Pope Francis recent visits to the Americas and to the U.S. were considered overwhelming successes by most people in this country as well as those throughout the hemispheres. But there is a large contingent in the U.S., of mainly Republicans and other far-right-wing dingbats that were quite upset about many of the Pope’s remarks and, accordingly, bad-mouthed his actions. The Pope shockingly seemed to put all his emphasis on helping the poor, and his worst heresy was actually advocating to save the ecology of this planet from further desecration. My God, what was he thinking. Surely he must have known that that when Jesus walked the Earth he wore nothing but the finest silk robes embroidered with gold and expensive jewels such as diamonds and rubies. That he and his entourage would only stay in the most elite 5-star hotels. And that his preaching and sermonizing were almost always before corporate CEOs, Boards of Directors, and Hedge Fund Managers where he invariably advocated for trickle-down economics and tax cuts for the rich. No, you say? It was just the opposite? That he and his disciples wore mainly rags and slept in open fields or where some follower could provide them with sleeping quarters. That his sermons always seemed to focus on assisting the poor. Imagine that. It might explain why this pope (unlike previous ones) is so emphatic about identifying and being critical of the worst abuses of our capitalistic form of economics which so heavily tilts toward the rich. Who knows? Some people living outside of right-wing looney-tunesville might actually take his words to heart.

With yet the latest atrocity being committed at a rustic Oregon school by, once again, another deranged individual, the subject of gun control, as always, springs to the forefront. President Obama and other assorted liberals take to the podiums to, predictably decry our appalling lack of gun control legislation, while the National Rifle Association and other gun nuts say the problem is too few guns, and that any tightening of gun control laws would be a violation of their infamous Second Amendment rights. And, sadly, it’s the gun nuts that always seem to carry the day. But there is one set of statistics that need to be pounded into American heads if any progress is to be achieved. At 320 million, the U.S. comprises less than 5% of the world’s population. Yet more than 50% of all the guns that exist on this planet reside in the U.S. That explains it all. The U.S. is awash with guns so that the ensuing chaos that gun proliferation causes, comes as no surprise. A new book on gun control, just out, refers to this situation as the “wellspring of crazy.” It’s hard to top that phrase for imagery.

The main problem here is that the U.S. has a gun fetish. A fetish is a compulsion so strong, that most people that have them cannot rid themselves of it. For example, there are many sexual fetishes such as bondage, sado-masochism, spanking, etc. that are used in role playing. Most are harmless and rarely lead to adverse consequences. But a gun fetish is something else. It becomes a total exercise in fanaticism as shown in the expression of many gun owners that, “if they come after my gun, they’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead fingers.” The American gun fetish probably began when the West was being settled, and the settlers had to often fight off Indian raids or outlaws. Those threats are now gone, but the fetish lives on.

Gun advocates like to point out that those jurisdictions that do have strict gun control laws, like New York, Washington D.C. and Chicago, often have the highest crime and murder rates to go along with those laws. They aver that no matter how strict gun laws are, the bad guys will always be able to get their hands on these weapons. But that argument is superfluous. It does little good for one place to have strict gun laws, if one can merely take a short ride into the next jurisdiction and buy all the guns he or she desires. If Illinois has strict gun control, a short hop over to Indiana will remedy that situation. To be effective gun control must blanket the entire country. One other oddity to those killings in Oregon. One of those murdered was a professor that had relocated to these Oregon boondocks from N.Y. City. I’m sure he felt he was getting out one of largest crime hubs of the country, into the safety of some backwater Rubesville. Funny how fate is always determined to play out the cards it’s holding.

One last item. In the on-going, never-ending war in Afghanistan, the U.S. has just bombed a hospital run by the humanitarian organization known as “Doctors-Without-Borders.” Over 20 people were killed in this brainless, mind-boggling act of ineptitude and carelessness. We could chalk it up to collateral damage, as the war advocates proclaim. I would sooner chalk it up to futility of war in general, however, and U.S. impotence in defeating the Taliban thugs and serial killers we’ve been fighting against-14 years later since we began that war. Although there undoubtably have been wars since the beginning of mankind, the first war recorded in history occurred over 4700 years ago. Not much has changed since then, except for maybe the weaponry.

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I know it’s been a long time since I spoke to all of you, but I’ve been real busy with a lot of issues including some health concerns. Right now, however, I’m just seething over the latest shenanigans going on in the “esteemed” halls of Congress, and I needed a place to vent. So once again, our mutual friend has agreed to let me use his blog to get all the anger out of my system. And this time without his usual boring preamble. So let’s get down to it.

I see that, once again, you fucking morons in Congress are threatening to shut down the government come October 1 because of some cock-a-mamie excuse like funding Planned Parenthood. Unbelievable. You idiots are like serial killers that taunt police by sending them notes saying-“Stop me before I kill again.” You guys just can’t help yourselves. It’s like shutting down the government is in your DNA. So either by not approving new appropriations for the next fiscal year, or by not raising the debt ceiling, our government goes out of business in the next 10 days. And over what? A $500 million outlay to Planned Parenthood? Are you fucking, kidding me. A half billion dollars out of a total annual budget of some $3.6 trillion. You can take that half billion out of the petty cash accounts of most government departments. You can take that half billion out of the DOD’s coffee fund.

Yeah, yeah, I know you’re all riled up over this abortion thing, but shuttering the government is really the height of myopic stupidity. What about the people that depend on government funds for their very lives. What about people on Medicare or Medicaid or who receive disability payments. I assume you’ll put out a notice to them saying-“Please avoid getting sick while the government is closed.” I mean, who does this. Not a single country in the world, from first tier to a fourth rate banana republic does this, even if their parliaments can’t get their acts together. I get it that all you Republicans are hugely pissed off at Obama, first for the Iranian nuclear deal and now over this Planned Parenthood thingy. But look at it this way. The nuke deal with Iran is a bad accord, but it’s better than nothing. Without it, an unrestrained Iran would just plow ahead on their own and build a nuclear arsenal anyway. With the accord, it might slow them down to some extent. And denying Planned Parenthood its chump change isn’t going to do away with abortions in this country. Wake up all you willfully blind bible-thumpers-abortion is here to stay, one way or another.

Anyway, you have the Missus all agitated that we’re not going to get our monthly benefits like Social Security. You know how she worries. She already goes around saying that in order to get elected to Congress you have to have “shit for brains.” Shutting the government down will only reinforce her notions, although I imagine that no matter what, they can’t get much worse. And what about my proclivities. Just imagine how upset Sid and the boys that run the craps tables at Caesars will be, if I fail to come down and make my weekly donations. I would never be forgiven. You Republicans have already lost the black, Hispanic, Asian and any other minority voters, as well most young people. Now you’re going to piss off us older white guys, your one remaining core constituency? Smart. Really smart.

To make matters even worse, you Republicans seem hellbent on making an egotistical prick like Donald Trump your nominee for president. Trump, whose ego is larger than the Grand Canyon, figures he can just bully his way into the presidency. And I know a bully when I see one, from my experiences growing up in the rough neighborhoods of the Bronx, where failure to be tough was not an option. At least not if you wanted to see adulthood. While Trump grew up pampered in a huge penthouse on Park Avenue, and then inherited an extensive real estate empire that was built by his father.  And now he’s browbeating the asses off the Republican spineless wonders that are supposedly trying to win the nomination.

A good example was in the second debate when Trump was suddenly giving discourse on autism and any role that vaccines may play in this tragic affliction. If I had been up on that podium, I would have immediately stated something like-“Well, Doctor Trump, please do enlighten us as to your impressive medical credentials that allows you to pontificate on such a deadly serious biological matter.”  Yet not one of the other candidates had the balls for such a confrontation. Maybe Carly Fiorina has a valid excuse, but what about all the men up there.

Anyway, getting back to Congressional machinations, maybe the morons in the hallowed halls will pull a rabbit out-of-the-hat at the last minute, and do the right thing. Nobody knows, least of all, the Congressional idiots themselves. But they should know that most people are getting real tired of these foibles, and putting an end to them is long overdue. Well I guess I do feel better by venting, so I’ll sign off now before I get in any more hot water. As always I’m: Respectfully yours, Gerald P.

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A woman at a recent campaign rally holds up a huge sign that says-“Thank You Lord Jesus for Donald Trump.” Now Trump may be many things, but the one thing he’s not is a bible-thumper.  Yet, the rather large evangelical community of Christian zealots in this country do appear to be solidly in the Donald’s corner. Hmmnn. Strangely, religious fanaticism and Trump seem to fit together like hand in glove. On the opposite side, a noted Wall Street Journal columnist recently called out Trump for his demagoguery, and compared him to the late tyrannical dictator of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, who ran his country’s economy into the ground before dying of cancer in 2013. In terms of belligerence, bellicosity, and bullying, there are definite similarities between the two men. But I would more likely compare Trump to Vladimir Putin, who runs Russia mafia-style, with himself as the godfather, or boss of bosses. Those on the right who think Trump will have any respect for the U.S. Constitution, or the traditions and practices of U.S. government operations, once he reaches the Oval Office, are in for a rude awakening. Both Chavez and Putin came to power largely through the democratic process, similar to the one we practice in this country. Once in power, however, both men casually tossed aside any semblance of democracy, and became dictators for life. And now we seem to be traveling down this same road.

Of course, the unravelling of American society pales in comparison to the horrors being perpetrated in much of the rest of the world. In the Mid-East, Islamic fascist terrorism is destroying the societies of countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, thereby creating a huge humanitarian crises. Hundreds of thousands have already been slaughtered by tyrants such as Hafaz Assad in Syria, or by Islamo-Fascist terror organizations such as ISIS or Al-Qaeda. Hundreds of thousands more, trying to escape a similar fate, have attempted to flood into Europe, the nearest port of entry that’s supposedly safe. Thousands have already drowned at sea trying to cross the Mediterranean and reach the shores of Greece, a country, by the way, that itself is drowning under the burden of unaffordable economic debt. The irony is all too transparent. From Greece, the plan for most of these refugees is to move north into the more prosperous nations of Germany and France. But the problem is that most of these European countries are relatively small, and can ill-afford to absorb the tens or hundreds of thousands of Muslim immigrants pouring into their boundaries. The prime minister of Hungry has decried this huge Muslim influx, saying that it will change the very core of Christian prevalence over the European continent. And it probably will. Political battles are going on in virtually every European nation as to whether to admit these desperate immigrants, and if so, how many.

What’s at play here is an unravelling of civilized society as we have known it. When a vacuum is created, evil appears to inevitably move in to fill that vacuum, and those opposing that evil are merely jailed or executed. That vacuum came into existence by the withdrawal of NATO from policing world affairs, primarily in Europe and North Africa. The North Atlantic Treaty Organization, which was created originally to counter the aggressive ambitions of the old Soviet empire, consisted of military forces from primarily the U.S., but also from European countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the rest of Europe. But with the disintegration of the USSR, NATO began to wither on the vine, if it even exists today, other than on some parchment.

With huge budgetary debt piling up throughout most of Europe, as well as in the U.S., it has become expedient to attempt to achieve savings by cutting back on military hardware and troops. The military resources of virtually every European country is now just a shadow of its former self, and there has been significant decrease in this country as well. Which makes it a prime opportunity for the bad guys to move in and fill the vacuum left by the hollowed forces of the good guys. An opportunity too ripe to pass up. Thus, the Mid-East is in a process of steady disintegration, Europe is being overwhelmed by waves of desperate refugees fleeing for their lives to a continent ill-equipped to absorb them, and the U.S. is pretty much observing from a safe distance, but doing nothing.

Perhaps it’s in the very fabric of the human condition to eventually end up on a course of self-destruction. Winston Churchill once said that a lie travels half way around the world while truth is putting its boots on. The same exact thought could be made about the forces of good and evil. In the late 1930s, the good guys pretty much twiddled their thumbs while Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan nearly destroyed the world. The price paid for late entry into world events was merely in excess of 60 million human lives. Today the U.S. and its allies fiddle while the Mid-East burns. Of course, such conditions create fertile soil for demagogues like Donald Trump to plant the seeds of fear and anger on his quest to be the most powerful person in the world. Reacting out of fear or anger is a sure-fire route for those on the road to perdition. I wonder how Jesus feels, being thanked for the rise of this snake oil salesman.

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I want all of you to know that I’ve just developed this wonderful elixir that will alleviate or cure a host of various medical problems. Its known to reduce or eliminate the pain and suffering from arthritis, rheumatism, sciatica, gout, and many other maladies including diabetes and even cancer. And I’m offering this splendid tonic for only $40 for a month’s supply. It’s really too good a product to pass up. What, no takers? Well, how about this then. I also dabble in real estate and I’m willing to put on the market for a very low price, a bridge that connects Brooklyn with Manhattan. It’s the deal of a lifetime. A deal that you can’t afford to pass up. Still no buyers? Whew, tough crowd. I don’t see why people aren’t jumping to take advantage of these splendid offerings when apparently millions are buying into the same type snake oil that Donald Trump has been peddling. If anything, my promises would appear to be more credible.

For example, Trump promises that as president (a scary premise you can put together in time for Halloween), he will build a nearly 2000 mile long wall on our border with Mexico to keep out those dastardly illegal aliens. But the best part of this scenario is that he will get Mexico to pay the tens or hundreds of billions of dollars such a wall would cost. I can just imagine how this would play out. Trump calls Mexico with his request, and the Mexican president comes on the line and says: “But of course, Señor Trump. Anything for you. We’ll be delighted to furnish you the billions you need to build your wall. We’re rolling in so much cash here in Mexico that we don’t know where to spend it all.” And just like that the wall is built and paid for, almost overnight. Pure, unadulterated snake oil, yet Trump is leading in the polls for the GOP nomination.

To follow this premise to its logical conclusion, say the wall gets built and does bar undocumented migrants from entering our country through our southern border. So what’s next. Will those sneaky illegals then fly to Canada and come in through our porous, nearly 4000 mile long border to the north. Will this necessitate spending more gazillions of dollars for a wall on the Canadian border. What if the illegals get on rafts or dinghies and try to enter from the east or west coasts. More walls to erect, until we’ve totally boxed ourselves in from the rest of the world? Such is the mind-numbing blindness that Trump followers are so heavily infested with. Did I mention that Trump leads in all the polls for the presidency in 2016? At one Trump rally, a woman was holding a big sign over her head that read-“Thank God for Trump.” So let’s look past the hysteria over undocumented aliens, revved up thanks to Trump’s demagoguery and opaque salesmanship, to those pesky, deflating little items known as facts. Facts that demagogues such as Trump truly despise because they tend to deflate their hate filled balloons.

According to experts in the field, the undocumented alien population in the U.S. six years ago stood at about 12.5 million. Due to the economic swan dive the U.S. has experienced over the past 6 years, the illegal population in this country has actually declined to just a tad over 11 million. I guess many that came here figured out that conditions in this country were just as lousy as back home, and self-deported themselves, (as Mitt Romney might say), back to Latin America. With a U.S. population of some 320 million, the 11 million illegals here today represent less than 4% of the total. The fact is that the overwhelming majority of Americans have little or no contact with illegals. Another fact is that a good chunk of of the undocumented worker pool are people that entered this country legally, but who have stayed on after their visas have expired. So much for building those hideous walls.

Another demonization perpetuated by the illegal immigration demagogues concerns the status of “anchor babies.” Supposedly, pregnant  Hispanic women are entering the U.S. illegally, to give birth on U.S. soil, so that their baby has to be granted automatic U.S. citizenship according to the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution. If the baby is an American citizen, so the argument goes, it’s all the harder to deport that baby’s illegal parents. First off, this occurs in a very few and insignificant instances. Secondly, it’s fascinating to watch all those right-wing fanatics who have been constantly berating the Obama administration for ignoring or flouting a ton of constitutional requirements, now willing to shred the clear and precise language of the 14th amendment, when it suits their purpose. I guess, in the end, it all depends on whose ox is being gored.

To be a successful demagogue several factors have to come into play. First, the aspiring demagogue must be highly skilled at salesmanship. Secondly, there has to be a small, rather defenseless minority within the country that can be demonized and scapegoated as causing the major problems that country is experiencing. That’s how Hitler was able to attain power in Germany during the 1930s. Hitler’s powerful salesmanship abilities were able to convince a well-educated, sophisticated, and cultural German populace that a small, law-abiding, defenseless Jewish minority was the cause of virtually all of that country’s ills at that time. We all know how well that scenario played out. Now Trump is in full throttle mode of demonizing undocumented Hispanics in order to become the most powerful man in the world. Once in power, he promises to have his forces go door-to-door if necessary, to round up 11 million illegals and deport them all back to from whence they came. The similarities with Nazi Germany are unfortunately all too apparent. The question is, will a majority of the U.S. populace be duped by this snake-oil salesman and grant him the power he so desperately seeks.

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Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, is only the third openly avowed Socialist ever to be elected to Congress. The previous two won seats in the House but quickly faded from the scene. The most remarkable attribute about Sanders, however, is that at age 73, he still has the stamina and energy to traipse all over the country as he seeks the Democratic nomination to run for president. And he’s been drawing extremely enthusiastic crowds in the tens of thousands at various campaign rallies across the nation. Crowds that are a lot larger and far more enthused than anything Hillary Clinton has been able to generate thus far. His message of economic populism has resounded among massive segments of the population that believe they are being screwed over by Wall Street sharpies, banking institutions, hedge fund managers, and others with inside knowledge of how to manipulate the U.S. financial markets and economic systems. Basically, Bernie’s platform is one of redistribution of wealth. Take from those living in huge mansions, have private yachts and jets, drive top of the line Mercedes, etc., and give to those forced to live in rat-infested, crime and drug riddled slums, and not knowing when and where their next meal will be eaten. In effect, Bernie’s candidacy is an indictment of the very capitalist system that is the heart and soul of present day economics in the U.S.

Capitalism in this country has failed so many people for so long that massive crowds are turning to listen to Bernie’s message. Crowds that should have made the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, envious. Starting out as a huge underdog, recent polls show that Bernie is now within striking distance of Hillary overall, and is actual ahead of her in some early voting primary states. And why not? Bernie, even at 73, is a vigorous campaigner with a strong message for America, while Hillary is lackluster at best, during her campaign speeches. That might be forgiven where it not for the fact that Hillary has gotten herself entangled in some very messy “scandals” that have provided lots of fodder to her enemies. The latest one, of course, is her e-mail fiasco that has to be the very definition of self-inflicted wounds.

For some inexplicable reason, Hillary decided that she needed a server in her home in order to send and receive e-mails. Who does that? I have been sending and receiving e-mails on my computer for years without installing a server in my house. Beside it being prohibitively expensive, why would I need a server. Granted that Hillary’s e-mail volume vastly exceeds mine, but it still could have been handled without a server. The problem turns out to be that mixed among her private stuff, such as getting ready for Chelsea’s wedding, were also work related e-mails  in accordance with her job as Secretary of State. Critics are claiming that some of the work-related stuff was classified, some as high as top-secret. Processing classified information on a private, unsecured computer is definitely a no-no. To make matters worse, accusations are being made that she deliberately had the e-mails on her server erased so as to cover up the fact that she was processing classified info on an unsecured line. If any of this is true, we’re talking felony crime. Or, perhaps, more like felony stupidity.

Why would someone bent on becoming our first female president indulge in such risky behavior. Everyone down to the lowest mail clerk knows that any official government business, classified or otherwise, is the property of only the government, and only designated officials operating under strict rules have the right of disposal. But the Clintons, going back to their days in Arkansas, have a pattern of such dangerous undertakings. Besides Bill’s extra-marital dalliances, both Clinton’s were involved in some highly questionable financial schemes that edged right up to the line of illegality. Once in the White House, there was, of course, the whole Monica Lewinski fiasco. The only thing that saved Bill from being thrown out of office was Republican overreach. When the House voted to impeach him, Bill Clinton become a hugely sympathetic figure with the American public, and his approval ratings skyrocketed. Much to the GOP’s chagrin, its effort to have Bill removed from the White House totally backfired . A lesson they haven’t forgotten when there was some talk of impeaching Barack Obama.

Now, however, with this latest flare-up over Hillary’s e-mails, Democrats are becoming very frightened she will be inherently un-electable. That her campaign will go down in flames. This is also one of the reasons that Bernie Sanders is beginning to look more and more viable. But most people still are fixated on the fact that it is highly unlikely that a Socialist candidate can win the election. So Democratic pros are now turning to Vice-President Joe Biden to ride in on his white stead and save the day for them. Now, Biden is one of the most decent and honorable men in modern day American politics. The problem is, that besides being gaffe-prone, he’s rather colorless and endures a charisma deficiency. More importantly, however, he has suffered more tragedy in his life than most people can bear.

Many years ago, he lost his wife and infant daughter who were killed in a car accident. And just recently he lost his beautiful son, Beau Biden, age 45, to brain cancer. Beau was Attorney-General of Delaware, and every bit as decent and personable as his father. No parent should have to undergo that kind of nightmare. But the question is, after suffering such loss, would Joe Biden have the fortitude to mount an exhausting and depleting campaign for the U.S. presidency. Probably against the likes of a Donald Trump. So, as I’ve written before, the Democrats are caught between a rock and a hard place. And if they don’t figure it out soon, we could see the bellicosity and bullying of a bloviating Donald Trump in the White House for the next 4 to 8 years.

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I’ve written before about Joey, our pet cat who is now 9 years old (middle-age for cats.) Joey has white and grey fur, sparkling blue eyes, and a bushy tail that seems to be in perpetual motion whenever she’s excited. But the most distinctive feature about Joey is that she’s a non-stop kvetcher. If she’s displeased about something, we will  hear about it in no uncertain terms. I don’t believe our previous cat, who was with us for 18 plus years, meowed more than a half dozen times during that period. But with Joey, it’s just the opposite. She started kvetching the first morning after we brought her home from the shelter as a 12 week-old kitten. I understood that she was upset because for her previous 12 weeks of existence, she was surrounded by probably hundreds of homeless cats, to say nothing of her mother and siblings. Now all her little pals were gone, and there were just these two strange looming figures towering over her.

To aver that Joey is doted on, pampered, and just spoiled rotten would be a vast understatement. She lives in pleasant surroundings, is well-fed, receives “treats” periodically throughout the day, receives fresh water twice a day, has her litter box cleaned as necessary, and gets periodic out-door time in our backyard each day. If the wife and I leave her alone for a few hours, say to go to dinner and a movie, she’s a nervous wreck. We have to pet and kitchy- koo her endlessly to soothe her frazzled nerves when we return home. But still Joey is unhappy, and kvetches away to let us know about it. And why is that you might ask.

Well, it’s because we don’t allow her to roam freely over the entire neighborhood as she so desperately desires. Besides it being verboten by our community regulations, her life would be in peril because of the wildlife inherent in this area of the country. Coyotes and bobcats exist in large numbers out here in the desert, and would enjoy nothing better than tearing apart a defenseless cat for lunch or dinner. One of them already did that to a rabbit it had trapped on our front porch.  What a delightful mess that was to clean up. Unfortunately, Joey is too innocent and naive to understand such dangers, or why her out-door time is restricted to supervised periods in our fenced-in backyard. And so she continuously kvetches away.

It has struck me, however, that American society has become a lot like Joey, always kvetching about one thing or another. Poll-after-poll in recent years has shown that two-thirds or more of the population is unhappy with the direction this country is headed. Some polls show that more than 70% are saying that the U.S. is on the wrong track, or that their children will have a bleaker or poorer future than they have had. So, you might ask, what is driving this sort of pessimism. As always, one has to return to those glorious days of yesteryear (as the Lone Ranger might have put it) to find the answers. Not as far back as when people had to traipse across the entire country in horse-driven covered wagons. Just a generation or so back to the 1980s.

In the 1980s, there were no cell phones, texts, apps, or calls for Uber to pick you up, etc. If you wanted to call someone, it had to be from a land line, and would connect only if the other party was at home. Computers were mysterious gadgets only located in offices to be used for business purposes. The first home computers started coming on the market around 1980, and were bulky, clumsy hunks of metal boxes. Hardly anyone bothered to get one. The internet, if it existed then, was in it’s infancy. The operating systems for these new computers were so slow and archaic, that one was tempted to claw his or her eyes out while waiting for a transaction to be completed. Cell phones and home computers didn’t start to take off until about the mid-1990s. Cable TV was also in its infancy a generation ago. And it wasn’t just electronics. Both high and lower priced cars were usually gas guzzlers, often prone to mechanical breakdowns. Today’s cars are vastly more reliable and energy-efficient. The same is true for home appliances, which use far less electricity or gas while giving greatly improved performances. I could go on, but you get the picture. So why all the kvetching.

Well, it’s about the economy, stupid, you might say. So, if that’s true, this time we only have to go back 6 years to 2009. If you’ll remember, the economy was crumbling under the weight of a vastly over-inflated housing market. The unemployment rate shot up to 10.5%. Today, it’s down to 5.3%. It seemed as if almost the entire housing market was “underwater,” i.e. homeowner’s mortgages war far higher than the property could sell for. People, by the droves, were abandoning their homes, i.e. walking away and leaving the banks holding what became useless paper. Today, the term-mortgages underwater- is seldom used as the housing market has begun to stabilize, with reality prices headed back up. Of course, there are still serious economic weaknesses, such as stagnant wages for middle class workers, or our mounting national debt. But compared to where we were a mere 6 years ago, vast strides have been accomplished.

Well, you might further say, if it’s not the economy, then it’s about foreign affairs. Yes, the threat of terrorism from Mid-Eastern Islamic fanatics is a constant worry, as well as, a rather poorly drafted nuclear agreement with Iran. But we should be comforted by the knowledge that we have the military capability to destroy both the Islamic-Jihadist infrastructure, as well as Iran’s nuclear capabilities should we decide to so deploy our forces. Perhaps the next president might decide to do just that.

Don’t get me wrong. This country has some very deep-seated problems, which I will be the first one to attest to. Almost all my blogs have been to examine those problems, and perhaps offer-up potential solutions. It may take a lengthy span of time and evolution, but most of the serious stuff troubling us today is solvable through rationality and wisdom. So when something like 70% of Americans pessimistically believe our future in indeed dark and bleak, I can’t help but feel that they’re acting a lot like my cat Joey. Welcome to the USA, the kvetching nation.

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As I’ve written several times before, election results, especially in America, are determined primarily by those citizens that don’t vote, versus those that do bother to cast their ballots. Unless it’s a blowout landslide, such as Lyndon Johnson’s defeat of Barry Goldwater in 1964, or Richard Nixon’s 49 state sweep against George McGovern in 1972, it’s the stay-at-homes that are usually the decisive factor, especially in close elections. (You can add Ronald Reagan’s 49 state victory over Walter Mondale in 1984, to the few contests where non-voters were not a primary issue.) So who are these non-voters that decide most elections. Well, for the most part, these are people that are mired in deep and unrelenting poverty. People that will never hear phrases from others such as “good morning” or “have a nice day.” For those people living in rat-infested, and crime and drug riddled slums, who lack the resources to put food on the table for themselves and their children, it’s never going to be a nice day. Caught up in their own misery, despair, and sense of hopelessness, the last thing on their minds is finding a polling booth, and standing on line to cast a ballot for politicians that will invariably ignore their desperate plights in the first place. Hence the success of the Republican Party.

It’s no secret that the percent of people bothering to vote steadily increases with the amount of material affluence these people attain. The amount of wealth a person accumulates is in direct proportion to the fear among these affluent types, that forces within this country are seeking to to rob them of their wealth. Such as the wrong type of people in political office that would over-burden them with heavy taxes,  and redistribute their wealth to the poor. Who, in their minds, are either lazy, or shiftless, or too dumb to make a decent living. Or all of the above. Hence, the affluent naturally gravitate to the Republican Party, that continually promises to cut taxes mostly for the rich, as well as severely slash, if not eliminate welfare programs for the poor, such as food stamps, housing assistance, and medical care. Thus, the Democratic Party’s dilemma- the very people its programs are designed to assist, are the ones that barely show up to vote for them on election day.

The government calculates that about 16% of the U.S. population now lives below its officially established poverty rate, which equates to almost 50 million Americans. But it’s much worse than that, if you consider that the official poverty level is really a joke. The official poverty level for single people is about $13,000, and even less for old fogies like me. For a family of 4, it runs at less than $25,000. Try putting a roof over the heads of such a family, as well as feeding them 3 half-way decent daily meals, buying them clothing, transportation and communication means, as well as medical care, all for 25 grand a year. Of course, poverty levels vary significantly among ethnic groups with blacks and Hispanics bearing the brunt of having to live out their lives in squalor and despair. Poverty levels for those 2 groupings approach the 30% range, while for non-Hispanic whites, it stands at around 10%. The only thing saving these down-trodden poor are the government assistance programs that I mentioned previously. The very ones that Republican voters are so eager to dismantle.

It’s all part of the “what’s in it for me” mentality. The “as along as I have mine, the hell with everyone else” mindset. That’s why politicians from both parties seldom, if ever, talk about the plight of the poor. Political campaigning is always about the middle class, who actually do vote in ever increasing numbers based on their levels of affluence. It’s so much more fun for politicians to demonize undocumented immigrants, who are among the poorest of the poor, as Donald Trump has done so effectively in getting the middle-class all riled up. Rather than discuss real issues such as life destroying poverty. Speaking of Trump, which I discussed in my last entry, I failed to mention that back in 2012 when Trump thought he could achieve fame and power by joining the “birther” movement, he did receive some unexpected blowback. George Will, a conservative newspaper columnist, whose column appears in many papers across the nation, couldn’t take it anymore. He called Trump a “bloviating ignoramus” which helped speed up Trump’s political demise back then. This year, he’s bloviating about immigration. Anything to avoid the real issues of the day that afflict this country.

Back during the turbulent 1960s, of which I’ve written about often, the U.S. had 3 great leaders, who I believed could lead us to far better and more peaceful and prosperous landscape-namely Jack and Bobby Kennedy, and Martin Luther King. After Jack Kennedy and Martin Luther King were assassinated I wrote that Bobby Kennedy was our last best hope for a more humane society built on decency and compassion. For example, during his 1968 campaign for the presidency, Bobby would visit places such as rural Mississippi and find (usually black) farmhands living in the most dismal, down run shacks, amidst indescribable, bone-crushing poverty. He would tell the farm owners that he wouldn’t allow his dogs to live under such despicable conditions. The farm owners responses were often to threaten Bobby with bodily harm. After Bobby was also assassinated, I wrote that the U.S. had probably lost its last best hope for a more humane and just society, perhaps for all time. It seems those words are even more appropriate in today’s landscape.

So welcome to the what’s in it for me syndrome, flourishing so spectacularly amidst our instant gratification society. We’re just getting started in the demonization and bloviating antics that will only intensify over the next 15 months. Buckle up everyone.

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In 2006, the Israeli government decided that it was necessary for Israel’s survival to destroy Iran’s budding nuclear bomb development. After all, Iran’s fanatical mullahs had threatened over decades, to destroy the State of Israel, and the quickest way of doing that would be for Iran to launch a nuclear missile attack. So Israel decided that a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be the most direct action necessary to prevent a nuclear armageddon. At that time such a military strike was still doable since almost all of Iran’s nuclear stations were either above ground or otherwise easily accessible. The mistake Israel made then, however, was to ask the United States government for permission to proceed with this action. At the time, President George W. Bush had the U.S. already deeply enmeshed in 2 Mid-East wars, (Iraq and Afghanistan) and he figured that the last thing the American public wanted to hear was U.S. involvement in still a third war in that region. There were already big-time protests against the 2 on-going wars, since there seemed to be no daylight at the end of the tunnels for concluding these wars. So Bush denied Israel’s request for military action in 2006, and a golden opportunity to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities was lost, probably for all time. Now fast forward to the mess we’re in today trying to prevent Iran from actually building an accumulating nuclear weapons.

Over the ensuing years, Iran realized how vulnerable their existing sites were, and thus started building new sites that were deeply underground and scattered all over the country. So deep underground that it’s problematical as to whether our most potent bunker-busting bombs could destroy such facilities. Iran also added thousands of centrifuges for enriching uranium to levels needed for nuclear weaponry. With this being the new reality, as we all know, the Obama administration has just concluded a treaty with Iran that would supposedly preclude the fanatically-driven Islamic-Jihadist mullahs who run that country from acquiring a nuclear arsenal. But the treaty is unquestionably flawed and virtually all Republicans and some Democrats, as well as the Israeli government are deeply opposed to its ratification. Nevertheless, this pact may be the only realistic option available for us to currently deal with this mess. In effect, we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place.

The pact’s opponents rightly point out that Iran will still be allowed to keep thousands of centrifuges, still enriching uranium, but supposedly, to just below weapons-grade levels. A key aspect of this treaty was to allow United Nations weapons inspectors unfettered access to Iran’s nuclear development sites at any time, anywhere, and unexpected, in order to assure Iran’s compliance with treaty requirements. This provision, however, has been compromised to the degree that Iran will have some say in where and when U.N. inspectors are allowed to show up, and what they will be allowed to examine. In return the U.S. and its 5 negotiating partners have made huge concessions to Iran. About $150 billion of Iranian money that’s been frozen in U.S. and European banks will eventually be released back to Iran. A U.N. embargo on providing military hardware to Iran is to be lifted over time. And, Iran will be allowed to pump an export its full quota oil, which will do wonders for the currently wounded Iranian economy. All of this will be bestowed on the world’s number one Islamic-Jihadist state, who will then be free to further support murderous terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, the sadistic Assad regime in Syria, and other assorted cutthroats. All are valid arguments for opposing the treaty’s ratification. But it’s still not enough. Here’s why.

The only really valid option to not ratifying this pact would be to go to war with Iran. The U.S. could bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities around the clock and hope that its bunker-busters would reach down deep enough. But if we initiated such action, the Iranian government is not going to just sit back and sigh-” Well, we’re not happy about it, but I guess, that’s just how the cookie crumbles.” Instead, Iran would undoubtedly launch powerful missile strikes against Israel for certain, as well as against U.S. bases scattered throughout the Mid-East. An Iranian missile launch against Tel-Aviv alone could kill thousands, if not tens of thousands. Iran also has a fairly strong Navy that could bottle up that narrow waterway known as the Straits of Hormuz through which 17 million barrels of oil pass on a daily basis, most of it headed for Europe. Think our European allies would be delighted over that event. There’s also the likelihood that some Americans could be coming home in body bags. Think Americans would have the stomach for that. I’ve written in a previous entry about how the U.S. has become soft with its primary focus on achieving instant gratification, often through the latest in electronics such as the newest version of the smart-phone, or the latest in automobiles. Think Americans today would be willing to make the sacrifices needed to fulfill the military option, as they did during WWII. Think again.

That’s why none of the numerous Republican candidates for president are advocating military force, even though they’re all opposed to this treaty. Instead they’re claiming that we should strengthen the economic sanctions and trade embargoes that we and much of the rest of the world have placed on Iran. The trouble with that line of reasoning is that sanctions and embargoes can always be evaded. There are enough shady wheelers and dealers throughout the world, who, for the right price, will be more than happy to provide Iran with everything it desires, from weaponry to lettuce and tomatoes. That’s how Iran has been functioning all these years under supposedly severe sanctions. Yes, the people may suffer to some degree because of sanctions, but those fanatical mullahs will never give up their dream of a nuclear-armed Iran, no matter how much human suffering it entails. If we tore up this treaty as many Republicans are advocating, it would just give the ruling mullahs license to plow ahead unfettered in achieving their nuclear aspirations. To have the ability to wipe Israel off the map as they have so often stated. And to launch a nuclear strike against the “Great Satan” or America as we call it.

So there you have it- caught between a rock and a hard place. My feeling is that we should ratify this treaty, even with all its defects. It will, at least, slow down Iran’s impetus toward acquiring a nuclear arsenal, perhaps for a period of years or even decades. In the meantime, a regime change in Iran is always a possibility, which could alter the course of history.

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Americans have notoriously short memories. Most of us can hardly remember what we had for dinner last night, let alone the events that shaped this country’s political discourse a whole three years ago. For example, most Americans have forgotten that Donald Trump also ran for the Republican presidential nomination back in 2012, and also went shooting up quickly in the polls, only to flame-out, and tumble back down to earth. In 2012, Barack Obama was running for re-election, and Trump’s issue du jour was that Obama was really born in Kenya instead of the U.S., which would render him Constitutionally ineligible to occupy the Oval Office. In other words, Trump had joined forces with people that came to be known as the “birthers,” i.e. those that were so delusion- ally unhinged that they kept insisting that Obama was not a native born American. And not only was he not born in this country, but he was also a devout Muslim instead of a Christian. I mean, with a name like Barack Obama, how could he be anything else but a Muslim.

Never mind that Obama had a certified birth certificate issued by the state of Hawaii. Never mind that there was a printed notification in the local Honolulu newspaper announcing his birth. After all, if one is to act and behave in a delusional manner, one can’t allow pesky things such as facts spoil all the fun. So the more that Trump was criticized for throwing his lot in with the “birthers” the more he doubled down on his opinion that Obama was not a native-born American. Much the way he’s doubling down these days about how Mexicans are the scourge of American society. Back in 2012, however, it wasn’t until Barbara Walters, supposedly an old friend, told The Donald to knock it off with the “birther” crap; that he was just embarrassing himself. It was then that Trump had to return to the unfriendly and harsh world of reality. When he did, his poll numbers plunged like a ship’s anchor thrown into the sea, and he was finished politically, at least for that cycle.  As a side note, there are still large numbers of people on the lunatic right that still advocate for the delusional belief that Obama is a foreign born Muslim. But with only a year and half left of the Obama presidency, their cause has pretty much run out of steam.

So now we’re headed for the 2016 presidential election, and Trump again has political aspirations. Always the demagogue, Trump’s new cause, as we all know, is illegal immigration. It’s those rotten Mexicans coming across our borders illegally that’s screwing up American society. Everyone knows that these Mexicans are nothing but a band of criminals, murderers, rapists, drug dealers, etc. and that the Mexican government is only too happy to off-load these people into the U.S. But he, Trump, once he becomes president, will put a stop to such shenanigans. He will build a full proof fence along the entire Mexican border (almost 2000 miles) and get the Mexican government to cough up the trillion dollars or so, that it would take to erect such a monstrosity. How would he do that? you might timidly ask. No problem for Trump- he will just demand it of the Mexicans,and they will obediently acquiesce.

Back during the 2012 election cycle I wrote a piece in which I stated that Trump’s ego is so enormous that it makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in your sidewalk. Nothing has changed since then, so I still believe that’s a pretty apt description. When Trump caught a certain amount of grief from some notable people and organizations over his remarks demonizing Mexican immigrants, he responded as he always does, i.e., by brashly doubling down on those remarks with more extremism and demagoguery.  But the sad thing is that large numbers of Republican voters appear to be lapping up that type of anti-immigrant extremism, the way a dog might be lapping up the water in his dish on a hot summer day.

Trump used to be pro-abortion until he started becoming seriously involved with the Republican Party. Now he’s anti-abortion. No problem. He used to be pro-gay rights until he did a 180 on that issue too. He used to favor increasing taxes on the rich, until he started favoring tax cuts for the wealthy. If you’re going to be a serious Republican, you obviously have to go all in. Besides, as I’ve said, people have short memory spans. The trouble is, however, that Trump has indeed tapped into a large cesspool of anger, hate, and a thirst for vengeance against Mexican immigrants, which says a lot about the state of affairs in the U.S. these days, none of which is good. The latest poll numbers show Trump at the top of the heap in the ever growing list of potential Republican candidates. Although some of these candidates have mildly criticized Trump’s language in demonizing Mexicans, not one will dare to disavow the basic anti-immigration message espoused in Trump’s speeches.

More troubling than Trump’s demagoguery is the willingness of so many Americans so willing to believe that if Trump becomes president all our illegal immigration issues will magically disappear. About 11 million illegal aliens will be put on some magic carpet an flown back from whence they came. A giant wall, about 2000 miles long will magically be built without costing us a penny. I guess the secret to a demagogue’s success is the gullibility of the people he’s preaching to. Of course, it’s likely that Trump will eventually flame out, as he did in 2012, or as soon as someone with considerable prestige tells him to knock this shit off. But it’s still upsetting to know that in America, as of today, there is such a huge cesspool of hate and desire for vengeance  against our next-door neighbor to the south. It speaks volumes as to who we are as a society.

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Suppose the modern day German government came out with a proclamation that they would be erecting a flag poll on the grounds of their capitol building in Berlin. Atop of this flag pole they would be hoisting the Nazi Swastika pennant that was the official flag of Germany from 1933-1945. They might explain with words such as: “We certainly don’t mean to offend or denigrate any race, religion or ethnic group. But we strongly feel that it’s important for us to honor the brave men who fought so valiantly and gave their lives for the fatherland during World War II; as well as the men who had the thankless duty of running the concentration camps and operating the gas chambers.” You think the rest of the world might be shocked and dismayed by such an unthinkable act. You think that everyone outside of Germany might vocally condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. As well as most Germans. Even the Obama administration might put its lethargic foreign policy proclivities aside and express total outrage. Fortunately, today’s German government is far more intelligent and rational to ever pull a stunt like that. The same can’t be said, however, for that part of the United States known as Dixie, or the  Southland.

The murder, a short while ago, of mostly elderly black parishioners peacefully going about their church services, by a deranged white racist cannot be blamed solely on the power of the Confederate flag. After all, a flag is merely a piece of cloth with certain markings. But people, not just Americans, but all over the world, are heavily invested in symbolism- which those markings on that piece of cloth represent. As we all know, the scumbag young killer responsible for this tragic event wore a shirt that had the Confederate flag on its face and presumably represented a symbol of his racial hatred. This flag also flies on capitol state grounds in South Carolina where this horror took place. The next day the governor of S.C. appealed to the state legislature to enact legislation removing the flag from the vicinity of their capitol. We’re still waiting for that to happen. To his credit, the governor of Alabama acted unilaterally through executive order had the Confederate flag removed from Alabama state capitol grounds. Throughout most of the rest of Dixie, however, it flies strongly and proudly. As well os other Civil War monuments such as statues or plaques dedicated to Confederate generals and other Southern soldiers and politicians of that era. And there isn’t the slightest hint that any of this is going away.

Just to be clear, the Civil War, which ended 150 years ago, was not just a fracas between the North and South, that kinda, sorta got out-of-hand. It was a 4-year-long bloody massacre that slaughtered 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million American deaths in today’s population. Blood-drenched atrocities and savagery were committed by both sides that would constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity had their been a world tribunal in those times. The Nazi-military machine and Japanese Imperial Army of WWII would have been proud of all the depravity and blood-spilling. When the war finally ended in 1865, renegade southern diehards tried to re-ignite the Confederacy by ambushing innocent civilians and causing their deaths. One such Confederate diehard was the famed outlaw Jesse James who murdered with impunity. Today he is virtually considered a Western legend and hero. It took almost to the end of the 19th century before this Southern diehardism finally began to peter out.

In the meantime, shortly after defeat, the Southern states began to quickly institute a policy of strict segregation against its black population that became known as Jim Crow. The symbol of this state of semi-slavery against blacks was, of course, the Confederate flag, born at the outset of the Civil War. Any “uppity” blacks that tried to rebel against this state of semi-slavery were often subject to lynchings, torture or dismemberment. A good indication of the mood of times in Dixie at the turn of the 20th century occurred when President Teddy Roosevelt invited a mild mannered educationalist named Booker T. Washington to the WhiteHouse in 1901, the first black man so invited. Southern politicians went into a rage at this sacrilege. James Vardaman, Governor of Mississippi, proclaimed that: “If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.” Not to be outdone, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina stated: “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that n****r will necessitate killing a thousand n****rs in the South, before they will learn their place again.” Although TR loudly rejected these race-haters, he never invited another black to the White House again.

The Confederate flag also became a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan, which performed most of the lynchings and other crimes committed against blacks in the South for the next hundred years. In 1917 a young producer named D.F. Griffith filmed a movie called “Birth of a Nation” which had a profound propaganda effect on most of America. The movie, although crude by today’s technology, had a message and sold it well. Griffith, a strong Confederate sympathizer, portrayed blacks going a crazed rampage against Southern whites after they were freed from slavery. Blacks were seen as murdering defenseless white men, ravaging white women, stealing and burning plantations to the ground. But who rode in to save the day for the helpless white population? Why those brave, fearless men in the KKK, of course. It may sound crazy delusional in today’s world, but people back in the day swallowed this propaganda, hook, line and sinker, as the cliche goes. Klan popularity and membership soared during the 1920s, and not just in the South, but in the North too, mostly due to D.F. Griffith’s film.

So has the Confederate flag caused all this misery and tragedy? Obviously not, since, as I’ve said before, one could rationally certify that a flag is merely just a piece of cloth with certain markings. But are people so heavily invested in symbols that they would undertake the most heinous of crimes and hellish behavior based on the symbolism evoked by this piece of cloth. Absolutely. That’s why, for everyone’s sake, the Confederate flag should be removed throughout all of Dixie, (as well as other artifacts from the Civil War), so that from now on, no other deranged individual can use it as a motivation to commit pure evil. After all, modern Germany seems to function quite well by having the Nazi Swastika banished from public viewing

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