Monthly Archives: February 2012

PARTICIPATORY DEMOCRACY

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, a cry went up from many civil rights and anti-war protestors that what this country needed was more participatory democracy. Not unlike the Occupy Wall Street protestors today, the mood then in the massive protests of that era, was that the rich and powerful were dominating virtually all political and social events that occurred. The “little guy” seldom had a voice in the decisions being made such as drafting young men and sending them off to die in some jungle hell-hole like Viet-Nam or desegregating the formal segregation apparatus that existed in the South or the informal one that was frequently evident in the North. The only problem as it later turned out, was that nobody asked the “little guy” if he or she really wanted to participate in the Government’s decision- making processes.

Some interesting statistics to further illustrate this point. The 2008 election brought a record turn-out of voters to the the polls, essentially because it was the first time a black man had a real shot at being President. Out of an estimated 233 million eligible voters in the U.S., an estimated 131 million people actually voted. Hence in a record turn-out election, less than 60% of people registered their vote, while more than a 100 million that could have voted, just couldn’t be bothered to show up at the polls. It gets worse in a non-pesidential election. In 2010, despite all the hoopla about President Obama’s policies, only 37% of the eligible electorate actually voted. I think there were more votes cast for the next American Idol than for the next Congress. Then we wonder why Congress has such low approval ratings.

The vote in earlier times was considered a sacred right and higher numbers of people voted in the 19th and early 20th centuries when it was much more difficult to get to the polls. Blacks were often denied the right to vote in the South through devices such as poll taxes and voter ID requirements. Many poor blacks an even a few whites didn’t have the money to pay the poll tax or couldn’t produce the proper identification. Interestingly, today there is a big push on in many states (mainly those controlled by Republican governors and state legislatures) to mandate picture ID as a requirement for voting, thereby calculating that poor people who generally vote Democratic will lack such ID and not be able to vote.

The dirty little secret about our voting process is that the poor and lower middle classes generally don’t vote, while the more affluent and upper classes generally turn out in large numbers. So do seniors. I mean it’s not like seniors have anything better to do with their time. So those people that benefit most from Democratic policies vote in small numbers, while those that benefit most from Republican policies turn out in heavy numbers. If it were an equal playing field, the GOP would probably cease to exist. Of course our dysfunctional voting system is a big turnoff for many. As Al Gore found out in 2000, it’s not the people that elect a President but the electoral college. We have an antiquated system that would make any third or fourth world country blush in shame, as Gore found out in 2000 when he was elected President but not allowed to enter the Oval Office.

I believe there is a general feeling among the 40%-60% of people that are non-voters, as to why bother since both parties consist primarily of greedy, power hungry politicians, and that little will really change or be different no matter which party gets elected. To a large extent that is often the case. However, by taking that stance it allows ideologues and fanatics on both the hard right and far left to dominate the political process which further poisons the political well, and creates a system that that is more and more being driven by extremists, with a shrinking number of moderates or middle-of-the-road believers. And there is one issue in this campaign that could be a game-changer not only for the U.S., but also the world at-large. That issue is Iran.

Iran, which is basically a terrorist and despotic state ruled by fanatical Islamists, is feverishly working to develop nuclear weapons of mass destruction. It is estimated that within a year Iran will have nuclear weapons unless action is taken to stop them. We and many European countries have employed economic sanctions against Iran but they appear to have little effect. The fear is that since Iran’s hatred of Israel (and us by proxy since we are Israel’s largest ally and supporter) is like a bottomless pit, the fanatical mullahs that rule that country will one day actually use those nuclear weapons against Israel, if not us too. Israel has threatened to bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities, but if they do it will turn the world upside down. Iran would almost certainly retaliate, and the Mid-East would be aflame. The price of oil would shoot thru $200 a barrel and never look back. Five dollar a gallon gas would be the good old days as the price at the pump would skyrocket to $10-$15 a gallon. Iran and its proxies would likely rain down missiles on Israel and a major war could be underway. Overnight the world economies and stock markets including ours, would go into a tailspin that would make the current recession look like a tiptoe thru the tulips. You think those people that are more focused on the Kardashians or American Idol than the current political scene will take notice then.

Both Pres. Obama and Mitt Romney, his likely opponent, have vowed not to let Iran acquire nuclear weapons,  but only military action will stop them, and the scenario I painted above would likely happen if we bombed their facilities instead of Israel. As late as 1938, if France had intervened in the Nazi rearmament of Germany, Hitler would have fallen as well as his evil Nazi regime. But France did nothing, and as a result, 60 million people died in Europe during WWII. It will be interesting to see what the next President does regarding Iran’s nuclear threat, don’t you think?

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THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

Many years ago there was a very funny  black comedian named Flip Wilson who did stand up comedy  and had his own widely acclaimed TV show. Sadly he died at age 65, much too soon. Part of his comic routines involved becoming a wide variety of different characters. His most famous character impersonation, though, was a woman named Geraldine. He would don a dress and wig, and talking in a high-pitched falsetto, Flip Wilson would take on the persona of Geraldine, who would then talk about her very macho boyfriend named Killer. While she professed to having a great relationship with “Killer” she also had to admit she was constantly getting in trouble and being berated by Killer for spending too much money, especially on clothes.

As an example, Geraldine would say,  she was walking down the street the other day, and passed by a shop with the most gorgeous dress in the window. Since it was so expensive, however, she was determined that she would not go in the store and spend all that money on a dress. She knew how upset Killer would be if she did. But then, just as she was about to move on, the Devil showed up, and said words to the effect, “Come on, Geraldine, you know how much you want that dress. There’s no harm if you treated yourself this one time.”  And Geraldine would then respond with words to the effect, “Get away from me Devil, I ain’t falling for that line or any of your tricks anymore.”

There would then ensue a very funny routine where Geraldine and the Devil would battle it out in a test of willpower. Of course, in the end, Geraldine would fall for the wiles of the Devil and go in and buy the dress. She then dreaded going home and having to face Killer’s wrath at doing such a foolhardy thing.  But she would just have to tell him, that spending all that money was the last thing she wanted, but the Devil made her do it. I thought of that a few days ago listening to the latest debate among those crazy kids still running for the Republican nomination for President. Seems the topic of Satan came up and the fab four still in the contest appeared to actually believe in the real life existence of the Devil. But since they’re beholden to tea party crackpots that’s not what startled me. A Gallop poll came out the next day that purportedly stated that between 70-80% of Americans actually believes that the Devil exists in reality. That sort of caught my attention.

Now don’t get me wrong, I think Satan is a great metaphorical figure throughout history and throughout literature. I put him in the same category as Santa Claus. One does good, the other does evil. But by the time you’re 6 or 7, maybe 8 at the latest, you’re supposed to have it figured out that neither Santa Claus nor the Devil exists in actuality. I guess I didn’t realize that there are so many people who take both the old and new testaments of the bible literally (rather than as a collection of fable, mythology, and superstition written by men in caves thousands of years ago) that they really believe Satan is lurking out there somewhere ready to do them or the world great harm and evil.(Satan is mentioned prominently in the new testament.) But on the other hand I can see great advantages of believing in the Devil. Fell off your diet and gorged on fudge brownies- well, of course, the Devil made you eat them. Had to have that 97 inch HD color TV to watch the Super Bowl, which was well beyond your affordability, well you know who’s to blame for that too. What a great way to absolve yourself of important responsibilities.

I guess I shouldn’t be amazed at the state of unreality large majorities of people prefer to live in. It all stems from religious fanaticism and it seems to be spreading throughout the country like a blob. (That metaphor is from a movie a long time ago called “The Blob” which similarly spread its  unstoppable ooze everywhere.) And it’s in synch with a poll that came out about a year ago that showed a significant majority of people still don’t believe in evolution. Go to any museum of natural history, in any major city, and see all the evidence you need as to how life on this planet evolved over hundreds of millions years, if you need any proof as to the viability of the theory of evolution. But I guess the people who believe in the Devil, and who deny evolution are not big museum goers. It might force them to have to come out of their state of delusion.

All this plays into our state of discourse in this political season. Thought that the subject of contraception was dead and buried more than 50 years ago? Think again. Its now become a hot topic, among right-wing politicians who just look for new ways to appeal to the most extremest elements of their base. Its like society failed to drive a wooden stake thru its heart 50 years ago, and now, like a zombie, its risen from the dead. That along with extreme anti-abortionism. So, if one of those crazy kids vying for the GOP nomination becomes President next year, as is very likely to happen, you’ll have an an administration that believes in Satan, denies evolution, and basically feels that a woman’s body should be used as a baby factory. Pleasant dreams folks.

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THE IRRATIONAL STATE

How rational can a state be if, as George Carlin said, we drive on a parkway and park on a driveway. Irrationality may be something to poke fun at, but when practiced full tilt, we pay a very heavy price for acting out with a lack of common sense. So lets us enumerate some of the various ways our irrationality costs us big time.

Let’s start with the prohibition on using drugs. Interestingly during the 19th century there were no laws prohibiting the use of any kind of drug, and hence virtually no drug problem existed in America during that time. With the onset of the 20th century, a kind of religious fanaticism burst upon the scene, starting with the prohibition of alcohol around 1920. Religious fanatics called it the great experiment in trying to legislate morality. This resulted in denying lawful establishments the right to sell booze, but it didn’t stop people from drinking to their heart’s content. To fill the void, organized crime came into existence, such as the Mafia, and provided everyone who wanted it, with alcohol for a price. Of course their were a lot of gang killings, and streets running red with blood, as different gang lords strove for dominance in the sale of alcohol and the lucrative profits that went with it. We all know the stories about the Al Capones, and others like him that have now become legend. As we all know, prohibition became such a disaster from every aspect that it was finally repealed in 1933. The repeal, in part, was led by the very people who had promoted its existence in the first place, as they realized what a fiasco the “noble experiment” had turned into.

However, soon after the repeal of alcohol prohibition was achieved, a new prohibition came on the scene with the banning of marijuana, opium, heroin, cocaine and similar type drugs. A propaganda campaign against marijuana called reefer madness was started in the 1930s, which showed someone smoking a joint suddenly becoming a crazed axe murderer or something similar. Sadly, this type of drug prohibition exists to this day, and it’s costing us hundreds of billions of dollars as well as unnecessary deaths, not only here, but in Latin America. At least tens of thousands of people have been murdered in Mexico alone as rival drug gangs seek to cash in on the vast sums of money to be made supplying gringos with illicit substances. Half the populations in our prisons are from trafficing in illegal drugs, and whole Government state and federal bureaucracies exist to keep filling up these prisons with drug violators.

I have never used illegal drugs in my life so I don’t have an axe to grind over this. But criminalizing the use of any drug is beyond irrational, it’s just plain outright stupid. It not only costs us hundreds of billion a year, but far more deadly substances such as tobacco and yes, alcohol, are perfectly legal. Tobacco and abuse of alcohol kill far more people every year than marijuana, cocaine, heroin, meth and all the other illegal drugs put together. But because the criminalization of these substance is such a huge business, especially among entrenched Government agencies like the DEA, local law enforcement, and prison bureaucracies, de-criminization of even mild substances like marijuana seems unattainable. Yes, most of these substances (outside of marijuana) can be deadly, but if a person is determined to destroy his or her life using these, that should be their decision, not the government’s. A small percent of the population always seems bent on self-destruction and will use this stuff whether it’s legal or not. And despite the illegality, there is always a readily available supply. For all those looking to cut significant government expenditures, a common sense approach would be to de-criminalize illicit drugs. If marijuana alone was made legal, it could be taxed similar to tobacco, which would bring significant additional billions of dollars in revenues as well.

Another exercise in irrationality is health care. A common complaint among both political parties is the dramatically rising costs of providing health care. Of course health care costs will significantly rise as the population increases, as people live longer, and as new and expensive drugs and therapies come onto the market. Any politician who says otherwise is blowing smoke. But there is one way to dramatically lower health care costs-and that’s simply by requiring people to lead a healthier life-style. And in that connection is it fair for me, who works out at the gym every day, doesn’t smoke, and eats lots of fruits and veggies as well as fish, to pay the same health insurance premiums as my slob of a neighbor down the block, who smokes, thinks exercise is a 4- letter word, and whose idea of eating healthy is to put a clover leaf on his double bacon cheeseburger with fries. If you want to dramatically lower health care costs, this is where government leadership is necessary, but unfortunately lacking. At a minimum people with unhealthy life-styles should be required to pay much higher health coverage premiums, but I don’t see that happening in our future either.

These are just 2 of the many irrationalities in our society that results in costly or deadly consequences and for which no relief appears in sight. There are many more of course, and perhaps I’ll expound on these in the future. But for now, all we can do is lead our own lives with a healthy dose of rational, common sense.

 

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LAS VEGAS (continued)

One of the reasons people used to flock here to work or retire was supposedly for the climate. Winters are quite mild (although nighttime temperatures can occasionally drop below freezing), and the spring and fall are usually delightfully comfortable and sunny. The summers are something else, however. From about mid-June to mid-September temperatures often reach the 110-115 range, and if outside, you can roast like an ant under a magnifying glass in the sun. So for nine months out of the year you have almost an ideal climate and then three months of brutally hot weather.

No matter how hot it may be outside, however, the hotels and casinos are air-conditioned to sub-artic levels.  You often don’t need a jacket when cruising through the streets during daytime hours at any time during the year. But if you plan on entering a hotel, casino or movie during the summer, you had better bring a jacket or sweater with you or you’ll find your lips turning blue and icicles forming on your finger tips. My wife who hates the cold all the time, bundles up like she’s going dog-sledding in Alaska when we go to a summer movie or casino. I think that Las Vegas hotels and casinos use about one-half the world’s energy resources during the summer months.

When we first moved here one had to go down to one of the Strip’s mega-hotels to throw your money away in the casinos or eat in one of their over-priced restaurants. Then if finally dawned on gaming industry executives that local residents like to squander their money just as much as tourists, so they started building hotels with casinos, restaurants and movie theaters in residential neighborhoods. I mean why schlep a half-hour or more to the Strip with all it’s traffic jams when you could just as easily burn through your cash at a casino that was only a 10 or 15 minute ride from where you lived and had better parking facilities. These hotel/casinos consistently advertise on TV how much they “love” locals. Especially well-heeled locals (mainly seniors) who don’t seem to mind dropping a bundle with each visit they make to one of these “lovefests.”

If you’re unfamiliar with with Las Vegas the one thing you need to know is that the hotel/gaming industry rules the state of Nevada with an iron fist. There is no state income-tax in Nevada and this is supposedly compensated for by 6.25% gaming tax the industry pays the state. That and a huge sales tax that most heavily socks it to the poor. But why not; the poor don’t have any money to gamble with anyway. And it’s not like Nevada provides any decent services to begin with. Its school systems are consistently rated among the worst in the nation, and outside of public schools little else is offered by the state. Also, the 6.25% that the gaming industry pays is about one-quarter to one-third of the tax paid by casinos everywhere else in the country. But anytime a state legislator mumbles something about raising the gaming tax, it’s like the wrath of God descends on him with sledge-hammer force, and nothing further is heard from him.

It’s worth a trip to one of the Strip’s mega-hotel casinos just to see the epitome of gluttony in action. For those of you hankering for a dose of that old-time religion, a tour of the craps tables will will often find players praying and beseeching God with every ounce of their being, for their number to hit. Most of the casino space is filled with slot and video poker machines with every thing from penny slots to $25 per bet or higher video poker. Of course the penny slots usually require a bet of 300 pennies (that’s $3 dollars for those of you living in Pahrump, a small town outside of Las Vegas) for any kind of a decent payout if you do hit something. And video poker machines require a 5 coin bet to hit a jackpot. Many poker machines also have 3 or 5 or up to a  100 lines you can bet on, so do the math as to how expensive this can be. Nevertheless, people flock into these casinos full of good cheer, merrily betting away the kids college funds or next months mortgage payment, but what hell, this is what Las Vegas is all about, right? Besides, they bring you free drinks if your playing, with just a buck or 2 tip to the server. And casinos are the one place left in the world where smokers can light up to their heart’s delight. While taking in all the noise coming from the various machines, and the noise from the crowds, especially if somebody does hit something big, you can also inhale all that yummy second-hand smoke.

I could go on and on about casino activities but I think you get the picture. Writing about life in Las Vegas would not be complete, however, without mentioning local traffic. The number one sport here outside of gambling is running a red light. It seems so antiquated to stop when the light turns red, especially if trying to make a left-turn, that cars continue pouring through a full 10-20 seconds after the change. Also, as I mentioned last time, more trucks and SUVs are on the roads here than anywhere else. And traffic jams are legendary, especially around the Strip area. If you allow yourself to get caught in traffic on the Strip during evening rush hours or weekend nights, you’ll regret being born in the first place. And while I certainly have not travelled around the world, I’ve been to most of Europe and parts of the Pacific, as well as cities in this country, but I have never seen a more clogged, bumper-to-bumper intersection than Flamingo Road and Las Vegas Boulevard. I think cars have been trying to make left turns there since Elvis performed on the Strip.

A few months ago the wife and I visited a local casino one Saturday to see a movie, eat dinner, and perhaps do a little gambling. When ready to go home we headed to their garage which had 7 levels of parking, only to be told we could not gain access to our car. It seems someone had lost so much money in the casino that he went up to the seventh garage level and was threatening to jump to his death. The police closed off the entire garage while they tried to talk him down, so anyone that was parked there  could not leave. There we were held hostage, so to speak, while this fiasco went on for 4 hours. (With my patience worn to a frazzle, if they had let me in the garage, I probably would have pushed him off the ledge.) The next day there was no mention of this incident in the local newspaper. Seems the casino moguls felt it would be bad publicity to publicize such an event. And they always get their way.

 

 

 

 

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LIVING THE LOW-LIFE IN LAS VEGAS

Until we moved to Las Vegas in the mid-1990s I had spent my entire life on the East Coast, first in NYC and then in the Washington,DC area(with the exception of course of the 3 years I lived in Europe.) Born and raised in Brooklyn I was an East Coaster to the very core of my being, so it took some adjusting to become accustomed to the patterns of life that exist here in the West. When I retired from the Government, the Washington area winters just seemed too cold or snowy or icy to put up with any longer. So the choices on where to live narrowed down to Florida where many people we knew had gone before us or Las Vegas which was then being touted as THE  up and coming place for retirees, mainly because it had a lower cost-of-living, and splendid entertainment opportunities such as incredibly  high-priced shows or throwing your money away gambling in the casinos. The one thing I had always hated about the East Coast was the high humidity levels in the summer, especially Florida which seemed to me to be one giant rain forest. Since Las Vegas was situated in the desert, the humidity problem was taken care of, so Las Vegas it was, as the leading choice of where to live. (This “in-depth analysis,” by the way, was generally how I made decisions in life, winging it by intuition.)

The Las Vegas valley which is about 600 square miles surrounded by mountains on all sides, and includes several other towns such as Henderson, is one of the driest places on Earth. Average annual rainfall for the valley is about 3.5 inches in a good year. So the first thing I didn’t know or realize was that 2 million people live in one of the driest places on the planet whose water supply was meant to accommodate something more like 200 people. But to make it more of a challenge, the valley has been experiencing a severe drought since about the late 1990s. Las Vegas gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn gets its water from the Colorado River, which in turn gets its water from the snow melt runoff in the Sierra Mountains. Today, its more like the Colorado streamlet instead of river, because for about the past dozen years or so, the winter snow pack has been minimal and the rainfall almost non-existent. Who could have foreseen such a possibility-a drought in one of the driest desert areas known to man.

The water level in Lake Mead has dropped so low that the city is desperately constructing new water intake pipelines well below the existing pipelines. It is feared that within a couple of years, if the water level keeps dropping, it will be lower than the existing intake lines and hence no water for 2 million people plus all those tourists here for a jolly good time. The level is so low now that an Air force plane that went down in World War II in Lake Mead now has its tail sticking up above the water line. I told my daughter, who lives in the Washington,DC area, that the day I turn on the water facet and nothing comes out, will be the day we move back east into her basement.

We initially bought a very large house (over 3000 square feet) on 2 levels with a 3 car garage for about half the price of what a similar house would have cost in the Washington,DC area. But as we grew older, and since it became just the 2 of us, and it seemed like such a schlep to climb to the second floor, we decided to downsize. I guess such is the process of getting older, the systemic nature of life itself. So we sold that house and bought a new one that was about 1000 square feet smaller and all on one level. It was also a lot easier to take care of and was in a guard-gated community which became increasingly important since crime is one of main pastimes in Las Vegas. This is where we are today.

Through the 1990s and the early part of the 2000s seniors came pouring out here to retire and housing prices began skyrocketing. New developments were being built, primarily for retirees, as housing prices kept increasing and the population kept growing. It seemed like we had made such a wise decision, as more and more speculators were buying houses for investment, since everybody knew housing prices could only go one way, and that was up, right? Of course as we all know, the bubble burst and Las Vegas, indeed the entire Southwest, has been especially hard hit. Housing prices started plunging as fast as they had risen, developments that were partially under construction were halted in midstream and remain like ghost towns, the construction industry, which was the second largest enterprise after gaming, was decimated and Nevada became the state with the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Whole shopping center have gone out of business and new ones that were planned have been halted. Seniors suddenly stopped moving here for retirement as if the area was infested with the bubonic plague. I don’t know if its because they can’t afford to retire, or because of the drought, or they just feel that Las Vegas isn’t such a swell place after-all, but seniors are staying away in droves, except for the wealthy ones that are doing the touristy thing on the Strip. Except for the mega-tourist hotels a pall hangs over most of Las Vegas as it continues to muddle its way through bad economic times. And that’s where we stand at the present.

I was going to to include in this dissertation, a review of the gambling and entertainment scene, the fact that Las Vegas is like the SUV capital of the world, the general overall craziness of its drivers, and other nifty things about life here in the southwest, but this entry has gone on longer than I expected, so I’ll save that for another posting. In the meantime save up your money for a trip out here. The economy needs all the help it can get.

 

 

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THE COMFY STATE OF DELUSION

A Spanish philosopher once said: “Yes yes, life is full of disappointment, disillusion, and despair, but please don’t tell the children.” How carefree and worry free life seemed to be in childhood and how much more difficult and demanding it becomes when we take on the burdens of  adulthood. Reality then often becomes full of rough, jagged edges and unhappy states of being that can cause us great harm. But how much smoother and mellow life can be if we allow ourselves to believe in various states of delusion as if we were crawling into bed and covering ourselves with a heavy quilt on a cold winter night.

I remember seeing a documentary about certain sects in India where the women did all the work including raising children, cooking and cleaning while the men, from the moment they arose in the morning, would puff away on opium pipes that would put them into a dazed stupor. But it allowed themselves to enter a world of delusion where they didn’t have to recognize how meaningless, irrelevant  and wasted their lives had become. In other words, if they didn’t have to face the reality of empty lives, existence would be tolerable for another day in this parallel universe of self-delusion. Yet to a large although less drastic extent, most people take on various delusions to mellow out the jagged edges or emptiness of their own lives. Let us count the different ways.

The first biggie is religion. For many people, praying to the invisible man (as the comedian George Carlin once put it) is their salvation.  Such prayer will show God what good people they really are, and if bad things still happen to them…..well it’s God’s will and nothing can be done about it. It’s a way of absolving themselves of personal responsibility. Of course, what they are really praying for is that God won’t crush them like a bug. In this country religious fanaticism (more politely known as evangelicalism) seems to reach new heights by the day. Currently there is a big political kerfuffle (don’t you just love that word) going on because Catholics are claiming that the Obama administration will force them, as part of providing health care for their workers, to pay for contraception(God forbid.) Can you imagine that here in the 21st century we are still arguing about the use of contraception. At a time when every drugstore has aisles of condoms, every supermarket that carries drugs also has aisles of condoms, and birth control pills are readily available with an easy to get prescription. Yet providing health care coverage for contraception would somehow offend God.

My own belief is that you don’t need religion to distinguish between right and wrong. If you crush in your neighbor’s skull with an axe, and chop him into little pieces, I think even nonbelievers will recognize the evil of such an act. And though anecdotal evidence from near death experiences would suggest a hereafter and thus a God, I think that all exists in a different dimension that we in this life are not privy to. Hence what counts in this dimension is our integrity in interacting with our fellow man, and we should not worry about life in the next dimension, if it exists. But of course religious extremists would consider such obvious truths as heresy.

Another big source of delusion is politics. In this year of highly charged political partisanship watch the faces of the crowds as they listen to speeches being made by the candidates of their choice. There is a look of adoration and total acceptance in the belief that what is being said will magically occur and their lives will overnight become so much better. Taxes will be cut, jobs will suddenly be plentiful, the economy will steam ahead, abortion will become non-existent, etc. just because their favorite candidate said so. And thus their lives will also be magically transformed when all this takes place. Many people refuse to recognize that it’s so much easier to make promises when running for office than it is to govern when actually elected to office. If their candidates do win, after all the hoopla and celebrations, people still have to go back to living their personal lives with all its flaws, weaknesses, and shortcomings. As for myself  I believe that whatever I achieved in life was through my own undertakings, and as much as I would like to blame Richard Nixon for my failures and mistakes, sadly it just doesn’t work that way.

Of course there are many other forms of delusion like numbing oneself  with drugs or alcohol, gambling in the casinos or  at the race tracks, burying oneself with work to the exclusion of everything else in life and so on. And while delusion may be an essential way of coping with life one day at a time, in the end it leads you into a land of empty existence.

 

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DEMOCRACY ON TRIAL

As I mentioned in a previous posting, Winston Churchill once said that democracy is the worst form of government, except for every other that’s ever been tried. Notice the wording. He didn’t say that that democracy was a good form of government, or even an okay form, but it was the worst form. Except all the others man has tried have been even worser. (Is that even a legitimate word?)

Democracy is supposed to enable us to enjoy the ultimate in freedom but it certainly has limitations. Despite what the Bill of Rights says, as supreme court justice Oliver Wendell Holmes once stated, you don’t have the right to yell fire in a crowded theater, if in fact, there is no fire. Neither do you have the right to verbally or in writing, threaten the life of one of your fellow citizens. Try exercising that “right” and the police will quickly be at your doorstep to hand you a one-way ticket to the local clink. You don’t have the right to spread some serious lies about your neighbor without winding up in civil court being sued for everything you own. You don’t have the right to drive a car down your city streets without first getting permission from your local DMV (which is always sheer rapture to deal with.) The point is, there are no rights or freedoms that are absolute. Rationality tells us that whatever rights and freedoms we do enjoy have to be circumscribed by pragmatic considerations.

But still the freedoms of speech and press that do exist in most democratic states are so extensive that some have questioned if they shouldn’t be further circumscribed. For example, Nazi skinheads, the KKK (or what’s left of it) and other racist hate groups have used the freedoms in the Bill of Rights to protect their issuance of vile propaganda. The biggest users of the internet, by far, are pornographers, but second place goes to a multitude of hate and even terrorist groups that spread their hate-filled messages and recruit members in open, plain sight. How interesting that in the computer-age, the main activities on the internet, which was designed primarily for information, educational, and entertainment purposes, has been hijacked by the very worst elements of society under the guise of freedom of speech and press. Perhaps we need some limitations. For example, modern-day Germany has a provision in its constitution barring the advocacy of any kind in either speech or press, of  Nazism, and yet they seem to be functioning quite well as a democracy.

The problem with politics in a  democracy is that it only functions well based on an informed, knowledgable, and interested electorate. Today, however,  in the U.S. we have mainly a dumbed down society that couldn’t care less. As a result we have steadily  been experiencing a highly dysfunctional Congress and Presidency that more and more cannot achieve any meaningful legislation for the American people. The House and Senate cannot agree on anything because they’re controlled by 2 different  parties, and Congressional Republicans do everything in their power to thwart the President because he’s a Democrat. The well that both parties drink from has been so poisoned that  it’s highly unlikely that anything good can come out of the body politic unless one party can gain a super majority, so they can shove their agenda down the other parties throats. This is also partly as result of the filibuster.

The filibuster rule in the Senate allows 41 senators (out of a hundred) to thwart any legislation that is passed by the House and desired by the other 59 Senators and the President. Yet nowhere in our Constitution is the filibuster mentioned. It was something concocted a long time ago and no Senate has been willing to get rid of it. Hence the legislative situation gets worse by the day, as exemplified by the willingness of many legislators to shut the government down because they can’t agree on a budget. (To my knowledge we are the only Government in the world that continually threatens to shut itself down. Even in places like Fiji such a notion would be unthinkable.)

Hence our dysfunctional Government and poisoning of the well has led to a lousy economy, people being out-of-work for more than a year, unimaginable deficits, and a host of other societal ills with no relief in sight. If Romney does in fact become President next January you can bet that Democrats will fight him tooth-and-nail every step of the way, in the same manner that Republicans have fought everything Obama has tried to achieve at every bend in the road. Thus our Government, folks, a role model of dysfunction.

When George Washington became President, and relations were restored with Great Britain, Washington appointed John Adams as the first ambassador to England. Since the Government didn’t do much of anything back then except engage in foreign relations, this was a very big deal. When Adams presented his credentials to King George, the king was supposed to have  said something along the lines of the following:  “While I admit I was the last person to want the American colonies to break away from its mother country, England, let me be the first person to wish the United States a long and prosperous future. However, I have to admit that that I greatly fear for the success of that future without the guiding hand of a monarchy to rule over the land.”

I’m sure most Americans ridiculed that sentiment at the time. However, I’m not sure that King George wasn’t on to something.

 

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WHO OWNS AMERICA

The Republican primary is over in Florida (thank God) and of course Mitt Romney was the clear winner. I would hazard that this win solidifies Romney as the eventual GOP nominee. I guess good ole Newt’s ploy of colonizing the moon didn’t work out too well. It was an obvious stunt to appeal to the people working or living in or around the NASA facility at Cape Canaveral FL but Newt couldn’t explain where he would come up with the few hundred billion or so that it would take to undergo such a venture. Especially at a time when the Government is bleeding such huge amounts of red ink. Maybe Newt believed if they did establish a colony on the moon and made it the 51st state  he could actually win a primary vote there.

In all fairness however, Gingrich was ahead in the polls in Florida up until about a week-and-a-half before the election. Then a panicked Romney started pouring money into negative TV ads smearing good ole Newt from one end of the state to the other. Mitt outspent Newt by a ratio of 6 to 1 in negative, mendacious, and obnoxious TV ads, but it did the trick turning the tide around in Romney’s favor as people obviously fell for the half-truths and outright lies contained in these ads. Over the years of watching political TV advertising I’ve  noticed that the ads from either party contain about 5-10% truth and 90-95% fiction, yet most people continue to fall for them and make their voting decisions based on them. And if you think the ads are disgusting now wait until this fall when you will not be able to turn on the TV without being bombarded with obnoxious, non-stop political advertising from both parties. It’s already happening here in Nevada where I live, where Mitt is again outspending Newt by about 6 to 1 even though he really doesn’t have to, because Nevada is basically a Mormon state. The mendacity in these ads is breath-taking and almost forces me to do something I thought would never happen in my lifetime-and that is, feeling sorry for good ole lovable Newt.

Now one might ask where does the money come from to fund not only radio and TV advertising but all the other costs of staffing and running a high powered political campaign. The answer very simply is that it comes from the people that really own America. It is estimated that both sides will raise an estimated $1 billion dollars to elect the next president, and that’s in addition to the tens or hundreds of millions spent to elect members of the House an Senate. (One might daydream about all the good these billions could do if  spent on people that actually need help like the poor or sick.) While there are lots of small contributors to each party’s campaign the bulk of the money comes from people whose names are only known by maybe one out of a thousand  or ten thousand people.

The Romney campaign is now awash in money with huge contributions coming from Wall Street hedge fund managers, executives in other prominent Wall Street firms like Goldman-Sachs, billionaire industrialists like the Koch brothers who are noted for funding right-wing causes like anti-abortion or anti-gay rights groups and even casino magnates from here in Las Vegas like Sheldon Adelson, who with his wife, ponied up some $10 million for Newt’s campaign. ( I wouldn’t go near his casinos for awhile since his slot machines will be even stingier than normal. I mean he’s going to want to recoup all that cash somehow, especially since he backed the losing candidate.) Of course the Democrats have their share of mega-rich billionaires like George Soros who fund their campaigns. So there you have it. The people that own America will be able to buy the next next President and Congress all bought and paid for like toothpaste. Of course they will want plenty of goodies in return like loopholes in the tax code, tax rates that favor the rich, exceptions from clean air and water restrictions in their industrial operations, favorable banking and stock trading rules and so on. And the vast majority of people don’t even know the names of those that own the United States. I wonder if this is what the founding fathers had in mind when they wrote the Constitution and established the Republic.

One last point. The high rate of unemployment will be a major factor in the coming elections. But under the rules of capitalism, American companies have shipped some 15-20 million jobs overseas because it’s so much cheaper to produce stuff there. Why produce widgets here where it might cost $3.50  apiece when it costs only 29 cents to make them in Bangladesh or 42 cents in China. A good example is Apple, one of the ten most successful companies in the world. Who doesn’t own an Apple product. Even I am typing this on an Apple computer. Apple does employ 40,000 people in the US but they have also hired a mind numbing 700,000 people in China. You think that Steve Jobs successor is about to return those positions  back here. If most of the jobs shipped overseas were returned to the U.S., the high unemployment rates would vanish overnight. There would be a scarcity of people to fill all the available jobs. But don’t worry, when President Romney is installed in office next January companies like Apple will say-“Of course, your Mittness, since you asked so nicely, we will be happy to return almost 20 million jobs back to the homeland.” Anyway there you have it-politicians bought and paid for by the wealthy, and a capitalistic system cracking apart at its foundations. Pleasant dreams, folks.

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