The Rebranding Of The United States Of America.

The Revolutionary War was not only a response to tyranny. It was a reaction to Great Britain’s militarization of the colonies. That’s why the Founders were opposed to a standing army. Indeed, that was why the 2nd Amendment tied the right to bear arms to a “well-regulated militia.” But, over time, our population has embraced militarism to a degree that would almost certainly make the Founders shudder.

It is this militarization that has caused the US to be at war all but 13 years of our nation’s 243-year existence. Want to expand our territory? Take the lands from Native Americans. Want to control Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines? Race to a war with Spain over false pretenses. Want to annex the American Southwest? Gin up a war with Mexico. Want to open trade with China? Attack the weakened dynasty. Want to give our corporations access to an endless supply of bananas? Send our troops into Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Nicaragua. Want a shorter path from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast? Threaten war with Colombia which controlled Panama. Want to protect our corporations’ access to the natural resources of Southeast Asia? Send military “advisors” into the region. Want to control Middle Eastern oil and establish a military base in the region? Send our troops into Kuwait and Iraq.

Despite an already long, sad history of bullying, what may have launched the militarization of the US was the poetic tribute of Francis Scott Key to our battle flag during the attack on Fort McHenry. Since then, the “bombs bursting in air” imagery has been taken far too literally. And it really ramped up during the age of television following WWII. That’s when the networks discovered they could cheaply fill time with movies celebrating the military heroism of our soldiers in Europe and Asia along with cartoons that vilified Germans, Italians and Japanese.

Since then, militarism has often been confused for patriotism.

Indeed, it seems each year we celebrate militarism more than peace and freedom. Military flyovers begin each major sporting event. The National Anthem precedes every major event and many minor ones. And, more recently, the flag has been co-opted by those who seem to fail to understand and appreciate its true meaning. Witness Trump’s show of literally embracing the flag.

The effect has been devastating. The symbol of America has been rebranded. Once revered internationally as a symbol of freedom and good, more and more, the stars and stripes has come to represent a threat, racism, an inflexible and unforgiving form of religion, and a political party led by a bully.

Never has that been more apparent than during the July 4th Trumpalooza in Washington, DC. An event intended to celebrate our freedom from tyranny was turned into a political display of our military might. VIP tickets were given only to donors and supporters by the RNC. There were tanks and other military hardware on display and there were flyovers by our latest and greatest war machines.

The event cost millions. For what purpose? To appease the current occupant of the White House; to make him feel as powerful as the dictators and strong men he so admires; to jumpstart his re-election campaign. It wasn’t a celebration of our nation’s founding so much as an opportunity for Trump to use the military and our flag as a brand that he can sell to multinational corporations, military contractors, evangelicals and racists.

Instead of celebrating our Dear Leader and his favorite weapons of war, we would be better advised to consider the wise words of Benjamin Berell Ferencz, the last living prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials: “War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars. And all decent people.”

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.

The Real Tragedy Of Notre Dame de Paris.

In the 24 hours following the fire that partially burned the Notre Dame cathedral, donors have already pledged more than $1 billion for its repair. Certainly it was a tragedy for Parisians, for France, for Catholics and for the lovers of history and art. But consider what else could be done with that money. Imagine if the Vatican, an organization that holds approximately $1.6 billion in stockholdings, paid for the reconstruction of Notre Dame itself and the donors’ money was used to address far more serious tragedies elsewhere in the world. Imagine how much human suffering could be alleviated if corporations and the wealthy cared as much about people facing real hardships.

For example, $1 billion could provide approximately 3 billion meals for the Yeminis who are starving as the result of the US-backed war on Yemen by the Saudis. $1 billion could go a long way to address the tragic conditions faced by Central American refugees in their own countries. And what if we added the billions the Trump administration is squandering on a wall to feed the ego of the orange sociopath in the White House?

If the corporations and the wealthy so traumatized by seeing a Parisian landmark burn were equally concerned about human beings, they could solve most of the poverty in the world. They could improve conditions for most of people suffering as the result of war, climate change or the greed of brutal dictators. However, they only seem to care about the things that affect them directly or that have captured their imaginations.

Perhaps they’re merely influenced by media coverage.

As Notre Dame burned, many of the TV networks were transfixed, devoting virtually all of their time to scenes of the fire and of onlookers mourning. But on the same day, a fire broke out at the al-Asqa Mosque in Jerusalem. Where was their coverage of that fire? Where was their coverage of the three black churches in Louisiana that were burned by a white nationalist?

There are many serious tragedies in the world. Most go relatively unnoticed and unfunded. The fire at Notre Dame was not one of them.

Are Baby Boomers Really At Fault For Today’s Problems?

The Millennial generation seems to believe that all of the national and world problems are the fault of the Baby Boomer generation’s unabated greed in accepting Social Security and Medicare. Really? Do we not get credit for paying into these insurance programs for our entire working careers?

Ignoring that unwarranted attack, consider the world the Boomer generation inherited – a nuclear-tipped Cold War, the consequences of imperial expansion and cultural genocide, the destruction of a highly-efficient rail system in favor of cars, the depletion of forests and other precious resources, as well as the near-extinction of the American Bison, Bald Eagles and other wildlife species.

Like generations before us, rather than accept the world we inherited, many of us have tried hard to improve it. It was the Boomer generation that was responsible for the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, and the fight for LGBTQ rights. We fought for the disabled to create the American Disabilities Act. And many of us rebelled against our own government to end the brutal and unnecessary war in Vietnam.

Our generation created human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and the Southern Poverty Law Center. Many participated in the Peace Corps to help those less fortunate than ourselves.

The Baby Boomer generation fought for zero population growth and access to contraceptives in order to end over-population and the resultant stress on our planet’s limited resources. We helped create the Environmental Protection Agency to end the widespread dumping of chemicals into our water and air – a practice so prevalent the Cuyahoga River actually caught fire thirteen times! We fought for anti-littering laws. We fought to expose the dangers of cigarettes, trans fatty acids, asbestos, DDT and other dangerous products. We created recycling programs. And, once we were made aware of the problem, many of us have fought to replace fossil fuels in order to reduce our population’s impact on the climate.

We popularized health and fitness awareness. We fought for product labeling to list the ingredients in processed foods. Led by Ralph Nader, we created the National Transportation Safety Board to make our cars safer. Indeed, we created safety standards for most of the products sold in the US. We fought against the clear-cutting of forests; against the hunting of endangered wildlife.

As a boomer, I’m proud of our many successes…even many of our failures. Because I believe time will show that many of us were on the right side of history. Could we have done better? Of course. And not all of us have been willing to fight the good fights. We are, after all, the generation that includes Donald Trump.

For that, I am truly sorry!

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.

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.

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.

What’s Really Behind America’s Gun Deaths?

Following the most lethal mass shooting in US history, it’s once again time to take a serious look at the cause. By all accounts, the Las Vegas shooter was not a terrorist – at least not in the traditional sense. He was no Osama bin Laden. He was not a member of ISIS. Moreover, he had no criminal record. He had no history of mental illness. And he had no history of domestic abuse.

What he did have was a penchant for collecting a large number of military-style weapons and an enormous amount of ammunition. The shooter was one of a tiny minority of Americans with such stockpiles. According to a study by Northeastern University and Harvard University reported by the Guardian, 130 million of America’s guns are in the hands of just 3 percent of American adults. That means each of these Americans, mostly men, own an average of 19 guns!

For what purpose? Why do these people feel the need to own such an arsenal?

Certainly, a small percentage of these people are collectors of war memorabilia and antique weaponry. But what about the others? What drives them? 19 guns are 18 more than necessary for self-protection. 19 guns are at least a dozen more than necessary for the most avid hunter of game large or small. And 19 is many times the number of guns needed for target shooting.

So how do we explain the rest?

I believe these owners are driven by a combination of anti-government paranoia and a fascination with all things military. In other words, we have a number of apparent Seal team wannabes who have become convinced – likely by the NRA and right-wing conspiracy theorists – that the government is coming for their weapons; people who fear that the US will be taken over by the United Nations; who believe that immigrants – especially those of color – are coming for their jobs and wealth.

These are also men who were militarized from an early age; from the endless displays of military might; from the military flyovers before football games and other large events. Maybe they are motivated by the plethora of TV shows, movies and video games based on the military. If so, they aren’t be alone. Far too many Americans can only define patriotism in military terms.

Have you ever asked yourself why? Is there really no other way to share our love of country than to display weapons of war? To superficially thank veterans for their service? To adorn our homes with flags?

More to the point, why are military-style weapons in high demand when they are of little use for hunting or self-defense? Who but an assassin needs a .50 caliber sniper rifle? Who but a mass shooter or a criminal needs a device to make a semi-automatic weapon mimic the rate of fire of fully-automatic military assault rifles? Who but a law enforcement officer or a bodyguard would feel the need to carry a concealed gun? And what civilian other than a bully or someone with a very small penis would want to strap a gun over his shoulder or onto his hip to intimidate those around him?

Why do so many of our citizens think education and health care are too expensive for our government to afford, yet think nothing of spending many times more money on new military weapons systems? Have we become so affected by right-wing propaganda that we think the military is the answer to every conflict? Horrifyingly, a large percentage of our population – mostly Republicans – now believe a military takeover of our government could be a good thing in certain circumstances.

Can you imagine the reaction of our founders if they were alive to see that?

Admittedly, there are far more questions than answers; questions that everyone should be asking of themselves and those around them.

If we are to ever end the outrageous number of gun deaths in the US, we need to regulate the number of guns and limit their firepower. But that alone won’t end the shootings. We need to transform our collective psyche from one that celebrates violence and war to one that celebrates life and accomplishments. That doesn’t require our nation to weaken our military. It simply means that we put violence in perspective as a last resort…a necessary evil that is only rarely necessary for survival. Not as something to be used whenever it serves our purposes; to bully others into deferring to our wishes.

The reality is that guns aren’t the cause of our mass shootings. They’re the means. They’re also a symptom of a much larger problem.

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.