GUN FETISH RESULTS IN GUN VIOLENCE

A wise man once said that no one ever committed mass murder with a knife. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a “wise man.” In fact might have been me. In any event, the latest gun massacre that occurred in Parkland, Florida, where 17 high school students were slaughtered by a deranged 19 year-old using firearms proves this point. Welcome to the new norm, where mass murder is committed on a periodic basis in the United States. The only remaining question is where and when the next one will occur. Prior to the Florida shooting, here in Las Vegas we had a real doozy back last October. Another mentally unbalanced crackpot, this one was age 64 , using a semi-automatic rifle, shot into a crowd attending an outdoor music festival, killing 58 people while wounding more than 500. Prior to that, there was the shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando that left 49 dead. And let us not forget the individual that went on a shooting spree in a school in Connecticut that killed 26 students and staff just before Christmas of that year. The list goes on, but the one common denominator in all these mass slaughters was that guns had to be used to achieve the murderer’s vile intentions.

Despite all these slaughters, any mention of increased gun control in the U.S. sends about half the country into a frenzy of fear-induced paranoia. With the National Rifle Association leading the way, gun owners loudly proclaim that any mention of increased gun-control means that the “big, bad government” is coming in to seize everyone’s firearms; after which unarmed people will surely be rounded up and marched off to concentration camps. It’s called a gun fetish and no amount of reasoning or sanity can prevail against this mindset. Fetishes are almost impossible to rid oneself of, since they act as an irrational hammerlock on one’s brain that precludes clear thinking. Add to this the fact that the NRA, supported by million of members, dispenses tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to favored members of Congress, while threatening to campaign against those members that may be inclined to support some form of gun control, and you have the perfect storm of non-action in reducing the availability of firearms across the U.S.

Don’t think there’s a gun fetish in the U.S? Then consider the following. The U.S. with a population of about 325 million people, or about 5% of all humans currently alive on Planet Earth; nevertheless possesses an estimated 48% of the civilian guns currently in existence. That’s right- of the estimated 650 million guns currently owned by civilians world-wide, about 310 million reside in the U.S. In comparison, the country with the second largest civilian gun ownership is India where 46 million firearms are dispersed among a populace of well over a billion people. Yet even the most feeble effort to enact  some form of legislative restrictions on the acquisition or ownership is met with the fiercest of opposition from gun owners. Compare that to the events that transpired in one of our Pacific allies, namely Australia. Some years ago, also traumatized by a mass killing using firearms, the Australian government asked its citizens to turn their guns into the government which would then reimburse them for each confiscated firearm. Today Australia is almost civilian gun free, and amazingly, seems to have thrived quite well. At least they haven’t had to suffer through any further gun-related massacres.

Of course, our illustrious president couldn’t resist weighing in on the recent school shooting in Florida. Commenting on the police failure to confront the murderer until after the massacre was over, Trump said that if he was in the vicinity, he would have gone into the school and charged the shooter even if he was “unarmed.” Right. Trump who managed to dodge the draft in his younger days and thus avoid serving in the military, would have gone into the school unarmed, and confronted the shooter barehanded. Overweight and out-of-shape as he is at age 71. The disturbing thing about that kind of comment is not that he made it so boldly. After all it was a typical Trumpism. The most disturbing thing is how many Trumpinistas will actually believe he’s telling the truth. Sadly, probably most of his base will probably take him at his word.

Speaking of the Trump follies, the latest one is his intention to slap hefty tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Tariffs is just a polite word for taxes. In this case, it will be U.S. consumers that will pay these increased taxes when buying imported cars or any other product using these metals. Most of our steel imports come from Canada, our neighbor, friend, and supposedly our most trusted ally. Until now, that is, when Trump decided what great fun it would be to piss them off. Increased tariffs on imports also invite retaliation from other countries that buy our exports. In the end, tariffs economically batter all nations involved. Increased tariffs, also known as protectionism, is given by historians as the leading cause of creating the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Back to gun control, my own view is that no one needs guns except for the military, the police, and those civilians employed in security operations. Hunters need guns, why? To kill innocent and defenseless animals generally minding their own business or foraging for food? But good luck separating gun owners from their weapons in the U.S. It will probably take another few hundred years of human evolution for that scenario to play out. Despite the fact that the Aussies were able to achieve that distinction within this lifetime.

 

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THE REAL MEANING OF LIFE

Throughout the ages people have struggled to find if there is deeper meaning to life other than just merely existing. Is there, or not, a higher purpose for being alive on Planet Earth for a few decades before we disintegrate into dust? The short answer is probably not. After all, it’s none other than a personage such as Shakespeare who declared that life-“Is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” William Faulkner, the great American novelist of the 20th century was so impressed by Shakespeare’s utterance that he called his most important work- “The Sound and The Fury.” So let us explore if there is a higher purpose to existing other than reluctantly struggling to get out of bed every morning and going through the motions of what society expects or demands from us.

The logical starting point in this examination would be with the basic elements of time and space. Scientists place the age of the universe at approximately 14 billion years, give or take. That’s when they say that matter first appeared into the total emptiness. Actually time and space are infinite with no beginning or ending- admittedly a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around. But when matter first did appear, it begs the question of how it arrived. Religionists would tell you that God created this matter and then the ensuing “big bang” that dispersed particles of this matter throughout space. But that begs the question of where did God come from, or who created God. Again, religionists would say that God always was and always will be, which always seemed like a royal copout to me. In any event, the greatest minds of all time have no cogent answer as to how matter first appeared. So I guess it’s up to me to solve this puzzle.

Okay, let’s go with the theory that the existence of matter is 14 billion years old, for convenience sake. Yet human life on planet Earth is normally only between 80-90 years before it’s bucket-kicking time. Some die well short of that time frame, while a few hearty souls might kvetch themselves on to about 100 or even older. Of course, by that time centurions are far too debilitated to participate in or enjoy any of life’s so-called pleasures. But only 80 to 90 years of life when the universe is at least 14 billion years old- give me a break. One would think that forces calling the shots could spare at least 1000 years of human living. What a parsimonious universe we live in.

First of all, for most people it takes about 40-50 years of their existences just to figure out what direction their headed for. By that time their lives are more than half over and they’re beginning to experience the aches and pains that come with advancing age. Next subtract out the approximately one-third of our existences we spend sleeping and the time left to whoop it up is further diminished. Further subtractions include the time we’re stuck in rush hour or other traffic jams, the time we spend going to doctors and dentists, the time spent cleaning the house or apartment, doing laundry, mowing the lawn or other maintenance chores, so that the span left for so-called fun and pleasure becomes miniscule. And to make matters worse, the lifetimes allotted for our favorite pets such as dogs and cats are only about 10-18 years before they’re ripped from us. Whoever decided on these allotted time frames for existence on Earth needs to be brought up on charges.

The next factor to consider is that the type of life one will likely lead has already been decided while you’re still in womb. Thats right, the genes one inherits and the environment one is raised in are usually the determining factors of the success or failure of one’s existence. When I was growing up Brooklyn as a youth, I was heavily into sports. My greatest desire in life was to play center-field for the New York Yankees like my heroes Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. But it didn’t take me very long to realize that I had neither the talent or ability to make such dreams come true. It just wasn’t there and I had to look elsewhere to make my way in the world. But it’s not only genes. Some people who are born with great abilities nevertheless find their lives are ruined at an early age because of being raised in abusive households. Even if one is naturally talented, he or she often cannot mentally overcome such abuse and usually die broken at a young age. Statistically speaking, about 10% of the population usually possess great talent that enables them to lead sumptuous life-styes, while about 80% have varying degrees of ability enabling an upper to lower middle-class life-style. The remaining 10% have such wretched genes or upbringings that they often wind up living in cardboard boxes under a bridge somewhere.

So there you have it. A ridiculously few years allotted to play out ones so-called life which is largely determined before-hand by the genes one is born with, and the environment one is raised in. One other thing. Plato famously said that the unexamined life is one that is not worth living. But it seems to me that the examined life isn’t too hotzy totzy either. Who’s ready to sign a petition to the universe asking at least for more years with better health and opportunity. Give us a break and stop being so stingy.

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THE FREE LUNCH COUNTER

Desperate for anything resembling a win, the Trump Administration along with Congressional Republicans, finally passed major legislation in late December in the form of supposed income tax overhaul. Except it’s not much in the way of  overhaul. Basically it gives certain components of American society “free money” in the form of income tax reductions. Well, you might say, who could be against receiving free money. Except the government is handing out funds it doesn’t possess. It would be one thing if we were running a budgetary surplus every year and rebating that surplus back to the people. But just the opposite is true. The government is accumulating about half a trillion dollars in new debt every fiscal year. The current total debt is over $21 trillion and growing each month. Funny how so-called conservatives never made a big deal when the deficit went over the $20 trillion mark after Trump became president. I guess it was only earth-shaking when Obama was running up huge deficits.

In any event, this new legislation gives rather huge tax reductions to corporations, and significant tax cuts to the top one percent and the rest of the uber wealthy. The middle and lower classes, of course, get only a few crumbs of tax relief. A typical Republican game plan of trickle-down economics. Give generous tax deductions to the rich and they’ll reward the party with generous donations during election campaigns that allow more Republicans to be elected to office. Except as I’ve said, anything that significantly increases the public deficit is totally unaffordable as far as the best interests of the people are concerned. I realize that virtually no one lies awake at night worrying about the size of the public debt. But it’s a ticking time bomb that can bring Depression-era financial ruin to large segments of the population if not brought under control.

First, one must realize that the public deficit will never be paid off. It’s far too gigantic for that. The best that we can hope to manage is to pay off bonds and notes that are coming due by issuing new debt and praying it will sell on the world’s financial markets. So far it has, since the U.S. continues to make good on interest payments and bond principals as they mature. One thing that has worked in our favor regarding those payments is the fact that interest rates on world financial markets have remained extraordinarily low for many years. But as economies around the world continue to recover from the great recession that began in 2008, interest rates are slowly starting to climb. Low inflation has been a boon to the U.S. economy, especially in servicing its public debt. But once inflation begins to creep up, as it is current showing signs of doing, servicing the public deficit will become far more costly. How will we pay for these increased costs, especially with less tax revenue coming into the government coffers. It might give future potential bond holders pause for thought.

The U.S. budget has now climbed to about $4 trillion annually. The accumulated deficit, as I’ve stated, is over $21 trillion. Mind-boggling numbers to be sure. Almost too other-worldly to get one’s head around. To put it in perspective, when Ronald Reagan entered the White House in January 1981, the accumulated deficit stood at just under $1 trillion. It had taken over 200 years between the presidencies of George Washington thru to Jimmy Carter to reach that figure. In the 37 years, however, from Reagan thru to the first year of Trump, we’ve calmly, with hardly any notice, added another $20 plus trillion to that figure. But the general public attitude has been to just party on. Lets keep spending money we don’t have. What great fun. And now, more free money to the people in the form of an unaffordable tax cut.

Five items comprise over 80% of our annual spending. They are Defense, which includes the military, weapons, intelligence, nuclear missiles, etc. and which is now gobbling up close to a trillion dollars in annual spending. And whose budget most people, especially conservatives, want to see increased rather than reduced. Then there’s interest on the debt which, as I’ve stated, must paid if we want the world to keep buy our bonds. Next come social security and medicare, which seniors especially, threaten open revolt should any mention of reduction be made. Last is Medicaid, which might be trimmed slightly, but not enough to make any real difference. The remaining whole rest of the government is funded with less than 20% of available revenue. Not a lot of places to try saving some money. Might as well just keep partying on.

In pre-television days of the 1930s and 1940s, there was a show on the radio called Duffy’s Tavern, with the by-line of-“where the elite meet to eat.” Of course, it was anything but elite. More like a hole-in-the-wall bar. In any event when the rare customer did enter the tavern, and was willing to plunk down a nickel or dime for a beer, proprietor Duffy would tell the customer that this entitled him to go over and partake of the “free lunch counter.” In actuality, many bars actually did have a free lunch counter during the Depression era, available for the price of a beer. But one could only imagine the quality of food available at this counter. Probably more like ptomaine heaven. In any event the acceptance by the U.S. public of this latest tax cut which further imperils our financial future, makes it look like we’re still willing to chow down at the free lunch counter. What a rosy picture concerning one’s health.

 

 

 

 

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HOLIER-THAN-THOU

In October 1994, 23 years ago, a woman in South Carolina became infamous due to inflicting one of the more significant atrocities of  that decade on the American landscape. Her name was Susan Smith and the heinous act she committed was driving her car into a nearby lake until it was submerged. Oh, did I fail to mention that her two baby sons, aged three and one, were strapped into the back seat of the car and obviously drowned in very short order. Susan, however, escaped the sinking car, uninjured. Imagine the devastated father coming home from work only to be confronted with this horror. It was a living nightmare that he could never escape from. This criminal atrocity made headlines across the country as the enormity of such a tragedy caught the public’s deep fascination for weeks, during which Susan was brought to trial, convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. As of today, she’s still a guest of the South Carolina penal system.

But what was most interesting was Susan Smith’s motive for committing such an inhumane act. That she was deranged went without saying. It took awhile, but the source of this derangement was finally brought out into the open. It seems that her father, a pillar of the community, had raped her when she was a child. Her father, who was a church deacon, and who was prominent in Republican politics in S.C., turned out to be a rapist of the worst kind. Short of murder, a man couldn’t commit a more evil act than to rape one’s daughter, especially when she was a defenseless child. To make matters worse, the statute of limitations had long since expired on those heinous acts, and the rapist pillar of the community got off scot free. Hence, the ramifications of of what Susan Smith’s father did to her as a child, played out a decade or two later with the murder of two innocent babies. During which time, of course, her father maintained his religious virtuosity to its fullest extent.

Which brings us to the current political fiasco on-going in the state of Alabama. As I wrote last time, Roy Moore, who is the epitome of a right-wing, holier-than-thou, bible thumper, won the Republican primary for the open Senate seat in that state. Since it’s virtually automatic that the Republican nominee always wins the general election, (given the dismal state of the Democratic Party throughout the South), Moore was already buying his plane ticket for his swearing-in ceremony in Washington. Now, however, a glitch has suddenly arose. Two women have come forward to contend that Moore sexually molested them when they were teenagers, almost 20 years ago. Moore, it seems, who is still debating within himself whether homosexuals should be hung for their affront to God, got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Of course, Moore and his wife adamantly deny the accusations, as do virtually every prominent right-wing whacko throughout the country. From Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity to Jerry Falwell Jr., they’re all unanimous that such a fine specimen of “conservatism” could never have indulged himself in the manner that he’s being accused of. But one religious nut case put forth the best spin I’ve heard yet, regarding these accusations. He stated that that if Moore did have sex with those young women, it would be the same as when the “Holy Ghost” had sex with a teen-aged Mary in order to produce Jesus. Who knew that the “Holy Ghost,” one-third of the “Trinity,” could be put on trial for sex crimes. Although, since it happened 2000 years ago, I guess the statute of limitations has run out on that act too.

In any event it will be fascinating to see whether the wholesome bible-thumpers of Alabama will still elect Moore to the U.S. Senate. Even Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Majority Leader and not exactly a paragon of virtue, has come out in defense of the women that Moore molested, stating that he believes their accusations are true. But while some sexual preditors such as Harvey Weinstein are ruined when the truth sees the light of day, others such as our illustrious president seem to thrive on accusations of sexual depravity. The best example of all is, of course, Donald Trump bragging on an open mic about grabbing women’s pussies, and his sense of entitlement when it comes to having his way with women. All that episode did was improve his poll numbers, and smoothen his road to the White House, especially with the evangelical, bible-thumping crowd. Hypocrisy is apparently limitless.

Many years ago, their was an off-Broadway musical farce called “Nunsense.” It featured a group of “Nuns” singing and dancing about their lives within the church. The closing number was called-“Holier-Than-Thou”- whereby each Nun, in song and dance, would explain certain acts she performed that made her more holy than her counterparts. Very amusing when it comes as part of a Broadway musical. Not so amusing when it’s ingrained into the very fabric of life in our society by our political and social leaders.

And by the way, if Roy Moore is elected, will we have a national debate about whether to hang gays? Stay tuned.

 

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EXTREMELY EXTREME EXTREMISTS

When the horrors of WWII finally ended 72 years ago, Americans looked forward, hopefully, for an ensuing era of peace on the world stage and prosperity at home. Those dreams were to be short-lived, however. By the late 1940s the world was again in virulent turmoil. Russia, our ally during WWII, started gobbling up countries in Eastern Europe and turning them into Communist dictatorships, much to the consternation of the U.S. and its allies. In Asia, Communist forces overthrew the established government in China and turned that country into another dictatorship. Communist China then abetted the establishment of a Communist revolt in northern Korea which then led to the infamous Korean War and the division of the Korean peninsula into democratic rule in the South, and dictatorship in the North. The same dictatorship that now threatens us with a nuclear holocaust in today’s world. The icing on the cake, however, occurred when Russia developed a hydrogen bomb in 1949 to match our own nuclear weaponry.

Communist forces seemed to be relentless in advancing their cause on the world stage. Of course, this led to enormous fear and dismay among the American populace that the U.S. and its European allies would be next in line to fall under the spell of Communism. Where there is fear, there is, of course, great opportunity for fear-mongers to use that world situation to further their own interests as far as acquiring power and dominance. The cry went up-“better dead than red”-among other such brainless cliches. One of the earliest scare mongers was a Senator from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy who sought to become an “anti-communist dictator” through exploitation of the fear of a Communist takeover in the U.S. I’ve previously written extensively about the rise and fall of Tailgunner Joe, (his nickname from WWII.) He was finally exposed for the fraud he was in 1956, through that new-fangled contraption called television, and eventually drank himself to death. But there were others on the scene in those tumultuous times who also sought to exploit the Communist hysteria for their own personal gain.

One of them was a man named Robert Welch who founded a fear-mongering organization called the John Birch Society. Not that it mattered, but John Birch was a Christian missionary in China that was killed in 1945 by Communist forces in the process of taking over that country. To Welch, he was the first casualty of the coming of WWIII that would pit the U.S. against Russia and China. The John Birch Society, under Welch’s leadership, would become the epitome a conspiracy-mongering, anti-communist, anti-United Nations, anti-civil rights, and anti-anything resembling decency and progressivism, type organization. Welch himself denounced WWII hero and then president Dwight Eisenhower as a “dedicated conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.” There was no limit to his fanaticism. Thanks to people like Welch, and other rabid extremists on the right, the U.S. and Russia entered into what was called the “Cold War” that lasted from about 1948 to around 1990. Trillions were spent as each side tried out-arm and out-militarize the other.

Which brings to our current gaggle of right-wing extremists that have taken over the U.S. government. As in days of yore when Communism was the designated enemy, with today’s fanatics it’s the Muslim world, with perhaps Mexicans and, indeed, all Latinos thrown into the mix. Not just Muslim terror organizations like Al Qaida and ISIS, but virtually any believer in the Muslim religion. And, as previously, in today’s world of right-wing fanaticism, all government expenditures are bad and should be abolished, except those spent on the military and to procure armaments. And, of course, as previously, white supremacy must dominate our culture, while anything resembling civil rights is moved to to the trash heap. Just ask white supremacist Steve Bannon who used to be Trump’s campaign manager and then his chief strategist in the White House. He was eventually bounced from his White House job but still advises Trump from his cozy nest as head of far right Breitbart News.

While no longer on the government payroll, Bannon’s white supremacist philosophy still inflicts great damage on U.S. society and culture. A prime example is a Republican Senate primary election that was recently held in Alabama. One of the candidates was a twice disgraced former judge named Roy Moore. Among Moore’s more quaint beliefs is that 9/11 was divine retribution from God for the sin of allowing homosexuality to flourish in this country. He’s a proud anti-Muslim bigot and wouldn’t rule out advocating the death penalty gay people. Even Trump, as far right as he is, made a visit to Alabama to campaign for Moore’s opponent. But Alabamians, in their devotion to far-right extremism gave Moore the victory, which is tantamount to putting him in the U.S. Senate since Democrats are too inept and pathetic to win elections in the South. Oh, I should also mention that Steve Bannon campaigned heavily in Alabama for Roy Moore, and was justly rewarded for his efforts.

So there you have it. The rise once again extremely extreme right-wing politics as it casts its dark shadows over the American landscape. The first time around, during the Cold War, the damage done was held to destroying the reputations of some innocent Americans, and the needless expenditure of a few trillion dollars. This time, with the extremists now in control of all the levers of government operations, the damage will likely be considerably worse.

 

 

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DIRTY AIR AND OTHER OBSCENITIES

It’s been the hallmark of the Trump Administration that those he appointed to head up major cabinet departments or other bureaus have governed in direct opposition to the missions of these offices. For example, Betsy De Vos, who Trump appointed as Secretary of Education, is an ardent foe of America’s public school systems which the vast majority of young students attend. Instead she’s a huge supporter of private or religious schools, or even home schooling, and is working tirelessly to effect such a major shift away from what she considers “government schooling.” Jeff Sessions, our Attorney-General, whose management responsibilities include overseeing the Office of Civil Rights enforcement, is the very antithesis of a civil rights leader. As a former senator from Alabama, Sessions was known rather for his hostility toward enforcing equal-rights for blacks being discriminated against, especially throughout the South. I guess in Trump’s world, this what’s meant by “draining the swamp.”

But nowhere is this opposition to properly carrying out the missions of various agencies of the federal government better illustrated than with the Environmental Protection Agency. As we all know, the essential mission of EPA is to provide clean air and water by  removing as many pollutants from the environment as feasible. But in Trump’s upside down world of appointing opposites, he made someone named Scott Pruitt to head up the EPA. Most Americans had never heard the name before, but it’s quite essential that anyone still breathing air or drinking water know who this person is. Pruitt used to be the Attorney-General of the state of Oklahoma, where he spent most of his career suing the EPA over regulations issued to provide a cleaner, healthier environment. For example, when EPA issued rules to prevent chemical companies from dumping toxic waste into local rivers and streams, Pruitt was there to legally challenge such regulations throughout the various court systems. True, it was more costly for these companies to properly dispose of waste rather than use local waterways as a dumping ground, and apparently that’s all that mattered to foes of EPA such as Pruitt.

So, among his first acts as agency chief, Pruitt has mandated that EPA eliminate rules issued under the Obama Administration that restricted the burning of coal because of coal’s high level of toxicity to the atmosphere. Trump himself has bragged that as a result of his administration’s actions, tens of thousands of new jobs in the coal industry have been established, and that coal is much more widely used these days, especially in the utilities industry. All this is true. However one needs to be aware of coal’s high toxic level. True, coal pours a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but after all, CO2, while a factor in the global warming debate, is still a benign element. What isn’t benign, however, are the large volumes of sulfur dioxide that also emanate from burning coal, and sulfur dioxide is most assuredly not benign. Entire forests in the northeast and Canada have been denuded because air currents have carried sulfur dioxide emanating from coal burning Midwestern utilities to the Northeast. If it strips trees of their foliage imagine what sulfur dioxide does to ones lungs. Only, of course, if you’re used to inhaling oxygen on a daily basis. Someone ought to notify Trump that while his children and grandchildren may live in mansions or penthouses, they still have to breathe the same air the rest of us commoners breathe. And that air now more befouled due to enhanced coal usage.

Another factor to consider is that working as a coal miner is a hell of a way to have to make a living. I realize that for many people, no other viable options exist. But coal miners often develop black lung disease, which is akin to lung cancer, and have shortened life spans. The trend in the U.S. for at least two decades, had been toward moving away from coal usage in favor of natural gas or alternative energy development, which would have meant a cleaner environment for everyone. Now with the Trump Administration in power, we’re back to dirtier air and water. Something you might want to think about over your Cheerios tomorrow morning.

But not to worry. At least Trump is concentrating and putting all his efforts and energy on the most crucial events of the day. So while North Korea threatens us with nuclear armageddon, and the Mid-East is still in flames, it’s good to know that Trump is focusing all his efforts on the nation’s highest priorities. Such as whether pro-football players are taking a knee during playing of the national anthem, to protest ingrained bigotry toward the nation’s black population. Or by his kissing up to religious evangelicals so as to maintain their 80% support levels that will be crucial toward winning his 2020 re-election effort. After all, why shouldn’t the evangelical community support someone who’s such a devout and serious biblical scholar as Donald Trump. Someone who gave the green light to the U.S. populace that it was okay to say “Merry Christmas” again.  Like people were never uttering that any longer.

In the end, it’s as they say, people do it to themselves. By electing Trump, even by the narrowest of margins, we get to experience a steady degradation of not only the U.S. ecology, but of life itself. Look for white supremacists (neo-fascists) such as Steve Bannon to be in the ascendency while it’s all papered over with the demagoguery emanating from Trump’s constant Twitter tantrums.  It is rather fascinating, however, to watch these continual circus shows, while the parade marches on.

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THE FLOWER CHILDREN

The start of the flower child movement is often pegged to the year of 1967 when tens of thousands of young people gathered in San Francisco during the summer to begin a new era in American culture. Actually its beginnings go back to the 1950s with Jack Kerouac and his roving band of beatniks that began a sub-culture opposed to the corporate, statist, capitalist mindset that dominated the cultural mindset of American life. The flower children of the 1960s inherited the beatnik objectives and fine-tuned them. They got their label because many of them, especially the women, often wore floral wreaths, and would hand out flowers to strangers as a symbol of their kindness. Their objective was to create a new society based on peace, love, gentleness, and empathy, in contrast to the hardbitten, and often mean-spirited corporate and Wall Street life style that prevailed in those years.

The thrust of the flower children movement was to create and thrive on communes that would be self-providing. There would be no bosses or underlings in these communes. Instead each individual would put in the necessary effort to grow and harvest the crops, weave the clothes, and build the shelter that was necessary for their existences and that would make the communes self-sufficient. They would live on peace, on love, on pot or LSD, and on rock&roll or folk music. Mind altering drugs such as LSD were a big part of the scene. They were seen as a means to escape the ugliness of life in America at that time. In unison with the flower child movement of those days was a book written by Charles Reich called “The Greening of America” that sold millions of copies. The thrust of that best seller was that a new wave was being established in America that would replace the economic and social mores of those times. Instead of the prevailing ethic of a capitalistic meritocracy, which was based almost totally on a survival of the fittest mentality, a new society was being formed where everyone contributed to the best of their abilities and were then equally rewarded. There would be peace, love and harmony and wars would be a think of the past.

Lifestyles and customs changed in those days as a result of the flower child movement. People wore their hair much longer and clothing fashions were much more radical. Even yours truly had longer hair, a leisure suit with bell bottom trousers, and a belt with a large peace symbol as the buckle. For it was the anti-war thrust of the 1960s that actually created the flower child movement. As the U.S. became more and more involved during the 1960s in fighting the Viet-Cong in the hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam, the anti-war and the related flower child movements began gathering strength and numbers. In those days young men, 20 and older, were routinely subject to the military draft. A young man might be in school or working productively at job he enjoyed, when a draft notice could suddenly wind up in his mail. Report to Fort Dix for 6 months of basic training, and after that we’re going to ship your ass to Viet-Nam where you’ll probably step on a land mine in the jungle and be killed or maimed for life.

Not a very appetizing scenario. Some young men went AWOL to Canada, who was not at war with Viet-Nam, and they were branded as draft-dodgers. Most, however, complied with the draft, with the result that about 58,500 Americans died in those Viet-Namese jungles with thousands more being maimed for life. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese deaths we caused. Today we are at peace with Viet-Nam with substantial economic trade between the two countries. But back in the late 1960s as more and more troops were being shipped to Viet-Nam, the anti-war and resultant flower child imperatives gained millions of followers. Massive anti-war protests were being held every weekend in Washington, where signs abounded saying “Make Love, Not War.” Ironically, it would take the election of Richard Nixon as president to end that nightmarish war, but also to suck the life out of flower child movement.

Nixon quickly realized that sending more American troops to Viet-Nam was fools gold. Instead he listened to the anti-war protesters and began drawing down the American presence there. It took four long years but Nixon was finally able to extricate the totality of U.S. forces. Of course, this led to a Viet-Cong victory and an American loss, but nobody really cared anymore. The entire country was just grateful that the U.S. was no longer involved. And, in a politically brilliant strategic move, Nixon ended the military draft. Young men (or women) would no longer have to worry that their lives would be enormously disrupted by being drafted into the Army. The U.S. would, henceforth, have an all-volunteer military. But with no war to protest, the anti-war/flower child movement began to wither on the vine. While their communes appeared to be productive for awhile, the entire concept began to seem naive and childish.

Young men and women began moving back into the corporate, dog-eat-dog world that America had known since the industrial revolution. People began cutting their hair back to what was considered normal length, bell-bottom trousers went out of style as did brilliantly colored clothing. The gray-flannel suit of corporate America was back in fashion. By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, it was like the flower children and the greening of America had never existed.

As for Richard Nixon, despite his huge accomplishments of ending the Viet-Nam war, and opening diplomatic relations with Communist China where none had previously existed, he would have to resign the presidency in disgrace, because of a minor burglary by some Republican thugs, in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington D.C. Strange how history can so vehemently and carelessly smite someone with total disregard for what they’ve accomplished for mankind.

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THE COMFY STATE OF DELUSIONAL PARANOIA

It’s a well recognized truism of the human condition that an individual’s sense of self-worth is almost entirely dependent on what goes on within the perimeter of that person’s skull.  A person’s view of the world, and of his or her well-being in that universe, is totally a product of brain functioning. You might say that while this is true, such thought processes are a usually a direct result of external events affecting peoples’s lives. The loss of a loved one, for example, will normally drive an individual into a deep state of sadness or depression; while winning a giant lottery might create a huge sense of euphoria. But this is not always true, and such deep feelings of depression or happiness are often transitory rather then long-term. Most people eventually survive and move on even from a deep personal loss; while there have been cases of lottery winners eventually going broke and ending up in even worse circumstances than previously. Again, it’s people’s internal sense of self-worth that’s the driving force.

To further illustrate, consider that four of America’s biggest entertainment and pop culture figures since the end of WWII, who would outwardly appear to have everything to live for, nonetheless, did themselves in. They had tens or hundreds of millions of adoring fans world-wide, fabulous wealth, and universal idolization; but somehow that wasn’t enough  motive to sustain their existences. I’m talking, of course, about Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston; all of whom took their lives at an early age. In short, the inward perceptions they had of themselves were not congruent with their actual outward successes. Compare those tragedies the plight of the poor Bolivian wheat farmer, who back-breakingly works his fields from dawn to dusk just to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of his family. He tumbles into bed when darkness descends, and falls into a deep sleep from the day’s exhaustion. No sleeping pills required there. He’s up at first light to start the process all over again. The poor farmer has no energy left to consider how depressing his plight might be. In his mind, he’s meeting life’s requirements, and there’s no room for other delusional considerations such as suicide or abandoning his obligations. And he’s fine with that.

For many people, however, getting through the day means clothing themselves in a warm, furry blanket of life’s delusions. It smooths out the rough and jagged edges of reality, and sustains their existences. Life would be too unbearable if they had to constantly remain in a state of this reality. We saw this especially among the white supremacist element in this country during the U.S. election campaign of 2016. When Trump said he would bar Mexico from sending us their “rapists and murderers,” they perked up their ears. When he said he would “build a big beautiful wall” to keep illegal Mexicans and other Hispanics from entering the country they swallowed the bait. And when he said that he would bar any additional Moslems from entering the U.S. the deal was sealed. From then on he had a solid base of white supremacist voters that would never abandon him. The one true statement that Trump made during the campaign was that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue, and still, none of his loyal followers would desert him or his cause. And why is that? Call it delusional paranoia.

For people living in a state of unreality, imagined events never have to actually occur. All one has to do is say they will happen, and the delusional mindset will do the rest. As far as the Trump base is concerned, Trump never has to actually build a wall; it’s enough that he said he would. He also said he would make Mexico pick up the tab for this wall, which is beyond laughable. But not to worry. It was enough for Trump to say he would make this happen, even if it doesn’t actually occur. To worry about whether such promises are kept would mean leaving the warm comfort of delusion and entering the harsh state of reality. Ugh. After all, can’t the essence of life be boiled down to a hackneyed phrase on a baseball cap, first used by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election campaign. Trump was going to make America great again. What else does one have to consider.

The world saw this once before. When Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s he was going to make Germany great again. The Nazis would hold grand parades as they marched through German cities with thousands lining the streets to show their adoration for the man that was restoring Germany’s grandeur. Indeed, Hitler did build a mighty military machine that came within inches of conquering all of Europe. But when the tide of war began turning in the 1940s, and German cities where being bombed into a heap of rubble, the masks of delusion began disintegrating, and the German people were forced to face the havoc being wrecked upon them because of their faith in delusional paranoia.

Today, 9 months into his presidency, the Trump base of white supremacists which comprise about 35%-40% of the voting public is still standing by their guy. His only real accomplishment was putting an anti-abortion Justice on the Supreme Court, which gets the bible-thumpers one step closer to overturning Roe V. Wade and making abortion illegal again. But that’s okay, since Trump keeps promising to do all the other stuff. Reminds me of the lyrics to a Joni Mitchell song in the 1970s- “It’s life’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know life at all.”

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, ELVIS PRESLY, MARILYN MONROE, MICHAEL JACKSON, WHITNEY HOUSTON, THE STATE OF HAPPINESS VS. UNHAPPINESS, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, John Kennedy, politics, Ronald Reagan | Leave a comment

THE COST OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The American Civil Liberties Union has been taking a lot of heat recently for defending the free speech rights of Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other low-life scum in places and events such as the recently concluded uproar and demonstrations in Charlottesville VA. As far as the ACLU is concerned, the principle of every American having the right to freedom of speech, as embodied in the first amendment to the Constitution, is sacred and never to be “abridged” as the Constitution states, no matter how vile, vulgar or bigoted that speech may be. Of course, free speech rights are “abridged” virtually every day in common sense ways that the framers of the Constitution never envisioned. For example, try verbally threatening someones life, and see how fast you wind up in the clink should the cops overhear that threat. Or try crying out “fire” in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, and you will also accrue that same jail house experience. To say nothing of all the civil libel actions that could brought against you should you wrongfully defame someone’s character. Because of all the backlash received from the Charlottesville experience, even the ACLU may now be reconsidering its long-standing position regarding the sacredness of the first amendment. So let’s go back a century and see the consequences, end results and havoc that unbridled freedom of speech can lead to.

The year is 1919, and WWI has recently ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1918. The Allies have inflicted harsh punishment on Germany, through the Treaty of Versailles, for instigating the war in the first place. One of the provisions of that treaty was that Germany would not be allowed to militarily re-arm without permission of the Allied countries. The German economy is a disaster as a result of that war, with a combination of rampant inflation and high unemployment. The Allies refuse to provide any economic aid to help Germany recover. A young German corporeal, (originally from Austria) who was wounded toward the end of the war, finds himself with little money and no job prospects upon being released from the hospital. Although he fought for four years, he could only achieve the rank of Corporeal whereas almost all other recruits in similar circumstances rose to at least the rank of Sergeant. In his younger days he fancied himself as an artist; but his paintings were mediocre at best and certainly not salable.

With no particular job skills, and virtually out of money, the ex-Corporeal, in desperation, visits an office of the German government’s bureaucracy in Berlin and practically begs for some type of work whereby he could earn a paycheck. At first he’s denied, but finally the head bureaucrat agrees to give him some work. He tells the ex-Corporeal that a fringe element of rabble-rousing morons, calling themselves the German Workers Party, is trying stir up unrest against the government because of the existing deplorable economic conditions. While the bureaucrat believes the movement is really too small for the government to be concerned, just to make sure, he would pay the ex-Corporeal to attend one of their meetings and report back his findings.

So ex-Corporeal Adolf Hitler agrees to sit in on the next gathering of the German Workers Party. There are less than 20 people in attendance. Various attendees give speeches about Germany’s dismal current state of affairs, but they all revolve around the same themes. Germany’s predicament was due to two major factors-the harsh treatment at the hands of the Allies through the Treaty of Versailles, and, of course, because of the Jews. The same Jews that constituted about 3% of the German population, and were almost all peaceful shopkeepers or teachers. The demonization of Jews throughout, not only Germany, but virtually all of Europe, had been a universal imperative almost since the crucifixion of Jesus, or for nearly 2000 years. While the speech-givers at that get-together were amateurs, Hitler liked what he heard. They jibed almost exactly with his own prejudices and deep-seated hatred of all Jews.

Hitler never did report his findings back to the bureaucrat that hired him. Instead he continued to attend meetings of the German Workers Party, and began making impassioned speeches of his own, castigating both the Allies and the Jews. Hitler found that he had a natural talent for speechifying and demagoguery. Soon, as word spread, hundreds of people and then thousands, began attending these meetings, to hear Hitler demonize the Jews and Allied powers. Hitler quickly rose to top party leadership, and renamed the German Workers Party as the National Socialist, or Nazi Party. And in a particularly brilliant public relations move, he found an ancient tribal symbol, and adopted as the insignia of his newly formed Nazi Party. It came to be known as the Swastika, and it began popping up everywhere-on armbands, flags, shirts, etc. Since Germany had a rich cultural history, especially in music, philosophy, literature, and education, most Germans considered Hitler a fringe crackpot during the 1920s. But as Swastika armbands and flags began showing up more and more in the public square, greater numbers of Germans began paying more attention to Hitler’s impassioned vitriol and demagoguery, and Nazi power and popularity exploded throughout German cities. For those that were unbelievers, Hitler had formed gangs of Nazi goon squads, called the brownshirts, that roamed throughout Germany beating up or other wise terrorizing any and all opponents.

By 1933, due to unbridled German political machinations, the former ex-Corporeal from WWI, ascended to the German Chancellory and within months used his power to become absolute dictator. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. Hitler broke every provision of the Treaty of Versailles, especially when it came to vastly re-arming Germany. The Allies, by comparison, stood by and did nothing. By 1939, Hitler felt he was powerful enough to initiate WWII which eventually would kill 60 million people on the European continent alone. About 6 million Jews died in German concentration camps during the Hitler-initiated Holocaust. Millions of American and other Allied forces were slaughtered on European battlefields. And it all began with the demagogic power of freedom of speech.

So the next time you hear someone defend the unbridled and unconstrained ideal of free speech, you might want to point out how that ideal led to the greatest slaughter, tragedy and misery in the history mankind. Germany, today, 70 years after the end of WWII, is a thriving democracy; but its constitution forbids the advocacy of Nazism in any way, shape or form. And yet, it seems to perform quite well, even with this constitutional prohibition.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Economics, human affairs, Israeli-Palestinan Relations, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

DISSOLUTION OF THE MIDDLE

When the middle cannot hold, extremism leading to violence and anarchy invariably ensues. Pragmatism is really the only mechanism that actually works when the people choose the method by which they will be governed. But it’s one of the great ironies of the human condition that large numbers of the existing populace often become too impatient or too agitated when governments follow such a path of moderation.  Or a consensus, if  you will, whereby different factions on the major political issues of the day settle for compromises that give each side at least partial achievement of their goals but not the entire loaf. Instead of this tacit moderation, passions often become  inflamed, and an “all or nothing” attitude becomes the ruling imperative. Then, instead of a large middle ground of consensus on key issues, extremist factions begin to form, each one diametrically opposed to the other, and ready for battle. A prime example was the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville last week, where, as I wrote last time, our president chose to draw a moral equivalence between the “haters” and those opposed to their hate-mongering.

In the U.S., the last time the center of political pragmatism began to dissolve into hardened extremist positions was over 150 years ago, and the issue was slavery. While our Declaration of Independence proudly proclaimed that “all men are created equal” our Constitution made no mention of such equality. Although most members of those writing the Constitution were opposed to slavery, and, indeed, most northern states had banished the enslavement of their black citizens, the South adamantly refused to to cooperate nor form a union, unless the Southern states were allowed to maintain the institution of slavery. It was all about economics. The South’s economy was almost entirely based on farming and its predominant crop was cotton. Since there was virtually no farm machinery at the time, cotton fields had to be harvested almost entirely by manual labor. The way to lower the labor costs of such of such harvests was, of course, to employ black slaves imported from Africa. Besides, the thinking went, Africans would be used to the sweltering summer heat and humidity while picking cotton in the South.

It seemed, at least to Southern plantation owners, the perfect solution. For the cost of providing minimal food and board, usually under the most dismal of conditions, the Southern cotton crop could be harvested and sold at prices that under-cut virtually any competition from any other country on the planet. Also, the slave traders, those that sent their ships to Africa to round up black people and transport them back to the U.S., usually under the most abhorrent of conditions, generally made a handsome profit in this human trafficking operation. Thus, Southern representatives to the constitutional convention were not about to abide by any prohibition against slavery and threatened to walk out and form their own confederacy if their demands were not met. The North finally acceded to the Southerners stipulations, the union was formed, and the Constitution remained silent on the issue of slavery. It would take another 70 years or so, when the middle could no longer hold, and the mandate to abolish slavery in this country would result in massive death, destruction and misery throughout the U.S.

When Abe Lincoln was elected president in 1860, his immediate imperative was to preserve the union at all costs. He stated that Southern states could keep their slaves if they agreed not to secede. Indeed, his Vice-President, Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, was an ardent believer in the institution of slavery, but also openly stated that the South should remain in the union. Despite these assurances, the middle could not hold, as Southern extremists opened fire on a union fort in South Carolina and the Civil War commenced. It would take over four long, bloody years of massive body counts, and bone-chilling atrocities committed by both sides, before the fighting was brought to a conclusion. Over six hundred thousand battlefield deaths were tallied during the fighting, the equivalent of over six million deaths with today’s population. Massive destruction existed everywhere, but especially in the South. Lincoln did live long enough, however, to see the enactment of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution which abolished the abominable institution of slavery, and gave full citizenship to blacks that were previously treated as possessions of white plantation owners, instead of as human beings.

After Lincoln’s death, however, the South quickly enacted a series of Jim Crow segregation laws that forced Southern blacks into a state of semi-slavery, which lasted another hundred years, before the walls of segregation finally began to crumble in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. During those hundred years of Jim Crow, life for the average black man or women in the South barely changed from the days of formal slavery. One reason was that among many whites, a firm belief in white supremacy had been formed in the minds, and had taken hold as a concept among large numbers of the U.S. citizenry. Thus, the Ku Klux Klan, among other white supremacist organizations, found fertile ground in both the North as well as the South. Which brings us to today’s landscape, and the events in Charlottesville last week.

As I wrote last time, Trump’s breathtakingly lame moral equivalence between the haters, and those opposing the various hate groups, was virtually unprecedented. But I think the calculus formed in Trump’s mind is as follows. While Trump himself might not be a white supremacist, he believes that a large chunk of the white Republican base is thus bigoted, and voted for him because he gave lip service to their cause. It was the white bigots in his base that put him over the top and he goes to great pains not to antagonize them. Thus all the Neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other various hate groups continue to believe they have a friend and ally in the White House. But those opposed to all forms of this bigotry are also hardening their stances leaving less people to occupy the middle.

From this vantage point, the center is slowly dissolving into hardened left wing/right wing extremist politics that will not bode well for this country. Unless Trump mends his political ways, which is highly unlikely, look for greater and greater polarization among the American public. And we all saw how well such polarization turned out for this country about 150 years ago.

 

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Economics, human affairs, politics | Leave a comment

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