Destruction Of The US. (Part Seven – Income Disparity)

For several decades, we’ve heard about growing income inequality. I believe that is a poor description of the problem. It’s more about income disparity. Since there are differences in education, capabilities and cost of living, incomes cannot and should not ever be equal. As a nation, the US may occasionally struggle with recessions and unemployment which can be mitigated by government policies. But no one – NO ONE – who works a full-time job should be paid less than a living wage!

The current situation is unreasonable and unsustainable. And it is almost entirely the result of political decisions made to benefit corporations and the very wealthy – the people who really control our government through lobbying and campaign donations.

As productivity has continued to rise; as more highly-paid workers have been replaced by robots; as more workers toil in minimum wage jobs, corporate CEOs have seen their compensation dramatically rise. So, too, have stock traders on Wall Street. Indeed, the people at the top of every company have never done better. Never mind that they are profiting on the suffering of their employees and the largess of taxpayers. For example, Walmart is notorious for paying many of its employees minimum wage. To help compensate those employees, Walmart helps them apply for government welfare programs paid for by taxpayers. At the same time, Walmart accepts corporate welfare in the form of government infrastructure assistance and tax relief, again paid for by taxpayers.

It is because of this system that the owners of Walmart – the Waltons – have become one of the world’s richest families.

Another reason for the increasing disparity is the decades-long attack on labor unions and collective bargaining. Republican-led legislatures have routinely voted to make their states “right to work” states (i.e. non-union states). And they have passed laws making it increasingly difficult for workers to organize. As a result, they have effectively ended collective bargaining in those states. Wages for ordinary working people have stagnated. Benefits such as health insurance and dental plans have been weakened or eliminated altogether at the same time health care costs have exploded. A recent study found that the cost of family health insurance now exceeds $20,000. Those who are unable to afford quality health insurance are one medical emergency away from bankruptcy as documented in 2017 when there were more than 767,000 bankruptcies due to illness and medical bills.

The US is the only nation in the developed world where this happens!

Additionally, many US corporations and employers have reduced or eliminated retirement and savings plans for their employees. Consequently, the median savings for an American family in 2016 was just $7,000. And many households have no savings at all. Far too many Americans are forced to work multiple jobs to survive. Even then they often struggle from paycheck to paycheck.

Is it any wonder that the number of homeless in the US has grown?

Those in professional jobs are not immune to the growing disparity. Teachers with advanced degrees make so little money in some states that their families actually qualify for food assistance. Yet they’re still expected to pay back the student loans they accumulated while obtaining the required degrees – loans that can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

It’s true that American workers will never realize financial equality with business managers and owners. But they shouldn’t have to watch those people buy mansions, vacation homes and yachts while they struggle to put food on their tables.

Why You Should Really Want Immigrants To Have Health Care.

Who raises and picks the produce you eat? Who works in slaughterhouses and butchers the meat you eat? Who cooks your food when you dine in restaurants? Who washes the dishes? Who cleans the tables? Who serves your food?

Immigrants, that’s who!

That’s because immigrants are willing to do the jobs that few American citizens are willing to do. They are the only ones who are willing to perform back-breaking work for long hours at minimum wage. Yet, despite the fact that most of these immigrants pay taxes – including payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare – they do not have access to affordable health care. Moreover, if they are undocumented, they are now afraid to show up at a hospital or clinic for fear of being apprehended by ICE. That’s especially true following the recent raids of Mississippi chicken processing plants.

Now think about that for a minute. The people who handle your food are as likely as you to contract a contagious disease while riding to work, while shopping at WalMart, or while attending church. (They are, after all, human.) But unlike you, most are unable to see a doctor when they get sick. And given the threat of being arrested and deported, they are afraid to seek help when they contract a cold, the flu or any of the myriad of contagious diseases. And, since they are paid minimum wage or less, they can’t even afford to take a day off.

What could possibly go wrong?

And, if that’s not enough to make you reconsider our treatment of immigrants, consider this: Their children are enrolled in the same public schools as yours. They attend the same classes; play the same sports; swim in the same pools. That means any diseases that go untreated in their homes are likely to end up in your home.

So go ahead, treat them as criminals. Deny them green cards. Deny them a living wage. Deny them health care benefits. Make sure they can’t take time off to recover from an illness. Make them afraid to seek medical care. Push them further and further underground. Just remember: When they get sick, you’re likely to get sick, too.

Of course, if you’re a white nationalist like Trump, you could demand that ICE round up all undocumented immigrants and deport them. (They’d have to include all of those working at Trump properties.) But then what are you going to you eat?

Free Stuff.

The GOP, its propaganda network, and the corporate-owned media are fond of accusing progressive Democrats of trying to buy votes by offering “free stuff” to voters. Disregarding the fact that nothing the government does is, in fact, free, this has been a popular accusation for longer than I can remember. The GOP used the same talking point when Social Security and Medicare were first proposed, claiming that the programs were unaffordable and that they would bankrupt the nation. Then, like now, the GOP also accused the Democrats who backed those programs of being socialists.

But it’s important to note that GOP candidates also regularly offer free stuff as a way of buying votes. And they also engage in a form of socialism. The difference is in the beneficiaries.

Social Security and Medicare are, in reality, retirement and medical insurance that directly benefit those who pay the premiums through payroll deductions – ordinary working Americans. And the current Democratic proposals, like universal health care and debt-free college education, would also directly benefit ordinary American workers.

The GOP proposals, on the other hand, pander to a different audience: Large multinational corporations, the military-industrial complex and the very, very wealthy.

Take the GOP-passed Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. Most working Americans saw little to no cuts in their income taxes while corporations and the wealthy realized dramatic cuts to their tax burden. The law also allowed multinationals to “repatriate” corporate profits held offshore to avoid paying US income taxes. The GOP promised that the bill would boost the economy and create jobs. It didn’t. Instead, most of the money was used to pay executive bonuses and to buy back stock. That had the effect of starving the companies of capital resulting in layoffs. The same thing happened in 2004 when the US last “repatriated” corporate dollars at reduced tax rates. That year, 58 giant corporations realized 70 percent of the benefit, saving an estimated $64 billion in taxes while, at the same time, slashing an estimated 600,000 jobs.

The real cost of the 2017 tax cut has yet to be tallied. But it has already resulted in record deficits and a record national debt. It was nothing less than a giant gift to corporations paid for by average working Americans!

And that’s but one example. There are many, many others.

The GOP has pushed cuts to inheritance taxes and cuts to capital gains taxes that benefit the wealthy. And, under the guise of its repeatedly debunked trickle-down economic theory, the GOP offers much more free stuff to corporations. Those gifts take the form of corporate incentives to expand or to relocate, long-term tax relief to corporations for expanding in their current locations and promising, but seldom delivering, new jobs, and Tax Increment Financing which exempts corporate facilities from property taxes whenever their owners build or purchase a building and promise to create jobs – a practice so pervasive that many cities have never collected property taxes on their most iconic buildings. Sadly, some “moderate” Democrats have voted for these things, too.

In addition, there are many less obvious free gifts to corporations. Governments pay the cost of building utilities and other infrastructure to reach corporate building sites. And governments are often forced to pick up the cost of food stamps and housing assistance for the employees of Walmart and other companies that fail to pay a living wage. (The cost of subsidizing Walmart’s underpaid workers was estimated at $6.2 billion in 2014.) Governments also pick up the cost of cleaning up mines and other sites despoiled by extraction industries after the corporations have walked away with the resources and profits.

Even more subtle are the allocations to defense contractors who have little oversight and few, if any, real penalties for cost over-runs and delays. In fact, a 2016 study found that the Pentagon can’t account for trillions of dollars in spending. Similarly, private prison corporations have been given sweetheart deals by their GOP sponsors. During the current border crisis, it has been reported that private prison corporations are being paid more than $700 per day to house the refugees and economic immigrants in horrific conditions. For that price, the detainees should be living in luxury hotels. Not suffering in conditions where they are denied access to sufficient food and water, denied basic hygiene, and forced to sleep on concrete with only a foil blanket.

The estimated cost of universal healthcare and free education is dwarfed by the gifts currently being passed along to corporations and the uber-wealthy. Moreover, the progressive Democratic candidates have done something the GOP hasn’t. They’ve explained how they will pay for their “gifts.”

So, the next time you hear someone deride progressive Democratic candidates by calling them socialists and attacking them for their offers of “free stuff,” keep in mind that what’s being “given away” is simply a matter of priorities. The question is: What’s more important to you? American workers? Or greedy corporations and the very wealthy?

No, Democrats Have Not Moved Left. The GOP Has Moved Right…Way, Way Right.

It’s popular for the media – even the so-called liberal media – to portray the “Squad” and many of the Democratic presidential candidates as far left. As if they are some aberration from the core party principles. Of course, that’s exactly what Republicans want you to believe. Indeed, even some Democratic leaders and “strategists” would have you buy into that claptrap.

It’s not only not true. It’s not even close to reality.

In the 1930s and 40s, the FDR administration and mainstream Democrats embraced social democracy as part of the New Deal. To rescue our economy FDR, the Democratic Party and even some Republicans incorporated ideas that were socialist in nature in order to move people out of the soup lines and back to work. For example, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) built more than 620,000 miles of streets, more than 10,000 bridges, dozens of airports, hydroelectric dams, public buildings and large numbers of houses and apartments. Much of these are still in use today. Rural electric cooperatives (a form of socialism) brought telephones and electricity to hundreds of thousands of rural Americans who had been ignored by large utilities. In addition, the New Deal’s Social Security rescued the elderly from abject poverty. FDR had even proposed a Second New Deal which included single-payer health care, believing that access to quality health care was a human right.

When fascism and support for Nazi Germany threatened to take over the US, Democrats rejected it. And, when World War II broke out, Americans resorted to what some would now consider socialism by pulling together to produce necessary war materials and to ration consumer products in favor of supporting our troops. Indeed, most of our population temporarily abandoned free market capitalism in order to defeat the Axis powers.

Though many in the GOP opposed some of FDR’s initiatives, they supported others. In fact, the GOP was almost equally divided between conservatives and liberals. But things began to change as the result of Senator Joe McCarthy’s Red Scare in the 50s and the growing Cold War.

As post-war Europe followed the path pioneered by FDR, US politicians from both parties distanced themselves from anything that could remotely be misconstrued as communist. That included social democracy. Yet, even in the 70s, the GOP approved of some liberal ideas. For example, in response to Senator Ted Kennedy’s proposal for single-payer health care, Nixon proposed a health care mandate (Obamacare, anyone?). Nixon also supported the formation of the EPA and OSHA. And he aggressively desegregated public schools.

Only after the GOP saw an opportunity to solidify the Jim Crow South by implementing its southern strategy and creating division over abortion to bring evangelicals into the party, did it begin to lurch far to the right. Since then, it has used race and immigration to divide voters and pander to its rural base. And it has used Christian fundamentalist social issues to hold evangelicals – the so-called “values voters” – in line. Meanwhile, right-wing radio hosts and Roger Ailes’s right-wing propaganda network (aka Fox News) have pushed the party even further to the extreme right.

At the same time, Democrats, in trying to recapture the southern states it lost by pushing through the Civil Rights Acts, began to move to the center-right in order to occupy the space once held by mainstream Republicans. For president, they twice nominated the governors of southern states to win elections. And the party has continued to try to bring southerners back into the fold by moving past the center and trending further and further to the right, at the same time denying or ignoring the wishes of traditional Democratic voters in urban areas and in the rural areas of Rust Belt states.

Voters’ positions on abortion, once a non-political issue, now define them as Republicans or Democrats. And, as the Christian fundamentalists and right-wing media have fomented anger over immigration, gay marriage and transgender use of bathrooms (otherwise known as discrimination) Democrats have struggled to respond. They either had to join in the discrimination or be labeled as extreme leftists.

So here we are. We now have a center-right Democratic party that has struggled to adhere to the principles it once cherished, and an extreme far-right Republican party that uses racism and Christian fundamentalism to disguise its fascist, pro-billionaire agenda.

The GOP has long since abandoned its tradition of fiscal conservatism combined with social compassion. It is now the “everybody for themselves party” that is trying to dismantle every aspect of our government except for the military. It would have you ignore issues such as growing debt and deficits, failing infrastructure, income disparity, the lack of retirement pensions and increasingly unaffordable healthcare. Instead, it would have you blame immigrants, “uppity” people of color and the LGBTQ population for your problems. For those of you who refuse to support the party and its narrow-minded, hateful agenda, it attempts to gerrymander away your rights and make it increasingly difficult for you to vote.

And now that a growing number of Democrats are intent on implementing real, substantive change in order to give ordinary working Americans a fair shake, the GOP and its corporate-controlled media try to label them as leftists and socialists. They would have you believe that they are un-American and dangerous. But they are as American and as mainstream as FDR, JFK, Obama and even Ronald Reagan.

It’s Trump, Mitch McConnell, the NRA and the GOP who fail to live up to the ideals of our nation’s Founders

The Bleak Future Of The US As Envisioned By Today’s GOP.

Forget for a moment, if you can, the man currently occupying the White House. As bad as he and his cartel of corrupt officials are, in many ways, Trump is merely an aberration – a con man running a scam to enrich himself with taxpayer money at the expense of decency and world peace.

The real threat is taking place in Congress and behind the scenes, perpetuated by GOP leaders and their sponsors. For example, outgoing House Speaker Paul Ryan is a devotee of Ayn Rand, the “philosopher” who rejected religion, morality, ethics, altruism and, most of all, any government actions for the common good. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell skillfully blocked virtually every initiative of the previous president, stole a Supreme Court seat for the GOP and evangelicals, and as one of the largest recipients of campaign funds from the NRA, staunchly supports guns as a replacement for law and civility.

Charles Koch, the oily ideologue who has poured hundreds of millions into GOP campaigns in order to change local, state and federal governments by electing those who embrace his libertarian beliefs, is a disciple of renegade “economist” F.A. “Baldy” Harper who vehemently argued against labor unions, the five-day work week, child labor laws, employer benefits such as health insurance and pensions, the minimum wage and mandatory public education.

Casino owner Sheldon Adelson has donated hundreds of millions to GOP candidates who will remake the US government in the mold of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israeli administration – an administration whose vision of peace is imprisoning and murdering Palestinians, threatening its neighbors with pre-emptive military strikes and launching disproportionate military responses to any provocation. Adelson’s most recent contributions resulted in Trump replacing the few moderates in his administration with war-hawks such as Mike Pompeo and John Bolton. His donations are also the primary motivation behind Trump’s decision to abandon the Iran nuclear agreement and, along with it, our allies.

Robert Mercer and his daughter, Rebekah, bankrolled Trump’s campaign for office. Together with Rupert Murdoch’s Fox News and the Sinclair Broadcast Group, they have changed the national dialogue about news media and factual reporting by attacking the free press and creating a multimillion dollar propaganda network. They, or more precisely, their millions in donations have given us Trump, Breitbart, Cambridge Analytica, Steve Bannon, Kellyanne Conway, and Nigel Farage.

So what is their end game?

They all seem to have visions of returning the US to the “Gilded Age” when it was controlled by a few oligarchs and large corporations. They prioritize property above people, viewing workers as mere commodities to be used as needed and discarded when they are no longer of value. They want to be free to extract natural resources, and therefore wealth, without fear of regulation or repercussions. They want complete control of their billions – all of their billions – without being obligated to pay taxes. They want to eliminate social welfare programs and safety nets, such as SNAP, CHIP, Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security. They even want to eliminate public education in order to control thought.

Of course, ordinary taxpayers and voters would be repulsed by their plans if they were openly stated. So, in order to accomplish their objectives, the oligarchs have chosen to disguise their intent. Instead of presenting their vision to the public, they have used their billions to commandeer an entire political party. They have persistently proposed balanced budget amendments to the Constitution which, combined with a growing defense budget, would end many social programs. Failing that, they are electing those who will pass a never-ending series of tax cuts designed to starve the government of the funds needed to enforce regulations; to pay for welfare programs; to pay for safety nets.

In doing so, they hope that, by expanding the national debt to a crisis level, the voting public will have no choice but to accept such draconian cuts.

The Real State Of Our Union.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can Democrats Win With Identity Politics?

Since the 2016 election, Mark Lilla and others have been decrying Democrats’ efforts to address the needs of individual groups, such as women, African-Americans, Latinos, Muslims, Jews, atheists, the LGBTQ community, minimum wage workers, labor unions, teachers, senior citizens, immigrants, environmentalists and others. Such efforts have been decried as “identity politics,” as if that is something negative.

Let’s stop and think about that for a moment.

The aforementioned groups represent some of the most vulnerable parts of our society. Yet, combined, they make up a significant majority of the nation’s population. And all of these groups are constantly under attack by Republican policies.

Republicans want to deny contraception and abortion to women, taking away their rights to control their own bodies and their lives. In addition, the GOP has used a variety of tricks – including gerrymandering, voter ID laws, reducing the number of polling places and early voting hours to suppress black votes. They have passed “show us your papers” laws to harass Latinos. They have passed laws to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people and non-Christians. They have fought increases to the minimum wage. They have fought collective bargaining. They have fought against raises and pensions for teachers. They’ve tried to take away health care from tens of millions of citizens. And they threaten to reduce or eliminate safety nets for the poor and the elderly.

Protecting these groups does NOT mean the Democrats are engaging in identity politics to show preference for some groups over others. It merely shows that they care for others.

Meanwhile, the GOP has engaged in its own brand of identity politics – focusing on protecting the interests of large, greedy corporations, the wealthy, intolerant evangelical “Christians” and white supremacists. Republicans pander to those who view others as commodities to be exploited or as threats to their dominance. In doing so, they foment fear and hate. Yet few political pundits question their strategy because they believe that is why Republicans have won the Oval Office and the majority of seats in Congress, as well as numerous gubernatorial seats and state legislatures.

However, the pundits tend to ignore the structural advantages that have led to those wins. Republicans control more than 90 percent of talk radio shows and numerous Internet “news” sites that shamelessly create false news stories and narratives.

Republicans benefit from a popular cable network that, under the cloak of a news organization, serves as a megaphone for the Republican National Committee. Through Sinclair Broadcast Group, they will soon control the majority of local TV news programming. They control an organization (ALEC) sponsored by large corporations that writes legislation for conservative legislators. They benefit from the Kochtopus, a maze of non-profit organizations that funnel billions into political races to support right-wing candidates. They even benefit from the sensational supermarket tabloids that specialize in stories attacking celebrities and glamorizing Trump.

All of this makes it easy for Republicans to engage in hateful politics that divide us.

Yet, despite these disadvantages, I believe that Democrats can still win, but not by abandoning the vulnerable. To win, the Democratic Party needs to improve its leadership and unify behind the party’s long-held principles of supporting the majority of Americans, especially those who cash paychecks rather than stock dividend checks. Democrats must continue to reach out to Americans who face discrimination, those who struggle to make ends meet, those who have retired, and those who need a helping hand.

The Democratic Party needs to better communicate its principles. It needs to create a brand; a brand that will make it crystal clear that it is unapologetically committed to improving lives and protecting the dignity of ALL Americans regardless of gender, race, religion, age or economic status.

The Democratic Party needs to hold Republicans accountable for trying to turn Americans against one another. It needs to offer hope for a kinder, more prosperous future.

In other words, it needs to explain that it represents “We the People.”

America First? Not From My Perspective.

In the past week, my wife and I had the pleasure of visiting the Alps of Bavaria. Not only were we treated to the splendor of one of the most beautiful places on Earth. We were able to observe a country that works.

Though Germany may not be a military super-power, it is an economic power. More important, it is extremely successful in delivering to its citizens a high quality of life. As you fly across Germany, you notice a relatively pristine landscape with cities and farmland surrounded by large forests. Instead of clear-cutting those forests for timber, the Germans appear to use selective harvesting methods which preserves the beauty of the forests and limits the potential of wildfires while still providing timber for construction.

Virtually all of the homes are well-kept and many feature solar panels on their roofs. Indeed, solar generation accounts for nearly 7 percent of Germany’s power needs as compared to just 1.5 percent in the US. This is despite the fact that large portions of the US have many more days of sunshine than Germany. (For comparison, one of our sunniest states – Arizona – generates just 3.4 percent of its needs with solar.)

There is little visible trash. The rivers, even the roadsides, are clean, likely the result of an aggressive recycling program. Recycling and trash receptacles are everywhere. And many supermarkets have efficient programs that provide refunds for returning plastic bottles. Further, most Germans use recyclable shopping bags without complaint.

Though often narrow, all of Germany’s roads and bridges seem in good repair, especially in comparison to our crumbling infrastructure. And many German commuters have the option of traveling to and from work in electric trains.

All German citizens enjoy access to quality health care, the cost of which is split between the government and private insurers much like our Medicare. In addition, German workers enjoy considerable time off for their families and for travel. They have the right to be represented by labor unions. Many workers even enjoy representation on the boards of directors of their companies.

There is no visible poverty – at least not in comparison to large portions of the US. Germany not only grows most of its food, its produce is untainted by GMO. The nation is also phasing out the use of pesticides. As a result, German produce tastes as though you just picked it from your own garden.

Despite stereotypes, the German people are active, many of them regularly hiking in the mountains. Indeed, on a mountain trail, we encountered everyone from families with young children to a woman in her nineties. Though obviously suffering from osteoporosis and using a cane, she seemed to be not even breathing deeply as she climbed past us on a steep trail. Perhaps that’s why Germany’s life expectancy is longer than that of the US.

Gun violence in Germany is virtually non-existent, especially compared to the US. Per capita, German gun deaths are less than a tenth of those in the US.

America first? American exceptionalism?

Yes, the United States is the world’s most powerful nation militarily and economically. But, in the things that really matter, such as quality of life, we are falling behind…far behind.

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!