OF KILLINGS AND REDEMPTION

There’s a psychiatric hospital in northern Israel whose inmates are comprised solely of Holocaust survivors. The dwindling population of this hospital houses those that were thrown into Nazi concentration camps as youngsters; but who miraculously survived the gas chambers and eventually emigrated to Israel. Now in their 70s or 80s, these people came to Israel after the war. But they were so traumatized by the horror of their experiences in the camps, that their psyche’s are too damaged to enable them to function, even on the most basic level, in normal society. While WWII ended almost 70 years ago, for the inhabitants of this hospital, it was still on-going yesterday. Some refuse to bathe because they’re certain the showers are really the gas chambers. Others hide pieces of meat in their pillow cases to prepare for the next round of starvation. Only Israel will care for these mentally-ill survivors. There are also another 200,000 survivors of Nazi terror living in Israel, who are considered sane enough to live on their own. But most live lonely existences filled with anxiety and depression. One elderly man describes how instinctively jumps whenever the phone rings or there’s a knock on the door. After all these years, his mind still envisions that it’s the Gestapo coming after him. In a world history filled with the most heinous and despicable tyrannies, these people are the continuing casualties of perhaps the single most evil act of them all.

So why bring all this misery up now? Well, this is a big week in the Judeo-Christain faiths. For the Jews, tonight starts the beginning of Passover, commemorating the time that Moses supposedly led enslaved Jews out of bondage in Egypt to eventually find a land of their own in Israel. Of course, it took decades to reach this promised land, and along the way, the Jews had to eat “unleavened” bread, better known today as matzos. (Oh, the horror.) These matzos are now considered something of a novelty, if not a delicacy. And, of course, for Christians, this Sunday is Easter, commemorating the time 2000 years ago that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, only to be resurrected into heaven shortly thereafter. Since man’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden was thus atoned for, it left man free to commit future sins, like say, mass murder.

American Jews tend to be mostly secular, ( the price paid, I suppose, for a lack of persecution in the U.S.),  but many still observe religious traditions like the seder on Passover eve. When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, my parents openly scoffed at these religious traditions. Nevertheless, as poor as we were, my parents kept 2 sets of dishes, with one set to be used for only the 8 days of Passover. The other set, which was used all the rest of the year, had to be packed up and put into storage, lest it contaminated the sanctity of the Passover period. Perish the thought. During those 8 days, we were only allowed to eat foods designated as kosher for Passover, which, of course, meant absolutely no bread. For me, it was the loss of bagels and cream cheese that was the most disturbing. And while my parents only attended service at the local synagogue during the Jewish new year, it didn’t stop the local Rabbi from coming to our apartment about once a month, essentially looking for a hand out. And unbelievably to me, after the Rabbi said some soothing words to my mother, she would slip him a twenty.

Now $20 in those days was really a big deal, especially to a family like ours which lived mostly in poverty. The Rabbi must have seen the look of consternation on my face when I saw my mother part with what seemed like a small fortune. He came over and assured me that he would pray each day for our family. Well, that sealed the deal in my young mind. If a holy man like the Rabbi, who obviously had a direct pipeline to God, prayed for us, how could our fortunes not change for the better. How could containers filled with ancient gold coins not come hurtling out of the sky and land at our feet. Soon we would be rich and live on Park Avenue. Somehow though, it never quite turned out that way.

But back to the Passover and Easter occurrences and traditions. I’ve written before about how the Israeli Government has spent million of dollars looking for the slightest shred of evidence, the smallest relic, that the entire story of Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, the decades of Jews wandering around in the desert looking for the holy land, the 10 commandments; that any of that actually happened. And all they’ve come up with is a dry hole. So maybe, instead of commemorating a story that is likely a total work of fiction, on Passover, Jews would be well served to pay homage to the 6 million people that actually died during the Holocaust, and to the remaining survivors that are also victims of those tragic events. My father repeated many times that his heart would forever be broken because of what happened to the Jews during the 12-year reign of the Third Reich. That’s what Passover should really be all about.

And maybe, it’s also time for Christians to accept the fact that man has created far greater sins than what supposedly transpired in the Garden of Eden. Which is another story that’s also, likely, a total work of fiction. If Jesus gave his life to redeem mankind, then let that redemption be for all the holocausts, various other murderous assaults, plundering, and other acts of evil that man has perpetrated during his entire history of life on this planet. That, I believe, would be a lot more meaningful for most people in this day and age.

 

 

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FAILURES OF THE HUMAN CONDITION

I’ve written before about how badly we mistreat animals on this planet. That while humans should protectors and benefactors in their behavior toward animals, often just the opposite is true. How, especially, the large animals, such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, and apes, as well as the large cats such as lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc. are rapidly decreasing in population due to man’s greed; and how we may be among the last generations privileged to have these animals populate the planet during our lifetimes. And how the evolution of mankind is still so rudimentary, that most of us still consume dead animal flesh as part of our daily sustenance.

But in this piece I want to focus on the mistreatment of animals in this country. Actually the mistreatment of one particular animal, the chicken. While those that supposedly know say that the chicken is every bit as social, inquisitive, intelligent and human-friendly as dogs and cats, chickens are probably the most abused animal on the face of the Earth. The reason: chickens are used for food instead of pets. So while many pet owners lavish affection and attention on their dogs and cats, the chicken is treated as a commodity, and its short life span is filled with nothing but pain and misery. Attention alert: the following may be too graphic for some readers.

Most of us consume chicken meat or eggs every week, or often on a daily basis. In the U.S., 7 billion chickens are slaughtered every year for their flesh, while 450 million hens are used for laying eggs. Americans consume almost a quarter billion  of these eggs, annually. And almost all chickens spend their short lives in rigid confinement and filth until the day they are mercifully put out of their misery. A baby chick on a factory farm will never be allowed contact with, or to be raised by his or her parents. It will never have the opportunity to feel the sun on her back, breathe fresh air, roost in trees, or build nests. Chickens raised for their flesh are called “broilers” by the chicken industry. They spend their entire lives in filthy sheds with thousands of other birds, where intense crowding and confinement can lead to outbreaks of disease. Part of their beaks are chopped off so that they don’t peck away at each other out of frustration and pain. The crowding is so brutal, that these normally clean animals are forced to urinate and defecate on each other. They are bred to grow up so quickly and so fat, that their legs and organs often can’t keep pace. As such, many suffer heart attacks, organ failure, and crippling leg deformities. Many become so crippled by their own weight gain, that they die because they can’t reach the water nozzles. If they do survive to 6-7 weeks old, they are then crammed into cages and shipped off to the nearest slaughterhouse. And then sold in supermarkets as another commodity in our capitalist system.

Chickens exploited for their eggs are called “laying hens” by the food industry. They are forced into cages so narrow that they’re unable to spread their wings. After their bodies are exhausted and their production drops, they are also shipped of to the slaughterhouse. But by this time their bodies are so bruised and battered that they can only be used for chicken soup or cat and dog food. I could go on-and-on with more bloody and horror details, but you should be getting the picture by now. So what got me to writing at this time about the misery and cruelty inflicted on these poor animals? Well, it seems that there’s a pretty interesting case wending its way through our court system regarding the way we mistreat chickens.

California, in an effort to prescribe some degree of humane treatment toward chickens, passed a law not too long ago, that requires larger cages and more room for laying hens. Right now, laying hens are crammed into cages about the size of a file cabinet drawer. As I said, there’s no room for them to spread their wings. The new California statute requires that the cage size for these hens be enlarged to be about as big as the flat-bed section on a flat-bed Ford. This is estimated to raise the price of eggs by about 20%. Since California imports millions of eggs from other states each year, it didn’t want to put its own egg farmers at an economic disadvantage. So part of the statute requires that egg farmers in other states that export their eggs to California, be required to have the same enlarged cage space for their laying hens. And the other states are non-too happy about incurring the additional cost of enlarging their hen’s cages. After all, who ever said that humane treatment of humans or animals was ever part of our capitalistic society.

Thus, the Attorney-General of Missouri, with several other states likely to follow, is suing California over this legislative requirement. The case is built around Missouri’s argument that California has no constitutional authority to prescribe economic or business practices allowed in other states. From a legal point of view, Missouri does appear to have a valid constitutional case. If this wends its way up to the Supreme Court, as expected, the conservative majority on that court might very well strike down the California statute. Then we’re back to square one. Of course, from a humane point of view, the Missouri case stinks to high heaven.

A while back, I wrote a piece about “Capitalisms Casualties,” which described the grief and misfortune a capitalistic system of economics can and has wrecked on certain individuals, past and present. In that piece, I focused primarily on the harm such a system has inflicted on humans. But as we see, great damage is also experienced by defenseless animals in our midst. Is anyone willing to take up their cause? So the next time you’re putting some salt and pepper on your scrambled eggs, or devouring that tasty chicken breast for dinner, you might want to give some consideration to the poor animals that have known nothing but suffering in their short lifetimes.

 

 

 

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THE SMARTLESS ONES

One of the cartoons in yesterday’s comic section of the paper, had the cartoon characters climbing up the peak to confer with the political correctness guru, who then informed them that calling people stupid was no longer acceptable. Instead the new politically correct terminology was “smartless.” People didn’t habitually act in incredibly stupid ways. They just fell victim to the state of smartlessness. So I thought I would illustrate how being “smartless” can often result in tragic an horrific events. Because being smartless is just another way for humans to avoid reality and dive head first into a state of delusion.

Lets go back to the 1930s when Hitler and the Nazis where gaining more and more power and control over the German population. Jews were already being persecuted, by either being hauled off to concentration camps or just outwardly murdered by Nazi thugs. (By the way, the same held true for homosexuals and political dissidents or opponents of the Nazi regime.) During this period, a new term was coined in German-”JudenFrei.” It meant that an organization, town or city had been ethnically cleansed of all Jews, and was now JudenFrei. For example, Berlin became JudenfFrei in May,1943. Being JudenFrei was cause for great celebration among the German populace. There was partying, beer drinking, fireworks, and dancing in the streets once a town or city achieved that goal. Because most Germans had already been hypnotized into a state of delusion by the skillful demagoguery of Adolph Hitler.

In actuality, the only real effect for a town to become JudenFrei, was the loss of income experienced by that town’s merchants and shopkeepers. Since Jews and others on the Nazi hit list no longer lived there, they could no longer spend their money on the goods and services available in that town. But who cared about reality in those days. After all, Germany was becoming more prosperous in the 1930s, due primarily to the huge increase in weapons production, as the Nazi war machine went into overdrive. Now there were good paying jobs for everyone. Hitler had told them that Germany was becoming more powerful and respected by the rest of the world. Especially, after the shame and disgrace Germany had been forced to suffer at the hands of the Allies after WWI, by having to sign the Treaty of Versailles which required Germany to disarm, and become a second rate country. Hitler used Germany’s supposed humiliation caused by having to sign the Treaty of Versailles as a demagogic sledgehammer on his way to achieving ultimate power.

One thing the Nazis were especially proficient at was filming Hitler and his entourage as they wended their way through an endless stream of parades. Even with cameras that would be considered obsolete by today’s technology. When those cameras spanned over the crowds, one can see hordes of young frauleins, maybe 12, 14, or 15 years old, waving and smiling in adoration, as Hitler’s motorcade slowly went by. After all what was there not to like. As long as you weren’t a Jew or homosexual or didn’t make waves. As long as you didn’t mind persecution of those that were, or a total lack of freedom of speech and press. In other words as long as you were in total denial and lived under the comfy blankets of delusion. But it wasn’t stupidity; it was just being smartless.

Such delusional stupor continued on in Germany into the early 1940s, as WWII commenced, and the Nazi war machine conquered virtually all of Europe. Only Britain and Russia were left standing, and they were hanging on by their fingernails. Then at long last, the U.S. entered the fray, the Allies regrouped, and the tide of war began to turn against Germany. Allied bombers, as they gained strength, began to bomb German cities around the clock, until they became heaps of rubble. Young frauleins were no longer gazing at Hitler in adoration, but instead, were keeping their heads down and trying to avoid being blown to bits. The average German was now being forced out of his comfy state of delusion and had to face reality whether he liked it or not. If he wanted to survive, he could no longer afford the luxury of being smartless. He was now experiencing first hand, the suffering, misery and death, that the Nazis had inflicted on the rest of Europe. That’s the thing about avoiding reality. Eventually it does catch up with you, and then the misery is usually twofold.

But we don’t have to go back decades ago to view how the human condition often leads one into a state of “smartlessness.” It’s currently going on right before our eyes in the Ukraine, as well as in other countries, including ours, of course. As I’ve recently written, the Crimea region of the Ukraine, by overwhelming majorities, has just voted to place themselves under Vladimir Putin’s boot. I’ve written previously about the dictatorial thug that is Vladimir Putin so I won’t rehash it again. Except to say he runs Russia Mafia-style where he is the Godfather; and that the Russian economy is so bad that, as a result,  the Russian birthrate is declining rapidly, to the extent that Putin himself is deeply worried. This is what the people of Crimea have so joyfully voted to become part of. Great celebrations over the Crimean vote, not just in Crimea, but in Russia too. Putin’s favorability ratings have skyrocketed due to Russia’s sudden acquisition of additional territory. Just as they celebrated Hitler’s early conquests, in Nazi Germany.

In a few months, when the situation in Crimea dies down, (assuming that it does) the average Russian and Crimean will be forced to come out of the comfy warmth of their delusions. They will be forced to face the rotten state of their lives, and how bad their economy and living conditions really are. They will have to face the fact that their only relief is to drown their sorrows in Russian-made vodka. But it’s not their fault. They were victimized by being in a state of smartlessness.

 

 

 

 

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A HOUSE DIVIDED

In 1858, in a speech Abe Lincoln gave before a Republican convention that would nominate him for the Illinois Senate race, (an election he would lose, by the way), Lincoln proclaimed the following phrase that would live in history: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was, of course, talking about the issue of slavery which had so polarized the country, that civil war would break out almost immediately after he was elected President 2 years later. A civil war that would claim the lives of over 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million with today’s population. The 1858 Senatorial race was between Lincoln and his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas who would win the election, and it resulted in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, which were mostly about the slavery issue. The same 2 squared off for the presidency 2 years later, and as we all know, Lincoln was the victor in that campaign. The relevance to today’s landscape, however, is that this country is more polarized and divided, as well as mired in dysfunction, as it has been at any time since those historical events more than 150 years ago. So let us examine the different ways that the country is split into ever growing fault lines.

Let’s start with the difference between rural and city life in America, today. That’s relevant because voters in small town America tend to vote heavily for Republicans, while metropolitan areas vote Democratic almost as heavily. That Red State-Blue State thingy. It all comes down to a question of values. People living in rural, small town-America tend to be more religious and self-protectionist. It’s a matter of tradition. Bibles and guns are the mainstay of most people living in the country-side. They have been raised to believe in a literal translation of both the old and new testaments, and no force on Earth can shake the foundations of those beliefs. Of course gay marriage should be prohibited since homosexuality is a sin. It says so, loud and clear, in the bible. Likewise, all abortions should be banned, since only God can take a human life. (Although, interestingly, all these anti-abortionists seem to have no trouble with the government executing criminals.) And it’s rather difficult to pinpoint a biblical passage that strictly forbids abortions. Not that any of that matters, since most religious beliefs come from sermons being preached in churches across the nation by priests that apparently have an insider’s pipeline to God’s desires.

As for the guns part of bibles and guns-wasn’t Jesus packing heat when he gave his famous sermon on the mount. Besides, doesn’t everyone know that our immoral, communistic, atheistic government would throw us all into concentration camps without hesitation, if we didn’t maintain our own guns. And not just a handgun, but an entire arsenal of weaponry. So goes the thinking over much of rural America. Such are the beliefs that one in indoctrinated with while growing up in this country environment. Young people being raised in this setting, if they are sharper, more industrious, and more ambitious, will often leave these small towns for metropolitan areas where they have much greater economic, cultural, and entertainment opportunities. Those that stay behind are usually more content to lead the same lives as their parents did, and inherit the same set of doctrines and dogma. Thus, the Republican Party, which goes out of its way to cater to religious evangelicals, or bible thumpers, as I would call them, reaps the lion’s share of the vote in rural America.

Living in big cities almost forces people to become more tolerant. While rural America is almost solidly white, metropolitan areas usually consist of a mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Moslems, Jews, etc. Gays are just as likely to be living in the apartment next to yours as are heterosexuals. If one is to live well in big city life, the dogma of demonizing homosexuals, or other religions or races, or women having an abortion, necessarily must become a thing of the past. Hence, city dwellers become less attached the the religious dogma they may have been raised with, and increasingly become more secular and more tolerant. They will then mostly vote for Democrats who are more in tune with their secular beliefs.

One can also look at the great political divide in this country as between white men and the rest of the populace. White men (and often married white women) tend to vote mostly Republican, because they feel their privileged status in American society is being taken away from them. With black, Hispanic and Asian populations seemingly on the increase, older white men and women believe that a time will come in the not too distant future, when they will no longer be able to call the shots. Then all these minorities will become the dominant voting bloc, which, in turn, will greatly increase government handouts and welfare payments to people too lazy and shiftless to fend for themselves. Or so goes their thinking. Thus, the GOP, which is continually trying to significantly cut the food stamp program, housing assistance, or health insurance benefits, is the party for them. Democrats tend to exhibit more empathy for for minorities or those in need of financial help. This doesn’t sit well with the current white majority.

The thing about our current political divide is that it is increasingly hardening. Less and less is there any room for political compromise, or a meeting of the minds. In this November’s election, if the GOP gains control of both the House and the Senate, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, today’s dysfunction and polarization will seem like a minor spat between family members. And all political pundits are predicting that Republicans will win big time. Then we will truly become a house divided against itself, as Lincoln warned 150 years ago. And we all know how well that turned out last time.

 

 

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NO REMEDY FOR ACTING STUPID

There was an article, a little over a year ago, about a woman in Minnesota, in her early 60s that was suffering from a heart condition. One morning she woke up and had great difficulty breathing. She managed to arrange to shortly see her cardiologist, who was able to bring her breathing difficulties under control.   But it was the beginning of July and the woman mentioned that she and her husband had been invited to a neighborhood outdoor party for the Fourth of July holiday. Under no condition, the doctor warned her sternly, was she to eat any hot dogs or other similarly fatty foods. If she did, he admonished, she would likely wind up in the hospital. So did this woman heed the doctor’s clear warning and wisely choose her food selections at the neighborhood party? Of course not. That would have been too rational. Instead, she let her weakness for consuming hot dogs gain the upper hand, and knocked down two extra large ones in the blink of an eye. And sure enough, the next day, she suffered a mild heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital. After all, what was more important-continued living, or the few minutes of pleasurable taste attained in eating those hot dogs.

It’s too bad that medical science has not been able to develop a pill, or a therapy, for curing stupid. For example, almost 43 million adults, or near a quarter of the adult population 18 years or older, continue to smoke in this country. This, despite over 50 years of harsh warnings from the Surgeon General on down to the local councilman, about the destructively ill effects resulting from smoking. Despite the fact that over 400,000 Americans die a painful death each year as a result of smoking. Millions more develop life-long debilitating illnesses. It is also interesting to note that all these millions of smokers, at one time or another, manage to wind up in Las Vegas casinos. Because casinos are the one place in America where smoking is not only not demonized, it is, in fact, welcomed. Because casino owners know that as eager tourists start shoveling their life savings into slot machines or the craps tables, smoking is the one outlet left to help soothe the nerves of people that have just lost a bundle. They also get free drinks, as long as they’re gambling, to further calm their anguish.

This is sort of a long way around to discuss the situation in Crimea, where over 90% of the Crimean population just voted to align themselves with Russia instead the Ukraine which they are actually part of. To put themselves under Vladimir Putin’s boot, so to speak. Because life in Russia is so peachy. I discussed last time, the thug and tyrant that is Vladimir Putin, so I won’t rehash that again. Suffice to say that the Russians themselves are not quite as enthralled as the Crimeans. An interesting detail is the fact that Russia is slowly but steadily losing population. Even Putin has decried the seriousness of this problem. In the early 1990s, Russia’s population stood at 148 million people. Today, it has declined to 143 million, and continues to fall at a rate of 700,000 to 800,000 per year. It’s like watching a catastrophe unfolding in slow motion. By 2050, it’s estimated that the Russian population will be down to 110 million.

Apparently the Russians themselves don’t believe they are quite living in the Garden of Eden, as their death rate continues to outstrip their birth rate. Russia’s death rate is 15 people per 1000, each year. That’s far higher than the world average of 9 people per 1000, per year. In the U.S. it’s 8 per 1000.   In Russia, people die at an earlier age than in most countries, mainly because of rampant alcoholism. For example, the average longevity for men in Russia is 59, versus about 76 for men in this country. The primary reason for the difference is alcoholism, especially among men. As I mentioned last time, Putin’s cronies get all the capital, and the rest of the peasants, who generally experience great economic hardships, are left to drown their sorrows in Russian vodka.

Coupled with the high death rate in Russia, is an exceedingly low birth rate. Due to poor economic conditions, freezing weather, and a general lack of freedom and liberty, Russian couples are becoming less inclined to bring new off-spring into the world. The Russian fertility rate stands at only 1.3 births per woman during her lifetime. A replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman is required for the population to just stay even. In overall numbers, this amounts to about 10 births per 1000 people, versus the 20 deaths per 1000 that is currently occurring in Russia. Doesn’t look to me like there’s a lot of sustainability there.

Other European countries who also have low birth rates, (not as low as Russia’s birth rate, however) are experiencing a considerable influx of immigrants, which helps them maintain a sustainable population rate. However, the amount of immigrant migration to Russia is virtually nil, primarily because of the poor economic outlook. In fact, the emigration out of Russia, especially for the best and brightest who seek better economic opportunity in other European countries, often exceeds immigration into Russia. The Russian economy is built around one product, which is energy. It does have considerable deposits of oil, gas and coal. But due to the crony capitalism inherent in operating the Russian energy system, there is great waste, fraud and mis-management which results in low productivity. In any event, it’s difficult to achieve a high functioning economy with just one product. Oh, and there’s vodka manufacturing, also.

So congratulations to all those that voted in Crimea to cast their lot with the Russian bear. You’re joining a system that most people with brains are running away from. But as I said at the beginning, science has yet to develop a remedy for stupid. That’s the one freedom that no one can take away-the freedom to act with stupidity.

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THE UKRAINE DEBACLE

Hillary Clinton was right-0n target when she described Vladimir Putin and his Russian forces take-over of the Crimean sector of the Ukraine as being virtually identical to Hitler’s takeover of Chechoslovakia. In 1938, Hitler marched his Nazi troops into northern Chechoslovakia on the pretext that he was merely protecting the rights of the large German population that inhabited that region. This led to the infamous Munich conference between Hitler and England’s Neville Chamberlain as well as the Prime Minister of France. Hitler promised no further military incursions if his act of aggression was allowed to stand. Chamberlain agreed, and returned home to wildly cheering crowds when he proclaimed that that he had “achieved peace in our time.” At Chechoslovakia’s expense, of course. The French PM knew this was all a charade but was powerless to reverse the course that was unfolding. It was only a few months later that Hitler tore up the Munich accord by taking over the rest of Chechoslovakia, and then invading Poland, as World War II was on for real. The British finally came to their senses and replaced Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, with the toughness and realism of a Winston Churchill.

So it is with Putin’s military takeover of Crimea. After all, he only did it to protect the rights of the large Russian populace currently living in Crimea. The first thing to know is that Putin is an old KGB mid-level thug who rose to power with the fall of the old Soviet empire. The KGB was Moscow’s equivalent of the Nazi Gestapo, and had used virtually identical Gestapo methods as standard operating procedure. Since knocking off his opponents and achieving ultimate power, Putin runs the Russian government Mafia-style. If anyone of significance crosses him, they’re either deposited in Siberian prison camps for the duration, or just simply eliminated. Putin’s economic system relies heavily on crony capitalism-his cronies receive all the capital, and the rest of the peasants are left with their vodka to blot out their unhappy lives. As I’ve said, it’s a Mafia-style government with Putin being the godfather, or the boss of bosses. It’s a primary reason that Russia is chief among all nations in the world, in actually losing population, due to a significantly declining  birth rate, that doesn’t keep pace with its death rate.

The thing is, however, that Putin is also a highly ambitious man, and is not satisfied with just ruling Russia. He has big dreams of re-assembling the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, and bringing it all under his command. In 2008, his troops invaded and took over half the state of adjoining Georgia, while President George W. Bush, and the rest of the world stood by and did nothing. He maintains an iron-grip on Chechnya, which is a Moslem country fighting for years for its independence from Russia. The Chechnians have resorted to unleashing horrific terrorist acts against the Russian people; but this has not dissuaded Putin from granting Chechnya its freedom.  The Ukraine, however, is the biggest prize in Putin’s ambitions, and the takeover of Crimea is just the beginning.

Just as Hitler got to preside over the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, shortly before the out break of WWII, Putin took center-stage over the 2014  just-ended winter Olympics in Russia, shortly before invading Crimea. Amazing how consistently history keeps repeating itself. Both men presented themselves as models of rationality who enjoyed world class sporting events as much as the next guy. Their sinister goals remained well-hidden during the Olympic festivities. But the wolf in sheep’s clothing eventually bares its fangs. And when it does people die.

The mess in the Ukraine began when its democratically elected leader decided to switch sides. Preparations had been made for the Ukraine to join the European Union, which would enable it to reap all the trade, economic, and other financial benefits that membership in the EU had to offer. The whole world expected that to occur, including the leadership in this country. But Putin could never allow that to happen. At the last minute, Putin persuaded the Ukrainian leader to renounce EU membership and, instead, come in under Russia’s umbrella. The Ukrainian people were up in arms and massive demonstrations started taking place. The government’s answer was to slaughter protesters by the hundreds as the streets literally ran with blood. Even more massive protests took place, and the Ukrainian government was finally overthrown, with its leader fleeing for his life to Russia. An interim government has been established, with a pro-western agenda. It was at this point that Putin decided on a military take-over of the Crimean portion of the Ukraine, which is now solidly inside the Russian orbit.

While President Obama and other western allies have generally denounced Russia’s military aggression, there’s not a lot options available to us. There was a time in recent history when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had the military muscle to counter such Russian operations, but it no longer does. Today NATO is just a shadow of its former self. England, France and Germany have cut their military resources to the bone; leaving the U.S. to pretty much do all the heavy lifting. It’s one of the reasons why we sustain $700 billion dollars a year in Defense expenditures. But there is virtually no appetite in this country for further military adventurism for any reason. After being sapped by a decade’s-long war in Iraq, and a still on-going 13 year-old war in Afghanistan, the one thing almost all Americans agree on is, no more military involvements.

There has been talk of imposing economic or financial sanctions against Russia, but major problems exist with those courses of action too. Russia supplies western Europe and the Ukraine with almost all of its energy resources. Gas and oil flow through Russian pipelines to virtually every European country. If we imposed economic sanctions against Russia, Putin could just as easily shut down all Russian energy deliveries to the rest of Europe. It’s known as being caught between a rock and a hard place. So consider that Crimea is now permanently within Moscow’s sphere of influence. The real question is, however, whether or not Putin will be satisfied with just ownership of Crimea, or does he have all of the Ukraine within his sight. Stay tuned for further developments.

 

 

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THE KOCH BROTHERS

It was probably, mostly true a century and a half ago, when Abe Lincoln stated in his famous Gettysburg Address, that this was a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Back in Lincoln’s time, candidates could often run for political office on a shoe-string, and money didn’t come close to dominating the political landscape to the extent it does today. So there was a semblance back then, that the democratic process truly ruled America. Now, a 150 years later, we know that this is no longer the case. Today, if anyone desires to run for a political office higher than local dogcatcher, he or she will need fistfuls of cash just to get out of the starting gate. And the higher the office, the more money required. In the 2012 presidential election, the 2 major party candidates managed to blow through a cool billion dollars, just so one of them could occupy the oval office. So I thought it might be interesting to look at who is providing all this cash, since these are the people that really run America.

When the two major parties have their political conventions every 4 years to nominate their candidates for the office of the presidency, thousands of delegates swarm onto the convention floor with great hoopla. There’s a lot of noise, singing and shouting, horn blowing, balloons, and endless speeches demonizing the other party’s choice, while, of course, praising their own guys. There is endless pontificating and merriment, all of which is televised for the home viewing public. What TV viewers don’t see, however, are the large, black limousines that pull up to side or back entrances and off-load a bunch of usually older men in dark suits, (they’re almost always men), who are then escorted to luxury quarters somewhere in that convention center. These are the rich men that really run America, and there’s no way they would mix with the rabble on the convention floor. But they show up to make sure that the multi-millions they’ve stuffed into various candidates pockets is a wise investment and money well spent. Sometimes these billionaires don’t even bother going to the convention center; but, instead, rent out luxury suites in nearby 5-star hotels, from whence they can watch the  convention proceedings on large-screen TVs.

Besides the regal furnishings in these quarters, the world’s finest booze is on display for their drinking pleasures. Imported caviar and other delicacies are available if they get hungry. There are also likely the best cigars, illegally imported from Cuba. So these men settle into plush recliners, with their 30-year-old scotches in hand, and watch to see that the candidates they’ve bought and paid for, deliver the goods as directed. Each party has their own contingent of such billionaires, which is the only reason that political contests remain somewhat competitive. But chief among the billionaires that run America are 2 men in their seventies, known as the Koch brothers. (Their name is pronounced coke, as in diet coke.)

Charles and David Koch are major industrialists that privately own a series of enterprises, most of them in the chemical and energy fields, that have given them the enormous wealth it takes to buy the candidates that will rule America. These 2 men not only own politicians, but they also invest heavily in a slew of right-wing initiatives such as anti-abortion and anti-gay rights. To give an example of their political philosophy, David, the younger brother, ran as the Libertarian candidate in 1980, on a platform of abolishing Social Security, Medicare, the FBI, the CIA, and the public school system. He lost, of course, but in the process, poured $500,000 of his own money into his campaign. After that, the 2 bothers acknowledged that the best way to achieve their goals was to invest heavily in the Republican Party, as well as other various far-right causes. Currently, the Koch Brothers teamed up with an organization called Freedom Partners, which has poured $236 million into far-right operatives such as the Tea Party Patriots, that have been vehemently advocating for the de-funding of ObamaCare. The brothers were estimated to have given Mitt Romney $86 million for his 2012 mis-adventure. They have also supplied millions to organizations in California that fought the legalization of gay-marriage in that state. When Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, was recalled because of his efforts to repeal state workers collective bargaining rights, the Koch brothers infused Walker’s campaign with sufficient funding to ensure his re-election. Governor Scott Walker, successfully bought and paid for.

The Koch brothers have also spent tens of million of dollars fighting EPA rulings on limiting carbon dioxide emissions, as well as campaigning for unfettered energy usage from coal, oil and gas.The list of organizations receiving big-time Koch funding reads like a who’s-who of far right-wing looney-tunesville activities. So why is this germane now in 2014. Because starting this past January, the Koch brothers have already heavily funded  GOP ads running in supposed “red states” where Democratic senators up for re-election later this year. These TV ads focus heavily on the poor initial  rollout of ObamaCare and its continuing mishaps. The GOP believes that ObamaCare ills are the holy grail to achieving Republican domination in both the Senate and House; and the Koch brothers aim to provide the cash infusion to make that happen. At this point in time, it appears that they will achieve their goal.

Of course, the Democrats have their share of billionaires who provide funding for their causes, such as George Soros, for example. The truth is that both parties are hopelessly compromised by their base voters. The Democrats are compromised by relying on big labor unions and environmental extremists to provide for their cash requirements. The Republicans are compromised by their base of bible thumpers, i.e., all the anti-abortionists, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration extremists, as well as billionaires who feel it would be really neat to make the wealthy even richer at the expense of the middle and lower classes. The ship of state in the U.S. will never right its course until a third party is formed to represent the overwhelming majority of people that don’t fall into those categories. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, especially not in my lifetime.

 

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OLD HATREDS NEVER DIE, NOR FADE AWAY

I thought I would but a little more flesh on the rather bare bones description of the Arab-Israeli conflict that I wrote about last time. Because it seems like the hate and vengeance that emanate from both sides goes back a long, long ways, to early biblical times, perhaps as much as 4000 years ago. If one believes that both the old and new testaments are anything more than fable, mythology and superstition, then the old hatreds started with Abraham, who is considered to be the father of the Hebrew nation. It seems that Abraham had, with his wife Sarah, a son named Isaac, who started the Jewish state. But for reasons too absurd to go into detail here, Abraham, the old goat, also decided to fool around with one of the servant women, and in the process, produced another son named Ishmael. It finally dawned on his wife Sarah that this was not a kosher situation; so she ordered Abraham to expel both mother and child from their living quarters. Neither would also get any of Abraham’s inheritance. Ishmael would then go on to father the Arab nation, while, as I’ve said, Isaac would be the founder of the Hebrew nation. From that point on, the hatreds, wars, mass murders, slaughters of innocent people, destruction, etc. between the two peoples would become fully launched.

Now as I’ve stated many times before, I’m not a big believer in the veracity of either sets of bibles, since they were both written by man, not God. They make for some interesting folklore and myths, but it’s unlikely that many of the events described, especially in the old testament, actually took place. For example, the Israeli government has spent tens of millions of dollars looking for the slightest shred of evidence that Moses ever existed, let alone parted the Red Sea, and has come up with nothing but a dry hole. So let’s fast forward a couple of thousand of years to the time that Jesus walked this planet. It was also a time when the mighty Roman Empire conquered the state of Israel, which then resulted in most Jews being driven from their homeland, and relocating mostly in Europe. (As we all know, the Roman Empire, some centuries later, would also subsequently fall to the barbarians at the gates.) Over the next 2000 years, European Jews were then subjected to severe persecution and pogroms by most European nations, (think of the Spanish Inquisition) which finally culminated in the blackest and most evil pit of all, known as the Holocaust. The Nazis would slaughter about 6 million European Jews during that pogrom, before the WWII nightmare would finally end. After the war, most leading nations, as represented in the U.N., felt that the Jews now deserved their own homeland where they would be safe from persecution.

In the late 19th century, an Austrian Jew named Theodor Herzl had put forth the idea that all the displaced Jews of Europe should be able to return to their biblical homeland in the deserts of the Mid-East, as a way to escape anti-semitic persecution that was rampant throughout Europe at the time. This concept became known as Zionism, and the first Zionist Congress met in Switzerland in 1897 to formulate strategies and plans to accomplish this goal. After WWII the Zionist movement gathered momentum and, as I’ve said, almost all world powers were in agreement in the establishment of the state of Israel. Bur there was fierce opposition coming from one quarter, and that was from the Arabs living in those Mid-Eastern deserts that would become the Jewish state.

In 1947, at the urging of President Harry Truman, the U.N. general assembly voted in favor of a 2 state partition of those biblical lands in the desert. One state would be Palestinian, and the other would Jewish. Fighting between both sides broke out almost immediately, and in 1948, when Israel officially declared independence, 4 Arab countries invaded the new state. By some miracle, Israel was able to win that early on-slaught, and a cease-fire was declared in 1949. But as the title to this piece states, old hatreds never go away. In 1967, Egypt, Syria, and Jordan attacked Israel once again in what would become known as the 6-day war. Israel would win that war too, and in the process acquire all of Jerusalem (which had been partitioned), the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. But the Arabs weren’t finished by a long shot. On Yom Kippur, the Jewish holy day, in 1973, Egypt and Syria once again sprung a surprise military attack on an unprepared Israel. That one came within a hair’s breath of success. Israel eventually found the resilience to fight back this latest Arab attempt to “drive the Jews into the sea,” and again won that war. It was at that point that the Arabs realized the futility of outright armed invasion. Instead, they would try a new tactic of brutal, murderous slaughter of Israeli civilians, known as terrorism, which I described in some detail in my previous entry. What I didn’t mention last time was that these terrorist tactics also included lobbing rockets with explosive warheads into Israeli towns, which is still on-going to this day.

The entire state of Israel is about the size of Delaware. When George W. Bush became President he visited Israel and was given a helicopter tour over  the whole state. It was pointed out to him that at its narrowest point Israel is only 9 miles wide. “Nine miles,” he exclaimed. “There are some driveways in Texas that are longer than 9 miles.” But within this small strip of land in the desert, there has been a never-ending sea of hatred, bloodshed, death, destruction and misery that has evolved over thousands of years. With no end in sight. And yet the far left-wing in this country and throughout Europe, especially in academia and other so-called intellectual circles, want to establish economic and scholastic boycotts of everything Israeli. Because, obviously, all this hatred and bloodshed is all Israel’s fault.

The problem with this left-wing ideology is that when one is a determined ideologue, he or she will make the facts fit their belief system instead of the other way around. So like their blood brothers on the far right, its not about what occurs in reality; its all about making a life-long commitment to a certain ideology, no matter how false the premises of that ideology may be.

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SCARLETT JOHANSSON FOR SEC. OF STATE

Readers of this blog know that I’ve often excoriated right-wing extremists for their delusional fanaticism. But there is also a cadre of left-wing extremists, like their far-right counterparts, that deserve the harsh light of reality to be shone on their biases. These left-wingers are often in academia or function as community organizers in anti-poverty poverty programs. Worthy activities to be sure, but it doesn’t exempt them from criticism of their extremist views on world activities. Thus, in certain left-wing circles, it is highly fashionable to completely side with one faction in the 65 year-old conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. And that side is, of course, is with the Palestinians. In their world view, Israel is totally to blame for all the bloodshed and and destruction that has occurred over the last 65 years because of its insistence of establishing a Jewish state in the midst of a region populated primarily by Arabs. They claim to be anti-zionist instead of anti-semitic, as if there’s a difference between the two. It’s okay for the English to have their own state, for the French to have their own state, and similarly, for the Germans, Italians, Poles, Irish, Japanese, etc., etc., to all have their own states. But, somehow, it’s not okay for the Jews to have a state of their own. So as usual in these conflicts, it’s best to examine the facts and see which side (if any) is to blame.

As everyone knows, the Olympics are supposedly all about sports competition without any political interference. But in 1972, with the Olympics held in Munich, Germany, Palestinian terrorists snuck into the Israeli encampment and captured 11 Israeli athletes. After days of fruitless negotiations, the German police stormed the encampment only to find that these terrorists had just murdered all 11 Israelis. The terrorists were then shot dead by the police, but the terror they had inflicted made world-wide headlines. All in the name of the Palestinian cause. The drumbeat of Palestinian terrorist activities continued on. In 1973 Palestinian murderers killed the U.S. ambassador to the Sudan, as well as his deputy. Then, in 1974, terrorists entered a public school in Ma’alot, Israel and massacred 25 people including 22 schoolchildren. Roars of approval were sounded in all the Palestinian territories. If there was one thing Palestinians treasured above killing Israeli civilians, it was the killing of Israeli children. This was shown by the 1978 Coastal Road massacre, in which 38 Israelis were slaughtered, including 13 children. And the parade of Palestinian terrorism has continued on and on to the present day.

Since 1980, until today, there has been 17 different Palestinian terrorist attacks in which 804 Israelis have lost their lives. And how have the Palestinian authorities reacted to this terrorism? In December, Palestinian President Abbas posthumously bestowed the “Star of Honor” on Abu Jihad, the mastermind of the Coastal Road attack. He was “the model of a true fighter and devoted leader” stated Abbas. The woman who actually led the attack had a square in the Palestinian territories named after her, for her bravery. One other item. When the terrorist attacks on 9/11 in this country brought down the World Trade Center and killed almost 3000 Americans, Israel lowered its flags to half-mast and went into a period of deep mourning over our casualties. On the other hand, there was literally rejoicing with fireworks and dancing in the streets of the Palestinian territories.

So why exactly do these left-wing “intellectuals” continually take the Palestinian side. Well, perhaps it’s because in Israel, women are not allowed to drive a car on their own. If a woman wants to get behind the steering wheel, there must at least be one man to accompany her. Oh, wait a minute. Those rules actually take place in Saudi Arabia. In Israel, women have exactly the same driving privileges as men. Well then, maybe it’s because in Israel, women have to dress in long black wraps which include covering their faces. Oops, wrong again. That actually takes place in Iran, and through many of the Arab countries. Israeli women dress according to the latest Western fashions. Well, perhaps it’s due to the fact that Israeli schoolchildren are taught that Islamic Mullahs seek to slit their throats and drink their blood. Oh no, once again my bad. Such are the the teachings in our old friend Saudi Arabia once more; where schoolchildren are taught that Jewish Rabbis inflict such ghoulish acts on them. So what is behind the anti-Israeli bias so popular in so many left-wing circles. It seems as though anti-semitism is the one hatred that still has respectability among many on the left.

In any event, the Obama Administration and Secretary of State John Kerry in particular, have recently been trying to broker a peace agreement to finally end this 65-year old conflict. However, from statements made by Kerry, and in accordance with Obama’s wishy-washy, weak as dishwater foreign policy, it appears that all the concessions needed to presumably reach a peace treaty are to be made by Israel. Nothing in the way of compromise is being asked of the Palestinians. God forbid. This is where Scarlett Johansson enters the picture. The well-known and beautiful actress recently cut a commercial for the Super Bowl touting sodas made by an Israeli company called SodaStream. Oxfam, a left-wing anti-poverty group condemned her action, and called on her to join with them in a boycott of all Israeli goods. Scarlett, politely but firmly declined, citing a fundamental difference of opinion regarding boycotting Israeli products. Finally, someone with a little spine and backbone. Perhaps we should make her Secretary of State in lieu of John Kerry. She certainly couldn’t do any worse regarding foreign policy, than what has been exhibited by this Administration thus far.

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HUMANS BEHAVING BADLY

Around the time that Jesus walked the Earth, the Roman Empire was in the process of reaching its zenith in power and control. Having conquered almost all of Europe and North Africa, virtually everyone outside of Asia found themselves under Roman domination. Or under the most advanced and enlightened civilization that ever existed on this planet, if one viewed it from a Roman perspective. But many people chaffed under this Roman rule and started to fight back. They were known as the Huns, the Vandals the Goths and other assorted barbarians. These groups knew that the Roman army was far too powerful to challenge head on, so instead they resorted to acts of barbarism, such as attacking villages at the fringes of Roman occupation; and murdering every occupant while burning these villages to the ground. Over a period of centuries, these attacks began to erode Rome’s military strength, and the barbarians started making steady headway as it just became too costly for Rome to continually defend the territories it had previously conquered. Finally, as we all know, the barbarians broke through the gates of Rome, and destroyed the entire Roman Empire. Europe was then plunged into what is known as the dark ages, as all the societal and technological advances that Rome had accomplished were washed away into a sea of ignorance and barbarism. Europe languished in  this black sea of primitivism, until finally the Reformation which started in the 16th or 17th century, began to take hold, and civilization began to advance back to the point of where the Roman Empire had left it.

Today we have a new set of barbarians chipping away at the gates of the American Empire (if you will);  only now we call them terrorists. But the goals and methods of today’s terrorists are remarkably similar to those of the barbarians that destroyed Rome. This came to light in a story that was mind- numbingly under reported by the media until very recently, but is deeply troubling in its implications. Back in April 2013, an attack was made by unknown individuals, on an electrical substation in San Jose, CA. In the dark of night, these individuals cut the fiber-optic transmission lines in the ground that transmitted the substation’s electrical output. They then set themselves up in sniper positions and began firing at the substation equipment with military grade rifles. The firing went on for nearly 20 minutes, and destroyed virtually all of the electrical equipment. More than 100 shots were fired. Then these individuals slipped away in the blackness, undetected. In all, the entire episode took 52 minutes, during which the police, or any other law enforcement officials were completely absent.

This event is so disturbing, on so many levels, it’s hard to know where to begin. First of all, the attackers were not some college kids out for a midnight prank. The FBI agrees that these people were highly trained in military operations and sabotage. Speaking of the FBI, their investigation into this matter has turned up zero results, thus far. No clues, nothing. The assault destroyed 17 transformers which took nearly a month to repair and replace. Electric Co. officials battled to keep the lights on by rerouting power from nearby substations. But the most disturbing aspect is what if this was just a trial run.

It’s no secret that America’s achilles heel is its electrical grid. A similar coordinated and simultaneous attack  on a relatively small number of electric substations across the country could bring the U.S. to its knees within minutes. The barbarians wouldn’t have to wait for centuries. Without electricity, all business and commercial activity would come to a screeching halt. All planes would be grounded. Try getting cash out of your local ATM when the power is cut off. California law makers and power officials flat out consider this sniper attack on the San Jose substation to be an act of terrorism. It doesn’t have to be Al-Qaida; local, homegrown terrorists will do just as well. The Chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has stated that “it was the most significant incident of domestic terrorism involving the U.S. power grid that has ever occurred.” He further said that the lack of fingerprints on the shell casings left at the scene, indicated how well prepared the snipers had been.

Almost as disturbing as the incident itself, was the lack of coverage by the media. There was no reporting whatsoever, until the Wall Street Journal broke this story last week, 9 months after the fact. Nothing from Fox News for example. They were still too busy bashing and demonizing ObamaCare to allot time for coverage of an act of domestic terrorism. Nothing from the New York Times or Washington Post. Now the major media outlets have finally woken up to just how huge a story it is, and have begun giving it extensive exposure.

Speaking of ObamaCare, I had a discussion recently with a friend who considered it a disaster, and in his mind, a primary reason that I should become a Republican. I was going to tell him that the GOP’s agenda of tax breaks for the rich, trickle-down economics, and slashing government assistance to the poor, sick and elderly was not exactly my cup of tea. Nor was the GOP’s social agenda of anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, and anti-gun control. Instead, though, I decided to be more flippant. I told him that the image etched into my brain from the 2008 campaign, of Sarah Palin shooting defenseless animals from a helicopter with a high powered rifle, and calling it sport, was still more than my body could cope with. Another example of humans behaving badly. Anyway our conversation sort of petered with that remark.

Anyway if the unpopularity of ObamaCare does cause the Democrats to lose control of both the House and Senate this year, as my friend predicted, think of all the fun that will ensue. You will have governmental gridlock, dysfunction, polarization, and ineffectiveness on steroids.

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