AMERICA’S FAUX DEMOCRACY

In 1931, humorist, vaudeville performer, and radio personality, Will Rogers made the following statement: “Congress is so strange; a man gets up to speak and says nothing; nobody listens; and then everybody disagrees.” And he must have been peering into the future when he also made the statement that: “America has the best politicians that money can buy.” I wonder what he would have thought of the dysfunctional, hyper-partisonship that exists in Congress at the present time. We could use someone with the wit and humor of a Will Rogers to cope with our ongoing destructive political system that is virtually non-functioning in the year 2014. I bring this up now because the elections for many Governors, Congressmen and women, Senators, etc. takes place in a mere 2 weeks from tomorrow. For those of you that believe that election time shows that we have a real democracy in this country- all I can say is – how quaint, how deliciously naive that thinking is. An examination of the facts might disabuse you of that notion.

The first thing to realize is that election results in this country are mostly decided by the people that fail to show up at the voting booth, rather than those that take the time to cast their ballots. In a presidential election year, perhaps 55%-60% of eligible voters might show up at the polls. In a non-presidential election year, however, such as 2014, only about 40%-45% bother to vote. The rest are too busy keeping up with the Kardashians. This year all the pollsters are predicting large Republican gains in both the House and Senate. It is universally predicted that the GOP will take control of the Senate so that both houses of Congress will be under Republican domination. The reason- Republicans are much more motivated to vote against anything Barack Obama stands for, and that, of course, includes voting against Democratic candidates. On the other hand, it appears that most minority voters, including blacks, Latinos, and Asians  who turned out in such large numbers in 2008 and 2012 to elect Obama to the presidency twice, will mostly stay home this year. It seems they’re quite disappointed with the way events have turned out under Democratic leadership. Without an especially heavy turnout of blacks and hispanics, Democratic prospects this year are doomed. A classic example of how the non-voting public, which will be a majority of the population this year, determines election outcomes. In Australia, all eligible voters are required by law, to cast their ballots in each election. After all, isn’t that each citizen’s civic duty? A similar law in this country might improve the democratic process we’re supposed to have, but really don’t.

Next up is the considerable role that money plays in the voting process. The hit Broadway show, “Cabaret,” has a song that says “money makes the world go around,” and this is especially true in the political arena. Anyone with political aspirations from dog-catcher on up to president, knows that it will take huge cash infusions to make that goal come true. Multi-millionaires and billionaires continue to pour heavy donations into their favorite political candidate’s coffers, which then buys all those obnoxious and annoying political ads we’re subjected to on television during each election season. Sadly, too many people base their voting decisions on these ads which are at best a collection of half-truths, outright lies, and pure bunk. I wonder if our founding fathers envisioned that the election system, which is supposedly the heart of the democratic process, would turn out in this fashion. Most of these rich donors usually pour their cash into the Republican kitty; but the Democrats have a few rich partisans too. Whichever candidate can out spend his or her opponent usually wins the election. In fact, political cash intakes are often an end-game in itself. Each week, reports come out about which party is ahead in collecting the most donations. The winner usually gets the prize of buying the desired public office. All of this could be obviated if voters ignored all political advertising. and did their own research in deciding who to vote for. But, good luck with that scenario ever taking place.

Another factor in our so-called democratic process is voter suppression. It didn’t take long for those controlling our political system to realize that if they could prevent people who are likely to vote for the opposing party, from voting in the first place, that would be the key to winning elections. In olden days, almost every Southern state had enacted poll tax and written exam legislation, that effectively prevented most blacks and poor whites from casting ballots. That legislation was finally overturned, but the devious will always find alternative methods to achieve their goals. Today voter suppression takes the form of voter ID legislation that has been enacted in almost every state controlled by Republicans-the so-called red states. Since many poor blacks and hispanics, who usually vote Democratic, often lack picture ID, they are denied the right to cast a ballot. Sadly, the Supreme Court has upheld most of these voter ID laws, which have effectively kept the red states redder than ever. So much for democratic principles.

There are, of course, other anti-democratic traditions on-going in this country. The electoral college, which is comprised of 535 men and women, out of a U.S. population of about 312 million, gets to decide who the president will be. Al Gore found this out the hard way in the year 2000, when he was elected president by popular vote, but the electoral college gave the office to George Bush. The fact that elections take place on a Tuesday, when most people have to go to work or school; and in November when there is likely to be rotten weather in most northern states also suppresses voter turnout. I wrote a previous piece on how much saner it would be to hold elections in the good weather of September or early October, and on the weekend when most people are home. Other examples abound but I think you’re getting the picture.

So like a faux handbag, or a faux Rolex timepiece, America’s supposed democratic process looks real- until one examines it up close.

 

 

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BATTLING THE PLAGUE

Man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man throughout the thousands of years of recorded history is, of course, legendary. Tens, if not hundreds of millions of people have been butchered by evil tyrants and bloodthirsty despots. But there has also been hundreds of millions of deaths, to say nothing of untold misery, that has occurred during these same thousands of years that cannot be blamed on mankind’s nefariousness. These deaths are on God’s watch; and they’re due to nothing more than infectious diseases that God has somehow has decided to inflict on the human race. (Also on animals, to a somewhat lesser extent.) They are known as plagues, and while some have been brought under control or wiped out altogether, others are still alive and vigorously plowing a path of destruction through segments of today’s population.

So let’s start with an all-time favorite on the disease hit-parade that goes back to biblical times. Namely leprosy. Leprosy is a bacterial infection, discussed at length in both the old and new testaments, that causes alarming human disfigurement. In it’s worst form, leprosy causes hideous and mainly facial sores along with lumps and bumps and skin lesions. It also produces muscle weakness and numbness in the hands, arms, feet and legs because of nerve damage. In ancient times, no one, of course, knew what caused leprosy; but everyone who was not infected knew they didn’t want any association with those considered to be lepers. So leper colonies were often established where those that were infected could be shipped off to spend their remaining days with other fellow lepers. A leper colony often resembled a collection of the zombies that are portrayed on the TV show, “The Walking Dead.” Except if you were part of the aristocracy. Then you were permitted to wear a facial mask that hid the terrible disfigurement that had become your face, and stay at home in one of your castles. Even then, the top one percent had their own special privileges. Certain kings throughout Europe were known to be lepers, but were allowed to reign, as long as their face was covered by a pleasant-looking, smiling mask.

Leprosy exists to this very day, usually occurring in warm or tropical climates, but is easily curable by antibiotics. About 100 cases a year are recorded in the United States, usually in the South or in Hawaii. Keep in mind, however, that antibiotics have only been around since the end of World War II, or less than 70 years. So all the millions that were infected with this hideous, disfiguring disease prior the the advent of antibiotics, had nothing to look forward to except being herded off to leper colonies for an early death.

The next charmer that would make everyone’s top ten list on the disease hit parade, has to be the bubonic plague, or the black death as it was often known by. This is another bacterial infection, usually spread by rats or mice living in a city’s water or sewage system. Fleas can also transmit this disease to humans. Once people are infected, they can spread the disease quite rapidly to everyone they come in contact with. This disease causes high fevers, a painful swelling of the lymph glands, and red spots on the skin that usually turn black. Hence, the black death. The first recorded deaths from the bubonic plague were in China in the 1330s, A.D. But since China had extensive trading businesses with most European countries, it didn’t take long for the disease to spread throughout Europe. It spread with ferocious speed, quickly claiming thousands of victims. The Italian writer, Boccaccio, said its victims often, “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.” While the disease was usually dormant during the winter, it rose with fury each Spring, as fleas became active again. Over a 5 year period, an estimated 25 million people, or about one-third of Europe’s population at the time, had succumbed to the bubonic plague. It didn’t start to peter out until about 1600, A.D. Today, the black death still exists in small numbers, but is also curable by treatments of antibiotics.

Another all-time favorite has to be tuberculosis  or TB. It usually attacks the lungs and results in convulsive coughing spasms. It’s caused by inhaling the air that has been expelled  by one who is infected. Curiously, not everyone who possesses the TB microbe actually experiences tuberculosis. If one’s immune system is strong enough, one can avoid coming down with the disease. The TB bacteria can live in your body without ever making you sick. But if one’s immune system is compromised, the disease will likely take hold. And then it’s a very nasty business that can only be cured with a high-potentcy antibiotic regimen that can last for months. Millions through the ages have died from TB and it’s still highly active in our present day society. Of course, there are many other infectious killer diseases that I could mention such as small pox, which has largely been eradicated at this time, to influenza, which killed millions during World War I, but is controllable today through vaccinations.

Which brings us to the infectious disease du jour, the Ebola virus. Unlike bacteria, which science has been able to destroy with the invention of antibiotics, there is no comprehensive remedy for a viral infection. Such as the common cold. Thus, a highly infectious virus such as Ebola, can ravage through large populations, killing its victims at will, with no way of stopping it except for quarantine. The trouble is that viruses are so tiny compared to bacteria, that medical science has not been able to come up with effective remedies. Already several thousand people in Africa have died from the latest outbreak of Ebola, and it has now spread minimally to this country. Sadly, most African countries already suffer from mind-numbing poverty, and have neither the sanitation or quarantine means to contain a nasty killer like Ebola. Yes, countries around the world, including the U.S., have pitched in to attempt to quarantine this killer microbe, and will probably, eventually succeed, but not before a few thousand more people will likely die.

As I said at the outset, tyrants throughout the ages have killed hundreds of million of people. That one is on man. But killer diseases that have killed more millions, that one is on God.

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THE WAY THINGS OUGHT TO BE

People have told me that I focus too heavily on all the corrupt and dysfunctional behavior in our society and the world at-large, and not enough on finding solutions to all the myriad of problems I’ve identified. Of course, in almost all instances, the solutions lie in applying a rational, common sense approach toward resolving these issues. But rationality and common sense are often too much to ask of people mired in delusional wastelands, or caught up in the philosophy  of opposing any meaningful change in their lives, or in society as a whole. The way it’s always been has to be the way it always will be, without exception. Life is so much more uncomplicated if we just follow the old traditions, no matter how non-sensical they may be. In any event, I thought I would offer up some solutions to what seem to be intractable deficiencies in the way we go about spending the few short years we have on this planet.

Lets start with the presidency. No matter how corrupt and dysfunctional you may view politics in this country, there is no denying that the President of the United States is the single most powerful person in the world. This is true whether you love or hate politics, or whether you make the sign of the cross to ward of being involved in the political system, as one would try to ward off a vampire attack. The President is the ultimate leader, not only for this country, but for the entire world population. It would, therefore, seem prudent that the process for choosing this person would be well-thought out and highly rational. Instead, just the opposite is true. We have a system for presidential candidate selection that would make any third-world, banana republic blush in shame. First of all, we have essentially a 2 party system that has been hopelessly compromised because of special interest groups. The Republican Party caters to the agenda of religious fanatics, (they call them evangelicals in this country. Sounds so much better than looney-tunes, bible-thumpers.) Also to big money interests in business and on Wall Street. While the Democratic Party is beholden to labor organizations like the teachers unions, and to environmental extremists. These groups represent supposedly the base of each party, and are never to be offended, especially in an election year. There are some third party candidates; but they never seem to garner any traction, and usually wind up getting less than 1% of the vote. And sadly, a third party, beholden to no special interest group, is just what this country needs.

Next comes the party selection process. This would appear to be crucial since one of the two people selected by each party will wind up being, as I’ve said, the most powerful person on the planet. Unfortunately, the selection process has turned out to be a farce almost beyond description. Each party has, what are called primaries, with the earliest one being in January for an election that won’t take place until early November. The small state of New Hampshire used to hold the first primary in February; but then, the even smaller state of Iowa decided to jump the gun. Iowa holds what is called a caucus in January so it can be the first one diving into the political swimming pool. A caucus is where a tiny fraction of the state’s population meets in somebody’s house, or perhaps a school room, and votes on their preference for their party’s nomination. It’s considered a lot if 1 or 2% of the state’s populace bothers to vote in the caucus. Nevertheless, it gives the winning candidate a leg up for winning future primaries and caucuses, at least as far as the media is concerned. Next comes the New Hampshire primary, where also a small number of people turn out to actually cast ballots in an election booth. If a certain candidate wins both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary, they’ve garnered huge momentum going into the rest of the primaries, at least as far as the media is concerned. As a result, it’s often likely that that each party’s nominee has the nomination just about locked up before any of the larger states such as New York, California, or Texas hold their own primaries. How irrational.

The sane way would be to have national primary day in late June or early July, whereby all states would vote in either party’s primary on the same day. And instead of being held on a Tuesday, when most people have to be on the job, hold the vote on a weekend when most people are off, or don’t have school. Wouldn’t that be a lot more logical. You might even get better quality candidates this way. But one can almost hear the howls of protest should such a plan be proposed. Especially from people in Iowa and New Hampshire who would lose their special shining spotlight in the primary process. Can’t have this new-fangled thing called sanity entering our political system.

While we’re at it, lets change the time of the actual presidential election to perhaps early October. When the November timeframe was specified in the Constitution, the U.S. was almost exclusively an agricultural society. Our framers believed that by early November, all the crops would have been harvested on American farms, and farmers would no longer have the chores of bringing their produce to market. Today, only 1% of the population is engaged in agriculture. Isn’t it time to change election day to a period when mild weather prevails. We only get about a 60% turn out for a presidential election and far less in a non-presidential election year. Really  bad weather often arrives by early November, at least in Northern states, which further inhibits voter turn out. Wouldn’t it make more sense to have elections in September or early October when there is generally good weather, and have them on a weekend, when people don’t have the excuse for not voting because they had to go to work. I believe you would see much larger voter turn outs. So what are the chances of seeing these rational, common sense reforms being enacted into reality. Probably, between zero and minus zero.

I had planned to write about other major areas of American and world-wide dysfunctional practices that could be changed by simple, common-sense ideas, but I feel my energy level beginning to wane at this point. It’s that senior thing again.

 

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RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM

At the heart of religious fundamentalism is the unquenchable thirst to dominate other people’s lives. To dictate to the populace what it can and cannot do. The self-gratifying, lustful power to reward or punish others based on how they respond to religious edicts. That power to include torturing, imprisoning or out-right killing other human beings should they disobey those edicts. This has been on-going for tens if not hundreds of thousands of years, or ever since mankind began forming into various types of societies such as tribes or clans. Most early tribal leaders had the power to destroy the lives of their fellow clansmen should they disobey the craven idols they had carved and called gods. Such power has always been too intoxicating for most leaders to ever relinquish.

Which brings us to the events going on in most Arab countries in the Middle-East. It was only a few years back that the world was enchanted by what was called the Arab Spring. Ruthless dictators that had been in power for decades, such as Muammar Gaddafi in Libya and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, were being overthrown and the prospects of freedom and democracy throughout the Mid-East seemed to burn brightly. Today those dreams have turned to ashes, as most Arab countries have become hollowed-out shells of their former beings. You can thank religious fundamentalism for most of this, including the fact that people all too often make incredibly bad choices and turn out to be their own worst enemy.

In Egypt, after the fall of Mubarak, Egyptians were allowed to hold free elections that would determine their next government. In an act that can only be described as incredible stupidity, the people chose leaders of the Moslem Brotherhood to run their country. The Moslem Brotherhood had, over many decades, openly espoused and advocated for the imposition of strict Islamic fundamentalism for Egyptian society. Once in power, that’s exactly what they began doing. Who could have guessed? When those very same Egyptians that had voted the Moslem Brotherhood into power, began seeing the ugly face of Islamic fanaticism being put into practice, they cried and begged for relief. They held massive demonstrations and prayed that the military would intervene and save them. Fortunately for them, the Army did come to their rescue and overthrew the Moslem Brotherhood. Today, there’s a new Army General in charge of a government that allows and tolerates secularization in Egyptian society.

Most other Arab countries, however, are not as fortunate. It was not long after the Prophet Muhammed established the Moslem religion that two factions of Islam suddenly sprung up. Both factions pray to Allah, both recognize Muhammed as the prophet, so that the religious differences among the two sects are relatively minor; yet the two have created a chasm between themselves that’s deeper than the Grand Canyon. One faction is called Sunni and the other Shia, and their hatred of one another has led to deaths among Arabs in the hundreds of thousands or more. It’s all about the power and the ability to impose one’s religious beliefs on often unwilling populations. All this division and dysfunction has led to terrorist organizations being created, such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS who view killing people and instigating atrocities to be such jolly good sport. Ostensibly their intentions are to kill western heathens such as Americans and Europeans. And, of course, Israelis and Jews. That goes without saying. But in the end, they wind up slaughtering  their own fellow Arabs and Muslims by the thousands. Much easier to kill Arabs since they’re right there in the Middle-East and so readily available. Today, Iraq, Syria and Libya have been almost totally destroyed by terrorism, while Jordan and Tunisia are tottering on the brink. The terrorists have carved out a huge hunk of territory in Iraq and Syria, with stated intentions of taking over the whole Mid-East. And somehow, all this derangement, slaughter and destruction, in the name of Islamic-Jihad has proved to be an attractive recruiting tool for hundreds of young Europeans, and even some Americans. They have gone over to the Mid-East to join the terrorists on their murderous quests. After all, why should only Arabs have all the fun.

In a way, it’s a bit unfair to cite Islam as the only example of religious fanaticism, since Christianity has its own bloody history. From the time that Roman emperors allowed Christianity to become the official faith of the Roman Empire, (a few centuries after Christ’s death), the Papacy was established and became a dominant power in the affairs of almost all European nations. Europeans that deviated from various papal proclamations were often imprisoned or burned at the stake. One of my favorite episodes on the top ten list of religious fundamentalist hits was known as the Spanish Inquisition. Started in Spain in the late 15th century, the Inquisition sought to convert mostly Jews, but some Muslims also, to Christianity in order to save their souls from hell and damnation. Those “heretics” that refused to convert were often tortured and then murdered. The religious theory behind the killings were that since these Jews and Muslems would be dying at the hands of God’s children, (Christians), their spirits would be pervaded by the wisdom and knowledge of God’s followers, and they would therefore be spared from the fires of hell, and be transported into heaven. The old kill the person to save their soul gambit. This practice went on for centuries before some semblance of reason and sanity finally did away with the Inquisition.

Today, Christian fundamentalism, at least in the U.S. and elsewhere, takes the form of trying to forbid a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, or seeking to deny homosexuals their basic rights such as marriage. Certainly a lot tamer than beheading those that are considered unholy heathens. But sort of the same mentality of trying to force their fundamentalist view of life and religion down the throats of people that don’t share their beliefs. As I’ve said before, religious fundamentalism is all about the power to foist one’s beliefs on everyone else. After all, wouldn’t God want it that way?

 

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SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES…AND LUNGS

“Now when laughing friends deride, the tears I cannot hide, I simply smile and say …. smoke gets in your eyes.” Those simple but eloquent lines were from a musical written by the great composer, Jerome Kerns, back in the 1930s. I could have written about that if only life was so simple. But I decided to expend my energies on something more substantive- the smoke that comes from a tragic fire  that destroys both the eyes and the lungs. One fire in particular, that goes back to a little over a century ago, that produced such horror as to change the course of human existence in America. So let us go back to those thrilling days of yesteryear, as the Lone Ranger would have put it. To March 25, 1911 to be precise.

The advent of the 20th century saw a huge increased demand for off-the-rack, mass produced clothing that could be sold in department stores. Prior to that, presumably, most households made their own clothes, or obtained hand-me-downs from such places as the Salvation Army. New York, at the time, was a city of wide disparities between a lavishly rich handful of people, and a vast majority of dirt poor. But as the Industrial Revolution was gathering steam, new industries were booming; and none more so than the manufacture of off-the-rack men’s and women’s clothing in New York. Factories that made this clothing had sprung up almost like weeds. But few examined the labor conditions in these factories during that period. These factories employed almost all women, some as young as 14. They were mainly Italian or Jewish immigrants with a few Germans, and were forced to work under the most miserable sweat shop conditions. Clothing manufacturer employees generally had to work from 7 A.M. to 8 P.M. seven days a week. Even longer hours during the busy season. They were paid the enormous sum of $6 per week, and were often required to use their own needles, threads, irons, and even sewing machines. They had to work at tiny stations in poorly-lit, overcrowded spaces that lacked ventilation. There were no sprinklers or fire escapes. To say that they were fire traps waiting for disaster to strike would be an understatement.

One such manufacturer was the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, which was located in Greenwich Village. (Women’s blouses were often called “shirtwaists” at the time.) The factory was owned by Isaac Harris and Max Blanck , who were both rabidly anti-union. They were known as the shirtwaist kings because they could produce large volumes of garments for cheaper prices. It was a Saturday, close to quitting time, when workers began smelling smoke on the 8th and 9th floors of their 10 story building. The smoke rapidly became flames as a full-fledged fire broke out. Factory foremen had locked many of the escape exits with chains in order to keep out potential union organizers. Also to prevent workers from taking unauthorized breaks or stealing scraps of fabric. Perish the thought. Other doors only opened inward and were blocked by the stampede of workers seeking to escape with their lives. The New York Fire Dept. responded quickly but their ladders could not reach high enough to save the women on the 8th and 9th floors. Many women jumped to their deaths trying to escape what became a raging fire. In total, 146 girls and women died on that tragic day. But their deaths were not in vain, as they led to a new set of landmark government regulations.

Experts later concluded that the fire was likely caused by a cigarette dropped on a pile of scrap material that had been accumulating for almost 3 months. Owners Harris and Blanck were working on the 10th floor and managed to make it to the roof. From there they were able to cut over to adjoining buildings and thereby save their lives. They would later be indicted for manslaughter, but were never convicted. The judge told the jury that in order to be found guilty, the 2 men knew, or should have known that the exit doors were locked. Since that couldn’t be proved, they were set free. To their dying days they continued to rabidly fight the unionization of garment workers. As a result of this debacle, however, child labor laws were enacted as well as fire safety regulations, and other legislation to improve the lives of employees throughout the nation. The days of unbridled, laissez-faire capitalism were slowly being reigned in. Nevertheless, today there are many in Congress that would like to repeal virtually all laws that they believe hampers the full and free functioning of capitalism in our society. They consider such restraints on enterprise to be unconstitutional.

In 1902, shortly after Theodore Roosevelt became President, the coal miners of America went on strike. They worked long hours under the most unsafe and dismal conditions, and hadn’t had a raise in 20 years. Their lives were almost always cut short by the nature of their work, (inhaling coal dust 10 hours a day), or by the work hazards of mine explosions or accidents. America, at the time, ran on coal-from heating residences to providing energy to factories. Nevertheless, the owners of these coal mines adamantly refused to bargain with the miner’s union. They considered unions a form of socialism, and an infringement on their capitalistic rights. T.R. then threatened to nationalize all the coal mines. Angry coal mine owners told him he had no constitutional right to take such action. Roosevelt then responded that the constitution was written to serve the people-not the other way around. He further stated that the moral obligation to do what’s right for the people trumped any constitutional right. The owners finally and begrudgingly gave the miners a 10% raise and shorter working hours. But to the bitter end they refused to recognize the legitimacy of the miner’s union. Our current President might want to take a lesson from T.R.’s adamant defense of acting on behalf of the people.

Today, the political currents are running in favor of returning to the days of laissez-faire capitalism. Many in Congress, such as Senators Rand Paul, Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio, given the chance, would love to repeal virtually all social legislation enacted from the days of T.R. or Franklin Roosevelt. There’s an election coming up in a few weeks. If you’re planning to vote, think carefully about which party heavily promotes less regulation and unencumbered capitalism. Which party, if given the opportunity, would turn us back a century, to the fun days of the the Triangle factory fire.

 

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THE TERRORIST MINDSET

Not too long ago I was walking across a large intersection buried deep in thought and oblivious to surrounding conditions. Sort of standard operating procedure for senior behavior these days. Suddenly I became aware of a large truck bearing down on me, full throttle. It was readily apparent that I had but the smallest fraction of a second to leap out of the way, or be flattened like a latke. I didn’t have time to deliberate on the fact that I’ve lived a long time, and with all my aches and pains and other assorted maladies, did I really want to continue being in this lifetime. Nor did I have time to ruminate over what horrible shape the world is in these days, and getting worse all the time. Who needs it all? In fact, I didn’t have time to think at all. The natural instinct toward self- preservation kicked in, and I jumped to safety in the nick of time. But for some people the instinct toward self-preservation seems to be in short supply.

I’ve written before about living in a seniors community here in Las Vegas, and about all the foibles of senior behavior. One frequently observes seniors with canes, or walkers, or in wheel chairs, or hooked up to oxygen tanks while in wheel chairs, frequenting smokey Las Vegas casinos seeking some diversion. As physically impaired as they might be, the quest to hang on to what’s left of their lives remains as powerful as ever. A few years ago a man we knew  in our community, in his mid-60s, who had led a highly robust life, came down with pancreatic cancer. An extremely nasty business, that pancreatic cancer. He fought it tooth and nail for almost 2 years before succumbing. Toward the end he could have gotten a part as one of the zombies on the TV show, “The Walking Dead.” Due to the ravages of cancer, no make-up would have been required.

So, if the natural human instinct is to preserve life at all costs, why do some men in their twenties (once in awhile there’s a female, but it’s almost always men) strap on a belt of dynamite and seek to blow themselves up, thereby destroying about 60 or 70 years of future life, as long as they can kill others they perceive to be their enemies. Welcome to today’s modern terrorist, whose mindset revels in death rather than life. While there have been terrorists throughout the ages, (in ancient times they were called barbarians,) modern day terrorism’s evil registered in everyone’s consciousness with the tragedy of 9/11. Nineteen young Islamic-Jihadists pulled off the feat of destroying almost 3000 American lives, bringing down the twin towers of the World Trade Center, and damaging part of the Pentagon in an act of vengeance against hated Americans. Of course, they destroyed their own lives in the process, but that apparently seemed to be of little concern on their part. Interestingly, shortly before 9/11, these 19 men visited Las Vegas, apparently to experience a taste of the decadent life style they were committed  to destroying. And, as we all know, there’s been a slew of terrorist acts throughout the world, resulting in death, destruction and misery, in the ensuing 13  years since 9/11. The most recent being the beheading of 2 American journalists by a particularly vicious set of psychos known as ISIS.

It’s probably pointless to attempt to understand the psychology that goes into the terrorist mindset, but I thought I’d give it a shot. The first thing you need to understand about the terrorist’s thinking is the joy they derive from killing other human beings. It’s not unlike the serial killer who murders just for the pleasure and ecstasy (often sexual in nature) of snuffing out an innocent human life. Only the terrorist does it on a much grander scale. In other words, if you’re applying to join Al-Qaida, its probably not a good idea to check the “Yes” box on the application form where it asks-“Do you have any qualms about killing large numbers of people?” One is not likely to be accepted if they’re not willing to murder with impunity. If one is to be a terrorist, killing is the name of the game. Then there’s also the brain-washing factor to be considered.

A whole slew of radical Imams have sprouted up like poisonous weeds, not just in the Mid-East, but throughout the world. They preach intense hatred toward the West, toward Israel and Jews, and especially toward the U.S. They preach that it’s a moral imperative to kill and destroy all these heathens. Allah commands that the enemies of Islam should be destroyed. That a young man will curry great favor with Allah by sacrificing his life to kill those that would defile the Moslem way of life. He would, forever be considered a holy martyr, and his family would hold a place of high honor and distinction in Allah’s eyes, and in the Moslem world. And, sadly, to many young men, not only in Arab lands, but throughout the world, this is an appealing message. To young men, who at an early age are already down and out, with no prospects for any happiness or prosperity in their lives. Whose existences are already dismal and hopeless. Million and millions of such men populate this planet. This gives you some idea of what the world of sanity and the proponents of peace, are up against.

A couple of weeks ago there was a story about a young man from Minneapolis who despite being born and bred in the U.S., wound up joining and fighting for ISIS. Those that knew him said he was fun-loving and enjoyed pulling practical jokes. But most of all, he particularly enjoyed playing and watching basketball games. Basketball was his passion. Somehow though, along the way after high school and college, he met up with Islamic Jihadists and became brainwashed into joining their cause. Two weeks ago he was killed on an ISIS battlefield, at age 31. How many more Americans have gone over to the really, really dark side? Britain estimates that at least 500 of its citizens have joined ISIS. Almost all are of Moslem descent. Other European countries also have their citizens fighting and killing for terrorist causes. And there doesn’t seem to be any viable plan to cure this spreading disease.

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WAR WEARY AMERICANS

In 1864 the Civil War between the states had been dragging on for over 3 years. Soldiers on both sides were being slaughtered by the tens of thousands on blood-drenched battlefields. It appeared that both sides had fought to a stalemate, and war fatigue or weariness was beginning to set in big time, especially in the North. Although the Union had superior forces, its incompetent generals were continually being out-manuevered by the Confederacy’s more clever Robert E. Lee and his generals. (At one point in 1864, Confederate troops had come within 5 miles of the White House.) Northerners were becoming sick of the on-going bloodshed and mayhem. There was a growing feeling in the North that the South should be allowed to leave the Union, and keep their slaves, if that’s what it would take to end the bloody conflict. President Abraham Lincoln himself, believed that his re-election effort due in November of that year would almost certainly fail, because of the public’s sour mood.

And then, suddenly, the Union finally got its act together. For years, Union troops had been led by incompetent or timid leadership, that was largely responsible for the ensuing stalemate. But with the appointment of Ulysses S. Grant as Commanding General of all Union forces, and William T. Sherman as head of the Union armies marching through the deep South, the Union’s fortunes improved dramatically. Sherman’s march through the South was unparalleled, and left a trail of total destruction of Confederate resources. When Sherman’s troops captured Atlanta on September 3, 1864, burning most of it to the ground, it was apparent to everyone that Confederate aspirations were doomed. The mood in the North improved dramatically, as it was believed that the war would quickly come to an end, and Lincoln easily won reelection. He would live to see passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that would ban slavery forever. The problem was, however, that war weariness resulted in Union troops leaving the South on its own, too quickly.

Lincoln was assassinated in April 1865, and was succeeded by his Vice-President, Andrew Johnson from Tennessee. Johnson’s primary objective was to ensure that the country returned to normalcy as quickly as possible. So he pulled Union occupying forces out of the South in short order, leaving the Southern states to their own devices. But as what usually happens when the good guys leave the scene and a vacuum is created, did occur. Evil moved in to fill that vacuum. Each Southern state quickly passed strict segregation laws which made blacks second class citizens. Poll Tax legislation was also enacted which effectively barred most blacks from voting in all elections. These laws and practices, known as Jim Crow, effectively kept blacks in a state of semi-slavery for the next hundred years, until they finally started to break down in the 1960s.

Now fast forward to the outbreak of World WarI, in 1914, or a hundred years ago. The war pitted Germany against the allies of Britain, France and Czarist Russia. As I’ve written before, that conflict soon broke down into a despicable nightmare of trench warfare, where again, troops on both sides were being killed by the tens of thousands. Being stuck in the trenches was a hellish existence of mud, filth and disease. It was estimated that more soldiers died from disease, than from bullets or bombs. Again, that conflict was stalemated and people around the world were sick of it all. But President Woodrow Wilson, after being reelected in 1916 on a platform that said-“he kept us out of war”-decided that U.S. forces did, indeed, have to go overseas in order to break the stalemate. Shortly thereafter, the Bolshevik revolution took place in Russia, which then pulled out of the war. That meant that Germany had to be concerned with fighting the war on only the western front. But with the infusion of fresh American troops the stalemate was finally broken, and the Allies went on to victory. But the trouble, once again, was that the good guys pulled out too soon, leaving a vacuum for the bad guys to fill.

With no Allied forces left in Germany, it was open season on hate and deception. A little man, with a funny mustache and bad haircut, who had been a Corporeal in WWI, nevertheless found that he had enormous powers of persuasion to peddle his hate-filled invective, and beyond all odds, rose to become dictator of Germany. With no U.S. forces left on the continent, Adolph Hitler and his Nazi troops were left unfettered to rampage through all of Europe. It was only the British Royal Air Force (RAF) that prevented Hitler from taking England too, at least until the U.S., unwillingly, finally came to the aid of Allied forces. But not until 60 million lives were lost during that bloody conflict. The U.S. had finally learned its lesson the hard way, and this time, kept U.S. forces in Europe
after the war’s end. Today, almost 70 years since the end of WWII, U.S. troops and bases are still stationed in England, Germany, Italy and other countries.

So, we now come to present day world events. The U.S. has been at war in Afghanistan for 13 long years and has just pulled out of Iraq after 10 bloody years that cost 6000 American military and civilian deaths, and tens of thousands more of severely wounded American troops. Talk about war-weariness. Who isn’t sick of it all. Who doesn’t want us to just get out of Afghanistan and be done with the Mid-East once and for all. The trouble is, as we’ve seen before, when the good guys leave, evil comes in to fill the vacuum. And like clockwork, evil has made a grand entry into Iraq upon our departure. A terrorist group with the initials ISIS, that makes Al-Qaeda look timid, has suddenly captured thousands of square miles in Iraq and Syria, all the while committing unspeakable crimes and murders, and threatens further gains and advances. They recently beheaded a British journalist, just for kicks, I presume, and they threaten to gobble up the rest of Iraq. The current U.S. Administration’s response has been to launch a few lackluster bombing raids against ISIS trucks and other vehicles.

So the question is, do we launch a full throttle military assault on ISIS and other similar terrorist organizations, while it still can be done relatively cheaply in terms of lives lost and resources expended. Or do we sit back and watch events unfold from the sidelines. Each day that we delay meaningful action, they get stronger, and a future conflict becomes more costly. Will it take a repeat of 9/11 to make us realize that we don’t have the luxury of not taking military action. Evil, as I’ve said before, is a bottomless pit, and if the good guys don’t act to crush it in its infancy, it will just keep spreading across the planet. Yes, we’re all war-weary, but sometimes you just have to put all that weariness behind you, and do what needs to be done.

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ELECTRICITY JUNKIES

These days, when most of us arise in the morning, we’re likely to scan our I-Phones for any texts, or missed calls we may have received while we were sleeping. Who knows, maybe we’ve won a giant jackpot somewhere in the world during during the previous night. Or someone is texting to inform us that our long lost Uncle Willy, that we didn’t even know we had, just died and left us a fortune in his will. Then, still using our I-Phones or perhaps a laptop or tablet, we’ll next check our e-mail to see if such fortuitous news might be lurking there. Perhaps we might turn on the TV to keep up with the latest events both audibly and visually. We might also get out our ATM card because we plan to stop by the bank to obtain some cash. Or our credit card if we’re headed for the department store or the gas station. (I’m an exception to all this, since I generally read the newspaper when having breakfast.) All of this, of course, totally depends on the free flow and availability of an unseen product called electricity. Something that didn’t exist when Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration of Independence, or when the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

But what would happen if the silent, unseen current of electricity that we all take for granted, suddenly vanished like the morning mist. Devastation is what would happen. Devastation beyond beyond all imagination. Planes would fall out of the sky and massive traffic jams and accidents would occur. Your ATM cards would be useless at banks no matter what your account balances were. Credit cards would also be worthless. Food inventories in stores would be ransacked by roving mobs until the shelves were empty. All this, and much, much more would occur within an hour should our electrical grid be destroyed. Unfortunately, such an event is well within the realm of possibility. Welcome to the world of EMP, or electromagnetic pulse.

A sudden burst of EMP could create an apocalyptic nightmare, which would destroy, in moments, the electronic gadgetry that civilization increasingly depends on. Here’s the scenario.  A U.S. enemy, like say North Korea or Iran, or a terrorist organization that could its hands on a nuclear weapon, could launch a nuclear missile at high altitude above the U.S. The explosion of such a weapon would release a burst of radiation that would interact with the Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere, and deliver a powerful burst of electrical current that could totally devastate our grid and all electrical appliances. And don’t think that terrorist groups around the world are not working around the clock to secure such a weapon and bring this event to fruition.

A recent report by a Congressional EMP Commission stated that: “terrorists or state actors that possess relatively unsophisticated missiles armed with nuclear warheads may well calculate that, instead of destroying a city or military base, they may gain the greatest political utility from one or a few such weapons… in an EMP attack.” And by the way, in 2012, North Korea successfully orbited a satellite, the KSM-3, compatible with the size and weight of a small nuclear warhead. The Commission further stated that within one year of a nation-wide blackout, up to 90% of the U.S. population would likely perish from starvation, disease and societal breakdown. One other thing. Even if an enemy does not strike in such fashion, the possibility exists that a catastrophic EMP could occur naturally, triggered by a severe solar flare.

Congress, in reaction to the EMP Commission’s findings, did introduce legislation in 2013, that would initiate actions that could  possibly shield our electrical grid from EMP attacks. The legislation, thus far, has gone nowhere. After all, enacting such legislation would require a spirit of cooperation, instead of the dysfunction and polarization that Congress is so well noted for. Meanwhile the vulnerability is there, and the saddest part is that most people are totally clueless that it exists in the first place. It’s far more important to keep up with the Kardashians than to worry about things like EMP attacks.

Like the assault on our ecology, electrical grid vulnerability falls into the category of ignoring the steady ecological degradation of our planet’s resources, such as the disappearance of phytoplankton from our oceans, which provide a large chunk of the Earth’s oxygen. (Most people have probably never even heard of phytoplankton.) Or the steady disappearance of our rain forests which give forth most of the rest of the planet’s oxygen. They’re only important if you decide to inhale all the time. But there is one difference, however. While ecological degradation won’t be seriously felt for perhaps decades, a successful EMP attack will impact us within minutes. So while we can pass along all the ecological damage that’s occurring on to our children or grandkids, we can’t do that in the case of EMP. In the meantime, we’ve all become electrical junkies, depending more and more each day on electronic gadgetry and appliances in the functioning of this country.

I guess Ben Franklin never fully appreciated the impact electricity would have on our lives, when the kite he was flying was supposedly struck by lightening. That event, however, would truly change the world as it had existed for tens of thousands of years.

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BRAZIL’S MORAL EQUIVALENCE

So there’s a new 72-hour cease-fire in the on-going war between Hamas in Gaza and the Israelis. We’ll see if this one will hold for awhile, or if it will collapse into a new round of violence and bloodshed. But I thought that one interesting aspect of this conflict was the fact that Brazil, about a week and half ago, broke off diplomatic relations with Israel, apparently because of the disproportionate number of casualties suffered by the Palestinians versus those on the Israeli side. Let’s see. Hamas began this war by murdering 3 Israeli teenagers, and then launched a barrage of missiles directed at Israel’s civilian population; but, somehow, it all turns out to be Israel’s fault. Several other smaller South American also followed Brazil’s lead in severing diplomatic relations with you know who.

Brazil’s current President is Dilma Rousseff, who succeeded the very popular President Lula da Silva, a couple of years ago. President Lula was considered a left-winger when first elected, but moved to the center after taking office. He turned, pragmatically, to championing a market economy, and was credited with substantially expanding the Brazilian economy and reducing poverty levels. His approval ratings were through the roof when he left office after 8 years. However, his chosen successor, Dilma Rouseff, has been struggling since being being elected. The Brazilian economy, the seventh largest in the world, has begun to stagnate under her leadership. Poverty levels are inching up. There was great controversy over the vast sum of resources spent to host the World Cup Soccer Tournament earlier this year. The supposed benefits of increased tourism spending didn’t seem to quite cover the expenditures of building a new soccer stadium, increased security, etc.

So, did President Rouseff run out of problems at home, that she suddenly thrust her country into diplomatic affairs regarding a Mid-Eastern war. Not hardly. While tourists from all over the world flock to Rio, especially during carnival time, few ever venture forth to see its seamier side. While wealthy tourists are enjoying Rio’s golden beaches, about a hundred thousand people live in some of the world’s worst slums in the hills above Rio. Drug lords and cartels pretty much rule the lives of these slum dwellers. The police, over the last 10 years, have significantly increased their presence in these slum neighborhoods in an attempt to quell the crime and violence evident there, but have barely made a dent in criminal activity. Speaking of the police, a human rights organization has found that a greater percentage of people in Brazil fear police brutality, than any other nation in the world. With all the tyrants that rule so many countries on this planet, that’s quite a finding.

So why did a Brazilian president suddenly break diplomatic relations with a country far from South America, that it had scant economic ties with in the first place. My theory is that it all goes back to WWII. After that war, a number of high-ranking Nazi war criminals managed to elude Allied capture, and made their way to South America where they found a safe haven. Even back then, it appeared that Latin America was so envious or otherwise so distrustful of the United States, that they tended to side with Nazi Germany during that bloodiest of all wars. Hence those Nazi officials that managed to escape being tried for their crimes, naturally made their way to S.A. For example, Adolf Eichmann, who was in charge of the Nazi death camps that killed 6 million Jews, wound up in Argentina. He was actually captured  there by Israeli agents in 1960, and brought back to Israel to stand trial. It was during that trial that he uttered the famous phrase that would be used by scum all over the world, ever since. In his defense, he stated that he “was only following orders,” that were issued by his superiors. He was found guilty and hung for his crimes, in 1962. Another prominent Nazi war criminal that ended up in S.A. was Dr. Josef Mengele, who performed the most heinous physical experiments on Jewish prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. Mengele  managed to elude Israeli agents hunting for him, and supposedly drowned while swimming off the coast of Brazil in 1979. There’s no proof of that, however. Other, lesser known Nazi war criminals also made a haven for themselves in S.A. after the war.

So, continuing a 70 year tradition, the president of Brazil naturally sides with the enemy of the Jewish state. No matter that Hamas deliberately targets Israeli civilians in attempting to register as many kills as possible. No matter that Hamas uses its own people, including small children, as human shields to deliberately run up the Palestinian civilian death toll. It’s certainly of no importance that Hamas hides its rockets and weaponry in civilian apartments and houses, in schools, in Mosques, in shopping centers, etc. so that deaths among civilians can be further increased. And, of course, the multitude of tunnels Hamas built from Gaza into Israel in order to kill or capture Israelites is also of no consequence. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of tons of cement and the huge amount of resources it took to build these tunnels.

This is called selective moral equivalence. Since Israel has suffered far fewer casualties in the current conflict, they must automatically be considered the bad guys. But where is the moral outrage from Brazil when it comes to Syria. The despot Assad has killed 150,000 of his own countrymen during that 4 year, on-going civil war, but not a peep of protest from Brazil. Less than 2000 Palestinians killed versus 150,000 dead Syrians. Hmmm. I guess that when it comes to Muslims killing Muslims, they get a free pass from the Brazilian president. How about the on-going slaughter of thousands, currently taking place in the Ukraine. Where is Brazil’s moral anger against Vladimir Putin’s tyranny that is fueling that civil war. No mention of Brazil breaking diplomatic relations with Russia that I read about.

Of course, Brazil is certainly not the only country indulging in moral equivalence, so perhaps it’s unfair to single them out. But it’s highly illustrative of the collapse of civilized behavior that should be inherent in the human condition, but apparently isn’t. When countries that are supposed to know better, seek to accommodate the increasing strength of the new spreading, terrorist barbarism, instead of promoting decency, compassion and humanism, this planet is in a whole heap of trouble.

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A CENTURY OF VIOLENCE

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It was called the war to end all wars; but, sadly, it turned out to be the war that heralded in a century of increasingly bloody armed conflicts that has resulted in tens of millions of casualties. It began in 1914 almost by accident; but in a certain sense it’s still on-going 100 years later. And it best illustrates the ultimate failure of the human condition.

WWI was fought between 1914-1919, and was incredibly bloody with huge losses of life, and precious little ground gained or lost. It came to be known for its trench warfare, as both sides become bogged down for years in filthy, disease-ridden trenches. At least 10 million military lives were lost and an estimated 20 million more were wounded. And in the end, Europe looked almost exactly the same as it did previous to 1914. The war was sparked by the assassination of Austria’s Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie while they were visiting Sarajevo in what is now known as Bosnia. The assassination was carried out by a Serbian anarchist, who today, would probably be called a terrorist. Austria then demanded apologies and reparations from Serbia which in the end, never materialized.

It’s important to note that both Austria and Serbia were two-bit players at that time, in the European scheme of things. If the hard feelings resulting from the assassination had been confined to just Austria and Serbia, WWI would likely never have occurred. However, Austria, getting nowhere in the demands it placed on  Serbia, then called on its much more powerful ally, Germany, to come to its aid. After all, they were both German speaking nations. Serbia, realizing that the German Army could conquer them in days, called on its more powerful ally, Russia, to protect its borders. The trouble was, that Russia also had treaties with both France and England, who were also major players, so the festivities were on. It became a shooting war, essentially between Germany and the allies of Russia, France and England.

Germany realized it probably couldn’t win a 2 front war (Russia to the East, and France and Britain to the West) so its plan was to destroy France and drive the British off the continent in the 2 months or so it would take Russia to mobilize enough troops and armaments to engage in the fighting. It didn’t quite turn out that way, however. The French were able to stop the German invasion before it reached Paris, and both sides became mired down in deeply dug trenches, shooting at each other across a patch of ground known as no-mans land. Each side fired long-range artillery or lobbed grenades at one another, but any significant territorial advancement seemed impossible. The trenches were muddy and filthy beyond description, and soldiers on both sides contracted and died from disease by the tens of thousands. Never had the futility of war been so clearly demonstrated.

Finally the Allies were able to persuade the United States to come to their assistance. The U.S. up to that point had been highly isolationist, but President Woodrow Wilson finally agreed to aid the Allied cause, and the first U.S. troops entered WWI in 1917. At about the same time, Russia became swept up in its Communist revolution and decided to withdraw from the fighting arena. Germany then could concentrate its war efforts on only one front. The fighting then continued on for another year with millions of more casualties; but the infusion of fresh American troops made all the difference, and Germany was finally beaten in 1918. On a personal note, my father fought in WWI, and was wounded by mustard gas in the Argonne Forest in France. Both sides, at the time, started using chemical warfare, but the results were so horrific, that this type of weapon was rather quickly banned from use. It seemed so much more humane to kill people with bullets and bombs, rather than chemicals.

The war finally concluded with an armistice at the end of 1918, and then was followed by the infamous Treaty of Versailles in 1919. That treaty’s provisions were so harshly written against German interests that it allowed a little man with a funny mustache, but with powerful demagoguery instincts, named Adolph Hitler, to rise to power and set the stage for WWII. That war, again initiated by Germany as well as Japanese militarism in the Pacific, was estimated to account for the loss of a mere 60 million lives before it concluded in 1945. Once again the U.S. retreated to isolationism after peace was declared. Surely, after seeing the horrors of WWII, the concentration camps, the holocaust, the starvations, people would never again engage in such despicable adventurism, would they? Well, it didn’t take long thereafter for the U.S. to be engaged once again in a shooting war, this time on the Korean peninsula, which started around 1950, a mere 5 years after the end of WWII. President Harry Truman called it a police action at the time, instead of war. Like sweetening the cough syrup, it goes down much easier that way. In that fracas, the U.S. had to settle for half a loaf, as South Korea was freed to become a democracy, but North Korea, to this day, is dominated by a brutal despot.

And as we all know, it was a hardly a few years after the end of the Korean War that we once again became burdened with a shooting conflict, this time in the hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam. About 58,500 Americans lost their lives in that fiasco, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese deaths. And the beat went on. Hardly a decade later, the first Iraqi war was thrust upon us, although with far less casualties. Not too long after that came the Afghan war followed by the second Iraqi war from which we’ve finally disengaged. But it’s not just the U.S. Today war rages on in the Mid-East, in the Ukraine, and in Africa. It’s as if the human condition has degenerated to the point where the only way to settle our differences is by killing one another. The last man or woman standing gets to have their philosophy of life prevail on the planet. As it was in the dark ages, welcome to the new era of unbridled barbarism.

 

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