What’s Not in the News is a Problem

As President Trump’s trip to Saudi Arabia, Israel and other countries in the region begins, his staff is working double time in convincing everyone that there are no tensions outside the U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson went so far as to say no one else in the rest of the world is even remotely interested nor do they have time to watch what is “happening domestically here”. That’s not exactly true. There are many reasons for more than a few countries to pay attention to U.S. actions.

North Korea

Today, Tillerson is trying to convince North Korea to  “trust the U.S.” and that we intend to keep a promise of no hostility. Tillerson also is trying to convince those leaders to “refrain from conducting anymore nuclear or missile tests so as to create the right atmosphere for talks”.

Also this week, Russia decided to ignore Trump’s call to tighten sanctions against North Korea. While many countries happily obliged, Russia decided not to. A weekly ferry service between Rajin, a North Korean port, and Vladivostock, a city in Russia begins in days.

Syria/Russia

I think it’s important to note the lack of any coverage from the media regarding yesterday’s U.S. strike against the Syrian Army. Both Syria and Russia are fuming.  Russia’s Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov made it clear, “This is totally unacceptable; it is a violation of Syrian sovereignty. Of course, it does not help the political process”.

Another Russian leader, Senator Konstantin Kosachev, said:

(The English translation isn’t shown on some apps, so I’ve included a screenshot below as well)

Turkey

Before Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan arrived here earlier this week, he too had harsh words for Trump’s decisions. Last week, Trump decided to provide arms to the Kurdish People’s Protection Units. The U.S. policy that allowed this to happen is rarely used, mostly because the U.S. hasn’t had any reason to aggressively confront Turkey. The Kurdish group is considered to be a terrorist organization by Turkey, though Trump clearly disagrees. Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim reiterated his country’s stance and said that it would be wise for the United States to reverse its decision, or else, “The consequences will bring negative outcomes, not only for Turkey but also for America.”

This week, Erdogan was in the U.S. to meet with Trump. The protests outside the White House turned violent and Erdogan watched his own people attack American protesters. In all fairness, he couldn’t exactly make his way to the street brawls and order them to stop no more than Trump could have. It’s the quiet contentment that is so remarkable.

Between these ongoing problems, and there are more, coupled with problems here in the U.S., my guess is Trump’s feeling like a fish out of water. The attention he’s receiving isn’t what he had in mind once he donned the U.S. President cap.

Does AHCA Turn the Clock Back to Pre-Obamacare and Little More?

Had a chance to examine the “Republican American Health Care Act” or AHCA, as it’s now known? Only the American government can put together a series of words that are as fascinating as they are incredulous. I’ve written several pieces today to cover the House approval of the new healthcare bill and you can be sure there remains some uncertainty with future obstacles as it moves through the American legislative process.

Here are a few of the bigger points – and again, there are still a lot of opportunities for our elected officials to bleed over the Act with their demands. This is not a complete look at the bill – not by a long shot, but it does address the key concerns everyone’s talking about.

First, one of the big changes is that you are no longer required to have insurance and you won’t take a hit on your taxes each year. Tax credits are redressed, too, if you do have coverage.

Guaranteed coverage for pre-existing conditions is still built in, but there are a few elements that define that aspect of the rule. For instance, an insurance company can’t charge you more for a pre-existing illness, at least not directly. There are three specific waivers that are really the “meat and potatoes” of this bill and they speak to the pre-existing conditions confusion.

The big fact: your state can apply for any or all of these waivers. To get a better idea of what your state might or might not do, take a look at the current breakdown here.  You can see, in detail, what’s referred to as the Essential Health Benefits Benchmarks by state. It might give you some insight as to what to expect. Here in Mississippi, you can bet our governor has a far different take on the waivers than what the governors of California or New York might have.

Under Obamacare, or ACA, an insurance company could not refuse to issue a policy because of one’s health status. That requirement remains in the overhaul (or whatever Team Trump is calling it). Here’s where your state’s position becomes important:

  1. One waiver focuses on the applicant’s age and how much an insurance company can charge. As it is now, an insurance company can charge older policy holders up to three times more than what they offer younger policy holders. The new rules allow an insurer to increase that difference to five times – with a door left open for even more increases in the coming years.
  2. You may remember the huge debate surrounding required coverage with Obamacare. Insurance companies were bound to cover outpatient services, emergency medical services, hospital stays, pregnancy, pediatric care, substance abuse programs, mental health services, prescription drug coverage, lab services and a few other services. Birth control and “breastfeeding coverage” was also required, though I’m not entirely sure what kind of health coverage a breastfeeding mother would require. There was some controversy with a few of the covered services.

Your state’s leaders will now define the parameters as they are tasked with the responsibility of determining what essential benefits residents will have access to as part of their insurance coverage. I don’t know how each state views coverage for certain illnesses, but I do know that Florida has had one hell of a time dealing with the opioid drug crisis. Many of that state’s leaders are blind to the problem. These are the kinds of challenges that will have to be addressed – there are lives at stake and nothing will ever change that, no matter how many times you change the name of the law.

  1. Insurers will be able to raise their premiums if a person drops his coverage for any reason. If you drop coverage and don’t re-enroll within 63 days, you’ll likely get hit with a higher premium – and the insurer is free to increase it considerably. Here’s the problem with that:

In 2015, the Kaiser Family Foundation released a report, “Medical Debt Among People with Health Insurance”. (On a side note – the information presented is a perfect snapshot of the common challenges with healthcare in this country.) As part of the report, 23 people from all walks of life and with varying income and family dynamics were selected.

The goal was to find out how medical debt affects families, especially if they have healthcare coverage. Of the 23 people, 18 said they have had an illness that triggered an income loss. All said they experienced damaged credit ratings as a result of those illnesses. It didn’t need to be a financially catastrophic illness, either. All agreed that “much smaller amounts proved unaffordable”.

Of course, major health events triggered big problems, and for the “vast majority of those interviewed, the medical event associated with the debt also left the patient unable to work or prompted a working family member to quit or reduce hours in order to become a caregiver.”

Take one guess as to what happens next.

They can no longer afford to cover their insurance premiums.

They can re-enroll later, but if it’s outside the 63 day window, they face a punishment penalty for dropping coverage and now, there likely exists a pre-existing condition that the insurer is free to price into the policy.

So, what does all of this mean? Best I can tell, we go back to a pre-Obama healthcare world. That’s not a bad thing entirely, but there were some much-needed protections that were a part of Obamacare. It’s a tradeoff, but whether or not it’s worth it is something each person will have to determine for himself. Here’s an interactive Kaiser map where you can enter your state, age and a few other details and get a better idea of what to expect.

The Dormant Period is Over – the World is Watching

Ever since the word “tomahawks” began trending on Twitter, there’s been a lot of attention focused on world leaders and their responses to the way those tomahawks were used last week by the Trump Administration in a strike against Syria. No one wants to be an alarmist, but these days have much uncertainty attached to them. We’re seeing “potential ways” that the Trump Administration is considering in how we might handle the growing number of nations that are proactively situating themselves in regions of the world that could spell trouble for our people. Many of these problems have laid dormant for years. Now, though, President Trump’s decision to take out what is now being described as a fifth of Syria’s air force is coming with more than a few serious, though not wholly unexpected, repercussions.

You have to wonder while we’re busy keeping up with a giraffe’s gestation period and comparing the number of golf outings of current and past presidents, what are countries like Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and Syria doing? You can believe one thing – these countries and their people do not care about April the giraffe.

NASDAQ took a hit today when it was announced China had sent 150k troops to the border between North and South Korea. Kim Jong-un may not be able to improve his country’s weapons, but China has his back. And the reason for China deploying “humanitarian aid” to the border? It doesn’t trust the unpredictable Trump Administration and its potential for further acts against Syria and Russia. So much for that “tremendous” new friendship between Presidents Trump and Xi Jinping.

Here’s why that’s worrisome – in 2015, I wrote that China had conducted its final testing on what had been described as the “most dangerous nuclear weapon developed to date”. Since then, we’ve seen just how powerful this weapon is and the certainty in its ability to strike the U.S. in 30 minutes. And speaking of U.S. strikes…

It’s no secret that Russia and China have conducted naval drills in the East Sea for years – but we also know that both the east and west U.S. coasts have been visited by both countries and their respective militaries. Russia was spotted as recently as a month ago near Georgia’s coast and China’s naval ships entered U.S. waters near Alaska at least once.

When these two countries aren’t skirting the U.S. coastlines, they’re partnering with one another in mutually profitable ways. Think oil prices are hokey now? We’ve seen nothing in terms of how powerful the $400 billion gas deal between Russia and China can affect global oil prices – and if they’re partnering against the U.S., it’s an entirely new set of rules. Saudi will be the least of our oil worries – even with its perfected fracking efforts.

All of this taken on its own may not seem foreboding, but when you consider the current global climate and the uncertainty factors that come with a very young Trump Administration, there’s merit for sleepless nights that many haven’t experienced since the election.

A growing number of people are coming around and are no longer convinced that Russia had anything to do with hacking the presidential election. What isn’t in question is Russia’s access to our national grids. It’s had that access for years (I’ve been writing about it since early 2015). This is the kind of access that can wipe out our “complex industrial operations like oil and gas pipelines, power transmission grids, water distribution and filtration systems, wind turbines and even some nuclear plants.” This is just one more reason President Trump’s hell-bent mentality of kicking the oil pipelines into high gear the minute he took office might not have been the best way to spend that minute. While this government link changes from time to time, it does provide the information associated with the malware. For a data sheet with more specifics regarding Russian manipulation, a copy can be found on the Cyberx Labs site.

But what about Iran? Its Fateh 313 series might be touted as a short range ballistic missile, but its accuracy is considered “pinpoint”. It replied quickly after the tomahawks were fired last week, stating it was prepared to use “lethal force”, alongside Russia, if the U.S. acts again.

Let’s not forget: In December 2015, as a Russian ship left an Iranian port with all of Iran’s enriched uranium “to hold”, Secretary of State John Kerry called it one of the most important and “significant steps Iran has taken toward fulfilling its commitment.” This was the political version of “hold my beer”, which is what “friends” say to one another all the time.

And this brings us to Syria. What does al Assad have to say about the U.S. strikes? There’s no statement I could find. And why would he? He has China and Iran and North Korea and Russia doing his bidding for him.

Do these facts and concerns have any more importance than April the giraffe’s looming addition to her family? The fact that anyone is wondering is alarming.

Trump and Dodd-Frank – What You Don’t Know

In 2009, I began working for several financial sites –  mostly keeping up with their blogs and some white papers. It wasn’t too long before the 2009 CARD Act was signed into law and within a year after that, so was Dodd-Frank Act.  I had to immerse myself in a crash course as to what these laws meant for consumers. Both were straight out of the Obama Administration.

It wouldn’t take long to realize the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which was founded under Dodd-Frank, was a different regulatory agency. Under the guidance of Director Richard Cordray, many Americans saw there were government agencies that really had no ulterior motives. Let me say this: most of those who drive the financial sector machine in this country are reliable, honest and truly work to do good each day. It’s the ones who don’t, the ones who can’t see past the dollar signs, who cause so many problems.

This week, less than a month into his term, President Trump has effectively unraveled every protection Americans had against everythingcapture-20170215-182226 from “too big to fail” banks (JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Wells Fargo and Bank of America), predatory college loans, insane interest rates on mortgages, and much more. By repealing Dodd-Frank, he’s also eliminating all of those financial protections the average American relies on. By the way, it’s important to note, this was the solution to ensure we would never see another mortgage meltdown that we saw in 2008 with the record number of foreclosures for millions of American families.

Here’s what you might not know:

February 5, when asked by a reporter what his intentions were, President Trump said “We expect to be cutting a lot out of Dodd-Frank.”  He said this during a White House meeting with big business leaders and bank presidents, including JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon. That’s a problem.

It’s interesting that the president would say something like this during a meeting with Dimon and his counterparts, mostly because of the headache CFPB has been for many of these CEOs – and most certainly JPMorgan’s leader. Here are just a few of the clashes JPMorgan Chase has had with CFPB.

CFPB Orders Chase and JPMorgan Chase to Pay $309 Million Refund for Illegal Credit Card Practices

SEP 19, 2013

CFPB Takes Action Against Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase for Illegal Mortgage Kickbacks

JAN 22, 2015

CFPB, 47 States and D.C. Take Action Against JPMorgan Chase for Selling Bad Credit Card Debt and Robo-Signing Court Documents

JUL 08, 2015

CFPB isn’t reserved just for the banks. It has also focused on predatory lending on everything from payday loans to mortgages to aggressive collection actions:

CFPB Takes Action Against Two Law Firms for Misrepresenting Attorney Involvement to Collect on Medical Debts This one ordered medical debt collection law firms to refund $577,135 to consumers.

JAN 09, 2017

CFPB Takes Action Against NewDay Financial for Deceptive Mortgage Advertising and Kickbacks

FEB 10, 2015

CFPB Takes Action Against ACE Cash Express for Pushing Payday Borrowers Into Cycle of Debt

JUL 10, 2014

This agency has sought to protect consumers on all things financial, including student loans and the aggressive manner in which collection agencies collect debts. Imagine your parents filing for social security and being told they couldn’t until YOUR student loans from thirty years ago were paid back. That’s what this agency does – takes these kinds of disturbing companies down. Well,  maybe not so much now.

The reality is Trump had an opportunity to fix what wasn’t working with Dodd-Frank. In all honestly, the accounting and different regulations are confusing. I’m sure there are analysts who can dissect the law far better than I could begin to understand. I’ll leave that to them. In terms of the every day family with typical challenges and not knowing who to trust in the financial sector, this is a real disappointment – even if no one realizes it right away. Mark my words – you’ll soon see the next time you apply for a college loan or a mortgage and feel like a loan officer is playing fast and loose on your unfamiliarity of contracts or if an unethical debt collector begins seeking you out on social media.

Trump’s Texas Tests

In a year that included an election where everyone lost money in the office pool (and Clinton lost far more); a protest that actually accomplished something; and a scandal that rocked not only the DNC, but the collective American political system, there was bound to be some residual damage. Some are happy with the results of the election while others are still threatening to use their passports to escape an evil president-elect who makes them cry. Truth is, there are more than a few red flags on the horizon reminding us that just because it happened in 2016 doesn’t mean it won’t follow us into 2017. You can be sure Trump will be put to the test.

Up first, big oil – also known as the black snake in Sioux territory; fossil fuels in the Rockefeller circles in New York and paychecks in many homes across the country.

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The Drama

This time last year, those who held a stake in the Energy Transfer family watched closely as several events unfolded. At the end of September, the company’s owner, Kelcy Warren, announced a merger between Energy Transfer Equity and Williams Companies ($WMB) that would be worth more than $37 billion. There were many questions, including a few about Warren’s ethics – from both personal and business perspectives. Initially, his efforts in acquiring Williams were unwelcomed. The first offer made to Williams was for more than $53 billion. Two months later, it was worth around $37 billion. Williams accepted the offer, recognizing any kind of recovery in the sector would be slow; it opted to cut its losses.

As 2016 kicked off, there were cracks in Warren’s golden egg. There was little doubt the deal was going south and eventually, a judge allowed Warren to rescind the offer based on some tax loophole. Even as this was unfolding, Warren was taking steps to cover his assets. In a SEC filing, he disclosed the “completion of issuance of convertible units” which would allow a few investors to “receive the Preferred Distribution Amount”. It was legal, even if it was underhanded. By the time this bad deal was put to rest, Energy Transfer’s CFO Jamie Welch had left the company and filed his own lawsuits against his former employer.

#NoDAPL

This summer, setbacks continued. This time, it was the Dakota Access Pipeline protests. Standing Rock Sioux Tribe says the pipeline is too close to its primary sources of drinking water. The Tribe is ~10,000 strong and located mostly in the Dakotas. What’s awe-inspiring is the way they’ve carried out the months-long protests. They’ve drawn thousands of supporters and have a GoFundMe campaign that’s collected more than one million dollars, making it one of the most successful in GoFundMe’s history.

The protesters have been peaceful. Law enforcement, on the other hand, used high-pressured water cannons and “concussion grenades”, against protesters. These crowd control efforts led to many injuries, many serious enough to require medical attention. There’s been at least one injury to the arm of a protester who still may lose it and another protester may lose her eyesight. Dogs from different law enforcement agencies have also attacked protesters.

The Army Corp of Engineers issued a ruling earlier this month that effectively halted the progress of the pipeline. It should be noted the pipeline is nearly complete – less than 1 mile remains unfinished. It’s costing millions every month the protests continue and the project remains unfinished.

Warren has become the villain of the natural gas and oil industry. When the ruling came down earlier this month, he immediately declared it“politically motivated” and that drilling would continue with no reroute to bypass the area that’s being contested. The company lost another battle this past week when a judge refused to allow the drilling to continue and instead said the court would hear arguments at the end of January.

Here’s where it gets interesting. If the pipeline’s not finished by January 1, 2017, the companies involved can opt to renegotiate the contract or they can simply walk away. That’s the likely scenario. The initial contract was signed when oil was closer to $100 a barrel versus the $45 per barrel it is today. There was a justifiable use for the new pipeline three years ago, but these days, the oil fields aren’t at capacity, again, courtesy of the collapse in the energy sector. Whether anyone wants to admit it, there’s really no reason for adding to the intricate freeway of underground gas and oil pipes that crisscross through this continent. Major investments are being made in cleaner energy sources and that is not going to change.

From The Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis report:

Because the economic prospects for Bakken oil producers have dimmed dramatically since early 2014, oil shippers…may attempt to renegotiate terms when ETP misses its Jan. 1 deadline, seeking concessions on contracted volumes, prices, or contract duration. Moreover, if oil prices remain low, as projected, Bakken oil production will continue to decline, and existing pipeline and refinery capacity in the Bakken will be more than adequate to handle the region’s oil production. If production continues to fall, DAPL could well become a stranded asset—one that was rushed to completion largely to protect favorable contract terms negotiated in 2014.

Texas Taxes

As if all of that weren’t enough, Energy Transfer is now in the crosshairs of the tax man. Texas, like every other state, offers incentives for companies. One controversial program has been manipulated in such a way that allowed Warren’s companies to claim more than $250 million in tax breaks. In a five-year period between 2011 and current day, there have been at least 15 deals uncovered that link to the Texas Economic Development Act, which is touted as the state’s largest corporate welfare program. This story broke a few days ago and has the potential to snowball.

The Trouble with Trump

So how does the new president fit into all of this? Trump has consistently come out on the side of ETP. He’s vowed to undo the Army’s project halt as well as anything Obama tries to do in his final days in office. By the time Trump takes office in late January, it may be too late since the contracts expire January 1. Trump received campaign donations and up until a few weeks ago, he had investments the ETE family.

Two things happened as I was writing this and there are bound to be huge uproars:

Trump is expected to announce he’s chosen Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, as Secretary of State this morning. The question is: will Exxon be allowed to run with the $500 billion deal with Russia it worked out before the sanctions hit? He’s not the only Texan who will be named part of the Trump team later today. There’s a lot of debate when it comes to Putin’s own motives, but we need Russia as an ally. We must find a way to rebuild those important, though fragile relationships with the countries Obama spent 8 years tearing down.

Trump is also expected to formally announce he’s tapped his one-time political foe and former Texas Governor Rick Perry to oversee the Energy Department. Perry was given a lucrative position on the Energy Transfer Partners board in February 2015. The Houston Chronicle offered, “Life outside the governor’s mansion has proven profitable for Rick Perry”. You may recall this was around the time Perry was facing felony charges in Texas, but that didn’t serve as any kind of speed bump for Warren. When Perry announced he was running for president a few months later, it was Warren who greased the financial wheels. And now, Perry will likely be named as the head of the Energy Department in the Trump Administration.

The Clinton Crisis: Contradictions and Confusion

capture-20161030-154317Never let it be said the 2016 election cycle was anemic, weak, boring or uneventful. We’re down to 9 days and I’ve said no fewer than 5 times a day how glad I’ll be when this election is put to rest in the history books that are bound memorialize anything but the truth.

Each new story raises the insanity monitor a notch or two. Take a look at a few of these tweets. Are we seeing the same irony?

In July, the FBI announced it would not seek charges against Secretary Clinton. A few days later, Clinton said in an interview with Fox News, “Comey said my answers were truthful, and what I’ve said is consistent with what I have told the American people.” Ah, he was a good buddy of hers, no doubt. I’m sure it was a delightful and whimsical friendship.

Now, though, Clinton is on the defense in the worst kind of way. Here are a few of the many tweets sent after the announcement was made late Friday afternoon regarding the lost emails and server and how it involves her bestie, Huma Abedin and her husband, Anthony Weiner. Pre-emptive scramble to save her cookies, yes?

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How’s that for loyalty, Director Comey? Did he really think that woman has an ounce of loyalty, a dish of ethics or an ability to even remotely empathize with others?

And then there’s this. Always the hopeful one, Clinton is. What if this week brings daily WikiLeaks drops of HER emails? That could distract her, right?

capture-20161030-142916

The best way John Podesta can be of service to Clinton at this point is by giving her pointers on how to handle the world reading her emails over a Yoo Hoo and a Little Debbie cake. Remember, WikiLeaks hasn’t released a cache of Clinton emails. Yet. A girl can hope, though. Unlike all the other men in her life: her husband, Comey, Kaine and God knows who else…Podesta just hasn’t felt the Queen Clinton sting. I hear it’s pretty horrendous. Still, is this the best use of his time:

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Finally, take a look at this little gem. She is going to do to us what she can’t force Trump to do: make us pay for the college education of anyone who wants to attend. Sound familiar? Does the word “Obamacare” come to mind?

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When it falls apart, as it will if she is elected, maybe she can take a cue from the last time a “sure thing” was passed into law. Maybe Obama can give her a few pointers? Turns out it’s a colossal failure, but what does Obama care? He’s phoning it in at this point.

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The Bad News is that One of Them Becomes President

capture-20161014-175943The good news is we’re now down to days before we can finally come out of this disturbing and disgusting and surreal state of reality we’ve all been forced to endure in various stages for the past year. The bad news is we have days left before we can finally come out of this surreal state of reality. Typically, election season gives Americans an opportunity to explore their options. Who supports the issues that matter to a family? Which candidate will keep us out of war? Which candidate is going to be remembered for the good he or she did for Americans and humanity in general? Each national election brings with it a certain degree of embarrassing revelations, silly bickering and promises that if one candidate is elected over another, the country’s going to hell. That’s not the case with the current season – not by a long shot.

Imagine the worst kind of criminal; one who is the epitome of pure evil with his dark and brutal ways. Imagine the trial and the truly tragic details of his victims’ final moments that emerge each day. You know these details because the trial in its entirety is being broadcast live. Now think about the divide the trial causes between supporters and those who hate the accused. Can you imagine it being any worse than what we’re witnessing in this election? Yeah…me either.

These candidates have made history, no doubt. They’ve divided a nation. They have created the same weaknesses and fears that are usually reserved for a category 5 hurricane headed straight for our hometown.

When you take a step back, and I’m sure many will begin to see this once the election is behind us, there are common denominators in that trial, the hurricane and the election. Pride and money and notoriety and a place in history are those ribbons woven through each. The politicians warning of the hurricane walk a fine line in how they tell people to evacuate (or not), where the storm makes landfall and when to declare states of emergency for the “imminent landfall”. If that hurricane doesn’t make landfall, there goes the credibility.  If the jury finds the defendant not guilty, there goes the perfect conviction record the DA loves to brag about on a daily basis. It all comes down to being right and winning and no shortage of taunts directed to the loser. Losing, to them, is like a death.

These candidates have spewed so much hate in an effort to win that they don’t realize they’ve burned beyond recognition the entire election process and everything our founding fathers intended. Each time a “game changer” breaks into our daily routine, via breaking news emails, Twitter trends and “exclusive interviews with the victim tonight”, we’re forced to factor it into our decision-making process. If we believe everything each side swears is true, we can decide between a rapist and a rapist’s wife. We can choose a murderer if we’d like or maybe a serial sexual harasser. We can choose the candidate whose daughter bought her education or we can opt for the candidate whose children are “destined to turn out like their predatory father”.

There’s no shortage of information from which to make that decision, either. We can believe an Australian computer programmer and journalist who’s hiding out in an embassy to avoid facing his own sexual assault charges. We can also take our pick of an ever-increasing number of women who say they were victims of sexual harassment by their former boss, who’s now wanting your vote. And let’s not forget the women who have, for years (unlike the other candidate’s accusers), insisted a former president and husband to the current candidate raped, molested or otherwise assaulted them. We can believe a “kill list” or we can believe a group of people whose egos convinced them to try out for a reality show years ago because they wanted to be in the spotlight. We have countless audio tapes and no shortage of teary-eyed victims who turn it on as soon as they cameras whir to life.

So successful are their efforts that they have managed to annihilate bonds that were previously stronger than any super-duper new must-have product being shown on Shark Tank. Families are divided. Best friends are now at one another’s throats and are being closely monitored by terrorists everywhere for tips on how to wreak the most damage to the human psyche. Facebook and Twitter are the new battlegrounds and that amazing actor many were convinced should star in every TV show, major film and documentary has now become dirt under a fan’s feet because of his “insults to the fans”.

How in God’s name did we get to the point that no recognizable shred of human compassion and intelligence and goodness and sense of fairness can be found in our political candidates? When did we, as a society, decide it’s OK to treat people in a disrespectful way? It used to be that Facebook was filled with those ridiculous messages of inspiration for humanity: “Tread lightly, you don’t know what challenges he’s had” or “Be kind to everyone. God may be testing you”? No, these days it’s “If you vote for candidate B, you’re white trash” or “Unfriend/unfollow me if you support candidate A”. I admit, there were times when those sugary-sweet memes hit my timeline that I’ve wanted to add a touch of sarcasm, but after this election, I’ll take a timeline FILLED with those cheesy sentiments over the darkness of political memes.

We’ve all hit new lows, not just these candidates and campaign workers. We all have responsibility to the monstrosity this has become. It’s bigger than any of us. If there’s anything at all we can all collectively agree on, it’s that we’re about to emerge from this 10th ring of hell we’ve endured. That’s the good news. The bad news is one of these candidates will win.