THE STATE OF WORLD INEQUALITY

An interesting statistic was published recently that didn’t get near the publicity or commentary that it deserved. According to a published report, 62 individuals who occupy this planet have accumulated the same amount of monetary wealth as half of the planet’s population. That’s over 3.5 billion people. In other words, 62 individuals have the same amount of material resources as do the economically lower half of Earth’s populace. Thus are the wonders of world capitalism that goes largely unrestrained. The breathtaking enormity of the implications behind this statistic should give pause to anyone that considers what it means to be part of the human condition at this point in time at this particular spot in the universe.

The absurdity of such wealth inequality can be best illustrated in current lifestyles prevailing among Earth’s continents. While millions in the U.S. and much of Europe fret that their lives have become almost meaningless because Apple still hasn’t put the new I-Phone 7 on the market, huge chunks of Africa, as well as large parts of Asia and Latin America, still lack electricity, sanitary drinking water, and decent bathroom facilities. For these people, a computer would be as foreign an object as a a meteor that came hurling out of the sky. Many on this planet working full time, still earn less than a dollar a day, and live under the most wretched of conditions.

To understand how all this came about, one has to return to the early days of the industrial revolution that began unfolding in the 19th century. Until that point most of the world’s population was employed as either farmers or shopkeepers, and poverty dominated in virtually all societies. Large concentrations of wealth at that time also existed among the few, who were generally monarchs and royalty that ruled most nations. But as the U.S. began its expansion in the 1800s, and with a democratic, laissez-faire government ruling the country in lieu of a monarchy, the landscape was fertile ground for development of the industrial revolution. Suddenly, a powerful force of energy known as electricity was discovered. It was discovered that oil could be excavated from the ground instead of having to rely on the killing of whales. New-fangled electronics such as the teletype, telephone, photography, and the electric light-bulb began coming on the market. A railroad system that would eventually run from coast-to-coast was in the making. And then, toward the end of the 19th century, a mammoth innovation took place with the invention of the horseless carriage. Mankind, at least in the U.S. and Europe  was on a roll, or so it seemed.

The unquenchable demand for all this output added great wealth to many societies, as capitalism provided the economic fuel that underwrote the industrial revolution. But the problem was that while certain people had an inherent talent for exploiting the industrial revolution to become fabulously rich, such as the John D. Rockafellers, or Andrew Carnage’s, others were not so fortunate. Most people who participated in heady times of 19th century industry worked for what became known as “coolie wages.” Coolies were mainly Chinese immigrants brought over to the U.S. to lay track for the developing coast-to-coast railway system. They were paid virtually nothing, and were given dismal, ramshackle quarters to sleep in, some unrecognizable slop to feed on, and usually worked 12-14 hours daily. Most died at an early age. From clothing sweatshops in Manhattan to to the drudgery of coal-mining in West Virginia, most of what was known as the working class faced similarly dismal conditions, and could be considered as capitalism’s casualties.

When Henry Ford started mass producing his automobiles in the early 20th century, he  introduced the concept of paying his employees a “living wage” which he figured was $5 a day at the time. It was good for business he claimed, besides being the decent thing to do. Thus, over the next century, many of capitalism’s rough edges started to smoothen out. Legislation was passed halting the exploitation of children in the garment and other industries. Labor unions became legal as did the right to strike for better wages and working conditions. Safety standards were established to minimize workplace accidents and casualties. The list goes on. Unquestionably, workers today in the U.S., Europe, most of Asia and parts of South America face far better working conditions and earn far better wages than their 19th century counterparts. Still, in many parts of the world, mind-numbing poverty and the most wretched living conditions continue to exist. The problem is inherent in the very nature of capitalism.

Some people’s genetic makeup is tailor-made to exploit a capitalistic economic system. Wall Street bankers and investment firms, hedge fund managers, venture capitalists, etc. generally thrive, (at least monetarily) under capitalism; while others, such as artists, writers, musicians, sculpturers, etc. generally do poorly under the same economic order. The artist may posses the same intelligence as the successful financier, but his or her mind is not made to undergo the rough and tumble competition it takes to succeed in a capitalistic society. Vincent Van Gogh or Edgar Allen Poe may have turned out the most brilliant pieces of art and literature, but both died penniless because the didn’t know how to function in a world predicated on laissez-faire capitalism. Success usually requires knowing how to defeat the competition, and artists tend to be very non-competitive. The 62 people I mentioned earlier that have as much wealth as over 3.5 billion individuals, obviously have the genetic talent to totally exploit existing capitalistic societies.

Actually, capitalism, and its inherent wealth inequality, is based almost totally on the random nature of human existence. Go into any children’s cancer ward in any major hospital, and ask why those children are  lying there bedridden or dying, while their former classmates are chasing each other around the school playground in perfect health.  All part of the randomness of the universe which doesn’t care or seek involvement in the turmoil of the human condition.

 

 

 

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THE GOLDEN SHOWER

Last week, at one of his campaign rallies, Trump made the bold prediction that if he stood in the middle of 5th Avenue in New York, and randomly shot someone dead in the street, there would still be no diminishment of support among his followers. And he’s absolutely right. So strong is the blind faith among his growing mass of adherents, that there is literally no act that Trump could perform that would in any way dissuade his fanatical adherents from supporting him. Or as one columnist put it, if Trump were on stage at a large campaign rally, and suddenly began to urinate on people in the first row, those in the back would come surging forward to also benefit from this “golden shower.” Awhile back, when Hillary Clinton was slightly late returning from a bathroom break during one of the Democratic debates, Trump called it “disgusting.” Which is understandable since Trump is rich enough to where he can hire someone to go to the bathroom for him.

In any event, I thought it would be interesting to attempt to understand what motivates this fanatical following for someone essentially espousing a neo-fascist imperative. In a nutshell it can be boiled down to talk radio and Fox News. For 25-30 years these sources have been poisoning the airwaves with a steady drumbeat of hatred and vile rhetoric directed against progressives, liberals and Democrats. Now, after 3 decades of all this vitriol, which has leached huge volumes of poison into the American mainstream, such efforts are finally paying dividends for the haters; which include Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on the male side and Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham on the female side. To say nothing of all the Rush and Laura wannabes that broadcast from every city in the country. To also say nothing of the daily bile put forth by Fox News against Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Democrats in general. These broadcasters command millions of devoted viewers and listeners, who then spread this venom amongst friends and families and others throughout their neighborhoods. Sort of like a rippling effect in a lake. Who better to take advantage of all this poisonous hate circulating throughout the country than a neo-fascist demagogue such as a Donald Trump.

As I’ve written before, one of the most venom, rage filled such broadcasters is named Michael Savage, who calls his program the Savage Nation. His real name is Michael Wiener, but I guess the Wiener Nation wouldn’t sound all that imposing. He also claims to have millions of devoted listeners.  Anyway, his speech is so filled with pure, undiluted, outright hatred toward Obama and the Democrats, that England saw fit to put him on a list banning him from entry into that country. Others on that list are mostly serial killers and terrorists. But in this country he has total freedom of the airwaves. (Maybe it’s time to re-think that freedom of speech thingy in the first amendment.) None of this bothered Trump, however, who went on the Savage Nation and thanked Michael for his strong support. Another fine bromance, similar to the one Trump established with Vladimir Putin, the tyrant dictator of Russia.

In the 1920s, when Adolf Hitler, was first starting his quest for power, most Germans considered him a fringe crackpot. After all, Germany was not some backwater, hicksville country. To the contrary, most Germans were well educated, and Germany had a rich culture of music, literature, art, and philosophy. Hitler blamed the multitude of Germany’s problems on a small minority of Jews, who were mostly shopkeepers. Similar to the way Trump has blamed virtually all the woes in this country to undocumented Hispanics. Who, at less than 11 million, now comprise about 3.5% of the U.S. population of over 320 million. Who the vast majority of Americans never have any contact with. As I’ve said, most Germans in the beginning considered Hitler part of the lunatic fringe. But through demagogic persistence, and through the force of Hitler’s dominating personality, more and more Germans began to fall in line with Hitler’s message of hatred toward Jews. More and more Swastika arm bands began showing up in the public square. And the rest, as they say, is history.

So, today in this country, we have another fascist purveyor of hate, also with apparently over-powering demagogic abilities that convince large numbers of people to follow him down his rabidly destructive pathways. All set in motion by nearly 3 decades of vitriol and venom emanating from talk radio and Fox News, who planted the seeds that make Trump’s landscape so fertile. During the 1930s, after Hitler took power, the Nazis conducted huge parades through German cities where thousands or tens of thousands of  gleeful Germans would line the boulevards to show their adoration of Der Furhrer. But by the 1940s, when these same cities were being bombed into heaps of rubble, the blinders finally fell away from German eyes. Lets hope it never quite comes to that, after Trump takes command in the Oval Office.

 

 

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THE FREAK SHOW

I had promised myself that I wouldn’t write about Trump at least until it was clear that he would become the Republican nominee. But the latest shenanigans going on in that continuing circus known as the Republican debates made it all too irresistible. The latest kerfuffle occurred when Trump, always seeking to travel the low road, questioned whether his nearest rival in the upcoming Iowa caucus, Ted Cruz, is really a legitimate citizen of the U.S. Seems that good ole Ted was born in Canada, but to an American mother. That Cruz is a U.S. citizen is undeniable. But the Constitution states that to run for president, one must be a “natural born citizen.” Since Ted was born in Canada, Trump claims that the Democrats could “sue” Cruz’s eligibility to sit behind the desk in the oval office, should he be the party’s nominee. Since mudslinging is the name of the game in Trump’s world, these phony allegations reminded me of the 2012 election when Trump based his attempted march to fame on the “birther” allegation that Barack Obama was not a naturally born U.S. citizen, i.e., that he was really born in Kenya. Didn’t work out too well for him back then, and likely won’t this time around too.

First a few observations. Canada practically is the U.S., and would have been if not for the seditious actions of Aaron Burr, back in the days of our founding fathers. Secondly, most legal scholars agree that Cruz meets the definition of a “natural born citizen” and that Trump’s allegations constitute a “red herring.” It also noteworthy that the Iowa “caucus” followed right after by the New Hampshire primary, have an outlandish influence in selecting 2 candidates, one of which will go on to become the most powerful person in the world. Iowa and New Hampshire combined, constitute 1.4% of the total U.S. population. Yet if one candidate sweeps both states, it gives him or her a powerful leg up, and lots of momentum in winning future primaries in the more populous regions of the country. Such is the irrational or insane method this country employs to select its presidential candidates. Any third or fourth world banana republic would be too ashamed to admit to this method of choosing their leaders. 

So Trump goes non-stop on Twitter bashing Ted Cruz, in an effort to tweet his way to the White House. The latest polls show the 2 of them in a dead heat in Iowa. Now, normally I would be the last person to come to Cruz’s defense, since he’s a right-wing whacko extraordinaire. He’s anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, and anti-gun control for openers. He’s also vociferously against government assistance to the poor, the sick, and the elderly. (If you’re poor, sick and old, you’re really up the creek without a paddle, in Cruz’s world.) He was instrumental in shutting down the government for 5 weeks in 2013, because he felt it was spending far too much on assistance for the disadvantaged. But, he’s also open and honest about his beliefs and priorities, such as they are, and doesn’t resort to mud-slinging demagoguery in order to achieve his goals. His views were largely shaped by his father, Rafael Cruz, who escaped from Castro’s Cuba, and equates all governments to the way the Castro brothers have ruled Cuba for the last 65 years. Rafael runs a mega-church in Texas, and has passed on his “all governments are tyrannical and godless” philosophy to son Ted who absorbed this type of thinking like a sponge.

Besides the bombastic, bullying Trump, and the far right, delusional Cruz, there’s a whole slew of Republican candidates eager for a shot at occupying the White House. There were originally 17 clowns on stage, and it’s now down to 13, I believe. But the only other candidate performing in these circus shows, that might have an outside chance at winning the nomination, is Marco Rubio. I’ve written about Rubio before; about his youth, good looks and even a dash of charisma, (unusual for a Republican.) There is no question that the young, handsome Marco would easily trounce the aging and highly damaged Hillary Clinton in a final showdown. The problem is that Rubio has run a rather lackluster campaign that has failed to energize most of the Republican base. He could easily win the election, but likely will not be able to secure the nomination. 

Then there are the also-rans like Jeb Bush. Bush used to be Governor of Florida but that was 8 years ago. Somehow Jeb believed that he could parlay the Bush family name into lining up big time cash donors that would buy the nomination and then the presidency for him. He did get the cash donors, but it’s not translating into potential votes in the upcoming primaries. Seems that the mostly disastrous  administration that brother George ran for 8 years, is still on voters minds. The thought of putting yet a third Bush in the Oval Office actually makes some people nauseous. There are also some of the longest of long-shots up on stage, hoping that lightening will somehow strike in their favor. For example, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, believes he somehow has a chance. But it’s not going to to happen and he should stick to blogging about his favorite restaurants in New Jersey. If anyone knows food, it has to be Gov. Christie. And, of course, these circus performances would not be complete without the one woman in the Republican race, Carly Fiorina. She speaks well, and exhibits great poise and decorum. But many years ago, Carly used to be CEO of Hewlitt-Packard, and nearly ran that company into ground with her decision to acquire the Compaq computer company. She was promptly fired from her job because of that fiasco. Then not too long ago she ran for senator in California and was soundly defeated in that quest, primarily because she was vociferously anti-abortion in a very blue state. Put her odds for the nomination at about a thousand to one. And the beat goes on.

There will be many more circus performances to write about before the eventual outcome, which will likely culminate with a Trump nomination. Then look at all the fun I could have, writing about The Donald’s exploits and ensuing disasters. 

Categories: Economics, human affairs, Isis terrorist attack in Paris,, Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, World War II, Viet-Nam, Anti-Communist Witch Hunts, Army-McCarthy hearings, Islamic Jihadist terrorism, Soviet Union, Red China, politics, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

THE FEAR AND THE ANGER

It is axiomatic that when one bases his or her decisions out of fear or anger, they turn out to be very bad decisions indeed. The same is true when countries act irrationally, instead of with calm, common-sense deliberation. A trip down 20th century milestones will further illustrate  how people and nations injure themselves badly by making decisions when angry or afraid, instead of taking a step back and rationally deciding what’s in their best interests.

Prior to WWII, the American populace was just the opposite of being fearful. For the most part, complacency and isolationism ruled the day. Even as an horrific world war was breaking out all around them in the late 1930s,  most Americans felt they were protected by vast oceans to the east and west of the U.S., and friendly neighbors to the north and south. It took the bombing of Pearl Harbor of December, 1941 to finally shake off this complacency, and force the U.S. to swing into action. By then Nazi Germany had occupied almost all of Europe, with just England and Russia remaining free, but hanging on by their fingernails before the Nazi onslaught. In the Pacific, Imperial Japan was gobbling up one nation after another, and threatened to acquire the biggest prize of all, China. It took U.S. entry into WWII to save both Europe and the Pacific. The U.S. was considered the world’s savior at that time, adored by all allied countries. When American tanks rolled down the Champs-Elysees in 1944, freeing  Parisians of the murderous Nazi regime, thousands lined the streets in grateful adoration. French Mademoiselles blew kisses and threw flowers at American tank commanders. Think the U.S. would receive a similar reception today?

Amidst all the glory, however, a very dark chapter in American history was about to unfold on U.S. soil, because tragic decisions were made out of fear and haste.

The Roosevelt Administration, fearful that U.S. citizens of Japanese heritage living on the West Coast would switch their allegiance from the U.S. to Japan, should that country invade us from the Pacific, rounded up all such Asians and shipped them off to concentration camps in Texas. Well, maybe they weren’t as horrendous as Nazi concentration camps, and they didn’t have gas chambers, but they were still pretty bad. Decades later, recognizing the cruel and senseless injustice of this action, attempts were made by the government to undertake reparations for survivors of that deplorable experience.

After the war, the U.S. tried to return to a so-called policy of normalcy, as millions that had been drafted into the military were discharged and returned to civilian life. However, this desire for normalcy vanished almost overnight. In Europe, the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, who had been our ally during WWII, began taking over East European countries such as East Germany, Poland and several others, and installing friendly Communist regimes under this new Soviet umbrella. In the Pacific, the established Chinese government was overthrown and a new Communist dictatorship, allied with Russia, came to power. The spread of Communism throughout the globe seemed unstoppable. Then in 1948, when Russia first tested a nuclear bomb, panic set in among the American public. The”Red Menace” was on the march to take over America.

A new era fear and anger, to say nothing of outright hatred of anything Communist, oozed like a giant blob throughout the land. Americans that had expressed complimentary remarks about the Soviet Union when it was our ally during WWII, were now looked upon as enemies. If people had the misfortune of actually joining the American Communist Party during that period, they were now considered traitors. The popular refrain from that era was”better dead than red.” And of course, unscrupulous politicians in Congress, seeing electioneering “gold in them thar hills” were all to eager to capitalize on this anti-communist frenzy. And by far, the most unscrupulous of them all was a Republican senator from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy, or tail-gunner Joe as he was fond of being called, (based on his WWII record.) 

McCarthy headed up a senate committee that probed into “un-American” activities in the U.S. government, in the entertainment industry such as Hollywood, and other institutions. Hundreds of people, almost all innocent, were hauled before McCarthy and denounced as traitors who had committed treason by being underlings for the Soviet Union. Innocent lives and reputations were destroyed through these anti-communist witch hunts. Some people, so branded, committed suicide, while other lost their jobs and careers and became outcasts of society. (These same anti-communist tirades also took place in the House, where future president Richard Nixon sat on the House Un-American Activities Committee.) This deeply dark chapter of anti-communist hysteria lasted from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, when almost all Americans lived in fear of being labeled a communist.

Finally, in the late 1950s, McCarthy decided to cross a a bridge too far. He made the accusation that the U.S. Army was “riddled with communists” or “pinkos” as term was used in those days. He held hearings to prove his point which came to be known as the Army-McCarthy Hearings. What became unique about these hearings, however, was that for the first time, they would be carried on that new medium that was rapidly gaining popularity, known as television. The public, at last, would be able to see live McCarthy’s smear tactics. McCarthy called up dozens of Army personnel, and accused them of being communist traitors or sympathizers. 

The Army was represented by a mild mannered attorney named Joseph Welch. When McCarthy grilled a low-grade black woman who was an Army file clerk and accused her of being a communist spy, his goose was cooked. Mild-mannered lawyer Welch rose in his chair and angrily cried out-“Have you no shame, sir. Have you no shame?” The public at last, could view in real time the sham that came to be known as “McCarthyism” which is today listed in the Oxford dictionary as an official word. And not in a good way. McCarthy also recognized that his gig was up and began to drink even more heavily than he normally did. He died of alcoholism, shortly thereafter, at age 56. But, as a result of this anti-communist hysteria, the U.S. became deeply enmeshed in Viet-Nam for no valid reason, where almost 60 thousand American lives were lost, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese that were killed.

Today there are new fears, panic, and hysteria spread across the U.S. because of Islamic Jihadist terrorism. And, as in those earlier decades, there are unscrupulous politicians today all too eager to exploit the current situation for their own pursuits in acquiring power. I’ll leave the names unsaid for now, but you know who they are. Will this lead to more bad decision-making based on fear and anger. It probably will. History tends to repeat itself.

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A FINE BROMANCE

Just when you feel that things couldn’t possibly get much worse, they invariably do. We now have Vladimir Putin, the tyrant dictator of Russia, and Donald Trump, the would-be tyrant dictator of the United States, exchanging accolades with each other. A fine bromance indeed. As I’ve written before, both have egos that would make the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the sidewalk. Both pal around with the super-rich, but promote themselves as populist heroes of the working class. In a recent Moscow news conference, when asked about a possible Trump presidency, Putin remarked that Trump was “brilliant” and very talented.  Putin further stated that a Trump presidency would unquestionably lead to better relations between Russia and the U.S. Trump then, of course, returned the favor by announcing that he was flattered to be so nicely complemented by  this “highly respected man.” Are you feeling the onset of extreme nausea yet?

I’ve written many times before about the Russian dictatorship that Putin has established. That Putin controls Russia mafia-style, where he is the boss of bosses or the godfather. That he runs a system of crony capitalism, whereby his cronies get all the capital and the rest of the peasantry are left to drown their sorrows in Russian vodka. (As if to vindicate this point, a few months ago, Putin personally intervened to have the price of Russian vodka lowered, so the peasantry could drink even heavier amounts.) That so-called Russian elections are controlled by Putin’s goon squads to assure his landslide victories. And that Putin maintains his popularity through military conquest of defenseless European territory.

The Russian economy is in the tank because its primary source of revenue is the exportation of its huge reserves of oil and gas. But with oil now less than $40 a barrel (a little more than a year ago it was over a $100 a barrel), the economy in general is on life-support. So to compensate for miserable living conditions, and to keep the masses pacified, Putin has to engage in military adventurism. Like Mussolini’s grandiose dreams of restoring the old Roman Empire, that I wrote about last time, Putin’s dream is to return to power the USSR empire that existed during the cold war in the 20th century. Accordingly, in 2008, he invaded the neighboring state of Georgia and took control of half of that country. It was the first time since the end of WWII that a European country acquired another country’s territory by military force. More recently he has militarily seized the Crimea from the Ukraine, and is now engaged in annexing the eastern half of that country by brute force. This slicing and dicing of the Ukraine has already led to the deaths of thousands of civilians.

But don’t take my word for what a bad guy Putin is. Read some of the many columns written by Gary Kasparov, a world class chess champion, considered  by many experts to be the greatest chess player of all time. Kasparov, a native born Russian, won his first championship at age 22, and then dominated the world of chess until his retirement not too long ago. But he’s also involved in Russian politics, and has written column after column, as well as a recently published book, decrying what he calls Putin’s fascist dictatorship. At the same time, he’s been highly critical of the West’s moral failure to confront the evils of the Putin regime. On that score, however, it gets a bit more complicated, since virtually all of Europe  receives its energy supplies from Russia. Since Europe is so highly dependent on Russian oil and gas, it’s reluctant to issue anything stronger than some weak-kneed sanctions against some of Putin’s cronies because of Russian military aggression in the Ukraine.

And the current U.S. foreign policy, being the weakest in history, has merely followed Europe’s lead. We don’t even have the fortitude to supply the Ukrainians with the military hardware needed to defend themselves from Putin’s onslaught. Much the same way that Britain and France didn’t want to upset Hitler and the Nazis in 1938.

In any event, Putin is the guy that Trump has formed a mutual admiration society with. If you want to view what a Trump presidency would be like, look no further than what Russia has become since a former mid-level KGB thug rose to absolute power in Russian politics. Trump has already displayed his own unique brand of fascism by first going after undocumented Hispanics who comprise only about 3.5% of the U.S. population; than blasting away at the Chinese, even though they own about a trillion dollars of U.S. debt; and finally proclaiming his desire to deny entry into this country of all of the over one billion Moslems populating this planet. All in gratification of the most important thing in Trump’s life; his own ego.

Does anyone really believe that once in power, Trump would have any regard for Constitutional niceties, or the actions of Congress or the courts.  He would  rule primarily by executive order, and those that didn’t like it could go lump it. Now it’s true that a hyper-polarized and dysfunctional Congress has brought about the type of gridlock where the masses are virtually screaming for necessary actions to be taken. But are these same people willing to forgo their Constitutional protections so this would-be dictator can rule with an iron fist of tyranny. I guess we’ll get to know in a little over 10 months. Putin and Trump, the fab duo of modern day fascism.

 

 

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THE SMELL OF FASCISM

When one watches Trump surging toward ultimate power, one is reminded of the train disaster metaphor. A man stands atop a high hill overlooking a serene valley miles below. Down in the valley are train tracks and as the man stands on the valley peak, he views a train barreling down tracks at high speed and about to go around a steep curve. But the man suddenly notices that just around the bend, parts of the train tracks are missing, perhaps washed away in a heavy storm the night before. The engineer is completely ignorant of the missing tracks as he plows full steam ahead, about to around the bend. The man views the impending disaster with alarm, knowing that it will probably kill and maim hundreds of passengers, but he is helpless to prevent the subsequent derailment. He is just too far away and its impossible for him to alert the engineer in time. A perfect metaphor, I believe, for Trump’s slow-motion derailment of the U.S. political scene leading up to the presidential election in November, 2016.

To better understand Trump’s snowballing popularity among the masses, it’s worthwhile to view another figure who used bellicosity, belligerence and bullying to also acquire total power in the early part of the 20th century. Like Trump, he would never back down from a fight, political or otherwise. He had a vast ego, and would strut around like a pompous peacock. His name was Benito Mussolini, and he rose from humble beginnings to become the fascist, tyrannical dictator of Italy in 1922. He, in fact, was the originator of fascism, which stressed extreme nationalism to the detriment of minorities, as well as adventurist militarism. Adolf Hitler merely copied Mussolini’s fascist style when he rose to power in Germany in 1933. Like Mussolini, Hitler became head of state largely through a democratic process, but once in power, systematically destroyed all vestiges of democracy, and became absolute dictator. Mussolini adored being called “Il Duce” which, translated into German, means “Der Fuehrer.”

Il Duce rose to power by promising to make Italy great again. (Sound familiar?) He had grandiose dreams of restoring the old Roman Empire,  which at its zenith, stretched from almost all of Europe to North Africa. As such, he joined Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan during WWII in a fascist axis of evil. The problem was, however, that Italy’s military capabilities were rather puny in comparison to those of Nazi or Japanese forces. Il Duce would eventually lose almost all military battles that Italy engaged in. He did invade Ethiopia in North Africa, (which had virtually no military) and captured it for awhile, but eventually his armies were driven from that country as well. Finally, the Allies drove Mussolini out of Rome in 1942, and he escaped to rule over Northern Italy which was still under Nazi domination. As the Nazi’s were being defeated, Italian partisans caught up with Il Duce and had him killed. His body was hung upside down in the public square, for all to see. A rather inglorious end to the belligerent bully that strutted about like a self-indulgent peacock.

Now, in 2015 America, the rancid odor of fascism is once again percolating throughout the land. With his face set in a perpetual, petulant scowl, Donald Trump has set out to seek ultimate power by playing on the the fears and hatreds of the American populace. In other words, the old fashioned way- through the fascist imperative. He started  out by denigrating John McCain’s prisoner of war experience where McCain was held captive by North Viet-Nam under the most hellish of conditions for 6 long years. Republican voters ate it up. He then used the most crude and vile language in denigrating a female TV news host, (on Fox News, no less) and his popularity grew even stronger. Next up was the demonization of 11.5 million undocumented Hispanics living in this country, (about 3.5% of the U.S. population), and the delusional and demented promise to round them all up and ship them back to Mexico. At the same time, Trump would build a nearly 2000 mile long wall that would cost a gazillion dollars, in order to keep illegals from coming back. But he would get Mexico, a country that’s nearly broke, to pay for it all. Nevertheless, his foray into this parallel universe of total delusion only increased Trump’s poll standings.

The recent terrorist barbaric attacks, first in Paris, and then in California, played right into Trump’s demagoguery by further spreading fear and hatred in the U.S of all things Islamic. Trump’s proposal to prohibit any of the 1.2 billion Muslims that live on this planet from entering the U.S. goes beyond delusional derangement. It outright damages U.S. interests in friendly Moslem countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait, Indonesia, Singapore, and others. Yet with his latest exercise in fear-mongering, Trump’s poll numbers continue to soar.

I believe that the saddest thing occurring in the U.S. these days is not Trump’s increasing popularity. He just saw an opportunity and plunged right in. I think the saddest thing is that so many millions of Americans are allowing themselves to be beguiled by this snake oil salesman who is peddling outright fear and hatred. Can anyone possibly think that once gaining entry into the Oval Office, Trump would have any respect for the Constitution, or the machinations of Congress or the courts. Trump would rule in a manner similar to the way Il Duce ruled over Italy, and it’s tough if anyone didn’t agree to that. 

In the end, it’s the people that do it to themselves. I’m reminded of that famous line from the Pogo comic strip in the 1970s- “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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PEARL HARBOR REMEMBRANCES

It was on this date, 74 years ago, that the pristine, idyllic island of Oahu, in the Hawaiian island chain, was shaken to its very foundation. A sneak bombing attack by 360 warplanes of the Japanese Imperial Air Force on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, decimated virtually the entire U.S. Pacific naval fleet. Only the U.S. carrier force, which was, fortunately, out to sea at the time, was spared. There was a horrific loss of U.S. lives as thousands of sailors died trying to save their ships. U.S. Army and Air Force bases on Oahu were also bombed, adding further to the loss of U.S. lives and military equipment. It was a day, as President Franklin Roosevelt stated in a following day radio address, “that will live in infamy.”

Until then, the U.S. had remained primarily isolationist in a war begun in 1939 by the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. Although President Roosevelt had wanted us to become more heavily involved, the feeling in Congress was that the U.S. was protected by 2 large oceans, and we could, therefore, follow a policy of strict isolationism regarding all the messiness of WWII. Even as Hitler and his Nazi thugs had gobbled up almost all of Europe, and Imperial Japan was conquering one country after another in the Pacific. Finally, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the blinders were removed from the isolationists eyes, and the U.S. went all in. It was a time to face reality.

A draft was enacted, and millions of young men were inducted into the U.S. military. Factories that had been producing consumer products had to be converted, almost overnight it seemed, into the production of military hardware and supplies. Food and gasoline became strictly rationed. Marginal tax rates on the wealthy were raised to 91% in order to pay for the war effort. It became everyone’s patriotic duty to buy war bonds. Even grade school children such as myself were enlisted to buy these bonds. Us poor kids would bring nickels and dimes to school each week to purchase stamps that were pasted into a bond book. When the stamps in that book totaled $18.75, we would be issued a war bond worth $25, cashable in 5 years. No one was immune from contributing to the war effort.

Such all-out effort finally paid off although it would take several additional years. It wasn’t until 1945 that the twin hellish evils of Nazism in Europe, and Japanese Imperialism in the Pacific were thoroughly destroyed and discredited. It would take two atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities to finish the Pacific war. Also discredited was the U.S. policy of isolationism, as it became abundantly clear that the U.S. was the one indispensable nation on this planet. Tens and tens of millions of lives had been lost during WWII and it took the U.S. entry into that effort to save the world and stop the carnage. Unfortunately, the lessons of WWII have not taken deep enough root and the old discredited yearnings of isolationism have now crept back into the American psyche. 

Today the world is witnessing the same type of Fascist evil that propelled Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during the 1940s. Today, such horrific evil is taking the form of Islamic-Jihadism. The barbaric atrocities being inflicted on helpless human beings by groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaida, and other lunatic Jihadist groups bears testament, once again, that evil is a bottomless pit, and must be torn out by its roots if it’s to be destroyed, discredited, and buried. And once again, the U.S. is the one indispensable nation that has to be called upon to undertake this effort. Unfortunately, the efforts the U.S. has thus far taken have been meager to say the least. They are grossly insufficient to do the job that needs to be done.

Yes, I get it that Americans are sick and tired of war, and just want to be left alone. Yes, I understand that Americans are no longer willing to make sacrifices similar to those made during WWII. Yes, as I’ve said many times, war is the ultimate failure of the human condition. But if we don’t destroy every vestige of this new Fascism, tear it out by its roots, it will continue to metastasize like virulent cancer. It will continue to attract new recruits by maintaining its credibility. If we no longer have the will power to fight off these modern day barbarians, we eventually will succumb to these modern day forces of evil. Much like the ancient Roman Empire became too weary to fight the barbarians at its gates many centuries ago. Rome was eventually destroyed and the world was plunged into the dark ages for a very long time.

Perhaps its in the nature of the universe that great civilizations rise to an apex, and then over time, begin to crumble. When life at home becomes too cozy and comfortable, thereby sapping the will of its citizens to fight and die on some foreign battlefield, in a struggle between good and evil. When we’ve reached that point, the U.S. will no longer be the one indispensable nation on Earth.

 

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TRAGEDY DEJA VUE…ALL OVER AGAIN

Suppose astronomers had discovered a planet that had similar atmospheric conditions as Earth. Almost identical amounts of nitrogen, hydrogen, oxygen and CO2, etc. And it also contained similar types of vegetation and wildlife. Further suppose that our space technology was so advanced that, although this planet was light years away, it could be reached by humans aboard a spacecraft that also could carry a large amount of necessary supplies. How many people worldwide, do you think would volunteer to be on the first spaceship destined for a one-way voyage to that  newly discovered planet. To leave Earth for good and start afresh on colonizing someplace brand new. Would it be in the millions or perhaps even the billions of volunteers. People who have concluded that peace, harmony and human decency on Earth is hopelessly compromised, and beyond redemption, and that the only hope for mankind is try again somewhere else in the universe. Of course, since we are not even close to having that degree of space technology such thinking belongs in fantasy land. Too bad.

One would have thought that after the slaughter by Islamic fanatics at Charlie Hebdo, just a few months back, the French would have been on heightened alert against further acts of terrorism. Sadly, that was not the case, as the recent massacres in Paris so vividly portray. Once again, the forces of death, destruction, misery and repression were allowed to prevail on an unarmed and unsuspecting civilian populace peacefully going about their business. Once again, Islamic-Fascist terrorists were allowed to wreck their havoc. The French have responded by launching a bombing campaign against ISIS strongholds in Iraq and Syria, but it’s too little, too late. Closing the barn door after the horses have escaped.

Paris was the obvious choice for the Islamic-Jihadists, since it represents everything that they are violently opposed to. The city of lights, considered by many to the most beautiful in the world, with its tree-lined boulevards, outdoor cafes, world class restaurants serving gourmet food and wine, all colorfully lit up at night, is a tribute to the vibrancy of life’s pleasures and potential. The French culture with it’s rich history of philosophy, literature, art, music and other human offerings stands in direct opposition to the Jihadist culture of death and fundamentalism. The French openly debate social, religious, and political issues; whereas the Jihadists seek to brutally terminate anyone seeking to espouse any issue that is not identical to their way of thinking. It was just one more example of where the West values life, while the Jihadists value death.

One has to go back to the Nazi horrors of WWII to find a similar enormity of evil as being perpetrated by Islamic-Jihadism. In WWII, once the world realized that Nazi evil was an all pervading bottomless pit, a determined effort was made by the Allies to destroy every last vestige of Nazism. Every last shrub of Nazi philosophy had to be yanked out by its roots. Every swastika had to be burned to ashes. Every ranking Nazi official was either killed or captured to face trial. If found guilty, they were invariably hung. That type of evil had to be destroyed for all time. And through a highly determined effort, it was. That’s not to say that there aren’t Nazi or Hitler sympathizers roaming the planet today. But by and large, they’re forced to hide in the shadows, thanks to the Allied effort during WWII.

Today, it would require a similar Allied effort through NATO to destroy this present-day fascist evil. Yes, the U.S. would undoubtably have to bear the major burden in such an effort, but it would be the only way to destroy this cancer before it continues to metastasize. ISIS likes to boast that although we may kill hundreds or even thousands of their forces every month through our bombing raids, they are easily replaceable through new recruits continually joining their ranks. ISIS has been remarkably successful in using on-line social networking to, indeed, continually attract new members. But if the core membership of ISIS was destroyed by NATO military action, there wouldn’t be any recruiters left to lure unsuspecting souls into futile battles and eventual death. The key to destroying Islamic-Jihadism lies in totally discrediting it.

The problem is, that at this juncture, there is little will to engage in a military solution to the problem. Certainly not with our present U.S. Administration nor with a majority of the American public. And even less so throughout most of Europe. Yes, it would require boots on the ground as well as bombing raids. Yes, Allied lives would be lost and a large amount of resources expended. But the thing about cancer, if you don’t cut out or otherwise destroy every last cell, it just continues to metastasize.

So, if we don’t engage in serious military action, and it appears that we won’t, at least at the present time, you might want to sharpen those high powered telescopes, and search for a planet that can sustain human life. And then hasten the space technology that would be required to travel the light years it would take for humans to reach such a planet. Maybe relocating on a new planet and starting allover again isn’t such a bad idea.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CAPITALISM’S CONTORTIONS

The best example of unbridled capitalism here in the U.S., has occurred within the last 10  years in the oil and gas industry, through a process of hydraulic fracturing, or better known as fracking. This process, which uses millions of gallon of water, and a huge array of chemicals, allows energy companies to drill horizontally into shale rock in a manner that releases vast amounts of oil and gas, previously thought to be unreachable. It has supposedly been a huge economic boon to energy giants such as Exxon, as well as to local economies where this type of shale rock is located. For example, North Dakota, previously known only for its cold and snow, found that huge deposits of shale subject to fracking lay beneath its frozen tundra. Hence, energy companies have made a mammoth investment in fracking these ND deposits. Tens of thousands of new jobs were created, as the unemployment rate in that state became virtually non-existent. The same held true for Texas which already had developed an enormous oil and gas industry. Many other states similarly cashed in on the action. With new, huge oil deposits being brought to the surface, the U.S. was able to significantly cut back on importing oil, especially from the volatile Mid-East. Hundreds of thousands of new jobs were created across the country. The price of gas at the filling stations dropped significantly, helping middle-class consumers. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Well, not quite.

Due to the vagaries of the way capitalism functions, serious problems soon started afflicting the oil and gas industry. Because of all this new oil that began flooding the market, the price per barrel, which was over a hundred dollars about 2-3 years ago, has now dropped to less than $50. While this sounds great for car owners, it’s not so great for Exxon and other oil companies, as well as oil exporters such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Russia. Who cares, as long as I can get cheap gas at the pump, might be your first reaction. Well you should care, because as a result of this world-wide oil glut, thousands of workers who thought they had secure, well-paying jobs in the fracking industry, have suddenly found themselves unemployed. The oil industry has had to significantly reduce its oil exploration and development, laying off a ton of people. And its not just energy companies. By reducing oil extraction and exploration, less orders for heavy rigs, drilling equipment and other huge and expensive machinery have also occurred, causing the producers of such heavy metal to also cutback their payrolls in order to stem the tide of red ink. Adverse reactions from cheap oil have reverberated throughout the entire U.S. and Canadian economies. Under a capitalistic system, what’s good for the goose is apparently not always good for the gander.

While the world has always experienced capitalism to some degree, this form of economic wealth distribution didn’t swing into high gear until the industrial revolution of the 19th century. Huge industrial developers  realized that vast fortunes were to be made by exploiting low and middle-class workers in the energy, railroad and other industries, as well as in the banking and securities trading markets. Most of you are familiar with the term “coolie wages” denoting minuscule amounts paid to low-income workers. But how many know that the term dates back to the middle of the 19th century when people from China and India were imported into the U.S. to perform back-breaking labor for little or no pay. Labor that most Americans didn’t want anything to do with.

Chinese workers were first imported into the U.S.during the 1849 California gold rush. These “coolies” were often victims of thugs and bigots, and were relegated into the most menial of jobs for little or no pay. They lived in the most dismal of shantytowns and ate scraps of food left over by others. Their life-expectency was obviously quite short. In 1865, more Chinese immigrants were imported to help build the Central Pacific Railroad, and were required to perform back-breaking work from dawn to dusk, while earning the most paltry of livings. Far less than what white workers earned while putting in much fewer hours. One could say that our continental, coast-to-coast railroad system was built on the backs of such coolie labor. One could also say that the very cornerstone of our capitalistic system is built on a foundation of exploitation.

Of course, over the past century and a half, the rough edges of U.S. and European capitalistic societies have been considerably smoothened by government welfare, retirement and health care programs. Although there is still significant worker exploitation, those that can’t compete (such as artists, musicians, writers, etc.) or are too old to function under a competitive, labor-intensive, meritocracy demanded by capitalism are often provided for by their government, at least to some extent. More so in Europe than the U.S., however. Those that advocate for capitalism point out that the alternative, i.e. socialism, has been a huge failure wherever its been tried. That’s true for the old USSR, Cuba, North Korea and a few other places. But the Scandinavian countries such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland have incorporated much socialism into their economic operations, and seem to thrive quite well. My own belief is that socialism requires people to work for the greater good; and that humans have not yet evolved to that point. They will work for themselves and their families, but not for the greater good. That will require about a few thousand more years of human evolution.

Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other that’s ever been tried. Substitute the word capitalism in place of democracy, and you’ve about hit the nail on the head.

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CAMPAIGN FOLLIES

In less than 100 days, the first primary voting takes place, to nominate two people, one of which will become the next president of the United States in November 2016. It’s the good old Iowa caucus, where a relatively small handful of people will kick off the voting season by giving a leg up to the winning candidates. I’ve written several times before about how a “caucus” is so bizarre that any third or fourth world banana republic would be too ashamed to employ such a method in choosing their elected officials. Essentially, a few people show up at a usually empty school house on a Saturday, and raise their hands in approval when their preferred candidate name is called. Or maybe they’re asked to stand in an area designated as their candidate’s space, and a head count is taken. Despite the fact that Iowa is a small state to begin with, and only just a fraction of that population bothers to show up and vote in the first place, obviously doesn’t dissuade the media from over-hyping the results of that odd-ball event. The winning candidates will gain “momentum” from this absurdity.

The interesting fact about the coming Iowa caucus, however, is that the latest polls show that Ben Carson has moved into the lead. Ahead of the bloviating, bellicose, bullying that has come to signify Donald Trump’s candidacy. So much for Trump’s supposed invincibility. The reason given by the media for Carson’s lead is that Republicans in Iowa are universally bible-thumpers. Ben Carson is a Seventh-day-Adventist, which is like being a Mormon on steroids. Seventh-day-Adventists make Southern Baptists look like secular humanists.

The Seventh-day Adventist movement started in the 1840s, when a Baptist preacher named William Miller predicted that Jesus would descend and sweep up into heaven those that were his faithful followers. Miller predicted the time and place where this event would occur, and urged those who were pure of heart to congregate at that location at that time. But the kicker was, that to prove one was pure of heart, he or she would have to give away all their earthly possessions, and arrive at the designated area, penniless. Several hundred people did just that, only to be bitterly disappointed when Jesus was a no-show. Seems he got caught up in a game of Texas hold-em with the arch-angels, and completely lost track of time. You know how compelling a good game of poker can become.

Not to be discouraged, a disciple of Miller named Samuel Snow, publicly stated that Miller was essentially right; but he had just miscalculated the time and place where this great ascendency was to transpire. Using more “scientific” methods, Snow gave a new, more precise time and location when the great schlep up to heaven would occur. This time thousands of people showed up at the designated spot, also after giving away all their earthly possessions. Only to be disappointed once again. Seems that Jesus had a rough night and failed to hear the alarm clock go off, thereby missing his appointment. But proving that nothing succeeds like failure, all these shenanigans gave birth to the Church of Seventh-day-Adventists, with about 2 million adherents in the U.S. and about 20 million world-wide. And explaining why Iowa holy-rollers have a great affinity for the Carson candidacy.

The trouble is, that while Ben Carson may have been a brilliant neurosurgeon, he has had no experience in the political arena and has some incredibly naive views of of how the world spins. He has equated Obamacare with the horrors of slavery in this country. He has stated that Jews in Nazi Germany could have avoided the Holocaust if Hitler hadn’t taken their guns away. The problem was gun control, not the darkest evils of Nazism, and Hitler’s fanatical hatred of Jews. Yes, if only the Jews had kept their pistols, they could have fought off the Nazi tanks rolling down their streets to pick them up and send them off to the concentration camps. It seems that every time Carson opens his mouth, more political gaffes come tumbling out.

The rest of the Republican field seems mired down in minutiae. Jeb Bush, who at the outset was supposedly the favorite to become the nominee, has seen his poll numbers sinking faster than my blood-sugar levels when I’ve gone too long without eating. His problem is that he has to keep defending brother George’s actions as president. Especially the whole invasion of Iraq fiasco, where we’re still sunk into that never-ending quagmire to this day. Carly Fiorina surged for awhile but has fallen back now that her record as CEO of Hewlitt-Packard has been exposed. The job she was eventually fired from because of some very bad decisions. Marco Rubio, who probably would be the most charismatic Republican choice, can’t seem to attract enough big money to engage in a viable, high-profile campaign. As I’ve said many times, in U.S. politics, the winner is usually the best candidate that money can buy. If one can’t attract enough big-money interests, their candidacy is done. The rest of the Republican field is comprised of pygmies usually polling at less than one percent. Such as Bobby Jindal, soon to be ex-governor of Louisiana, who is becoming more and more despised by the people of his own state.

On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton seems to pretty much have a lock on the nomination now that Veep Joe Biden is out of the picture. Bernie Sanders continues to put on a good show, but in the end, even Democrats are not going to give an avowed Socialist the nomination. The problem is, that with the FBI still investigating her email antics, i.e. putting classified, official government emails on a private server in her home, the Democrats could wind-up with a candidate that is under a Federal felony indictment. Now that would be a first in U.S. political history. Who would the Democrats turn to under that scenario.

So there you have. The latest version of the Ringling Bros., Barnum&Bailey Circus, better known as the American political landscape. Stay tuned, as the circus antics are just beginning.

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