Crime Boss As Its Leader.

Almost immediately following Trump’s sparsely-attended inauguration, he pulled the US from the carefully-negotiated Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, the Paris Climate Accords and the Iran Nuclear Agreement. Not because they were flawed. But merely because they were legacies of the Obama administration. Moreover, despite his reputation of deal-making Trump has no time for negotiation. No willingness to compromise.

In that regard, Trump is the ideal person to lead today’s GOP.

Since Newt Gingrich took the gavel as Speaker of the House in 1995, the GOP has refused to compromise on virtually any legislation; virtually any international accords. GOP members of Congress have chosen, instead, to vote as a unified bloc. Except for the late Sen.John McCain and, occasionally, Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, they followed orders fearing that they would be primaried – their opponents backed by millions of dollars in campaign donations from the Koch brothers, Sheldon Adelson and other right-wing billionaires.

The inevitable result of this mentality is that the GOP has been willing to do anything to win. Once it gained power, it gerrymandered districts and suppressed votes to ensure that its candidates could win elections. It ignored the wishes of the majority of Americans in order to pass legislation based on its narrow-minded fundamentalist ideologies. It pandered to donors, lobbyists and multinational corporations by passing tax cuts to redistribute wealth upward. It increased funding for the Pentagon in order to build unneeded weapons in GOP-held districts in order to maintain jobs for constituents and to increase the profits of military contractors. GOP Majority Leader Mitch McConnell bent long-standing Senate rules to rapidly confirm judges who share the GOP ideology. The GOP has enabled Trump and his administration to corruptly fill their pockets with taxpayer money and to pillage our natural resources. And, in the ultimate win-at-any-cost mentality, the GOP enabled our greatest geopolitical foe to interfere in the 2016 election on behalf of Trump and other conservative candidates.

Certainly, all of this poses a serious threat to our democracy. But when it comes to our international relationships, the GOP bully mentality is even more dangerous.

Under George W. Bush and, especially now, under Trump, the GOP’s negotiating technique has become “our way or the highway” – “you’re either with us or against us.” We saw this with Bush’s “axis of evil” and in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq. Based on Richard the Dick Cheney’s “Plan for a New American Century,” the GOP has chosen to use our economic and military power to force other nations to submit to our wishes. And now we have one of the architects of the Iraq War and one of its biggest cheerleaders – John Bolton – as Trump’s national security advisor.

What could possibly go wrong?

By pulling out of the Iran Nuclear Agreement and ramping up sanctions and threats against Iran, Trump has only encouraged Iran to restart its nuclear program. By sending a aircraft carrier group to the region and dropping hints that it has plans to send 120,000 US troops to the region, the administration has inflamed the situation putting us on a path to war based on the slightest of provocations. Remember Gulf of Tonkin, anyone? In case you don’t, the Gulf of Tonkin incident was an imagined attack on the US fleet that led to a massive expansion of the Vietnam War and tens of thousands more deaths.

By pulling out of the TPP, Trump only strengthened China’s place in international markets. And by unilaterally placing tariffs on imports from our largest trading partner, Trump has created a trade war that will add hundreds of dollars to the annual purchases by US households. At the same time, it has punished US farmers and other industries whose products are now too expensive for many Chinese people. Now that the Chinese have found other sources for soybeans to replace those grown by American farmers, they may abandon US-grown crops entirely. Since Chinese leaders do not have to face re-election as US leaders must, they likely have little incentive to kowtow to the Trump administration’s demands. So the trade war could last for some time. Moreover, the trade war with China and other nations may encourage them to seek currency other than the dollar as the international standard. That would have an enormous impact on the US economy.

Such bullying tactics may have worked for the Donald in his real estate business, since there were always other vendors willing to take a chance on getting paid by Trump after completing their work. And there were always new “marks” who could be conned. Even when he failed, and according to a NY Times report, Trump was a spectacular failure in the 1980s and 90s, Deutsche Bank always seemed to step up with new loans. When those weren’t enough, Trump’s apparent willingness to launder money for Russian oligarchs kept his businesses afloat. However, Trump’s bullying is unlikely to work with powerful international foes like China and Iran unless he’s willing to use the threat of nuclear weapons.

That raises the questions: How far is the crime boss in the White House willing to go? And how long will the GOP support him?

Is The GOP A Political Party? Or A Crime Syndicate?

For those of you who think the two major political parties in the US are different in name only, I would like to correct the perception. True, both parties are far too friendly with lobbyists and large corporations. Both rely on billionaires to fund their political campaigns. Both have voted to dole out billions in corporate welfare. But that’s where the comparisons end. Today’s GOP would be unrecognizable to Republicans such as Abraham Lincoln, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Nelson Rockefeller.

In my lifetime, I’ve seen GOP Sen. Joseph McCarthy create rampant fear of communists around every corner resulting in false accusations and black lists that ruined the lives of political opponents and innocents alike.

We saw GOP presidential candidate Richard M. Nixon treasonously interfere in the Vietnam peace talks for political advantage. As president, he divided the nation. Then, in his re-election campaign, he created a dirty tricks squad to torment his opponents. He was forced from office when it was discovered that he ordered a break-in of Democratic offices and used his position to cover it up. His VP, his Attorney General, his White House lawyer and others went to prison. And, during the Watergate hearings, he was found to have committed tax fraud. But, thanks to a pardon by his Republican successor, he was spared prison even as his tax lawyer was convicted and sentenced.

Similarly, we learned that Ronald Reagan secretly, and treasonously, negotiated with the Iranians to prevent the release of US hostages until after the presidential election. Then, during his second term, it was discovered that he had illegally ordered the sale of arms to Iran in order to fund an illegal war in Central America. At least a dozen members of his administration were indicted while Reagan was allowed to ride off into the sunset. Yet few of the culprits served real consequences since Reagan’s GOP successor, George H.W. Bush, ordered his Attorney General (William Barr) to pardon them.

Under false pretenses, Bush later led a war against Iraq over Kuwaiti oil. And following his “victory” Bush sent the nation’s economy into a deep recession by closing dozens of military bases in the US.

Following in his father’s footsteps, George W. Bush ignored warnings that al-Qaeda was set to attack the US resulting in 9/11. He then took us to war in Afghanistan (our longest-running war) and lied our nation into going to war in Iraq resulting in the squandering of trillions of dollars and the complete destabilization of the Middle East the consequences of which will be felt for many generations. Bush also oversaw the continued de-regulation of our financial sector leading to the collapse of our stock markets and the Great Recession.

Now we have the boss of a crime family occupying our White House – Donald J. Trump – who ascended to power as the beneficiary of substantial election interference by Russia, information stolen from Democratic databases, election fraud, illegal campaign contributions, and more than $70 million from the NRA. He has not only refused to acknowledge Russian interference, he has obstructed investigations into that interference. Only because of an inane judgment by the DOJ has he avoided charges. Meanwhile, his personal lawyer and members of his campaign committee have either pleaded guilty or have been convicted of crimes leading to prison sentences.

And that’s not even the worst of his presidency. He has led the plundering of our treasury to enrich his family, his friends and large corporations. He has gutted regulations designed to prevent another market crash and to protect our environment. He has engaged in ill-conceived trade wars. He has implemented racist policies. He has further divided our nation by empowering white nationalists. And he has undermined the truth, the press and most of our institutions.

All of this has been enabled by compliant GOP congressional representatives who are re-elected only as the result of extreme gerrymandering, union busting and a variety of voter suppression techniques designed to prevent people of color and the working poor from voting for their opponents.

By comparison, the last three Democratic administrations have been guilty of balancing the budget, rescuing our economy from financial collapse, giving millions of Americans access to affordable health care, and twenty years relatively free from scandal…except for that blow job and those emails. You know, THOSE emails.

Some Political Conspiracies Are More Than Theory.

It seems that every week conservative politicians, media pundits and, especially, President Trump come up with another unfounded conspiracy theory. On a regular basis, they have attacked the press, the Department of Justice, the FBI, the CIA, and others as operatives of the “Deep State” intent on undermining the Trump administration.

In order to foment fear before the midterm elections, they trotted out the wild conspiracy that George Soros and the HIAS (Hebrew Immigration Aid Society) organized a caravan of “terrorists” to “invade” the United States. And, following the midterms, they have claimed that Democrats are committing election “fraud” by counting all of the votes, including mail-in votes from military personnel serving oversees.

Such crazy claims are not new. Nixon and Agnew claimed that they were victims of the “liberal” press even as they ordered the break-in of the Democratic National Committee and organized dirty tricks to frustrate and damage their Democratic rivals. But they really took root during the Clinton administration when, after the end of the Fairness Doctrine regulating broadcast media, Rush Limbaugh and others took to the airwaves to claim the Clintons defrauded investors in a real estate development named Whitewater. They claimed that Hillary Clinton ordered a contract killing of Vince Foster (he committed suicide) to cover up another fake conspiracy labeled Travelgate.

And the conspiracy theorists worked overtime during the administration of our nation’s first black president. They famously claimed that President Obama was born in Kenya making him ineligible to hold the office. They claimed he “palled around with terrorists.” They claimed he was only elected as the result of massive voter fraud aided by ACORN. They claimed the New Black Panthers intimidated GOP voters at the polls. They claimed he was working with the UN to take away Americans guns. They said that Agenda 21, the UN plan to prevent climate change and feed the planet, was a “black helicopter” operation to sell out the US. They claimed that Jade Helm 15, military exercises in the southwestern US, were an Obama plot to institute Sharia law, jail dissenters and to take over the US (never mind that it would be unnecessary since Obama, as president, already controlled the US government).

Then, of course, there was Benghazi, the supposed betrayal of a US ambassador by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and the belief that Hillary’s use of a private email server for unclassified communications compromised US security. (Interestingly, the GOP is silent on President Trump’s use of an unsecured mobile phone for his Tweets and private conversations.) There was Pizzagate, the theory that Hillary was trafficking children out of the non-existent basement of a DC pizza parlor. And, perhaps, the most dangerous theory is the ongoing belief in QAnon, the fictitious anonymous operative (or operatives) within the Deep State who releases supposed classified information revealing the conspiracy against Trump.

All of these theories are not only wholly unfounded. They defy logic. Moreover, they may indicate a serious mental health crisis in the US.

On the other hand, there are GOP actions once believed to be conspiracy theories that have since been proven true beyond doubt. The most famous of these is Watergate. But there is also then GOP-candidate Nixon’s treasonous interference in the Vietnam Peace Talks that resulted in his election, but cost thousands more lives. (Nixon’s actions are documented in the upcoming program “Betrayal” on MSNBC. Similarly, the Reagan campaign is known to have interfered in the Carter administrations negotiations with Iran for the release of US diplomatic hostages.

There is the Iran-Contra affair, which consisted of the Reagan administration illegally selling arms to Iran, despite sanctions, in order to fund the anti-socialist Contra rebels in Central America. There is George W. Bush’s 2000 election “victory” in Florida that has been proven the result of voter suppression and outright election fraud orchestrated by his brother. There are the false claims of Iraqi WMD that led to the Iraq War. There is 2016 theft of emails from the DNC, the DCCC and Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager that were used by GOP candidates to gain power. There are the proven connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. There are the multi-million dollar donations to the NRA by a Russian oligarch to help fund GOP candidates in 2016. And there is the Russian interference in the 2016 elections for the benefit of Trump.

There are the ties between Trump administration officials and white supremacist groups revealed by Trump’s comments following Charlottesville. There is the obvious violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause by Trump and his family. And, of course, there is the cover-up of Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels culminating in a Trump-ordered payoff in exchange for her silence.

The point is, when you hear a conspiracy theory, consider the source – especially if it comes from the Trump administration, Fox News Channel, InfoWars or any other conservative pundit. More likely than not, it will be nothing more than an attempt to deceive or GOP wishful thinking.

The True Enemies Of Democracy.

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

That is not a claim that I make lightly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remembering 9/11.

Since 2001, September 11 has become a somber occasion – a sad reminder of an attack on American soil that shattered many lives. Almost every American who was alive at the time can remember where they were and what they were doing when New York’s World Trade Center towers came down.

That day impacted everyone – some far more than others.

I have known people who were in New York that fateful day, people who worked to clean up the site in the aftermath, people who were in the air and rerouted to airports outside the US. All of their lives were dramatically changed in a moment; a flash from the explosion of jet fuel; a massive cloud of dust; the unknown of what and who would be next.

Sadly, there are casualties from that day that have been overlooked or forgotten, such as the first responders who worked around the clock to help survivors and to find the bodies of the dead. Many of these people have been stricken with cancer and other diseases, yet had to fight Congress in order to receive funding for the health care they need. Many of the first responders have prematurely died as a direct result of that day. Many have suffered from PTSD and taken their own lives in percentages that far exceed the suicide rate of other Americans.

Indeed, it is expected that the premature deaths of these heroes will exceed the deaths of the 2,977 original victims of 9/11 by the end of 2018!

In addition, there are other things about that day that have been largely ignored. In the tribalization of our national politics, too many Americans have refused to acknowledge that the Bush administration had clear warnings of the impending calamity. Richard A. Clarke, the former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection and Counter-terrorism, has written about running around Washington with his “hair on fire” trying to warn that we were about to be attacked. The PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) of August 6, 2001 was headlined “Bin Laden Determined To Strike In US.” The text of that PDB even included the possibility of the hijacking of aircraft.

Many of us never knew or have forgotten about the British immigrant Rick Rescorla who, as Security Chief for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter, accurately predicted the attack on the World Trade Center towers and created an emergency evacuation plan. On the day of the attack, he led 2,700 people to safety before he died after going back into the tower to look for stragglers.

Too few of us recognize that many of the victims of 9/11 were citizens of other nations.

Too many US politicians have conveniently overlooked the fact that 15 of the 19 terrorists were from our so-called ally, Saudi Arabia, in order to maintain the flow of Saudi oil to world markets. The same Saudi regime that bombed a school bus full of Yemeni children with US-made weapons and US-provided guidance. The same Saudi Arabia that is responsible for creating and exporting a radical and hateful form of religion based on Islam.

Too many of us have forgotten that America’s longest-lasting war – the war in Afghanistan – which began as a direct result of the 9/11 attacks is still raging and still costing the blood and treasure of our nation. Too many have forgotten that the invasion of Iraq was falsely tied to 9/11, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Iraqis and more than 4,800 members of the American-led coalition. And almost no one recognizes that the radicalization of Islam began in Saudi Arabia. That it was exported to Pakistan during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. And that its flames were fanned by US-sponsored propaganda created by a former professor from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

So, on this somber day, I would suggest that you remember the issues and mistakes that led up to that fateful day in 2001 and that still plague us today in order that we not repeat them. And I would suggest that you remember all of the heroes and victims, including the first responders and the families of those who have died.

13 Ways The GOP Suppresses, Manipulates and Marginalizes Votes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

Beware The Politics Of Self-Righteous Zealotry.

For many years, we’ve heard network pundits talk about a “war on Christianity” and call for the US to officially become a Christian nation. Such talk would have made our Founding Fathers cringe. After all, many of them had settled in the US, like some of my ancestors did, as the result of religious persecution in Europe. Our earliest European settlers were Puritans, Huguenots, Quakers, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Jews and others who had fled their homes in search of religious freedom.

Yet, some of the original colonies themselves began imposing their religious views on others, claiming that a particular denomination was the official religion of the colony and taxing all citizens to support that denomination. It was as a result of such discrimination that those who wrote the US Constitution included the wording that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Nevertheless, preying on our citizens’ fear of radical Islamic terrorism, many of our political candidates continue to call for the US to be named a Christian nation. One wants to prohibit certain immigrants based on their religion. Others want to “return our nation to its Christian values.”

That may be good politics. But it is dangerous policy. After all, almost every atrocity in the world has been committed in the name of righteousness – crimes committed as the result of zealotry for an ideology based on the ends justifying the means.

Such atrocities have been committed in the name of Christianity, Islam, Judaism…even Buddhism. But the problem doesn’t just lie with religion. Out of the same kind of self-righteous zealotry, they have also been committed in the name of communism, fascism and capitalism. Almost always, such crimes are not considered crimes by those committing them – the true believers believe that they are doing the right thing for their religion, their nation or their children. Such was the case when the Bush administration zealously decided to impose democracy in Iraq resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands (some say hundreds of thousands) Iraqis.

There have been examples of other destructive examples of self-righteous zealotry in the US. The KKK murdered blacks under the cross of Christianity. Senator Joe McCarthy accused, investigated, blacklisted and imprisoned many who failed to demonstrate that they were not communists or communist sympathizers (it’s always difficult to prove a negative). The same mentality led to the John Birch Society which believed both the Soviet Union and the US were led by a cabal of internationalists, bankers and corrupt politicians. Its leader even accused President Eisenhower of being a communist. The same rightwing conservatives wrapped themselves in the cloak of Christianity to draw greater distinctions between righteous Americans and the godless communists. To distinguish themselves from communism, they pushed through legislation replacing the original national motto “E Pluribus Unum” – from many one – with “In God We Trust.” They added “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance. And congressional members of The Fellowship, aka The Family, instituted the National Prayer Breakfast at the capitol, a quasi-governmental Christian event that has been held every year since 1953.

Much of the conservative-based zealotry was driven underground after Edward R. Murrow focused attention on the abuses of McCarthyism and after William F. Buckley and Barry Goldwater shunned the John Birch Society. But the ideology never went away. As a result, we are now seeing conservatives again using religion to divide. The movement again raised its ugly head with the “Moral Majority” of the 70s and 80s. About the same time, the GOP’s “southern strategy” reached out to racist southern Democrats who were outraged by the Civil Rights Act. GOP politicians also latched onto the issues of abortion and the so-called “sanctity of marriage” to embolden the “righteous” and further divide us. And they claim that any attempt to prevent the establishment of Christianity as the official state religion – the placement of Christian symbols and the institution of mandatory Christian prayers in public schools and government meetings – is a “war on Christianity.” You can hear such accusations at any GOP presidential debate, at most GOP rallies and on GOP media such as Fox News Channel.

Now you may wonder, what harm could come from institutionalizing Christian values in our government? The answer lies in history – the history of Christian Protestants and others being persecuted and driven out of their homes by Catholic Christians. That’s not to say that Catholicism is any worse, or better, than other religions. It’s just that one person’s religious values can easily become another person’s religious persecution.

Though it is true that the US has long been predominately Christian, it has never been a Christian nation, and it never should be. When we hear politicians like Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Ben Carson and others call for special treatment of those who believe in one religion over another, or over those who believe in no religion at all, we should all be mindful that our Founding Fathers created our Constitution and our government to end tyranny, including tyranny by the majority.

To learn how a government led by a self-righteous authoritarian like Trump might look like, I encourage you to read Thom Hartmann’s excellent essay for AlterNet.org.

Why We Should Be Even More Afraid Of Cruz And Rubio Than Donald Trump.

By now, most people know that Donald Trump is an insensitive, bigoted blowhard who would endanger all Americans and many others throughout the world. Yet despite his lack of policies, his grandiose promises, his angry rhetoric and threats, his refusal to denounce the endorsement by David Duke and the Ku Klux Klan, and his willingness to engage in genital-measuring contests, in my opinion, he is not as great a threat as Cruz and Rubio.

Why? It’s readily apparent what the Donald is. But Trump has so dominated the media coverage that few people have examined the goals of Cruz and Rubio.

Let’s begin with Cruz. He’s an avowed Christian who approaches both politics and religion with the same evangelical zeal. In fact, he seems to happily conflate the two. If his religion was in the mold of the Christ he claims to follow – a healer who was accepting of others, who cared for the less fortunate and who promoted love and peace above all else – that might not be such a problem. But the Christianity that Cruz worships is xenophobic, misogynistic, angry, hateful and judgmental. Worse yet, Cruz wants to make his Christianity the official religion of our nation. Never mind that his position stands in stark contrast with the Constitution, Cruz claims to understand the true intentions of the Founding Fathers.

On the issues of abortion, education, environment, gun control, access to health care, immigration reform, LGBT rights, Social Security and tax reform, Cruz’s positions are not just to the right of the majority of American citizens. His positions are to the far, far right of most rightwing conservatives. In other words, Cruz represents the ideology of a tiny minority of wacko Americans. Further, he listens to virtually no one – not the majority of Americans; not the majority of his constituents; not even the majority of the Senate GOP caucus.

Cruz doesn’t even seem to care about the nation’s well-being – as evidenced by his almost single-handedly shutting down the federal government. He simply does what he wants (or what he claims God wants), all the while invoking religion with the evangelical speaking style of his father. That’s why he has been called the most hated man in Washington. And, if he became president, he would likely become the most hated man on the planet.

Rubio, on the other hand, presents a very different danger.

If elected representatives were held to the same standards as school children, Rubio would have been placed in a detention center for truancy long ago. He has the worst attendance record in Congress. Unlike Cruz, Rubiobot does and says what his wealthy contributors want him to. That’s why he continues to repeat the same lines over and over as if he has been pre-programmed by his contributors, Glenn Beck and George W. Bush’s foreign policy advisers. In fact, he has. Is it any wonder, then, that Rubio has threatened to invade half the nations in the Middle East and beyond?

Like Cruz and Trump, Rubio’s policy positions are way to the right of the majority of Americans. A Rubio presidency would be no less disastrous than that of Cruz’s or Trump’s. In fact, if you long for the “good old days” of a Bush presidency based on unjustifiable wars, unaffordable tax cuts and skyrocketing deficits, you have found your candidate in Rubio.

Such is the current state of the GOP.