DERANGEMENT AS THE HUMAN CONDITION

How does the world seem to be spinning these days? A bit wobbly you might say. Well, perhaps wobbly is too mild a word. Deranged disintegration might be a more apt description. Lets look at what has transpired just in the last couple of weeks, to observe the depths of new lows in the human condition.

About a week or so ago, Ukrainian rebels seeking to break the eastern part of Ukraine off from the rest of the country and join the Russian “empire,” such as it is, decided what jolly good fun it would be to fire a surface-to-air missile at an unarmed civilian aircraft. Of course, the missile found its target, and just under 300 innocent civilian travelers were killed in an instant. There was no military advantage that could accrue to the rebels by bringing down Malaysian flight #17. It was just killing for the sake of killing, perhaps similar to the way a serial killer gets his kicks by murdering innocent victims. The missiles and launchers and other weaponry have been supplied to the Ukrainian by Russia’s dictator, Vladimir Putin, who has dreams of reassembling the old USSR under his leadership. Of course, after this heinous act of destruction, the missile launchers were quickly returned to Russian soil, and everyone from Putin on down to the lowest Ukrainian rebel denied culpability in this tragic incident. These days, truth and reality is what you choose to proclaim, not what actually transpired.

I’ve written before about what a thug and tyrant Vladimir Putin is, and how the Russian people have been suffering under his despotism, so I won’t rehash previous postings. Well, maybe a little rehash, just to point out that economic conditions are so bleak in Russia that the Russian population has been spiraling downward for at least 2 decades. Only major influxes of Muslims from Arab countries have kept Russia afloat. Their economy depends almost solely on large deposits of oil and gas that Russia exports, mainly to other European countries. Should those countries ever start developing their own sources of energy, the Russian economy would collapse like a house of cards. Nevertheless, this is what the mind-numbing rebel idiots in the Eastern part of the Ukraine are trying to become part of. And in the process, picking off a commercial airline flight when things get a little too dull.

Of course, the epitome of human derangement continues in the on-going war in Gaza between Hamas and Israel. Again, I won’t rehash what I wrote last time, except to point out the reasons for the disparity in casualties between the two sides. In Israel, all military personnel and activities are confined solely to military bases. In  Gaza, Hamas has arranged just the opposite. Hamas has placed their missiles and missile launchers and all other weaponry amongst the civilian population. Rockets and their launchers have been put in civilian apartments and houses, in schools and hospitals, in mosques and UN refugee camps, in market places, and all other locations that civilians tend to populate. Hence when Israeli forces seek to destroy these weapons, there will be a very high toll of civilian casualties. But that’s the idea in the terrorist’s mindset. Run up as many civilian deaths as possible, even among your own people, in order to win the PR campaign. Hamas can then go forward and say to the world- look at all the innocent civilians the Zionist entity is killing.

Hamas terrorists, when going to a different location, ride in ambulances crammed with young children, daring Israel to fire at these vehicles and destroy the lives of their young hostages. Who does things like that? What kind of a mindset does it take to fire rockets out of civilian apartments or mosques in order to run up the tally of non-combatant deaths? It’s the mindset, as I pointed out last time, of a people that cherish death over life. And in the end, its it’s the mindset of of the Palestinians themselves living in Gaza, that voted Hamas into a government leadership role, and who today, even amidst all the death, destruction and misery, continue to cheer Hamas rocket launches into the Israeli civilian population. Can human derangement get any lower than that.

To date, the death toll stands at about 750 for the Palestinians and about 30 for Israel, a country that actually does deeply mourn each loss of life. One of the discoveries coming out of this war is the vast network of tunnels that Hamas has developed in underground Gaza. These tunnels were created at enormous time and expense in order to allow Hamas terrorists to burrow their way into Israel and kill or capture as many Israeli civilians as possible. As I pointed out last time, when Hamas took the reins of Gaza leadership in 2006 they could have taken a different route. They could  have asked the U.S. and the European Union to invest heavily in a peaceful Gaza. They could have pointed out that there was a huge pool of workers in Gaza, hungry for decent paying jobs. They could have pointed out that large investments in plants, factories, tourism, etc. would return handsome profits to the investors. Instead Hamas decided to spend all their time, energy and resources in devising methods to kill Israelis.

Of course, that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to human folly. In the on-going 4-year old civil war in Syria, brutal dictator Assad has butchered over 150,000 of his countrymen in order to stay in power. Yet it’s hardly a blip on anyone’s radar screen these days. Maybe the trick is to run up the death toll so high that no one cares anymore. In Iraq, where we fought for 10 years at huge human and resource sacrifice, a terrorist group even more violent than Al-Qaida has taken over large swaths of territory. In Nigeria, another terrorist organization is killing people by the hundreds. Libya, the one place where the U.S. did take military action, has pretty much degenerated into its own civil war. And the beat goes on.

So how is the planet spinning these days? A hell of a lot more than wobbly. More like the pits of a deranged, murderous, dysfunctional entity, I would think.

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WHEN VENGEANCE TRUMPS A MOTHER’S LOVE

To best understand the unfolding events in the Middle East, one should go back to a statement made by Osama bin Laden shorty after 9/11. He stated that what Americans and those in the West don’t understand is that while they cherish life, we in the East cherish death. That statement pretty well hits the nail squarely on the head and is key to understanding the roots of the latest Israeli-Palestinian crises currently on-going. As well as the on-going events of death, destruction and misery among various Arab factions in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and elsewhere.

Some years back, one of our news outlets made a documentary about about a Palestinian family living in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. This family had a large number of children, perhaps 11 or 12, if memory serves me correctly. The oldest child was a boy about 17 years of age. But what makes the story unique was that this son was already being prepared to die as a suicide bomber, all with his mother’s blessing.  While the mother professed great love for her son, she stated that her greatest joy would be for the boy to achieve martyrdom by strapping on a belt bomb loaded with explosives. He would then slip his way into a crowded marketplace in, say, Tel-Aviv, and detonate the bomb. Of course the boy would die instantly, but if he could destroy the lives of a dozen or so Jews with that act, there would be huge celebration in the Palestinian territories. The son would instantly be recognized as a martyr and hero to the Palestinian people. He would bring a sense of huge gratitude and honor to his family from Palestinian authorities. The fact that he sacrificed his young life for an act of murder and terrorism would be of no consequence. Is there any mother in the West that could possibly even consider thinking along those lines. Yet, this type of motherly “love” is not uncommon among among the Palestinian people. It takes place when the vilest form of hatred and quest for vengeance triumphs over the natural instinct of paternal love for one’s children.

It’s this type of mentality that explains the latest violence going on (with no end in site) between Israel and the Hamas controlled Gaza strip. It started back in 2006 when Israel withdrew all its troops and settlements from Gaza and turned it all over to the Palestinians. Gaza is a relatively small strip of land with a high density, crowded population of about a million and a half Arabs. Being in complete control, the people of Gaza had great opportunity to develop the region into a peaceful, economic powerhouse. They could have built dozens of seaside hotels and resorts which could have attracted thousands of tourists willing and eager to spend their money, and enhance the Gaza economy. They could have made clear that foreign investment would be more than welcome, as well as the development of new factories and plants. They could have worked economically with Israel to the mutual benefit of both sides. Such actions would have been a boon to the Gaza economy and could have lifted its inhabitants out of the miserable poverty they’re so deeply mired in. But instead, Gaza chose a different path.

The people of Gaza chose to turn the reigns of power over to a terrorist organization called Hamas, which has only 2 professed objectives- the killing of Jews and the destruction of the State of Israel. No consideration was given to potential economic development, as people in Gaza were basically left to rot in their own poverty. Instead Hamas put it’s priorities in acquiring missiles and rockets and other weapons that could be fired into civilian populations in Israel.  So for the third time now, Hamas has started a campaign of firing rockets into Israel with the hope of killing as many Jews as possible. And as in the previous 2 times, Israel has responded by pounding suspected terrorist sites and homes with aerial bombardment. I guess some things never change. Hamas has deliberately placed most of its rocket and missile launchers in civilian homes and mosques. Thus, when Israel bombs these sites, there’s sure to be significant civilian casualties. According to the Hamas party line, this is a good thing. To their thinking, the more civilians that are killed by Israeli bombs, the more world powers will condemn Israel for such atrocities. After all, isn’t it death that’s to be worshipped rather than life.

The sad thing is that amidst all the death and destruction going on in Gaza, amidst all the rubble and carnage, the people in Gaza still appear to strongly support Hamas’s launching of about hundred missiles a day into Israel. Amidst the vastly disproportionate death tolls and wounded that Gaza is experiencing, Palestinians are still cheering for this conflict to continue indefinitely. Such is the power that hatred and lust for revenge can have on the human mind. The propensity to despise is like a bottomless pit.

And it’s not just hatred of Israel that’s driving the forces of death and destruction in the Middle-East. As I mentioned earlier, Arabs and Moslems are killing each by the thousands in places such as Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya, and are currently threatening Jordan. New terrorist groups such as ISIS are now calling older terrorists such as Al-Qaida too timid in the amount of killings and destruction they achieve. These are the new barbarians at the gates. Similar to the barbarians such as the Huns, Visigoths and Vandals that eventually brought the mighty Roman Empire to its knees, and ushered in centuries of dark ages; these new barbarians, or terrorists as we call them today have pretty much the same goals. Destroy all vestiges of Western civilization, and bring in a new version of the dark ages where Islamic fanaticism rules every facet of life. Even if it takes hundreds of years to achieve. Never underestimate the power of pure, distilled hatred.

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CRAZIER-THAN-THOU

The way I see it, the Republican Party is divided into 3 factions- crazy, crazier, and craziest. Off the charts on the far end of this spectrum in the craziest category are senators like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz. They really represent the heart and soul of the Republican base as it exists today. If this base had its way, one of them would achieve the GOP nomination for president in 2016. However, deep in the hearts of most Republicans is the knowledge that these guys are just too lunatic to actually win  a national election for the presidency. So the next search is in the crazy set. Most prominent in the just plain crazy category is Chris Christie, Republican governor of New Jersey. Although he professes to basically believe in the essence of the Republican platform, (tax cuts for the rich, trickle-down economics, slashing government expenditures for the poor, the sick, and the elderly, etc.) he does exhibit a sliver of rationality and sanity every so often. Even just a tiny bit of such common sense may be too much for the Republican base to handle. Christie’s problem, therefore, is that while he could likely win a national election for president, it will be extremely difficult for him to obtain the GOP nomination. Can’t have too much of that sanity going on if you want to be prominent in Republican politics.

I rather liked Christie ever since he posted on his personal blog, a recommendation for a certain pancake house in New Jersey. I figured if there was anyone who knew good pancakes, it had to be Chris Christie. From what I heard, that pancake joint really does live up to its reputation. There are a few other prominent Republicans that are also in the just plain crazy category, such as governor of Ohio John Kasich, and 2 female senators- Susan Collins from Maine, and Lisa Murakowski from Alaska. (Interestingly, in 2008, if John McCain was looking for a conservative female from Alaska as his running mate, he could have picked Murakowski who actually has a brain in her head, instead of a mindless dingbat like Sarah Palin. Who knows, that might have just given him the election.) In any event, as I’ve said, just being crazy may not be irrational enough to secure the GOP nomination for president in 2016.

It thus comes down to the crazier category whose leading figure is Senator Marco Rubio of Florida. Well spoken, and with boyish good looks, I believe that Rubio’s core beliefs lie mostly in the extreme craziest portion of the GOP. But Rubio is smart enough to know that if he publicly  espouses the same looney-tunes babble about slashing government as a Ted Cruz or Rand Paul, it would also make him un-winable in the general election. So Rubio has learned to moderate his speeches and actions to the point where he sounds a little bit more crazy rather than craziest, in hopes of securing the nomination and winning the general election. He possess abundant charisma, and since he’s Hispanic, he would be in a perfect position to cut dramatically into the lead that Democrats have with Latino voters. Therefore, my money is on Marco Rubio being the next president in 2016. The Las Vegas sports books aren’t taking bets yet on the 2016 election, but if they were, I would be tempted to put a few shekels down on Rubio winning it all.

On the other side of the aisle, the Democrats are putting all their eggs in Hillary Clinton’s basket, which I think is a huge blunder. First of all, she would be 69 come election time; and let’s face it, she’s not aging all that gracefully. Men can generally get away with looking old and haggard; but women, not so much. Secondly, there are lingering questions about her health. She did spend about a month in the hospital after a seizure caused by a fall. But most of all, she has enough political baggage to fill every flight leaving out of JFK for a month. From the Whitewater scandals from when husband Bill was president, to the whole Monica Lewinski fiasco, to her less than scintillating performance as Secretary of State, which included the Benghazi disaster, there is sufficient ammo for the Republican smear machine to kick into high gear. And you can bet that GOP mudslinging will reach staggering levels in radio and TV ads, since Hillary is despised almost as much as Barack Obama. Yes recent polls show her leading potential Republican candidates; but that will likely change once the demonization of her begins in earnest.

I believe the Democrats would be better off looking for a fresh face. If they’re looking for a female candidate, Senator Elizabeth Warren from Mass. would be an excellent choice. A dedicated progressive with impressive credentials and little if any political negatives, all she needs is some national publicity to enable her to become a viable candidate. Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York, and Martin O’Malley of Maryland would also be top choices. But they also need promotion on a national scale. However, no matter who achieves the Democrat nomination, I’m still going with my prediction that Marco Rubio will be the next president.

Of course, why anyone would be crazy enough to desire the presidency is beyond me. Yes, it does have its perks such as flying on Air Force One, or playing at elite golf courses. Its just that the governing part is so annoying. Just the thought of having to deal with Congress would make me nauseous. With a good portion of the world in flames, or at each others throats, and with all the dysfunction and polarization here at home, who needs such headaches. That’s why Barack Obama mostly plays golf or flies on Air Force One to fund raisers these days. It beats trying to manage the mess that world has made of itself. It would truly take someone crazier-than-thou to desire the job of becoming the next president.

 

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HOLIER-THAN-THOU

Some years back there was a highly amusing Broadway musical called “Nunsense.” It was about a group of nuns affiliated with a certain church group performing all kinds of silly actions. The closing number in the show was called Holier-Than-Thou and had each nun singing about some supposedly godly act she had undertaken and was therefore holier than the other nuns. As I’ve said, quite amusing when done on-stage; not so amusing when exhibited in real life. Nevertheless, some people feel compelled to display in public the vast amount of homage they give obsessively to the invisible man. Public displays of their religious beliefs becomes a daily necessity. Some call it wearing their religion on their sleeves. Others, like myself, might simply term it religious lunacy.

A good example of this occurred about 2 summers ago. Dan Cathy, the CEO of a chain of fried chicken joints called Chick-fil-A, located mainly in the South and Midwest, revealed his family’s bias toward anything homosexual, and especially toward gay marriage, during a radio interview. He stated that: “As it relates to society in general, I think we’re inviting God’s judgement on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, we know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage.” So there you have it. If we, in this country, allow marriage between 2 consenting adults of the same sex, God is going to crush us like a bug. He will stomp all over us as if we were ants trying to build an earthen colony. How sad that people even think along those lines. It had to take a lot of bible-thumping when they were young to get them so thoroughly brainwashed.

Sadder still is the tens of thousands of mostly Baptists that turned out to support Chick-fil-A’s religious fundamentalism. They picked a sweltering Saturday in July to line up at various Chick-fil-A outlets in order to stuff their bellies with greasy fried chicken sandwiches. Some of the lines at the restaurants were supposedly over an hour long as people sweated in the broiling sun. A small price to pay, however, if one is out to prove that they’re holier-than-thou, as well as to stave off God’s wrath and vengeance. I don’t know about you, but I sure hate the idea of having to put up with another 40 days and nights of hard rain.

Tim Tebow is another example of wearing one’s religion on his sleeve. An all-star quarterback in college, he was drafted into the pros with high expectations. But Tim liked show his religious devotion by going down on one knee when he was on the sidelines. I assume he was praying for Jesus to allow him to score more touchdowns, but it didn’t quite work that way. Despite all of Tim’s knee-bending, his quarterbacking skills in the pros just didn’t to pan out. Jesus would somehow not intervene to allow Tim to achieve more pass completions. After 2 years he was cut from the pros, and now, I believe, he does sports broadcasting.

In any event, this was kind of a long way around to discuss today”s Supreme Court verdict regarding birth control pills. It’s considered a big win for the bible thumpers, but it really amounts to much ado about nothing. An outfit called Hobby Lobby, which is almost identical in its religious fundamentalist views of life as the crowd running Chick-fil-A, sued all the way to the Supreme Court, so they wouldn’t have to pay for birth control pills in healthcare plans they provide to their female employees. It seems that providing such contraception is one of the requirements of ObamaCare. By a 5-4 vote the Court ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor. No big surprise since there are 5 conservative and 4 liberal judges on the Court. But it’s considered a twofer for those on the religious right. Not only don’t they have to be a party to “killing” babies (even before they are conceived), but they get to stick it to President Obama. Anytime that occurs, it cause for celebration on the religious right. Break out the crates of apple cider.

As I’ve said, this is not a big deal. Birth control pills are usually pretty cheap, going for about $10 for a month’s supply. Almost any woman can afford to buy them on their own. Or they can insist that the men in their lives use condoms which are also sold at cheap prices over the counter. Either way there’s ample access to inexpensive birth control. But the bible thumpers in looney-tunes-ville desperately needed a win after a series of setbacks in the courts regarding same-sex marriage. Like a series of falling dominoes, court after court in state after state, has been overturning local laws regarding existing prohibitions against same-sex marriage. As Dan Cathy might have put it, the courts have been shaking their fists at God’s natural laws. And boy, are we going to have to pay for such secular shenanigans.

Religious fundamentalism predates Christianity, and goes back to the days of paganism when men worshipped idols and craven images. It seems that that there has always been a portion of the population steeped in deep paranoia. People who believe that if they don’t strictly obey all their god’s whims, he will strike them dead. Usually by crashing a bolt of lightening down on them. So with all this ancient history I’m not taking any chances. From now on, to show my devotion and humility to God, I’m going to walk around with a shawl covering my head and body, even in the Las Vegas heat. (It’s supposed to be over 110 degrees today.) I’ll show all those other nambie-pambies around here who’s holier-than-thou.

 

 

 

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FROM D-DAY TO ETERNITY

A few days ago, June 6th, marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the beginning of the end of Adolph Hitler’s evil Nazi empire. About 160 thousand Allied troops consisting of mostly U.S. forces, but with some British and Canadian troops, stormed the beaches in Normandy, France, and endured unbelievably horrific and withering German artillery fire, as they endeavored to gain a foothold on French soil. Thousands lost their lives that day on those bloody beaches with thousands more severely wounded. But by the end of the day, the Allies did achieve a foothold, although just barely, and began their long trek towards Berlin. Heads of state, including President Obama, and other dignitaries attended the 70th anniversary celebrations in Normandy, especially paying tribute to those that were killed that day on the Normandy beaches as the ocean turned from blue to red. Also in attendance were some remaining veterans of that conflict, now in their late eighties or nineties. Their numbers, of course, dwindle with each passing year.

Within 11 months after D-Day, the Nazi Empire had crumbled and Hitler had committed suicide. But first the Allies had to contend with more horrific German firepower and ferocity in the towns and villages surrounding the Normandy beaches. Slowly grinding on, and again experiencing terrible casualties, Allied troops finally reached the outskirts of Paris. When the Allies finally broke through the German line, and American tanks rolled down the Champs-Elysees, Parisians by the tens of thousands, lined the streets, dancing in joy and tossing flowers and blowing kisses at the Allied troops. The U.S. was at its zenith back then, loved, admired, and respected by virtually every country in the world. Even by Germany and Japan, once they had rid themselves of the evil regimes that had taken over the reigns of their governments. Does anyone believe that U.S. troops would be greeted in a similar fashion if U.S. tanks made a similar entrance today. If U.S. tanks streamed down the Champs-Elysees today, or the streets of any other foreign city,  local citizens would be cursing, spitting, or shaking their fists at the U.S. presence. Just an indication of how far U.S. prestige has fallen in the eyes of the rest of the countries on this planet today.

But back in the 1940s and even the 1950s, America was looked upon as a savior from all the evil and nefarious forces lurking everywhere on this planet. The American economy began booming after the war’s end. There was a huge, pent-up demand for consumer goods, since U.S. factories during the war had shifted almost exclusively to the manufacture of military hardware. People were now buying everything from cars to kitchen appliances faster than they could be produced. It was an era of prosperity and good will; but dark clouds were already looming on the horizon. By the late 1940s Americans began to develop an inordinate fear regarding the spread of communism. This fear was not totally unjustified since China, the largest country on Earth fell to the communists in 1948. In Europe, Stalin’s Russia had spread its communist-style of governance through a slew of East European nations. Hence, the American fear concerning the spread of communism led to  epidemic proportions of paranoia.  It led us to go to war again in Korea; and to an eventual stalemate which freed only half of that peninsula. And, as usual under such circumstances, there were seedy politicians willing to take advantage of irrational fear mongering.

A senator out of Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy realized that there was much gain to be made out of anti-communist hysteria and political witch hunts, and began launching them with unbridled fanaticism. Hundreds, if not thousands of innocent lives and reputations were ruined or destroyed by McCarthyism, which actually became a new word in the dictionary. But the Senator’s very successes led him to overreach, which in turn led to his destruction. McCarthy finally drank himself to death in the late 1950s. With the end of that decade most Americans felt that the excesses of McCarthyism had been put behind them, and a new era of Camelot was about to begin with the election of John Kennedy in 1960.

It was thought that with movie star good looks, and exuding an excess of charm and charisma, JFK, of the Boston Irish Kennedy clan, would put America back on the ascendancy. Along with his glamourous wife Jackie, John Kennedy would surely re-establish the America dream to its full potency, and Camelot would reign throughout the land. Unfortunately, such hopes soon turned out to be bitter fruit. Kennedy allowed himself to fall into the previous decade’s anti-communist quagmire, and upped the ante on his predecessor’s involvement on conflict in a jungle hell-hole known as Viet-Nam. It was the most disastrous war the U.S. had ever engaged in, and the first war we lost out-right. It put us back on a downward slope. And if this weren’t enough, tragedy then struck. A deranged killer’s bullet laid Kennedy in his grave, in November 1963.  The country went into a deep period of mourning, from which it has never fully recovered, especially, the person closest to the slain President.

Jack’s younger brother, Bobby, had been his campaign manager during the 1960 election, and was then appointed Attorney-General, when Jack was sworn in as President. It was the tumultuous ’60s with great civil rights demonstrations against the segregated South, as well as huge demonstrations against the war in Viet-Nam. Both the President and the Attorney-General were deeply involved with the civil rights causes of that era, and with their leader, a young black minister named Martin Luther King Jr. If the Kennedy Administration became too involved in Viet-Nam, it at least succeeded in breaking down racial segregation barriers throughout the deep South. As I said, Bobby took Jack’s death especially hard; but the grief made him a deeper and more empathetic figure.

Bobby ran for the Senate in New York in 1964 and won. In 1968 he was determined to run for the presidency on a platform of extracting us from the Viet-Nam war, removing the last vestiges of racial segregation and bigotry in our country, and having the Government become more involved in the plight of the poor, sick and hungry. Alas, all this was not too be.

Earlier in 1968, Martin Luther King had been gunned down by another deranged individual, and the civil rights movement lost their greatest leader. Then on June 5, 1968, just after he won the California primary in his race for the presidency, Bobby Kennedy was also shot by another sicko with a gun. He died the next day, June 6, the 24th anniversary of D-Day. I guess, as the song says, you don’t lose such quality and beloved leadership as John, Martin and Bobby, without serious consequences. Replacements for men of such caliber have been sadly lacking, and thus increasing the American Empire’s downward spiral. Today, we have dingbats such as Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz being mentioned for the presidency in 2016. A sign of the times of, indeed, how far we have fallen.

 

 

 

 

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GOOD OLE DIXIE

How many of you know that today is Jefferson Davis’s birthday. How many of you even know or care who Jeff Davis was. Well, for those of you that are historically challenged, Jefferson Davis was the first and only president of the Confederate States of America. In other words, he was Dixie’s equivalent to Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. For those of you who may still view the Civil War as a long-time-ago kind of a spat among the states that sort of got out-of-hand, let me assure you it was the absolute opposite. The Civil War was every bit as brutal, nasty, and inhumane as the war this country fought against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during the 1940s. Today’s equivalent of over 6 million American lives were lost in that conflict 150 years ago, either on the battlefield or in abominable prisoner of war camps. And while atrocities were committed on both sides, Southern prisoner camps were especially despicable since Northerners held in captivity lived under conditions of unbelievable filth and disease, and were usually starved, beaten, tortured or just cold-bloodly murdered. Nevertheless many Southern states still continue to display the Confederate flag, and one state still celebrates Jefferson Davis’s birthday.

In Alabama today, state offices as well as many businesses will be closed in honor of the Confederacy’s first and only president. Jeff Davis was captured in 1865 and accused of treason, but was never tried in a court of law; and he was eventually released two years later. Just before his death in 1889, he advised Southerners that: “The past is dead; let it bury its dead, its hopes and its aspirations.” But many, to this day, refuse to heed that advise. He is still memorialized throughout the South with statues, parks and highways, in places such as Georgia, Florida, Texas, Tennessee, Louisiana, Virginia, and even Washington, D.C. But Alabama is the last state to to legislate that the first Monday in June will be set aside to celebrate Davis’s birthday. It should be noted that other Alabamians who actually made huge and beneficial contributions to civilized society such as Hellen Keller, writer Harper Lee, and blues musician W.C. Handy are not similarly commemorated. Such are the foibles of the human condition. I think the head of a local Alabama chapter of the NAACP put it best when he said that: “We’re supposed to be one nation under God. When people keep honoring the Confederacy, we are no longer one nation under God.”

So what has the U.S. accomplished in the 150 years since the end of that tussle among the states. First we had to endure another 100 years of semi-slavery for blacks better known as Jim Crowe. Strict segregation laws were established in the South that made it a crime for blacks to drink out of the same water fountain as whites, or use the same bathrooms, or sit at the same lunch counters. Blacks certainly couldn’t send their children to the same schools that white kids went to. When some protested how despicable segregation laws were, and that the federal Government should step in to rectify this abomination, the cry went out from Dixie for states rights. Southern states hammered home the point that the Constitution gave the states the right to enact segregation laws if they so desired. And by and large, the Feds did stay out of the South’s preoccupation with segregation. It wasn’t until the 1960s, with increased pressure from Northern freedom riders and greater militancy  from black communities that Jim Crowism and resultant segregation in the South finally started breaking down. They were finally washed away in a tidal wave of righteous indignation.

One of the greatest friends, ironically, that civil rights workers had in the early 1960s was an Alabama sheriff named Bull Conners. Conners, as one can infer from his name, was a fierce segregationist who looked every bit the part. When civil rights leaders tried to de-segregate his town, Conners had the police turn gushing water cannons on the marchers. People were hurt by the velocity of the water coming out these canons; and those that weren’t injured were thrown into the local prison. Those scenes were shown on TV nightly news, which then enraged most of the nation, thereby speeding up the de-segregation process. John Kennedy, who was President at the time, often stated that what Bull Connors did for the civil rights movement was well beyond anything he could achieve as President.

One would think that by crushing Jim Crowe and segregation, the cry of “states rights” in legislative affairs would have been long discredited. But if one did think that, one would be dead wrong. Today, try to enact federal gun control laws and the NRA immediately begins to scream that such laws would be a constitutional infringement of states rights. States throughout the South and Midwest have already enacted severe restrictions on a woman’s right to have an abortion, under the banner of states rights. Despite the Supreme Court’s verdict in Roe V. Wade. And new ballot restrictions intended to intimidate minorities and the poor from voting have also become law, supposedly protected by “states rights.” The Republican Party, of course, has become the chief advocate for states rights, since it perceives itself to be the main beneficiary in upcoming elections. So one must presume that when the GOP takes control of Congress this year, and the Presidency in 2016, the states will have the power to enact whatever they damn well please, no matter how obnoxious the legislation may be.

In the the meantime, let’s raise a glass of champagne in celebration of Jeff Davis’s birthday. At least at the end, when he was on his death bed, he finally got it right.

 

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DISUNITY

You would think that after inhabiting this planet for at least tens of millions of years, man would learn to live side-by-side with each other in peace and harmony. You would think that the evolutionary process that has supposedly brought man to a more advanced, civilized existence, would also produce enough wisdom to promote a more cooperative and benign state of affairs among the world’s nations. You would think. Sadly, however, as we all know, just the opposite is more likely the norm. Rather than living in a spirit of peace and cooperation, we live in a world populated by terrorists thirsting for the blood of innocents on a massive scale. We live in a time where tyrants and despots cause the wholesale slaughter of their own people, or threaten other countries with war or military aggression. If there’s an evolutionary process going on, it seems to be one of regression rather than advancement. So let’s examine some of the cases and causes of major disunity among the 7 billion people that currently populate this planet we call Earth.

Libya might be a good place to start. Libya was the one instance where our current Administration was willing to use force to assist the Libyan people in overthrowing one of the world’s worst despots who had ruled them for more than 3 decades. His name was Muammar Gaddafi, and he was a really, really bad guy. When the Libyan people finally rose up against Gaddafi, it looked like the rebellion might be doomed to failure until the U.S. began bombing Gaddafi’s military forces, thereby ensuring the success of the uprising. Gaddafi was killed and there was great cheering and celebration as the Libyan people tasted freedom and liberty for the first time in decades. Now fast forward to today when there’s no more celebrating in the streets. A very weak central government has resulted in Libya being broken down into a series of tribal fiefdoms, with each tribe having its own tribal dictator. Some are despotic Islamic terrorists and all the tribes appear to be at each other’s throats. There’s no more dancing in the streets, as the the hopes and dreams of the rebellion have turned to dust. Add to that the murder of our Ambassador to Libya and 3 of his aides that occurred a few years ago, and you have a prime example of a country in an advanced state of devolution.

Another prime example of disunity is the fiasco in Iraq. George W. Bush ordered our invasion of Iraq in 2003 because Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein could not be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction in his arsenal, including nuclear bombs. Now, unquestionably, Saddam Hussein was another really bad tyrant who had slaughtered tens of thousands of his fellow citizens if he felt they, in any way, opposed him. But the trouble was, no weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq. We did remove Hussein from the world stage, but at a terrible price. Over 6000 American military and civilians were killed during this 10-year war. Another 30,000 Americans were so severely injured that their lives are effectively over. Things like brain injuries, blindness, lost limbs, etc. About 150,000 Iraqis also lost their lives during the war. And we also spent close to a trillion dollars, chasing WMDs that never existed. So what is the result of investing so much blood and treasure to pursue phantom WMDs and remove Saddam Hussein from office.

Similar to Libya, Iraq is totally fractured today. Different factions of the Iraqi populace, (Shia versus Sunni) are at war with each other. Almost daily occurrences of terrorist bombings kill scores people. Going shopping at the local market means literally risking one’s life. More than likely, a car bomb is set to go off. Al-qaeda terrorists now occupy large sections of the country. So once again, all the joy and celebration of of ridding the country of Saddam Hussein and his thugs have totally evaporated. Afghanistan is another country where the U.S. is involved in a similar war that is still on-going. So far, about 2200 Americans have lost their lives in that never-ending debacle. We’re scheduled to remove most American forces by the end of this year, at which time Afghanistan will likely, once again, devolve into a state of tribal dysfunction. The beat goes on.

In Syria, another tyrannical dictator named Assad has already murdered (sometimes with the use of chemical warfare) about 150,000 of his own people in order to maintain power. He supposedly crossed the red line in the sand that this Administration established when his forces used chemical acids to to destroy his opponents. Nevertheless, there was no American military response. Just a lot of finger waving an indignation. The problem is that the American public is too weary and drained by the prolonged military actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has absolutely no desire for further military adventurism in Syria. So the killing continues there unabated.

Also on the current world stage is another murderous tyrant named Vladimir Putin who has achieved the first military annexation of European territory since the end of WWII. I’ve written extensively about Putin’s thuggish actions, so I won’t rehash previous entries, except to say that he is obviously getting away with the occupation of chunks of the Ukraine, with virtually little response from the U.S. or its European allies. In the Pacific, a brutal, murderous regime in North Korea terrorizes its citizenry. The dictatorship in China continues to militarily threaten Japan, South Korea, and other Asian countries. And, of course, the most dangerous regime of all, the Islamic fanatical tyranny in Iran, is inches away from acquiring nuclear weapons.  And Iran’s leaders are just fanatical and crazy enough to launch nuclear bombs against its perceived enemies such as Israel and the U.S. Kind of makes you tingle all over, doesn’t it.

I could go on about more instances of humans behaving very badly; but I’m sure you all get the picture. Perhaps I should have titled this entry as the devolution of the human spirit.

 

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ADVOCATING FOR THE POOR

I’ve written before about how Lyndon Johnson initiated the war on poverty in the U.S. 50 years ago. Now, 50 years later and trillions spent, about the same number of people, percentage-wise, in this country are still mired in poverty. To say nothing of the billions of people on this planet also living in the most desperate squalor. Especially in Africa, Asia and South America. The thing about poverty is that one is not only forced to live under the most inhumane conditions; but it deflates one’s spirit and self-worth the way a pin prick would allow the helium to come oozing out, thus deflating a hot-air ballon. So, is there anyone out there of major importance who is speaking out on behalf of the plight of the poor. Certainly no one in this country, including President Obama. But there is one figure on the world stage that has now became a major advocate for the world’s impoverished; and that figure is newly inaugurated Pope Francis.

The new Pope, who had previously worked closely with those down-and-out in Argentina, has made some recent declarations that have had U.S. right-wingers and those who believe in laissez-faire capitalism, quite upset. First he indicated that trickle-down economics was a bad thing thing that especially victimized the poor. A BAD THING? Why, trickle-down economics, where a few people who are highly proficient in manipulating our capitalist system become so rich that they’re willing to let a few shekels trickle down to the rest of the peasants, is the heart and soul of the Republican Party’s platform. How can that be a bad thing? The Pope’s proclamation had a number rich, Catholic donors to the GOP, almost apoplectic. Catholic, right-wing demagogues on Fox News like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity were near having total meltdowns.

Next, Pope Francis had the temerity to state that there there should be a justifiable re-distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. OH MY GOD. Now he’s really gone too far. The Koch Brothers and their ilk began labeling the Pope as a Marxist, if not an out-right Communist. Asking the rich to part with some of their wealth to enable the poor, why that was just plain, out-right subversive. How could the Pope even call himself Catholic. Everyone knows that if people are poor, it means they’re just too lazy or too unambitious or too stupid, or perhaps all three, to make something of themselves. As a result of the Pope’s heresy when it came to statements regarding capitalism, Francis was forced to, at least partially, walk back some of these “jarring” proclamations on wealth re-distribution. Otherwise, how could rich, catholic, right-wing capitalists the world over, live with themselves.

In any event, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine what poverty looks like here in the U.S. since few topics have more myths, misconceptions, stereotypes and distortions surrounding them. The notions that poverty affects a relatively small number of people, is primarily confined to minorities living in the inner-cities, and results because people don’t work hard enough, are flat-out wrong. Research has indicated that nearly 40% of Americans between the ages of 25-60 will live at least one year below the officially designated poverty level. The number rises to 54% if you include those that are just at, or slightly above the poverty line. Also, nearly half of all American children will, at some point, live in households that require food stamps to be able to put food on the table. And, contrary to myth, only 10% of those in poverty live in extremely poor inner cities. The rest can be found throughout a variety of urban and suburban landscapes, and especially in small towns across rural America. Also, instead of mainly minorities, two-thirds of those below the poverty line are identified as being white, a number that has been consistent over several decades.

Well, you might say, especially if you’re a Republican, what about the huge benefits the Government supposedly lavishes on the poor. Again, a myth. Contrary to political rhetoric, the American social safety net is extremely weak and filled with gaping holes. It has become even weaker over the past 40 years because of continuing budget cutting measures. The U.S. stands alone among first-world industrialized nations in failing to provide universal health care, (even under ObamaCare), affordable child care, free or low-cost college tuition, or reasonably priced and decent low-income housing. That’s why, Europe, for example, has a far lower poverty rate than the U.S. Those who are mired in poverty, are often shocked to find how little Government assistance is available to ease their dire circumstances.

Finally, the myth that the poor are too indolent to improve their living standards should also be put to rest. The vast majority of the poor have worked or are currently working. The problem is that they usually lack the job skills and/or education to find employment that pays decent wages. And because we have a generally lousy economy, it’s extremely difficult those that lost their jobs in the latest downturn to find new offers. Couple that with the millions of jobs U.S. companies have shipped overseas so they can pay even lower wages, and the plight of the working poor, becomes even more dire.

Now one must recognize that the definition of poor in this country is a lot different than what it means to be poor in a place such as Africa, for example. In this country, the poor may live in the most squalid of quarters, but they do have a roof over their heads. Most will likely have color TVs, cell phones, computers and perhaps even a car. In Africa, vast chunks of the population don’t even have electricity, let alone all the assorted gadgetry. Many in Africa experience such abominable sanitary and living conditions that their average life expectancy is about half what it is in this country. But the one thing that unites all the world’s poor, is the way poverty drains the human soul of any feelings of self-worth. So,  since no other world figure seems to be up for the job, it would appear that Pope Francis needs to continue to be a strong advocate for the world’s impoverished.

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BALLOT ABSURDITIES

When the Civil War ended ended 150 years ago, President Lincoln managed, mainly through bribery and intimidation, to get the 13th amendment passed which formerly ended the practice of slavery. Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, the 14th amendment was also passed which gave former slaves full citizenship including the right to vote. Since there were heavy black populations in the deep South, especially in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, the fear among whites was that blacks voting in large numbers, could team up with enough whites that might have had a sliver of conscience, to elect candidates that actually possessed some human decency. Well, you certainly couldn’t let that happen. So the Southern white majority, along with all the segregation and Jim Crow laws, enacted legislation to assure that blacks would be unable to vote in any significant numbers.

First of all, most freed slaves possessed little if any education, or job skills, other than picking cotton. So many remained on the plantation and continued to pick cotton, for little more than room and board under the most squalid of conditions. If any of them should have been so foolhardy as to actually try to exercise their right to vote, the plantation owner made it very clear how he wanted the election results to turn out. If his guy wasn’t elected, these former slaves would likely loose the pathetic jobs they were forced to cling to. And, as if that weren’t enough, Southern states put into practice further roadblocks to prevent black turnouts at the voting booths. Laws that came to known as “poll taxes” were enacted in virtually every Southern state. In other words, one had to pay a tax for the Constitutional right to vote.

Now these poll taxes were usually set at a fairly nominal amount such as $10 so as not to discourage too many whites from voting. But $10 was a heap of lettuce to the average black family mired in poverty. So these poll taxes usually achieved their goal of minimizing the black turnout at the voting booth. But just to make sure, most Southern states also enacted literacy laws which required newly freed slaves to take rather difficult written tests on U.S. history and the Constitution, to prove that they were literate enough to cast a ballot. Tests that most high-school and a fair number of college students would likely fail today. As a result, all these barriers achieved their aim of greatly discouraging blacks from voting; resulting in totally racist Senators and Congressmen that could be counted on to always vote for Jim Crow segregation legislation, getting elected, generation-after-generation.

Now, fast forward to a century later, to when President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the civil rights legislation of 1964. This act abolished all poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as any other hinderances that might have existed when any U.S. citizen seeks to exercise his or her right to vote. For the first time, minorities and poor people in general started voting in large numbers, and the age of racist demagogues being elected to national office was over. The 1964 voting rights act also required that Southern states remain under special scrutiny by the U.S. Attorney General, to assure there wasn’t further hanky-panky going on to interfere with an individual’s rights at the voting booth. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has just struck that provision in the law, in the mistaken belief that racism is no longer a factor in national elections. In any event-“who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Only The Shadow knows.” (Sorry, those were the opening lines from a radio show in the 1940s. I just couldn’t resist.)

Now, 50 years after that historic civil rights legislation, it doesn’t take The Shadow to know that huge amounts of evil lurks in the hearts of men. Especially when it comes to finding ways to circumvent existing voting rights legislation. Thus, most Southern and many Mid-Western states, i.e. the red states, have now passed what are called voter ID laws. These laws require that before one can cast a ballot, they are required to produce valid photo identification. I don’t know about others, but the only picture ID I have in my wallet is my drivers license. If I didn’t drive anymore, and let my license lapse, would that mean that I could no longer vote? That’s exactly what it would come down to. In other words, it’s a method by which Republican states can keep those most likely to vote Democratic off the voter rolls.

Who is most likely not to have picture ID in their possession. First, it’s the old and/or infirm that cannot drive because of age or illness. If they don’t drive, what other picture ID would be in their possession. Their gym membership cards? Also, there are many people in this country that don’t have a drivers license simply because  they’re too poor to own a car. No car, no license. I’m pretty safe in saying  that these same people also fail to possess passports. So, in the end, it’s the poor, the sick, and the elderly that are being kicked off voter registration lists, and by the hundreds of thousands. The very groups that are most likely to vote for Democratic candidates. A rather simple but effective way to flush all the good intentions of voting rights legislation down the sewer. In the 2012, the Republican Governor and Secretary of State in Florida, arbitrarily booted several hundred thousand registered voters off the rolls about a month or two before the election. That Obama was still able to carry the state, albeit by a very narrow margin, is like the 8th wonder of the world.

In any event, the voting process in this country has been so thoroughly corrupted by big money, campaign donations, and voter ID requirements that its become a sick joke. I wrote previously (for those interested) about the far right-wing Koch brothers who possess a $100 billion in assets between the two of them, and how they plan to influence the upcoming 2014 elections. About how they, along with their other billionaire buddies, plan to spend whatever it takes to elect a GOP dominated Congress, come this November. But not to worry. I’m sure the Koch brothers will give us the best politicians that money can buy.

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UNDER THE RADAR

Life in Las Vegas is highly indicative of how people prioritize their major concerns. Indicative of the psychology of how people tend to focus on matters of little temporary consequence, while failing to address events that can have huge impacts on their very existences in the long run. For example, the local rag that passes for a newspaper in Las Vegas has been running front-page headline stories for over a week, about how a nearby cattle rancher has defied the federal government by letting his cattle graze on government-owned land. Which is okay as long as the rancher is willing to pay the grazing fees owed to the government for allowing his cattle to trespass. Which the rancher and his rather extensive family has refused to do for over 10 years so that he now owes the government over $1 million. This, in turn, led to the government attempting to round up the rancher’s cattle and repossess them, so to speak. Not a very smart move, since repossessing cows is not quite as simple as repossessing furniture.

In any event, the story made national headlines, prompting a horde of government haters calling themselves militiamen, armed to the teeth, to rush to the aid of the cattle rancher from supposedly every state of the union, including Alaska. They came for an armed confrontation with those nasty feds who were trying to take everyone’s rights away. Never mind that the rancher was under a court order to pay the all those grazing fees going back 10 years. It suddenly became the patriotic thing to do, i.e. defying the tyrannical federal government. Sort of like not paying your income taxes because everyone knows what a despised agency IRS is. The feds finally came to their senses and realized that this ensuing confrontation, which could have led to loss of life, was just not worth it. Even though they were legally justified in their actions. So the feds stood down, released the rounded up cattle back to the rancher, and left the scene. The entire kerfuffle was supposedly over. Except that every right-wing whacko radio talk show host, as well as Fox News, lionized the scofflaw rancher for defying the federal government and getting away with it. Including our local paper who, as I’ve said, is still running with the story although the confrontation in now long over.

After all, why examine real and entrenched problems that Las Vegas faces when you can sensationalize meaningless drivel like the cattle story. For example, the Las Vegas economy is still one of the worst in the country, with the unemployment rate being well above the national average. The LV public school system is continually, year-after-year, rated in the bottom worst 5 among the 50 states. Now it’s true that good chunk of the LV population is comprised of seniors who have retired here, and whose kids have long been well past public school age. But there are also a lot of young families living here who are employed in the hotel/casino or construction industries, and who have a lot at stake in the quality of the LV public education system. And lastly, there is the most intractable problem of all; the severity of the on-going drought in LV which has led to plunging water reserves for 2 million people living in the LV valley.

While this morning’s local newspaper was still carrying on about the cattle rancher, it took the Los Angles Times to publish a front page story about how critical the water shortage is here in Las Vegas. As the Times put it, Lake Mead from whence LV obtains 90% of its water supply, has shrunk to its lowest level in generations. “The reservoir…is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain,” as the Times put it. Readers of this blog know that I’ve written many times about the criticality of the LV water situation. Las Vegas is one of the driest places on this planet, getting less than 4 inches of rain in a good year. It has been in a prolonged 15 year drought, with no end in sight. As I’ve said, it gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn, gets its water from the Colorado River, which runs from Northern Nevada all the way to Mexico. Only now, it should more properly be called the Colorado Streamlet, since the river is also drying up. Seems that the Colorado water level is heavily dependent on the snow accumulations in the northern Nevada mountains. The melting snow in the Spring is what replenishes the river every year. Only snow accumulations have also been decreasing each year, thereby adversely affecting the river’s flow.

By the way, central and southern California has also been caught up in this prolonged drought. This area produces a prodigious amount of the nation’s fruit and vegetables, as well as meat from cattle ranches. California farmers and ranchers are already having a very tough time combatting the drought, so it may be more than just the Southwest that will be devastated by this lack of water. Maybe it’s time to start being concerned about real rather than phony issues.

So, 2 million people have decided to settle in LV, one of the driest places on Earth, with little concern about whether there will be enough water to go around. This doesn’t include the millions of tourists that pour in here every year, expecting that when they turn their showers on every morning in their $500 plus per night hotel rooms, water will actually come out. Soon, the summer will be here, with daytime temperatures in the 110-115 degree range, which will further dry out Lake Mead. The city’s water authority knows how critical the water situation is, and has already spent a bundle trying to build lower intake pipes running from Lake Mead to LV. The fear is that by next year, the water level in Lake Mead will have dropped below where the current intake pipes suck it in like a giant straw. But it’s a slow and grueling, and very costly project, and it’s questionable whether the new straw will be ready on time. If it’s not, won’t we have fun then.

I often have said that the only benefit I saw to getting old is that I don’t have to have colonoscopies anymore. But maybe there’s an additional benefit in that I don’t have to be around when LV residents, and tourists in their overpriced hotel rooms, turn on the facets one morning and nothing comes out.

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