APATHY AT THE POLLING BOOTHS

The very core foundation of a democratic republic as the United States pretends to be, is that the people get to choose who will govern the country through impartial elections. In short, the voting process becomes the overriding essence of democracy. But what if the people don’t show up to vote? What if they couldn’t care less? That, in a nutshell, is what happened in the 2014 congressional elections in which the Republicans not only swept both houses of congress, but almost all governorships and state legislatures as well. It turns out that only 36.5% of eligible voters made the effort to cast their ballots. Over 60% of eligible voters couldn’t be bothered. Most of those that stayed home tended to vote Democratic; hence the Republican sweep. Older people who are generally more conservative tended to vote in higher numbers; what else do they have to do with their time. The poor and sick, whom Democratic policies generally favor, comprised most of the non-voters, while the more affluent classes, whom the GOP favors, again voted above the norm. Add to that the endemic corruption of the American ballot process to begin with, through the powerful dominance of big money interests, and the growing movement in red states of voter suppression efforts such as picture ID requirements, and you have in the U.S. what I call a faux democracy. Turning out one’s base block of voters is not the only way to win elections. Keeping the other party’s voters from entering the polling booth in the first place, also works.

A little while ago, President Obama suggested that legislation should be passed requiring all eligible voters to cast their ballots at election time. Good luck with that. He pointed out that Australia has such a law that works well. But it’s a much too rational act for the U.S. ever to adopt. First of all, it would defeat the GOP strategy of voter suppression of likely Democratic adherents. Secondly, it could initiate a wave of sanity within the U.S. electoral process which would also be detrimental to Republican interests. Such as a constitutional amendment that would move Election Day from November to late September or early October, when the weather would likely be far more conducive to large voter turnouts. Farmers harvesting their crops is no longer a factor in the polling process as it was in the late 18th century when our constitution was written. Or how about making election time on a weekend when most people are home from work or school, and are thus, more available. And as long as we’re in this phase of sanity-fantizing, how about changing the nomination process so that all states would have their primary ballots cast on the same day in June or early July; instead of a handful of really small states essentially deciding early in the year, who will be one of the two people that will become the next president of the U.S. But, of course, all this is pure fantasy, and will have to probably wait for another few hundred years of human evolution to become a reality.

Thus, come election day 2016 we’ll be stuck with the same mess and clutter inherent in our polling system. As I wrote last time, since the Republicans are so much better at the politics of personal destruction which will become especially potent considering all the political baggage that Mrs. Clinton carries, the GOP would literally  have to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory to lose the 2016 election. I’m still going with my prediction that Senator Marco Rubio will be the next president, with a long shot possibility of Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin. Jeb Bush, who is supposedly the current favorite for the GOP nomination, will fade out quickly once Republican voters realize that he might possess a modicum of sanity and common sense. Can’t have something like that going on with Republican candidate, can we?

So assuming the GOP wins the White House and all of Congress, what would life in America look like come 2017. Let’s first start with the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who’s well into her 80s, and has had some very serious health issues, apparently is determined to leave the bench the way Justice William Reinquist did many years ago, which was feet first. But how long can she last. One way or another, she’s almost certain to be gone during a Rubio presidency. That would give the the Republican president the opportunity to appoint another anti-abortion Justice to the Supreme Court, which would almost certainly be the death knell for Roe V. Wade. In the nearly 45 years since the Roe V. Wade decision came into existence, nearly 60 million abortions have taken place in the U.S. All that would be largely gone. The bible thumpers would be dancing in the streets with celebration. Immediately, the entire South and most of the Midwest would do away with legal abortion. It might still remain permissible in Northeastern and West Coast states, and perhaps in the upper Midwest. But it would be history everywhere else. So, a poor woman, in say, Alabama, who needs to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and who couldn’t afford to travel to say, New York, would have no other option than to visit some back-alley butcher, as they used to be called. I’m sure they would begin to proliferate once again.

Continuing on the values page, every effort would be made to reverse whatever progress has been made in accepting gay marriage and non-discrimination of homosexuals. Guns and gun ownership laws would proliferate to the point of potential gunfights at the OK Corral nearly every morning with breakfast. I could go on but I’m sure you get the picture. On the budgetary side of the fence, those that are most down-and-out and most in need of government assistance will also suffer the most, while tax cuts for the rich would almost certainly be enacted. But the financial side deserves a whole chapter unto itself, which I will write about next time. Stay tuned if you care about what your future will look like.

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THE DEMISE OF THE DEMOCRATS

After the 2008 election the Democratic Party seemed to have it all. It had just won the Presidency with the first black ever to occupy the Oval Office, and it had elected overwhelming majorities to both the House and Senate. They had a clear mandate to enact their main policy objectives that had been bottled up for so many years under the Bush Administration. Or so it seemed. What could possibly go wrong. In a word – everything. Now, the Democratic Party is barely hanging on by its fingernails, and faces further electoral disasters come 2016. So let us go back a few years into recent history and examine how the Democrats managed to paint themselves into this unfortunate corner.

In 2008, the Democratic Party made history by nominating a young, inexperienced Barack Obama to be its candidate for president. It was the first time either major party had nominated an Afro-American for the highest elected office in the land. Obama, however, had only been in the Senate for 4 years, and had no real significant accomplishments. Prior to that he was a law professor. The inexperience shone through as he made a number of rookie mistakes during the campaign. The Republicans chose veteran John McCain, whom the polls indicated was reasonably ahead all summer long and into early September, and would likely coast to victory if circumstances remained the same. Of course, as we well know, they did not. The cracks in our economic wall began to grow ever wider, with the wall finally collapsing under a torrent of dismal economical news. The highly inflated housing bubble, along with the derivatives associated with that bubble began disintegrating. Lehman Brothers, a huge Wall Street financial giant, and a holder of much of these types of housing derivatives and other worthless securities was forced to go bankrupt because the Federal Reserve refused to bail them out, as it had with done other Wall Street enterprises. With the collapse of Lehman, financial panic came flooding in as stocks and bonds and other commercial paper plunged in value, almost over night. Companies started going out of business, the unemployment rate skyrocketed, and the housing market collapsed with large numbers of people being “underwater” on their mortgages. Some economists claim that the U.S. economy was just inches away from total disaster which would have included huge bank failures with people not having access to their accounts. Perhaps those that stuffed their life savings into their mattresses might have been immune.

Of course, when the economy goes south, the party in power takes the blame. In this case it was George W. Bush and the Republicans. With a tidal wave of bad economic news spreading over the landscape, the Democrats rode to impressive victories in 2008, and their future as being the dominant force in government seemed impenetrable. But, human nature being as it is, a huge victory often leads to hubris, which, in turn, sows the seeds of inevitable reversal and defeat. The Democrats main policy goal, at that time, was the enactment of universal health care legislation, which no previous president had been able to achieve. So, after much gnashing of teeth, the Democrats finally passed the Affordable Health Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which was neither affordable nor universal. The act was so cumbersome and distasteful to so many Americans, that the Democrats already began sustaining huge losses during the 2010 Congressional elections.

The problem with Obamacare is that it focused on providing health insurance to almost everyone, instead of providing health CARE for all. Once Congress became enmeshed in the insurance markets, it guaranteed there would be unbelievable complexity and dysfunction. Instead of trying to navigate through the details of insurance policies, Congress could have merely extended Medicare to everyone, and paid for that with a modest value-added tax on most products. No applications to process on-line, no forms to fill out. If you got sick, you would go to the doctor of your choice, who in turn would submit his form to the government for reimbursement. Have a toothache, visit your favorite dentist for treatment, who would likewise seek reimbursement from the government. That way, if you liked your doctor, you could really keep your doctor. But that would have been too smart and uncomplicated; virtues not in possession of most politicians.

The albatross of Obamacare continues to weigh heavily on Democrats. Obama did win re-election in 2012, but that was mainly due to Mitt Romney’s incompetence, and his ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In 2014, however, the Democrats suffered huge losses at the polls, and are now the minority party in both houses of Congress. The Democrats further extended their losing streak to state elections. There are now Republican governors in 32 states, and most state legislatures are in GOP hands as well. Only 18 states have Democratic governors. The mood of the populace, and the election tidal wave seems to be flowing red. So now, a year and a half from the next presidential election in 2016, I’m going to make a flat-out prediction. I’m going to predict that Marco Rubio, Republican senator from Florida will be the next President of the United States.

The Democrats, once again, operating with colossal ineptitude and incompetence, have put all their eggs in Hillary Clinton’s basket. The problem is, that Hillary possesses so much political baggage from dubious schemes from her Arkansas days in the 1980s, to the whole Monica Lewinsky fiasco of the 1990s, to her time as Secretary of State when 4 Americans were murdered in Libya, including our Ambassador, in the 2000s, to the latest flare-up about her using a private server to process government e-mails while Secretary, that I don’t believe she’s electable. Plus the fact that at 69, Mrs. Clinton is showing her age. Not to be unkind, but the way Hillary appears in her later years is no match for the appearance of the youthful, handsome, smiling and friendly Rubio. He may not have a lot of charisma, (what Republican does), but he’s friendly enough to exhibit some degree of charm.

When men age, even if they look like beasts, it’s only to be expected. Everyone knows that down deep, all men are animals. So if they look the part, who cares? But if women begin to lose their beauty as they age, it does become a big deal. It’s the good old double standard, and it will work well to Rubio’s advantage. Unfortunately, the Democrats appear not to have a viable candidate outside of Hillary. If she goes down in flames, the Democratic Party will be on the verge of implosion. Perhaps they can convince New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to convert to being a Democrat and nominate him in 2016. It might save the party from total destruction. I’ll have more to say on this topic next time. Stay tuned.

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ANOTHER WIN FOR DYSFUNCTION

Last time I wrote about the deal emerging in negotiations to limit Iran’s capability to achieve nuclear weaponry. I pointed out that in its efforts to reach some sort of nuclear arrangement with Iran, the Obama administration is very likely to reach some terribly wrong agreement. Like allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium which is at the very core of a nuclear bomb. Or like setting a term-limit on the agreement reached to only 10 years. Which means that at the start of the 11th year, Iran could very easily start to assemble nuclear weapons on their assembly lines. In the meantime, Iran gets the benefit of a relaxation of all economic sanctions that most of the world has placed on it. Oil production would dramatically increase, and the Iranian economy would boom. But even worse than this deeply flawed treaty is the action of 47 Republican senators in sending a letter to the mullahs that exercise iron-clad control over that country. The letter, in effect, stated that any agreement reached between the Obama administration and the Iranian government will be short lived because when the Republicans take power in less than 2 years, they will likely chuck it into the garbage can. For mind-boggling recklessness and sheer outright stupidity, this action is almost beyond comprehension.

Let’s start with the premise that has supposedly been woven into the American landscape since the end of WWII. That premise states that the political divide in this country stops “at the waters edge.” This means that we can bicker internally about all sorts of political issues; but when it comes to dealing in foreign relations and with foreign governments, we speak with one united voice. How else can we successfully achieve our foreign policy objectives? As an analogy, lets turn back the clock to early 1940, when the Nazi military was on the march throughout Europe. The Roosevelt administration had established a “lend-lease” program to supply England with the vital weaponry it needed to fight Hitler’s troops as they threatened to invade the British Isles. If isolationist Republican senators who were opposed to this program had sent Hitler a letter at the time, saying “don’t worry about lend-lease. When we win the election slated for later this year, we’ll just toss that whole lend-lease operation into the trash bin.” One can only imagine the tragedy that would have ensued. Fortunately for us, and the rest of the free world, no such letter was ever sent. But that hasn’t stopped modern day Republicans, whose antipathy, or outright hatred of everything Obama, from going deeply beyond the waters edge.

The GOP excuse for writing that letter was that they wanted to explain to those crazy kids, the ayatollahs, that so-ruthlessly run Iran, about the intricate points of the U.S. constitutional form of government.  Right. If you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge that connects Brooklyn with Manhattan that I’ll sell you real cheap. First of all, by writing to the ayatollahs, the most fanatical and hate-mongering segment of Iranian society, and telling them that any pact reached with the current administration isn’t worth the paper its printed on, only reinforces the ayatollahs doctrine that the U.S. can never be trusted. That the U.S. is the great satan that must be destroyed, along with Israel, of course. That it’s an absolute moral imperative for every Moslem to seek the total destruction of the U.S. and Israel. So, any effort on the part of our current administration to reach some form of reasonable accommodation with Iran is now pretty much out the window.

At the heart of such recklessness is the GOP’s undying antipathy toward Obama and his administration. It explains the daily gushing river of vitriol and venom directed against not only Obama, but his Attorney-General Eric Holder, as well. The first black President and the first black Attorney-General of the United States. Day after day, this vitriol pours forth from Fox News and right-wing-whacko talk radio. But who could possibly infer that there’s anything racial going on here. A Rush Limbaugh or any of his wannabes would, of course, never admit to that.

The Republican mantra of hating everything Obama is further illustrated by the Attorney-General situation. Toward the end of 2014, AG Eric Holder announced that he was resigning and would leave office as soon as a new AG has been approved by the Senate. President Obama thereafter announced that he was nominating a New York prosecutor named Loretta Lynch to be the replacement AG. She would be the first black woman to occupy that office. The Senate panel overseeing such nominations declared that she was well-qualified and approved her nomination for a full Senate vote. The problem is that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, refuses to schedule such a vote. On the one hand, confirming Lynch’s nomination would be the quickest way to be rid of the despised Eric Holder.  On the other hand, Loretta Lynch would just be another Afro-American carrying out Obama administration policies. A female Eric Holder. What a conundrum. To vote her down would allow the racial disease within the Republican Party to become too obvious, even for voters that hardly pay any attention to such matters. So, at this point, it appears that the GOP has no end-game strategy, other than endless delaying tactics, until, they hope, time runs out on the Obama presidency.

Such is the state of of American politics in the year 2015. Every time one might think that we’ve hit a new low in political dysfunction, polarization, and hyper-partisanship, the political class seems to sink us even deeper into the quagmire of mud and slime. And it’s only going to get worse in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

 

 

 

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THE NUKES IN OUR MIDST

When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he spoke of his aspirations of having all nations that possessed nuclear weapons to begin the process of dismantling their nuclear arsenals. A lovely sentiment to be sure; but a highly unrealistic one, given that man is still pretty far down on the evolutionary chain. The U.S. and Russia have made some token reduction of their nukes; but each country still has an arsenal sufficient to destroy every living plant and animal on Planet Earth about 2 dozen times over. So while we can all dream of what a joyful relief it would be to live in a world without nuclear bombs, it likely will never happen in most of our lifetimes. Imagine what celebration there would be if the crazies that have turned North Korea into a giant concentration camp could be stripped of their nuclear weapons. It’s just not going to happen, however.

The subject of nuclear arsenals has become germane because the U.S. has been negotiating for perhaps over 2 years with Iran, to supposedly prevent that nation from acquiring “the Bomb.” Those of you that have read previous entries on this blog know that I’ve often referred to Iran as being the largest state sponsor of terrorism in the world. Which they undoubtedly are. The ayatollahs that run that country possess a bottomless pit of hatred toward Israel, the U.S. and all western culture. The ultimate destruction of these countries and their culture is their undying passion. So Iran has been constructing deep underground sites all over the country where it has been furiously building atomic bomb capabilities, such as enriching uranium to nuclear explosive levels. This has been going on for over 15 years. These sites are buried so deeply underground, that it’s doubtful that even our most lethal bunker-busting bombs could destroy them. Israel wanted to bomb Iranian nuclear development sites in 2006 when it still might have been doable; but President George Bush would not give his approval. Already immeshed in 2 unpopular wars, (Afghanistan and Iraq), the last thing Bush felt he needed was a third military front. Today However, Iran has so improved its military capabilities that an Israeli strike would result in nothing but the destruction of the Israeli air force.

At the present, the Obama administration appears to be in its endgame of negotiations aimed at precluding Iran from becoming a nuclear-armed state. However, the details emerging from the results of these talks are highly disturbing. Apparently any agreement reached would allow Iran to keep enriching uranium, as well as spinning thousands of centrifuges, and continue building a giant plutonium reactor. All the ingredients necessary for a world-class nuclear arsenal. Wait, the news gets even worse. If an agreement is reached, it would contain a sunset clause, wherein any restrictions placed on Iran’s nuclear development would expire in 10 years. After that, those fanatical mullahs running the country can crank up their nuclear program at will, and produce enough enriched uranium to build a 1000 bombs. Now for an old guy like me, 10 years may be enough to squeeze thru this lifetime without a nuclear holocaust. But for you younger people, or those of you that have young children, it means living in a world where a country that despises us has a vast nuclear arsenal with an itchy trigger-finger.

But wait, this apparently deeply flawed treaty would produce even worse results. All economic sanctions and restrictions that we’ve placed on Iran during the past few years would be gone. These sanctions have taken a large bite out of the Iranian economy; but now they would be dissolved. This would allow the Iran to flourish; with trade relations resumed, oil pumping and sold on a world-wide market, and foreign investment pouring into a restored economy. The Iranian government would have additional resources to further enhance their military and nuclear capabilities. But wait, the situation is even worse than that.

Along with its nuclear bomb development, Iran has also accelerated a program of building intercontinental ballistic missiles, which are not even part of the present treaty negotiations. Now, why would Iran be desperate to possess an arsenal of ICBMs when its present collection of rockets could easily reach and destroy Tel-Aviv or any other Israeli city.  Here’s a hint. You don’t build ICBMs to put a stick dynamite on its warhead. However, a nuclear tipped ICBM could reach just about any target in North America, and destroy the despised western culture once and for all. And if such aggression would be too obvious and thus invite military retaliation, Iran has another option. Just build a suitcase sized nuclear device and hand one or two off to a terror group such as ISIS. Who, you can be certain, is working day and night to get their hands on such a nuclear device. Once a terrorist slips inside the U.S. with a nuclear suitcase bomb in his possession, the rest is easy. Just place the bomb inside a hotel room in Houston, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, or any other major U.S. city, and slip back out of the country. When the bomb is detonated killing hundreds of thousands or more, and rendering that city uninhabitable for decades, Iran could deny any knowledge or responsibility for the calamity; and claim that it was solely the work of those crazy and barbaric ISIS terrorists.

If this scenario should ever come to fruition, the U.S. stock market would plunge to zero, and our entire economy would be as devastated as the city in question. The U.S. and the rest of the western world would be a whole different place, and not for the better. The Prime Minister of Israel is due to address Congress tomorrow and will likely warn how deeply-flawed is the treaty being negotiated with Iran. The Obama administration and various Democrats have loudly protested the PM’s address, believing it’s an undesired interference in the American political system. Nevertheless, the U.S. would be wise to heed his concerns. Apparently this administration is desperate to reach any nuclear arms treaty with Iran, no matter how deeply flawed that treaty may be. It’s true that there may be no desirable options regarding Iranian nuclear development other than more tightly increasing the economic sanctions we’ve place on Iran. But at least that’s something.

I used to think that the only thing positive about growing old was that I didn’t have to undergo colonoscopies anymore. But I think I’ve found something else. I likely won’t have to be around when the roof finally caves in.

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DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN

That famous quote from 1961 belongs to Yogi Berra, all-star catcher for the New York Yankees, and was made in the context of on-going baseball events. Yogi had a way of mangling the English language, (or in this case, the French) but in a humorous fashion that sports writers loved to quote. If you’re interested, you can Google for other Yogisms. The trouble is, however, when deja vu keeps occurring in the unfolding events of mankind, it no longer becomes funny, but instead takes on tragic proportions. And the funny part is how it keeps happening over and over and over again.  Today, we have history repeating itself, with devastating consequences, but with hardly anyone seeming to learn from the lessons of the past. Let us then try to understand how and why this is occurring.

I’ve written many times before about how Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs came to power in Germany in the the 1930s, and the ensuing consequences  for the rest of Europe; but the 1930s so closely parallel today’s world events, that it bears repeating. Hitler became chancellor of Germany in 1932, largely through the democratic process. But upon taking office in 1933, Hitler swiftly abolished all semblances of freedom and democracy in Germany, as well as any future elections, and became dictator for life. If you opposed his regime, it was off to the concentration camps, or you were just simply executed. In contravention of the Treaty of Versailles which ended WWI, Hitler started to militarily re-arm Germany, soon after he took office. If the French had sent troops into Germany at that point, as they were legally obliged to do by the Treaty of Versailles, Hitler could have been quickly deposed, WWII could have been avoided, and 60 million deaths in Europe as a result of that war would have also been avoided. But the French did nothing but just stood by as the Nazi military grew in strength. After all, who wants to undergo the messiness of war when one could luxuriate in peaceful endeavors. So, seeing that both France and England were essentially paper tigers, Hitler made his next move in early 1938 by invading and swallowing up Austria. The pretext was that Austria was a German speaking nation, so they should have belonged to Germany all along. Never mind that Austria was a separate country with its own government; it now became part of the Third Reich. That event came to be known as the Anschluss, as the Allies (France, England, and now the U.S.) rationalized Hitler’s aggression as being no big deal. A policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany could forestall military engagement. Or so it was thought.

Hitler, now convinced that all of Europe was his for the taking, in 1938 moved his Nazi war machine into northern Czechoslovakia, again on the pretext that most of its inhabitants were also of German ethnicity. This time, the leadership of France and England started to become “concerned.” A conference was arranged in Munich, Germany between Hitler and Prime Ministers Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, of England and France respectively. The Munich Conference, as it came to be known, would go down in history as the ultimate failure of a policy of appeasement when dealing with aggressor tyrants.  A pact was signed there in Munich on that day in 1938, that allowed Hitler to retain the spoils of his adventurism in Austria and northern Czechoslovakia as long as he committed no further acts of aggression. After the conference, Chamberlain came home to cheering crowds in London and proclaimed he had achieved “peace in our time.” The British were in ecstasy because they wanted so much to believe this was true. Daladier also returned to Paris and was similarly greeted by mobs of elated Frenchmen at Orly Airport. But Daladier didn’t delude himself. He knew that a long, bloody war was just around the corner. Looking haggard and sleep-deprived as he gazed upon the cheering mobs, he was heard to mutter-“the damn fools.”

The ink was no sooner dry on the Munich pact than Hitler moved his troops into the rest of Czechoslovakia and gobbled up the entire country. Might as well, since nobody was around to stop the Nazi war machine. France and England continued to look the other way. The U.S. Congress continued to follow a policy of strict isolationism, despite President Roosevelt’s desire to become militarily engaged. It wasn’t until 1939, when Hitler formally invaded Poland, that the Allies were forced to come to terms with the fact that WWII was officially underway, and they had better deal with it quickly. By that time, it was almost too late. In the East, the Nazi army drove to the very gates of Moscow. If Russia had fallen, all of Europe would have been under Nazi rule, except for Britain, and the British were hanging on by their fingernails. The German Luftwaffe was bombing London on a daily basis, until it was mostly a pile of rubble. It was only the long, bitter cold Russian winter that stalled the Nazi onslaught in the East, and allowed the Red Army to regroup and begin to push back against German troops. In England, Neville Chamberlain was quickly thrown out of office and replaced by Winston Churchill who rallied the British to engage in a stout-hearted defense of their homeland. But it wasn’t until U.S. forces finally entered the war in late 1941, that the tide began to turn in favor of the Allies. At the height of WWII, the U.S. would have 10 million troops fighting in both Europe and the Pacific, at an horrendous cost of lives and treasure. So much for waiting until the last minute to do what has to be done.

Now comes the deja vu part as we fast forward to present day. In Europe today, there is another tyrant who is on the move against his neighboring countries. This time it’s, of course, Vladimir Putin, the Godfather, or Boss of Bosses who rules Russia with an iron fist. For over a year now, he has decided to slice and dice neighboring Ukraine, annexing chunks of it into what he hopes will be another Russian or Soviet empire. The first chunk he bit off was Crimea, a sizable portion of what was once the Ukraine. France, Germany, Britain and the U.S. pretty much stood by and proclaimed that well, that’s how the cookie crumbles. The Allies did put into effect some mild economic sanctions against some of Putin’s cronies, but none have had any significant results. Next, Putin began supplying Russian separatists in Eastern Ukraine with heavy weapons as they battle government forces that are trying to prevent the eastern part of their country from falling under Russian domain, as the Crimea has. Russian troops, undercover, have also joined the battle with the separatists.  Thousands have already died as the war continues to rage. So last week, the PMs of both Germany and France, Angela Merkel and Francois Hollande, schlepped to Moscow to sign a peace accord with Putin that was supposed have put an immediate cease-fire into effect in the Ukraine. But once again, the ink was was barely dry on the accord when vicious fighting broke out and hundreds of government forces were slaughtered. Sounds a lot like Munich to me. Deja Vu. All over again.

All the while, the consummate evil of terrorism in our time continues to spread. Isis, Al-Qaeda, Boko Harem, Taliban or whatever you want to call these mass serial killers, are on the march and growing stronger. They’ve officially spread their wings in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, Iraq, Somalia, Nigeria, and to a some extent in Jordan and Egypt. If the U.S. and its European allies struck militarily against these barbarians now, i.e. by putting boots on the ground, instead of just engaging in token bombing raids, destruction of these terrorists is within reach at a relatively small cost. Every day that we hesitate, however, they grow stronger and the cost of confrontation becomes more expensive and deadlier. But, after all, who wants to become engaged in an all out war. It’s so much messier that the peaceful pursuits we’re all engaged in. Who needs that. As I said, it’s deja vu. All over again.

 

 

 

 

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AND ….THEY’RE OFF AND RUNNING

Probably, over 99% of Americans living outside of New York state have never heard  of George Pataki. Within the state of New York, perhaps about a quarter of the population still remembers that he was governor from 1995-2006. A pretty fair governor to be sure, but nothing that would set off a cavalcade of fireworks. Nevertheless, Pataki, at age 69, is putting together an exploratory committee to determine the feasibility of seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2016. His chances of success are about the same as mine if I ran for president. And why would anybody really want the job. Just the thought of having to deal with Congress would make me nauseous. Sure, there’s the fun stuff like getting to fly on Air Force One, or playing at elite golf courses, or hosting lavish state dinners. But every now and then the president has to deal with serious items such as combatting terrorism, Iranian nuclear ambitions, and budget and tax issues. The Obama presidency has seemed to focus more on the fun side such as playing golf, and as little as possible on world affairs such as the Ukrainian civil war and other other crises. But who needs all those headaches. I would probably do the same in Obama’s shoes.

In any event, with the election still more than a year and a half away, the race for the Republican nomination has attracted more than a dozen players, some whose chances of success are about as ludicrous as George Pataki’s. First off, like the ghost of Christmas past, Mitt Romney returned to the political arena figuring that the third time had to be a charm. It seemed for awhile that despite his losses in 2008 and 2012, His Mittness still had enough popularity amongst the GOP rank and file to secure the nomination for 2016. But as I’ve written many times before, financing is the name of the game in buying an American election, with the winning candidate usually being the most costly that money can buy. In our faux democracy, if a potential candidate can’t raise at least tens of millions of dollars, just for openers, he or she is usually toast. Romney did have huge money supporters until former Florida governor Jeb Bush figured that it would be a neat idea to follow the family heritage and become Bush number three to occupy the Oval office. When that happened Romney’s big money donors decided that the Busch name still had more commercial value than that of a previous two-time loser, and they swung over to Jeb’s side. Once Romney lost his major donors he knew it was all over, and time for him to get out of the game. The problem is, however, that Jeb Bush might be a tad too rational and sane to satisfy the looney-tunes element of the GOP which continues to grow even larger and more powerful.

The Rush Limbaugh faction in the Republican Party has focused on a number of potential candidates (excluding Jeb Bush) that would satisfy their far-right ambitions to basically destroy what’s left of the non-military portion of the U.S. government. First off, there are the holdovers from the 2012 Republican debates, such as Rick Santorum from Pennsylvania who is still seeking to criminalize social affairs such as birth control, abortion and gay marriage; as well as bible thumper Rick Perry, ex-governor of Texas, who couldn’t remember, last time around, all the government departments he would eliminate upon becoming president. Then their are new figures that  have lunatic fringe especially enthralled. One is Scott Walker, governor of Wisconsin, who pretty much was able to destroy public worker unions in Wisconsin that state employees belonged to, by taking away their rights to collective bargaining. He had to face a recall election because of that action; but thanks to heavy financing by the Koch brothers (whom I’ve written about before), Walker won the recall and is now the darling of the far, far right. He’s being hailed as another Ronald Reagan, their all-time favorite hero. With heavy money interests starting to galvanize in his direction, I would not discount Walker’s chances of securing the Republican nomination.

Of course he would have to contend with others that even the lunatic fringe considers lunatics, such as Rand Paul from Kentucky and Ted Cruz from Texas, who also have strong presidential ambitions. And, for the dingbat faction of the GOP, which is also growing in strength, there is always Sarah Palin who has mumbled something about entering the fray. I think more than half the fun of watching this circus unfold, would be lost if Sarah Palin didn’t have a go at the nomination. Chris Christie, governor of New Jersey, was thought to have a shot for awhile, but his balloon seems to be deflating. Again, he seems to possess too much of that sanity thingy to be a viable GOP candidate. But, if you want irrationality,  there’s always Bobby Jindal, governor of Louisiana, who traded in his Hindu heritage for a strict brand of fundamental Catholicism, and who would also criminalize abortion and gay rights. And the beat goes on with a slew of more aspirants, each seeking to outdo the others in their extremist views.

If the Republican side of the coin has an over-abundance of candidates striving for the presidency, the Democratic side has decided to put all their eggs in one basket; which, of course, belongs to Hillary Clinton. Which is a very dumb idea to begin with. First of all, Hillary will be 69 in 2016 and has had health issues that could raise a number of red flags. Secondly, Hillary has enough political baggage to fill every flight leaving out of JFK for a month. Republicans, who are so much better than Democrats at practicing the politics of personal destruction, would immediately jump on husband Bill’s personal foibles from the 1990s and blame them all on Hillary. Already, they are printing up bumper stickers that say: “Monica Lewinski’s ex-boyfriend’s wife for president.” You can be sure that all of Bill Clinton’s prior misdeeds would be dredged up all over again. Also the Benghazi fiasco, where 4 Americans, including our Ambassador to Libya, were slain by terrorists on Hillary’s watch as Secretary of State, would be thrown in her face. Add to that, the fact that Hillary isn’t exactly the most dynamic or charismatic candidate around, and you can see that the Democrats are in a real pickle. The problem for the Democratic Party is, however, that they have such a thin farm system, who else could they nominate that would have a viable chance of winning the presidency.

My prognosis is that the election of our next president is the Republican candidate’s to lose. Which wouldn’t be the first time that they’ve snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Think back just to 2012 when Mitt Romney should have won by at least 10-15 points. In any event, it will be a fascinating spectacle to watch along the way, as the political scene unfolds over the next 18 months in our pretend election process.

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A VACCINE AGAINST STUPIDITY?

There’s been a lot of news, lately, about children coming down with measles because their parents refused to protect  them through vaccination against this sometimes deadly disease . A recent outbreak of measles that occurred in children visiting the Disneyland theme park in California was attributed to the fact that many of those in attendance at the park spread the infection to others simply because they remained unvaccinated. To make matters worse, the issue was then demagogued by 2 high profile Republican politicians, each desperately seeking the GOP nomination for president in 2016. Both Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, and Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky both made similar pronouncements regarding the sudden outbreaks of of an affliction that is 99% preventable through inoculation. Each politician stated that it should be within the parent’s prerogative as to whether to allow their children to receive disease-preventing vaccinations. Never mind that children are far too young to be knowledgable enough to make such decisions. And that both men made sure to have their own children receive the full regimen of available immunizations against all preventable diseases.

Christie made his remarks because he fears that the right-wing looney-tunes element within the GOP is large enough to deny him the nomination if he appears in favor of too much common sense regarding rational decision-making. Which, unfortunately, it is. After all, you can’t have the government controlling the populace through a program of mass vaccinations, or some such fantasy, as their thinking goes. Christie later tried to walk back his comments regarding parental prerogatives in this area by pointing out that his children had all their vaccinations, but the damage was done regarding his flight into looney-tunesville. As for Rand Paul, he’s a resident in good standing within the lunatic fringe of the Republican Party, so his comments were not a problem. But he’s also a physician, so, as I’ve said, he had his own children fully inoculated. But it brings up the larger issue of why parents are willing to travel into a parallel universe of delusional paranoia by denying their children, who are supposedly their most precious possessions, essential inoculations to protect them against some very ugly diseases.

Let’s start with the bible-thumpers. Those who are fanatically devoted to what they think is the will of God, as expressed in both the old and new testaments, are likely to avoid having their off-spring vaccinated. The fact that both bibles were 100% written by flesh and blood humans with zero input from God is of no concern to these zealots. The fact that it took committees of men over a period of centuries to decide what to include in the new testament, and more importantly, which of the many writings to exclude, is also of little concern. If it’s not dictated in the bible, it’s not going to happen. In 2013, two such zealot parents from Philadelphia were arrested and subsequently convicted of murder because they allowed their two young children to die from pneumonia (on separate occasions) rather than seek medical treatment. A common anti-biotic could have saved both children’s lives. But the parent’s religious fanaticism would not allow for outside medical assistance. One can only wonder how the human mind can become so warped.

The next category of reality deniers are parents, mostly mothers, who allow themselves to be conned by junk-science, and thereby come to fear for the safety of inoculations. As a phenomena of our times, it has come to pass that many well-educated mothers have come to believe that the medical community urging them to vaccinate their children against measles, mumps, rubella, and whooping-cough is lying to them. But a has-been model and sometimes actress such as Jenny McCarthy, who tells them on afternoon TV talk shows that vaccinations cause autism must know what she’s taking about. I guess it’s due to Jenny’s impressive medical credentials and advanced degrees in micro-biology. In any event, in these days of over-dependence on electronic gadgetry and social networking, McCarthy knows that if she can plug her celebrity status into social media, her opinions will create an electronic torrent that will be virtually impossible to stop. The theory, however, that inoculations are somehow linked to autism in children has been thoroughly debunked in one scientific study after another. So who should we believe- the opinions offered by a fading model or the proof offered by the scientific community.

Not all vaccination deniers come, however, from bible-thumpers, government-haters or those conned by the electronic media. There’s a group of relatively wealthy elitists who usually support left-wing causes that also refuse to allow inoculations for their off-spring, because the vaccines are artificially produced in factories, and for the purpose of earning a profit. Vaccines must be either worthless or harmful if they’re chemicals manufactured on the assembly line, in companies beholden to their stock owners, rather than coming from plants grown in nature. And organic plants preferably, i.e. those plants harvested without the use of chemicals during the growing process. Such as organic poison ivy, or organic poison oak.  In some of California’s most affluent neighborhoods, school teachers have started noticing that between 5-10% of their students are showing up in class without the necessary inoculations. There’s no discrimination between poverty and affluence, apparently, when it comes to self-delusion over immunization.

When I was in high-school during the early 1950s, the polio epidemic was raging through America. I watched as a girl on my block in Brooklyn came down with this affliction and had to be transported from her house into an ambulance with the use of an iron lung. I gave thanks that it wasn’t me. Polio is an especially nasty infection wherein the virus usually invades the spinal column and paralyzes its victim for life. Everyone, at the time, literally prayed for a remedy. So when doctors Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin finally developed an inoculation against this disease, a huge sigh of relief could be heard throughout the land. People stood in line for hours to receive the vaccination as quickly as possible. But that was then and this is now. That was before people allowed themselves to get dumbed-down by the electronics revolution and social networking. When scientific discovery still had merit and value in the American psyche. Before Americans allowed their brains to become mush by that which was supposed to have made us smarter.

It leads one to believe that the next great scientific challenge is to develop a vaccine that prevents stupidity, especially when taking the necessary actions to enhance one’s health and well-being. That would really be the jackpot of all immunizations. I guess, however, that one can only wish.

 

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AUSCHWITZ, 70 YEARS LATER

Even after 70 years, pronunciation of the word still evokes feelings of terror, alarm, and revulsion among civilized societies. Even after 70 years, the full scope of the horror and atrocities committed there has not been totally documented. Last week, January 27th to be exact, marked the 70th anniversary since the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was liberated by Russian troops. There was a major ceremony that day at the camp, with dignitaries from nations around the world in attendance. Camp survivors numbering about 300 now were also there, with some giving testimony as to the nature of their hellish experiences. A decade ago there were 1500 survivors in attendance at the 60th anniversary ceremony, but slowly their numbers continue to dwindle. The youngest of the remaining survivors is now in their late 70s. The buildings and gas chambers are empty now in the dreary cold; but to their credit, about 1.5 million tourists are visiting the Auschwitz every year to experience first hand, the epicenter of the human capacity to perform total, undiluted evil. An evil that could not have been perpetrated by Hitler and his Nazi thugs alone, without the willing accomplices of tens of thousands of civilian bureaucrats that organized and shipped all the logistics to that camp, including the poison gas that killed so many. As if they were manufacturing and shipping clothing to a department store. The banality of evil, as some have called it.

Auschwitz is located in northern Poland and was part of a network concentration and extermination camps built by the Nazis starting in September 1941, that included nearby Birkenau. The camps were built in response to Hitler’s “final solution” regarding European Jews, which was their total annihilation. A system of of railway tracks brought trains filled with supplies into the camps on a daily basis. The Holocaust murdered 6 million European Jews, 1.1 million of whom were killed at Auschwitz. Thanks, in large part, to the efforts of tens of thousands of faceless bureaucrats that came into play. Another 100 thousand people, mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime, or Gypsies, were also slaughtered there. Auschwitz was staffed by about 7000 Nazi goons, but only a small handful of higher ranking officers were ever brought to justice. The rest of the murderers lived out their lives un scathed by the Allied justice system. One officer, Rudolf Hoss, the commandant of Auschwitz, was captured by the British in March 1946, brought to trial, and hung for his crimes in 1947. Mass murder, torture and starvation were not the only crimes committed at Auschwitz. Nazi criminals such as Dr. Josef Mengele performed gruesome medical experiments on on prisoners which usually resulted in their agonizing deaths. As I’ve written before, Mengele escaped the Allies dragnet, and made his way to South America after the war, ending up in Brazil. He supposedly drowned while swimming off the coast off Brazil in 1979.

Life at Auschwitz usually began at 3 in the morning when all prisoners had to come out into the yard for attendance. Even the ones that died during the night. After shivering for 4 hours in the freezing cold, Nazi troops would arrive at 7 AM to take roll call. All prisoners had to be accounted for, even the dead ones. If any were found missing, troops were promptly sent out to search for them. Almost all potential escapees were eventually hunted down and immediately shot to death. Those prisoners that weren’t dispatched to the gas chambers were given grueling work to perform all day, with little or no food. Starvation in the concentration camps was endemic. When supreme allied commander Dwight Eisenhower and his forces entered Auschwitz a few days after the Russians, he couldn’t believe his eyes. The Nazis had fled and left behind a few thousand prisoners that were like walking skeletons. Piles of corpses lay everywhere. Eisenhower stated that it was like descending into the pits of Hell, and that it made him ashamed of his German heritage.

With the destruction of the Third Reich in 1945, the anti-semitism that had prevailed in Europe for 2000 years, and that gave rise to the Nazi empire, was supposedly laid to rest. Adolf Hitler and his Nazi thugs could not have achieved their spectacular successes in evil domination and mass murder, if hatred and persecution of Jews had not been ingrained into the fabric of the European psyche for the past 2 millennia. Along with the many pogroms against Jews during that period. So it seemed that Jew-hating in Europe during the decades after WWII was finally discredited and became a thing in the past. But in actuality,it was just laying low, waiting for the opportune time to rise again. Now after 7 decades, it’s re-gaining its sea legs. The new rise of anti-semitism in Europe, is, in reality, just a return to the norm. The past persecution and pogroms against Jews were always the norm until the shame of the Holocaust created a temporary anomaly where-in anti-semitism became socially unacceptable. The hiatus is over, however.

The killings of 4 Jews at a kosher food store in France a few weeks ago only gained prominence because it was done in conjunction with the murders at Charlie Hebdo. But the previous murders of a Rabbi and 3 school children in Toulouse garnered virtually no world-wide attention. Nor do terror attacks against Jews that have now become common in many other European nations. There are movements all across Europe (and most prominently, with our supposed allies) to boycott Israeli products, or even to expel in-country Jewish populations. It has now become respectable again in Europe to despise Jews. No more hiding in the shadows. European anti-semitism is not a Jewish problem, however. It’s a European problem, a stain on the human condition, a continent-wide disease that Europe is congenitally unable to rid itself from. And the size of this tumor continues to grow.

Hatred for any group based on their religion, skin color, ethnicity or for any other reason always occurs when the group in question is a minority. It’s the bully’s mentality at play. Among school children, the bully and his gang can always beat up a defenseless kid to compensate for their feelings of self-loathing. Among adults, the bully mentality transforms into hatred and discrimination for some minority group that similarly is in no position to take on the much larger majority. Another insidious aspect of the human condition.

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DO CRY FOR ME, ARGENTINA

At the beginning of the 20th century, the economies of both the United States and Argentina we’re almost identical in terms of production, output and wealth of their citizenry. During the next century, the U.S., despite its many problems, would soar to become the number one economic power in the world, far ahead of number 2 which is China. The economy of Argentina, however, during this time period, went slip-sliding down to 25th place among the nations of the world. Even Columbia, a much smaller country has a more vibrant economy. How to account for such a dramatic divergence? After all, Argentina is a large nation with an abundance of natural resources and a well educated populace. Blame it on the failings of the democratic process, which I’ve written about extensively before, wherein voters made bad decisions which led to corrupt leadership, which in turn led to disastrous results. All of this came to a head last week with the murder of a high ranking government prosecutor that was made to look like a suicide. I’ll get to that in a little bit.

Argentina’s downhill momentum started to gather steam around the time of WWII. For inexplicable reasons, Argentina, as well as most South American countries, sided with the axis powers during that war, instead of with the U.S. and its allies. Perhaps it was jealousy of U.S. successes or beliefs that the U.S. was treating the rest of the Americas rather shabbily. Which it probably was. In any event, most of South America sympathized with the Nazis during WWII, and became a safe haven for Nazi war criminals to flee to after the war. Argentina was no exception, and was the country that housed Adolf Eichmann, the notorious Nazi commandant of the entire Holocaust operation. Israeli agents eventually captured Eichmann and smuggled him out of Argentina to Israel, where he was tried for crimes against humanity, found guilty, and hung. Nevertheless, bad choices in Argentina began to multiply after the war and send that country well into its downhill descent.

It started with the election of Juan Peron as president shortly after WWII ended. Peron, formerly a high ranking official in the Argentine military, began to operate his presidency by bribing the country’s elite and its peasants into supporting him. Corruption was the name of the game. He ran the country very much the way Vladimir Putin rules over Russia these days, i.e. Mafia-style, with Putin, and back then, Peron, being the boss of bosses. The god father. The generals and admirals in the Argentine military especially had to receive generous bribes in order for Juan to maintain power. A few crumbs were tossed to the mostly poverty-stricken masses in order to keep them in line. And behind Juan’s throne stood his overly ambitious wife, Eva, who thirsted for the acquisition of even greater power. Yes, the same “Evita” from Broadway musical and Hollywood movie fame who sang “don’t cry for me Argentina.” However, Eva’s dreams of succeeding her husband as president and becoming, in effect, dictator, were cut dramatically short when she developed cancer and died at an early age.

Of course, once bribery and corruption had become epidemic, the Argentine economy started to significantly falter. It got to the point that even the military couldn’t take it anymore even though they continued to receive generous handouts. Finally in the mid-1950s, Juan Peron was thrown out of office in a military coup, and fled to Spain who agreed not to toss him in the clink. But the Peronista movement continued to stay alive in Argentina, and Peron was eventually returned to the throne in the 1970s, this time with new wife Isobel. Juan died in office shortly thereafter, and Isobel took over the reins of government, and continued on with the same style of Peronista corruption. Succeeding presidents after Isobel were also mired in similar Peronista mediocrity and failure.

Now fast forward to June 1994 when 8 Iranian supported Hezbollah terrorists were allowed to infiltrate into Argentina. They made their way to Buenos Aires and proceeded to bomb a Jewish community center on a busy day. In what the New york Times called the greatest act of murder against the Jewish people since the Holocaust, 87 people were slaughtered that day with over 100 more seriously injured. Over the succeeding years, feeble attempts were made by the Argentine government to bring the perpetrators to justice; but all efforts failed abysmally. In the meantime, in a replay of the Juan and Eva Peron fiasco, the Argentine people elected another power couple to run the country, who were also devout Peronistas named Nestor and Christina Kirchner. The year was 2003 and the Argentine economy had sunk to the point where government bond holders were being stiffed when they tried to redeem their bonds. Now one might believe that if people were that stupid as to invest in Argentine bonds, they got what they deserved. Nevertheless, receiving, say, 15 or 20 cents on the dollar at bond redemption time is never a pleasant occurrence.

When Nestor was unable to run for the presidency again because of constitutional limitations, the office was merely handed over to wife Christina who remains in power to this day. Living the dream first sought after by Eva Peron. Nestor Kirchner died of a heart attack in 2010, leaving the reins of government solely in Christina’s hands. Once in power, Christina nationalized the country’s largest airline, wrested control of billions of dollars of private pension funds and put them into government coffers, and waged battle with farmers protesting huge tax increases that paralyzed agricultural exports for months. Even as the economy continued to sink. Now she has become virtual dictator so good luck with trying to remove her from office.

Meanwhile a young government prosecutor named Alberto Nisman never gave up on attempting to bring the terrorists behind the Jewish community center bombing to justice. By last week he had amassed 300 pages of evidence and testimony naming who the killers were, that he was going to present to the courts on last Monday. Except that the day before, he was found dead in his apartment of a gunshot wound to the head, with the pistol lying next to his body. The evidence was purported to show that Christina and her administration had been seriously obstructing the investigation for years, in return for price-discounted Iranian oil and an agreement that Iran would but Argentine grain. At first Kirchner claimed that the death was a suicide. This was so ludicrous that social networks like Twitter and Facebook lit up like a bonfire. Finally Christina had to walk back her statements and proclaimed that she did not believe that Alberto Nisman committed suicide. She blamed his death on unknown bad guys lurking out there somewhere.

Nisman’s evidence did make it to the courts and it does show a continual obstruction of justice by the Kirchner government. But with Christina entrenched in a virtual dictatorship, good luck with anyone being incarcerated for this deadly crime. More evidence of how the democratic process could go horribly wrong when people make really, really bad choices.

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RE-LEARNING THE LESSONS OF HISTORY

When Jesus walked the Earth over 2000 years ago, the Roman Empire was at its zenith. Ruled by its emperor Augustus Caesar, (who was ultimately responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus), the Roman Empire covered virtually all of Europe including England, North Africa (now called the Mid-East), and Western Asia. Its power and military might was considered almost invincible, as it mercilessly and brutally ruled over conquered lands. To challenge the mighty Roman army was considered a suicide mission. Rebellion against Rome in in countries they ruled was often brutally suppressed with the opposing fighters usually crucified or slaughtered outright, or captured and sold off into slavery. Women were also put on the market for slaves or as concubines and prostitutes. In essence, conquered lands were considered primary sources of free labor or sexual slavery.

Rome, as the most advanced civilization at that time, also had acquired superior technology that was unknown by  other nations on this planet. The Roman government had built an extensive system of aqueducts that brought purified water to the homes of mainly the rich and elite. Advanced plumbing systems, roads and bridges were also being put into place. The Roman Colosseum was built to provide entertainment, such as watching gladiators being torn to shreds by hungry lions, again, primarily for the amusement of the upper classes. (Parts of the Colosseum still exist today as a tourist attraction for visitors to Rome.) But even at the height of its power, cracks began to develop in the foundation of the Roman Empire. Romans started to become soft and lazy, fixated only on the indulgence of usually depraved pleasures and sensuality. An estimated 32,000 prostitutes littered the streets of Rome. Subsequent emperors to Augustus Caesar, over the centuries, such as Nero and Caligula, became infamous for spending huge amounts of resources on lavish parties, where guests drank and ate themselves into almost a coma-like state. Diseases became rampant because of all the prostitutes and beggars living on the streets. Alcoholism was at epidemic proportions. So was political corruption. New, incoming emperors had to bribe the Army for a chance at the throne. If the bribe wasn’t enough, they would be thrown out of office or just murdered outright. During the 100 years starting in 186 A.D. Rome had 37 emperors, 25 of whom were assassinated.

Economic problems also started to multiply. Business owners who had to hire workers couldn’t compete with those that were able to acquire slave labor. Inflation started to skyrocket because once Rome ran out of nations to conquer, the supply of gold into the economy began to sharply decrease. The government had to lessen the amount of gold being put into its coinage, which made the coins less valuable. Eventually, the coins had so little gold that most merchants began to use a barter system. Then there was a growing disparity between the powerful and rich elite, and the rapidly disappearing middle class. (Sound familiar.) In addition, military spending to defend the Empire’s vast borders from barbarian hordes also greatly drained government resources. Finally, the government could not provide sufficient goods for its growing population. It was no longer conquering other civilizations and using their technology as well as their people for slaves. In fact, Rome began actually losing territory it could no longer maintain with its legions.

The final nail in the coffin came from the barbarian hordes I just mentioned. They consisted primarily of the Huns, Vandals, Goths and Visigoths, that came mainly out of what is France and Germany today. They were the terrorists of that era, envious of Rome’s wealth, (compared to the miserable poverty they were forced to live in), and determined to destroy the Roman Empire. The barbarians knew they couldn’t defeat the powerful Roman army in a face-to-face battle; so, as is the case of today’s terrorists, they resorted to acts of sabotage and gratuitous murder. They would attack outlying villages in remote corners of the Empire, that Rome could no longer defend, and murder all the men and children, and carry off the women as sexual slaves. At least those women they were attracted to; the others would also be killed. Then they would sack the village and burn it to the ground. While this was happening, Romans, over the centuries had become soft and lazy, with the rich being so heavily involved in debauchery that they had lost all desire for war. There was no will left to even defend themselves from the oncoming barbarian hordes that were marching toward the gates of Rome. So the government began the practice of hiring mercenaries to wage war on these various germanic and franco tribes. The trouble with using mercenaries, however, is that they’re usually willing to offer their services to the highest bidder. Thus, it was not unusual for these mercenaries to switch sides once they got a better offer from the barbarian terrorists  they were originally sent to destroy.

Finally after centuries of economic dysfunction, political corruption, eroding social conditions,  debauchery among the rich and powerfully connected, and a plain lack of will toward self-defense, the Roman Empire collapsed before the invading barbarians hordes. Historians put the final overrun of Rome by germanic and franco tribes as occurring in 476 A.D. From then on, roads and bridges throughout the former Roman Empire were left in disrepair and fields were left untilled. Pirates and bandits made travel unsafe. Cities could not be maintained without farm products, as trade and businesses began to disappear, because the Roman Empire was no more in the West. Europe then fell into the bleak and sorrowful period known as the Dark Ages, that lasted more than a thousand years, before reformation finally began to put civilization on a path to recovery.

So how is this relevant in today’s word. Today, we have a new set of barbarians at the gates of Western civilization, known as the Islamic-Fascist Jihadists. I’ve written previously and extensively before about the bottomless pits of evil that terrorist groups such as Boko-Haram, ISIS and Al-Qaida crawl out of to commit murder and mayhem. The latest outbreak being the murder of 17 innocent people in Paris last week, supposedly because of religious offense to unflattering cartoons of the prophet Muhammed. Think about it. People are actually being slaughtered because of cartoons in a newspaper. But the key question is whether the U.S. and its allies have the will to take on these present day barbarians and destroy them while it can still be done on the cheap. Or have we become too soft and lazy, or too intoxicated by our current pleasures and indulgences to wage meaningful combat against these cutthroats. Have our political and economic systems become too corrupt to engage in a meaningful battle to protect the gates of civilized behavior. Perhaps we should hire mercenaries to do our fighting since it worked so well the last time.

Every day we fail to take meaningful action, the Jihadists become stronger and the battle becomes more costly. The token bombing raids we initiated against ISIS in Iraq and Syria have had virtually no effect as the terrorists have expanded the territory they now occupy. Present leadership in the U.S. appears to be too dysfunctional and polarized to initiate a meaningful war against Islamic fascism, while Europe appears to have the same level of corruption and malaise, or lack of willpower, about going to war, as the Romans did when faced with their terrorism threats. If Western civilization falls again to the barbarians, the Dark Ages will reappear for at least another thousand years. Will you still be playing with your I-Phones when that takes place?

 

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