Monthly Archives: April 2012

FOREIGN POLICY FOLLIES

The U.S. has been in several wars and other foreign entanglements since its founding in the late 18th century. Some have turned out well and beneficial to our interests while others have had disastrous results. (Think the bombing of Pearl Harbor.) Today, however, we stand on the brink of what could be the most colossal blunder of all time, and that would be letting the terrorist state of Iran develop nuclear weapons, if we fail to act militarily in taking out Iran’s nuclear development plants. That doesn’t appear to be in the cards, however, no matter who is elected president in November. So lets recap a history of our foreign affairs exploits and failures.

Throughout the 19th century the U.S. adopted mostly an isolationist stance when it came to dealing with foreign countries. We were protected on 2 sides by huge bodies of water, which were considered too big for any foreign aggressor to overcome if they considered attacking us. Canada, to the north, was believed to be just like us (and would have been part of us if not for the betrayal of Benedict Arnold) so there was no worry on that front. We did have conflict with Mexico to our south, during which Mexico lost a chunk of their territory to us, and there was a dust up with Spain during which we acquired (and subsequently relinquished) the Philippines, but by and large we managed to stay out of all the messy entanglements Europe was continually involved in. Our only real serious engagement in the 19th century was when we decided to kill each other during the Civil War. Over 600,000 Americans lost their lives in that debacle, which would be equivalent to the loss of over 6 million American lives today.

So we entered the 20th century with pretty much a strong belief in isolationism. All that would have worked out well, except all those messy European entanglements I mentioned above finally burst out into shooting affairs and came to be known as World War I. Our policy was that this was Europe’s problem, and we were determined to remain isolationist and stay out of the war. In fact, President Woodrow Wilson ran for re-election in1916 on the slogan: “he kept us out of war.” However, the war soon stalemated as France with England’s support dug huge trenches in Eastern France, and Germany did the same on their side. Both sides kept firing at each other from these trenches killing soldiers by the thousands, while tens of thousands more died in these trenches from cold, hunger or disease. Woodrow Wilson was no sooner re-elected in 1916, then he decided to break the stalemate by sending U.S. troops “over there” to fight for the first time in a European war. It worked and the Allies were successful in defeating Germany. And no sooner had the the troops returned after the war, than much to our subsequent regret, we retreated back into a policy of isolationism.

The 1920s and 1930s saw the rise to power of of brutal and aggressive dictatorships with a thirst for conquering their parts of the world, such as Hitler”s Nazi regime in Germany, and Tojo’s warrior regime in Japan. There was little doubt early on, that both of these savage dictatorships had a lust for power and military aggression, but, we nevertheless, were determined to remain to remain strictly neutral and isolationist, as if we could some how avoid been dragged into the coming conflicts. President Roosevelt was an internationalist, and did manage to ship large quantities of armaments to England which enabled its survival, but he could not convince an isolationist Congress to declare war on Germany and Japan, even after the outbreak of hostilities started in 1939. It finally took the bombing of Pearl Harbor late in 1941, for us to enter World War II, and even at that we were woefully unprepared. We labored for 2 years, or until 1944, to amass the military strength in manpower and armaments needed to finally start turning back the Axis powers in Europe and the Pacific. Millions of additional lives were lost due to our unpreparedness, which was in turn due to our policy of isolationism.

After WWII, isolationism as a foreign policy was thoroughly discredited, as we instituted the Marshall Plan to help rebuild Europe, an also took the necessary steps to institute democracy in Japan. But soon the pendulum swung completely in the opposite direction, as a huge fear of the Soviet Union and Communist China (our allies inWWII) gripped the nation. As the USSR took over most of Eastern Europe, and the Red Army was triumphant in China, it looked like communism was on the march throughout the world. Then when Russia successfully tested a nuclear bomb, the fear in this country of the spread of communism became hysterical and neurotic. It gave rise to shameful events such as McCarthyism, as people were hauled before Congressional committees and designated as traitors, if they ever showed sympathy for our WWII allies, or ever had communist tendencies. I won’t get into all the horrors of the McCarthy era, but it certainly was one of the more disgraceful episodes in American history. It was a time when anti-communist extremists established the slogan of “lets kill a Commie for Jesus.” All this resulted in the “Cold War” between us and Russia, which was particularly exploited by President Reagan in the 1980s. The Cold War lasted over 40 years or until about 1990 when the USSR collapsed under the burden of its own weight. Experts have estimated that we spent an estimated one trillion dollars in arms that we didn’t have to (more like 2 or 3 trillion in today’s dollars), fighting the Cold War instead of letting the communist regimes collapse on their own.

After the Cold War our foreign policy seemed to be getting back on an even keel, except that we were ignoring the rise of militant Islamic terrorist groups. Again, our unpreparedness in the face of this new form of evil led to the loss of 3,000 lives on 9/11. As I mentioned at the outset, today our main foreign policy threat is the growing power of the terrorist state of Iran, which is feverishly working to develop a nuclear arsenal. Will President Obama, or President Romney (as is more likely), take action to foil Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Or will no military action be taken against Iran, as the French and British failed to take action against Hitler when they could have, before 60 million lives were lost in Europe. If no action is taken what are the odds that Iran will one day hand off a small nuclear device to some terrorist group, who could then plant it in a hotel rome in Tel-Aviv, or Houston, or Atlanta, or New York, or Washington before detonating it. It would kind of turn the world upside down, wouldn’t it.

 

Advertisements
Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

ENVIRONMENTALLY SOUND

On Sunday mornings, as is my practice, I like to take about a one-hour stroll through the seniors neighborhood that I live in here in Las Vegas. Yesterday morning it was an especially pleasant walk because the sky was a brilliant azure blue without a single cloud, the bright sun cast a golden hue on the landscape, and the weather was extremely warm for this time of year. In fact, it set a record for April 22, as the temperature climbed to near 100 degrees. My wife had been Easterners all our lives before we moved West in the 1990s, to where”the deer and the antelope play.” Actually I’ve never seen a deer or antelope in Las Vegas, but we do have coyotes and bobcats, and lots of bunnies running around. I guess the rabbits along with fresh water from the golf course, make it an ideal habitat for the coyotes and bobcats to thrive on. Anyway it’s a very pastoral setting, with all homeowners required by the condo commandoes (some refer to them as Nazis) to maintain full and well manicured landscapes, thick with shrubs and trees. It’s also a very quiet setting, as I seldom run into anyone else along these streets. The only break in the quietude is the occasional blaring of sirens from ambulances coming to take another senior to his or her final resting place, where there is always 100% quietude.

Anyway it got me to thinking about how different this pastoral community was from the impoverished neighborhood I grew up in Brooklyn. There, the streets always seemed so grimy and soiled, and the people, ground down by poverty and the stress of having to eke out a living as best they could, rarely had a pleasant word. We lived on the top floor of an apartment building that had a flat roof covered in black tar. In the summers, our apartment absorbed all the heat from that black roof, making it impossible to think about going to sleep before 12-1 in the morning when temperatures would cool down a little. We would sit out on the stoop with our neighbors waiting for a few cool nightly breezes. Air-conditioning was something only the rich were privileged to have. We didn’t have a car, and I commuted into Manhattan to go to college and then later to work, by subway, which was a good 12 block hike from where we lived. Subway trains were always packed and hot, even in the winter, and the walk to the station, through those grimy streets was always a sheer delight, especially in the pouring rain or bitter cold. Heat in the winter was provided by a coal-fired furnace in the basement, but went off from 10 at night until 6 in the morning, while the landlord, who shoveled the coal into the furnace, got his full night’s sleep.

In those days I used to think that people weren’t supposed to live like that. I would retreat into books written by Shakespeare, or Charles Dickens, or Nathaniel Hawthorne, where people were always portrayed with so much more nobility and purpose of life, than existed on those hard-scrabble streets in Brooklyn, and I became envious of not being able to live in those fictitious settings. I came to believe that it was real-life man, as compared to the fictitious nobility I had read about, that polluted the neighborhood I lived in, with dirty air, grimy, embedded filthy streets, foul language, and mean tempers and spirits. Today I live in a cleaner neighborhood, without air and water pollution, and with people usually in a better frame of mind, but I still think about how real-life man continues to pollute our planet and degrade our environment. While there is no air or water pollution in Las vegas, generally because there is no industry here (other than throwing your money away in the casinos), there has been a general ecological degradation throughout the planet.

Global warming has gotten most of the headlines in the last two decades as an environmental spoiler. But global warming is just a small component. It’s caused by change in the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere whereby carbon dioxide is becoming more dominant, which in turn, lessens the amount of oxygen, nitrogen, and other elements that have been part of this planet for billions of years. Do global warming deniers think that you can arbitrarily change the Earth’s atmosphere without any adverse consequences. More serious than global warming, however, is the steady degradation of the planet’s oceans and rain forests, which are absolutely essential to sustaining life on this planet. Rain forests are shrinking at a fairly rapid rate as local tribes keep encroaching on rain forest lands, as they clear trees to make room for farming. Native wildlife is more and more in retreat as the lands they’re used to roaming in, slowly disappear. Rain forests absorb a huge amount of CO2, while at the same time putting out a huge amount of oxygen, so, as I’ve said, life just isn’t sustainable without them. Ocean life is also steadily being degraded, with a steady shrinkage of marine life. Today, in the Pacific alone, there are thousands of miles of plastic refuse which is unsinkable and floating on the ocean’s surface. Marine and bird life are often casualties when they mistake this refuse for food, nibble on it, and die. Oceans also absorb huge amounts of CO2, while providing food for much of the world’s population. You can picture what happens to the planet’s welfare when the health of our oceans go down the tubes.

Many other environmental disasters are also on the horizon. I could go on and on. But before man made his appearance on this planet some hundreds of thousands of years ago, (yes there was evolution despite the majority of people in this country that don’t believe in it) the planet’s ecology was in pristine shape. Animals roamed the planet in harmony with their environment. True, if you were an animal, you wouldn’t want to get too close to, say, a dinosaur’s habitat without becoming their lunch, but ecologically the planet was in great shape. Now its been despoiled by real-life man. Fictional man that I used to read about, would never have done such misdeeds.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

POISONING THE WELL

Franklin Roosevelt was, and will always be, the only president elected to that office more than twice. He won an unprecedented four terms of office, although he died early in his fourth term, thus turning the presidency over to Harry Truman. To prevent anyone else from having Roosevelt’s seemingly iron grip on the oval office, an amendment was passed in 1947 limiting all future presidents to two terms. But the most interesting race of the four was in 1940 when Roosevelt would make history if elected a third time. His opponent that year was a mostly unknown candidate named Wendell Willkie who represented a small but internationalist and liberal wing of the Republican party (now as extinct as the Dodo bird.) My father, a life-long Democrat,  once told me the only time he was tempted to vote Republican, was for Wendell Willkie in 1940. As highly as he rated Roosevelt, he thought Wilkie was even better. In the end, though, he did vote Democratic.

To set the picture of what life was like in the world 72 years ago, one has to recognize how different, but also similar the times were in comparison to 2012. Storm clouds of war were descending in both Europe and the Pacific, but a strong streak of isolationism still existed in the U.S. Most Republicans, and indeed most Americans felt if we could somehow avoid  becoming entangled in the looming wars with the Axis powers of Germany, Italy and Japan, we could avoid the costs and loss of life that such wars would undoubtably result in. But Willkie, being an internationalist as was Roosevelt, knew that America’s participation in the coming wars was unavoidable. In 1940 we were also just beginning to pull ourselves out of the worst and most destructive Depression in U.S. history. When FDR took office in 1933, the unemployment rate was about 25%. But his New Deal policies helped cut that in half, and he won a landslide re-election in 1936. By 1937, his administration started to cut back on the money the Government was pumping into the economy, causing unemployment to start creeping up again. Thus Willkie ran on a platform of declaring that the New Deal had not solved America’s economic crises, and new leadership was required. Sound familiar to this year’s campaign rhetoric? As with Obama today, there were the Roosevelt haters and bashers, such as famous journalist Westbrook Pegler. Only radio and TV weren’t available to do their bashing and hating, so they had to rely almost solely on newspapers and magazines. In the end, however, they were no match for Roosevelt’s rhetorical and speech-making skills.

Although the economy was still in poor shape in 1940, Willkie”s problem in trying to unseat Roosevelt was a lack of support within his own party. As I stated, most Republicans were isolationist and conservative and couldn’t warm to Willkie’s international and liberal leanings. Despite the poor economy, Roosevelt won the election easily. Even had he been elected, Willkie would not have served out his term, as he died at the young age of 52 in 1944. World War II came crashing down on the U.S. like a ton of bricks when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Of course the war took care of any lingering unemployment problems, as eventually 10 million people were recruited into the military, and the rest were sopped up in in armaments factories. Women who normally stayed home as housewives and mothers, had to go to work in tank and ship factories just to keep up with the war’s demands. With the unemployment problems gone, and with successful prosecution of the war effort, Roosevelt coasted to another victory in 1944, despite cries that he was becoming a dictator.

This year’s election, as in Roosevelt’s time, is marked by a poor economy and runaway Government costs and deficits. But it it also denoted by the venomous behavior of the Obama haters and bashers. However, unlike in FDR’s time, the vilest hate mongering  can use radio and TV as its platform. Thus Rush Limbaugh, 3 weeks before Obama was sworn into office, screamed out the famous line: “I want him to fail.” (So do Al-Qiada and all other terrorist groups around the world.) From then on, Limbaugh’s program of 3 hours per day, 5 days a-week, consists almost purely of venom and vitriol directed against Obama and the Democrats. He claims to have a listenership of 20 million, so his hate-mongering has made him a billionaire or close to it. I don’t blame him as much as the millions of pathetic souls out there, who can’t get through their day without listening to 3 hours of hate radio directed against their president. Of course, there’s about a thousand Rush wannabes in cities across the country spewing out the same type of vitriol. And leave us not forget Fox News on TV that does basically the same. Since the American electorate has been dumbed down by all this propaganda, the well of politics has been thoroughly poisoned, to the extent that nothing can be achieved in Congress or the Office of the President that would in anyway be beneficial to the American public. For example, Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, stated very early on, that the Republican’s primary and overriding objective was to defeat Barack Obama in 2012. Not do what’s right for the American people, perish the thought.

Obama’s rival in this year’s election, Mitt Romney, seems like a decent enough guy even if he has all the core values of wallpaper. He has done a total reversal on every major issue since he ran for the Senate against Ted Kennedy in the 1990s, or became Governor in 2002. But even if he wins the presidency as is likely, and the the GOP wins both houses of Congress, this country will still be be in for a very rough slog. Because if the Republicans don’t elect 60 Senators, and it’s unlikely they will, the Democrats will use the filibuster in the Senate to attempt to thwart a President Romney at every turn, as the GOP did to President Obama.

Yes, we have some very serious problems such as a poor economy, high unemployment, huge deficit spending, etc. But the most serious problem of all, is that the well of the body politic has been so poisoned by hate radio and television, that cooperation within the government to attempt to resolve these problems seems a near impossibility. Congratulations to all hate-mongers out there. Your efforts are apparently paying off.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A RATIONAL PLANET

One of the great disappointments I will have endured, is that in my lifetime we will not have made contact with beings from another planet. Space is so vast that the development of technology to enable us to travel to another inhabited planet probably won’t occur for at least a thousand years. But it would have been so cool to be able to examine life on an alien planet and see whether they were able to get it right, or whether they fucked it all up the way we have on planet Earth. Even some basic stuff would be fascinating. Do they have sex with the same organs used to remove bodily waste? What kind of foods do they eat if any? Do they require sleep like we do? But the most fascinating thing of all is whether they were able to develop a civilization that lived in peace and harmony, or did they have a history of constant war, strife and bloodshed as we have had. In other words, did they live lives of rational common sense, or in constant fear, paranoia, and irrationality as we have done.

So it got me thinking that if we ditched our usual fears and the delusional thinking that goes with those fears, how much better life on this planet would become. For example, when Barack Obama was elected in 2008, there was virtually an unprecedented rush to buy guns and ammo that occurred almost over night. Gun stores couldn’t up with the demand, especially for bullets, as the surge to buy weaponry cleaned off their shelves within days after the election. Apparently, a good segment of the population went into a full fledged state of paranoia, believing that the election of a liberal Democrat would result in the Government stripping every citizen of  his or her weapons, and hauling protesters off to concentration camps. This, despite the fact that the subject of gun ownership was rarely, if ever, discussed during the campaign. Today we have millions of citizens armed to the hilt with multiple guns and storage sheds filled with nothing but bullets, still waiting for Government tanks to come rolling down their streets and haul them off.

Anyway here are some of the things we can do to achieve a more rational planet.Lets start with drugs. Every year we spend tens or hundreds of billions of dollars to outlaw marijuana, heroin and cocaine, while allowing drugs that kill far more people like tobacco and alcohol to remain legal. Every year we incarcerate tens of thousands of drug dealers and users at enormous expense, while tens of thousands of  of suppliers in this country and throughout Latin America are murdered, usually by drug cartels that make billions off the illegal drug trade. First of all, is it the government’s role to tell someone they’re prohibited from engaging in self-destructive behavior if such is their desire. If that is the government’s role, then the government should prohibit tobacco which kills about 400,000 Americans a year, alcohol which is highly detrimental to over users, as well as cheeseburgers, fries and pepperoni pizza which do nothing but clog people’s arteries leading to heart disease and other ills. Sound ridiculous? No more so than the so-called war on drugs which has been a monumental and extremely costly failure. Legalizing at least marijuana would reduce prison populations, reduce a major source of revenue from the drug cartels, and lead to an increased flow of government revenues as it could be taxed the way tobacco is.

Another rational move would be for all the world’s governments to eliminate tariffs on imported goods. Tariff is just a $10 word for taxes. When the government puts a “tariff” on say a pair of imported shoes made in China, you, the consumer are paying a higher price than you need to for those shoes. Tariffs are put in place ostensibly to allow domestic producers to compete with countries where it’s cheaper to make similar  products, but all it does is result in consumers having to pay higher prices than they should. Tariffs result in protectionism, which is highly destructive to most economies,and is blamed as one of the main causes of the 1930s Depression. It has been estimated by some of the world’s leading economists that if tariffs were totally eliminated, all world economies would significantly improve almost overnight, especially the economies in the poorest third-word countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Interestingly, both Mitt Romney and Donald Trump before him (they make a good pair) have been bashing China and threatening them with higher tariffs, if China doesn’t raise the prices on the stuff we import from them. I know that will gladden the hearts of all consumers.

Another exercise in sanity would have the government be the employer of last resort for the unemployed. In 1933, when Franklin Roosevelt took office at the height of the Depression, and the unemployment rate was triple what it is today, he quickly established what came to be known as the Civilian Conservation Corps. Hundreds of thousands of unemployed men were hired by the Corps to go into every community in the country and plant trees and shrubs and undertake other environmentally-friendly actions. By 1936 the unemployment rate was cut in half, and Roosevelt swept to a landslide re-election. Today, instead of just shoveling out unemployment checks to those that can’t find work, the government could use that money to also hire hundreds of thousands of people to do a myriad of badly needed infrastructure projects. They could repair our decaying water and sewer pipelines, repave roads and restore crumbling bridges, work on outdated aspects of the nations’s electrical grid, and also perform environmental projects. The unemployment rate would be dramatically lowered and as spending increased the economy as a whole would gather steam.

In any event these are just a few of the steps we could take on the road to rationality. I could go on and list hundreds more but you get the picture. I deliberately left unsaid some of the more contentious political irrationalities that ideologues like to indulge in,  like trying to ban a woman they don’t know from terminating an unwanted pregnancy. Ideologue, by the way, is just another 10 dollar word for fanatic. Will this planet start to come around and begin exhibiting more common sense and rational behavior? I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime I’ll have to console myself with old Star-Trek reruns.

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

DEPRESSION AT ITS ROOTS

I thought that, for a change of pace, we would discuss a really fun topic like depression. No not the mental breakdown type, but the fiscal meltdown type instead. Although if you have a financial breakdown, it’s sure to cause a plethora of the mental type, so maybe we’ll wind up talking about both. They say that money can’t buy happiness, but tell that to the homeless guy sleeping in a cardboard box in a back alley or under a bridge somewhere. Or to the recent winners of the mega-millions jackpot as they were popping the champagne corks. It’s hard to imagine any individual or family where money doesn’t play a central role.

Throughout American history there’s been at least a dozen major depressions, or panics as they were sometimes called, starting as early as 1807. There was also a few milder recessions thrown in for good luck. (Ronald Reagan used to say that a recession is when your neighbor loses his job, and a depression is when you are thrown out of work. Not a bad definition.) But the depression I would like to focus on is the one back in the thirties. Not the 1930s, but the 1830s, or 1837 to be exact. It’s hard to believe they could have a depression back then when the entire U.S. population was only about 17 million. But not only did they have a depression, it was just as severe and destructive to people’s lives as the 1930s joyride. Those that are such strong advocates of capitalism somehow never get around to talking about capitalism’s failures, and how numerous they have been.

The U.S. government in 1837 was a modern day tea party’s dream come true in that it hardly did anything and hardly spent any money. It had a small Army and a few ships they called a Navy, a State Department that conducted a limited amount of foreign affairs, a small Attorney General’s office, and perhaps something that looked like an agriculture department to help out farmers. Even then people recognized that food was too important to deny at least some government involvement to help offset  the hardships that droughts or flooding rains may have caused farmers. But outside of these limited functions there was little government activity. Revenues came primarily from tariffs on imported goods, so tax rates on rich or poor was a non-factor.

In November of 1836, the only man in U.S. history to be elected from the House of Representatives directly to the White House, Martin Van Buren, became president in the following year, succeeding the the 8 year presidency of Andrew Jackson. Economic times were good at the start of the Van Buren presidency, as land values started to sky rocket in value because of increasing numbers of people pushing west. One might say there was a growing real-estate bubble, not unlike the one that has led to our current economic down-turn. Banks were eagerly encouraging people to borrow money and invest in real estate to keep land values rising.  Sound familiar? However, with all the cheap money flooding the market, inflation started to soar, and the government, in its infinite wisdom, declared that outstanding debt would have to be repaid in gold or silver, which made all the paper money on the market almost valueless. Instantly, there was widespread panic, as people rushed to their banks to withdraw their life’s savings while they could. Almost overnight, 40% of the banks in the U.S. had to close their shutters, since they were unable to meet their financial obligations. Financial destruction and ruin ensued on a massive scale in most people’s lives, from which  they would never recover.

Since governments in those days didn’t do much of anything outside of defense and foreign affairs, Van Buren was clueless as to what remedial actions the government might take to alleviate the hard financial times. So in the end he did nothing, and the unrelenting depression dragged on for 6  years until finally the economy started to improve in 1843. The depression caused Van Buren to lose his re-election bid in 1840, and he probably went to his grave insisting it was not government’s role to bail out the economy. Sort of like today’s far right, who are still monumentally upset that the current administration bailed out General Motors and Chrysler in their time of need,  instead of letting them go out of business, with a few hundred thousand more jobs going down the drain.

What is the relevance of the 1837 depression to our current world affairs? It’s not that capitalism is bad. Indeed, it’s probably the only real workable economic system at this stage of man’s evolutionary development. Even Communist China recognized that when they went to a market economy. But capitalism does have some deep fault lines that are ripe for exploitation by the unscrupulous. For example, when my wife and I bought our first house, people acquired real estate primarily for living purposes. We were required to put 20% of the purchase as a down payment. But early in the 21st century the fast-buck artists felt there was a quick killing to be made by constantly inflating real-estate values through convincing potential home-buyers to secure mortgages they could ill-afford with virtually no down payment. Real-estate prices could only go up, they told dubious buyers, before the crash came and all the foreclosures with it. And all the people now sitting in their homes with mortgages that are under-water. The 1930s depression was caused by the same-type of fast-buck artists that were exploiting the stock market, causing ever-increasing and unsustainable stock prices until the crash came.

So in the end it doesn’t matter whether it’s capitalism or socialism, or any other ism. What matters is the honesty and integrity of the people participating in what ever system is put in place. What’s important is to have the safeguards necessary to prevent the dishonest, the unscrupulous, and the out-and-out scammers from perverting whatever the chosen system of economics is. One final note. Mitt Romney has secured the GOP nomination, but during the primaries he referred to himself as a “severe conservative.” I wonder if that’s like a severe depression. Maybe it’s just a severe mental breakdown.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART III)

This is the last one in this series, I promise. We left off last time when Jimmy Carter assumed the Presidency in 1976 after a narrow win over Gerald Ford. Interestingly, Carter is still alive today and pushing near 90, while Ford made it well into his 80s, before saying sayonara. Being president seems to promote longevity. In any event, Carter’s presidency is often deemed a failure by most historians, but like Nixon, he did make some significant accomplishments.

James Earl Carter started off the 1976 race with like a 30 point lead over Ford according to reliable polling data. This was primarily due to how adversely the Watergate scandal had affected the GOP. By election day, however, Carter appeared to be in over over his head and entire lead had evaporated, leaving him to win by the slimmest of margins. He did this by carrying every southern state except Virginia, in a complete role reversal of today’s voting patterns. This occurred because Carter was a southern Governor with evangelical religious beliefs. Now, a Democrat can’t get elected dog catcher in the deep south. His presidency was marred by a poor economy, as evidenced by high rates of inflation and fairly high unemployment. They called it stagflation at the time. Nevertheless, there was considerable achievement.

Carter, using personal diplomacy, managed to pull off a peace treaty with Israel and Egypt, who had been in a virtual continuous state of war since Israel’s founding in 1948. In what came to be known as the Camp David accords, Carter got both sides to not only make peace, but to establish diplomatic relations, which was unthinkable in the Arab world at that time, and even to this day. He also turned over control and ownership of the Panama Canal to Panama where it belonged, despite the howls of protest from the Rush Limbaugh-types, that such action would allow Red China and Russia to invade and conquer the U.S. at will. These accomplishments paled, however, because during Carter’s presidency, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the country was taken over by the fanatical mullahs that run the government to this day. One of their first actions was to invade the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and take all personal assigned there as hostages. As negotiations for their release dragged on and on, Carter authorized a daring covert rescue attempt. But 2 of the rescuers’ helicopters crashed in the air over Iran during this botched attempt, killing all on-board. It seemed to symbolize all the ineptitude of the Administration, and doomed Carter’s chances for re-election.

In 1980 Carter ran for re-election against a second-rate movie actor, who had managed to become Governor of California, named Ronald Wilson Reagan. Reagan talked as a tough conservative, but had a huge gift of gab, including a lot of self-deprecating humor, and had actually governed California as a moderate. In any event, due to the poor economy, the botched hostage rescue, and Reagan’s highly skilled campaign abilities, Carter lost the election in a landslide. Reagan set out to quickly change the political landscape by sharply increasing Defense spending, cutting social spending, and significantly reducing income taxes, especially for the wealthy. In the end, his cuts in social spending were modest and around the fringes, but his Defense  increases and tax cuts sharply led to huge deficit spending. The accumulated deficit from George Washington through Jimmy Carter was one trillion dollars when Reagan took office, but mushroomed to four trillion in the following 12 years, or a 300% increase. Today Republican candidates for President all hail Reagan as their model, but the truth is that the tea-party dominated GOP would never allow Reagan to be their candidate. He had too much common sense and pragmatism. Reagan eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease which started appearing late in his second term.

Reagan was followed into the presidency by his Vice-President George H. W. Bush, a very decent, honest and down-to-earth individual. The year was 1988, and the Democrats put up the Governor of Mass. named Michael Dukakis to oppose Bush. But like the George McGovern candidacy and the Carter years, the Democrats and Dukakis went into a full incompetency mode, and Bush won the election easily. His 4 years in office were generally unremarkable, but he did agree with Democrats to a small increase in income tax rates, for which his was branded a traitor by right-wing Republicans. He also led us into the first Gulf war against Iraq, when Saddam Hussein tried to take over oil rich Kuwait. Bush was successful in freeing Kuwait, but he let Saddam stay in power, which we paid for dearly soon after.

In 1992 the economy experienced a slight down-turn, and it cost Bush his re-election bid to another southern Democrat Governor named William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton ran on a platform of: “It’s the economy, stupid,” and the country seemed to believe him, as he won easily despite a reputation of sexual affairs outside of marriage. The 8 Clinton years (he won re-election in 1996 against a hapless Bob Dole) were probably the best era of peace and prosperity in my lifetime, and I’ve been around over three-quarters of a century. We had a booming economy, low interest rates, low inflation, and except for a relatively brief scuffle with Serbia, the absence of war.  Of course, in Clinton’s second term, the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted, and Clinton became only the second president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. But Clinton survived the scandal, and because the times were so good, his approval ratings were through the roof when he left office. To this day, there are still those that bemoan the fact that he’s no longer president.

I’ve already written about how the election of 2000 was taken away from Clinton’s Vice-President, Al Gore, despite his winning at the polls, and how this led to the second Gulf war with Iraq and the ensuing huge loss of life and destruction. George W. Bush, son of the former president, George H.W. Bush, assumed the Oval Office, only to be hit with the tragic events of 9/11, eight months later. He is a decent man like his father, but he got us into a highly questionable second war with Iraq which took about eight and a half years to extricate ourselves from. Under his presidency the prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare, another huge accomplishment on the road to try to achieve universal health care. But the economy took a huge hit starting in 2007 and the country soured on the second Bush presidency. This paved the way for the first black president elected to the Oval Office in 2008, Barak Obama. We all pretty much know how it’s turned out since then. In 2013, either Obama will be back in office, or we will have the newly elected Mitt Romney.

In any event let’s drink a toast to those that made it, but , more so to those that tried and failed. How much different would our lives be, or would the nation’s affairs be, if the other guy had won instead. It would be interesting to theorize about it.

 

 

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART II)

Just one footnote to the presidential race in 1960 between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon that I discussed in the last entry. I was still living at home in Brooklyn with my parents. (Yes, I put off growing up into a mature adult as long as I could. Some say there are still unresolved issues in that regard.) This would be the first election I was eligible to vote in, since the voting age was still 21 at that time. So imagine my excitement when the Kennedy campaign came to Brooklyn on a cold October day, and there was JFK standing up in a convertible limo with the top down, waving to the crowds as his motorcade rolled through the streets very near to my residence. Up until then, men always wore hats, especially in cold weather. You can see evidence of that if you ever watch movies made before the late 1950s. But JFK went hatless, mainly to show off his great looks and thick shock of hair. That started a new fashion trend almost overnight, where men started giving up wearing their hats, and the male hat industry quickly went out of business.

We left off last time with Richard Nixon winning the 1968 presidency in a close race with Hubert Humphrey. Now everyone knows that Nixon had to resign the presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. But what most people don’t appreciate was that Nixon accomplished huge achievements during the time he was in office. If not for Watergate he could have been considered one of our greatest presidents. First, Nixon finally got us out of Viet-Nam, which was deeply dividing the nation. We had been involved in Viet-Nam since the 1950s, and huge protests against the war continued almost on a weekly basis. The generals in command were calling for another 200 thousand troop increase to go along with the 500 thousand troops already there. Instead Nixon started withdrawing troops and eventually signed a peace treaty with North Viet-Nam that enabled us to extricate ourselves from that horrible mis-adventure. By the time it was over, the war had cost us 58,500 American dead, with hundreds of thousands more wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dead. Nixon being able to finally end that misguided effort was huge. Today we have peaceful relations with Viet-Nam and it is considered a valuable trading partner. In the end, all that loss of life and destruction was really in vain.

Nixon’s next huge achievement was opening up diplomatic relations with Communist China, who along with the old USSR, was considered our implacable enemy. Nixon had a reputation for being a hardline anti-communist, so  that he was able to pull off ending the cold war, at least with China, was almost unthinkable at the time. Today China is one of our largest trading partners, and holds about a trillion dollars of our debt. Nixon also established the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which consolidated and expanded public social services . The Education part was eventually split off and became a separate department, while the rest of HEW has now become the Department of Health and Human Resources. Nixon even wanted to institute universal health care, but it was the Democrats in Congress that balked because they felt his bill didn’t go far enough. Although he talked as a tough conservative, Nixon presided over an enlargement of social benefits almost to the degree that Lyndon Johnson or even FDR did. As I’ve said, his accomplishments were huge.

Nixon’s Achilles heel, however was that he was deeply paranoid. He felt he was continually besieged by people hostile to his administration, despite all his accomplishments. He kept enemies lists and made secret recordings of conversations he had with visitors to the White House. In 1972, he ran for re-eletion against a largely unknown liberal Senator from South Dakota named George McGovern. McGovern was a decent and sincere man, but the Democrats went into their full incompetency  mode, including not nominating McGovern during their convention until about 2 in the morning when everyone was asleep and could not hear his acceptance speech. As a result, Nixon won in a mammoth landslide, capturing 49 out of 50 states. However, during the election, a curious event occurred that would eventually destroy the Nixon presidency.

Late in the campaign season, a group of third rate Republican hacks one night broke into Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington DC. God knows what information they were hoping to learn or steal, especially since it was obvious at the time that Nixon would win by a landslide. If Nixon had come out at the time that the break-in was discovered, and stated that he in no way authorized or condoned the break-in, and the perpetrators would be punished to the full extent of the law, his presidency would have been unscathed. But Nixon’s paranoia would not allow him to do that. Instead he and his closest White House advisors went through elaborate schemes to try to cover-up any higher Republican involvement in this third-rate burglary. The more the story made the news, the more elaborate the cover-up became. Finally, the entire story became public thanks to the diligence of two “Washington Post” reporters, and several Congressional and judicial investigations. Nixon’s involvement, not in the crime, but in the coverup became evident, and he was forced to resign the presidency.

Since Nixon’s Vice President also had to resign his office due to a different scandal, the Republicans chose Gerald Ford, who was their leader in the House, to take over the presidency. Ford was a decent and moderate Republican and his basic honesty helped clean up the mess in Washington and restore the people’s faith in their government. But Ford made one crucial mistake that cost him the Oval Office when he ran for election in 1976. He had given Nixon a pardon from any possible prosecution connected to Watergate for the rest of Nixon’s life. The public was still in an unforgiving mood as it related to Watergate, and thus elected a largely unknown peanut farmer who managed to become Governor of Georgia named Jimmy Carter. The Democrats were so delighted that they had a Southern Governor who not only wasn’t a racist, but had actually championed civil rights, that they practically handed Carter the nomination on a silver platter. Carter’s presidency would also end in failure, but like Nixon, he had several significant achievements which we will pick up with next time. It is interesting to note, however, that two Republican presidents, Nixon and Ford, would likely be drummed out of today’s tea-party, Rush Limbaugh dominated Republican Party.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART I)

Ever wonder what the destiny of our country would look like if the men that lost recent presidential elections had won instead. For example, if Al Gore had been allowed to assume the presidency in 2000 after an election he had actually won, it’s likely that Saddam Hussein would still be dictator in Iraq. But also, 6000 dead U.S. military and civilians would likely still be alive, and over 30,000 U.S. men and women that suffered life-destroying  injuries like blindness or severe brain trauma would have their lives back. Also, about a trillion dollars we spent over there could have been saved. So let’s look back at some of the near misses in recent presidential elections and perhaps drink a toast to the guys that almost made it but didn’t.

My earliest recollection of presidential politics was in 1948 when I was 12 years old. That year, the contestants were Harry Truman, who had taken over the presidency from Franklin Roosevelt when FDR died in 1945 (after winning an unprecedented 4 terms) and Tom Dewey the Republican governor of New York. Dewey had built his reputation as a crime busting district attorney that had put Murder Inc. out of business. (That was a Mafia-run enterprise where you could hire someone to whack anyone you had a beef against, usually for a hefty price like $50,000.) Dewey was a moderate to progressive Republican, (an extinct species in today’s politics) and all the polls said he would beat Truman by double digits. My father was bemoaning the fact that we would have to live under a GOP presidency, but some intuitive instinct told me otherwise, so, knowing virtually nothing, I proudly declared that Truman would win win the election. My father, looking angrily at me, said I better keep my mouth shut, lest the neighbors discover what an idiot child he had raised. But I wouldn’t budge in my prediction. Dad, don’t worry, Truman will win, I kept saying. The newspapers were so confident of a Dewey win that the Chicago Tribune already published the story before the election results came in. The next day a beaming and victorious Truman held up the Chicago Tribune paper that had the headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

In 1952 the election was between war hero Dwight Eisenhower (Ike) and Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson. Ike, besides being the great war hero that defeated Nazism in Europe during WWII, had that great smile that made him instantly likable to just about everyone. He was considered a moderate and ran against Ohio conservative Robert Taft in the GOP primary which Ike easily won. I consider Adlai Stevenson perhaps the most honorable, honest, and decent candidate to run for office in my lifetime, but he had no chance against Ike. Oh, that smile, and the war-hero thing. It was Stevenson’s misfortune to be nominated again in 1956, and thus be shellacked by Ike twice. Eisenhower had a fairly unremarkable presidency during his 8 years. But he did send in federal troops to protect 9 black children when the segregationist governor of Arkansas tried to block the integration of a white-only public school in Little Rock.

In 1960, it was the famous battle between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. It was also the first year they had televised debates between the 2 candidates. Nixon was a powerful debater and people who heard the debates on the radio thought he had won them. But on television, Kennedy was so much better-looking , and had so much more charm and charisma, that it lifted him to a narrow victory in 1960, but then, to eventual  tragedy. Kennedy’s short presidency was marred by the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, when the CIA tried to overthrow Castro but failed. The following year, the Russians tried to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, which led to the great missile crisis that year, which brought the world to the edge of nuclear devastation. Fortunately the Russians backed down and withdrew their missiles and the world was saved.

After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 Lyndon Johnson became president and ran in in 1964. The Republican nomination looked like it was going to Nelson Rockefeller, the progressive governor of New York. But Rocky made the huge mistake of leaving his wife and seeking a divorce during the primary season, which was apparently too much of a scandal for the country at that time. So instead, Barry Goldwater, who was considered a radical right-wing senator from Arizona came off the winner but was trounced by Johnson in the election. Lyndon Johnson did a lot of great things during his presidency, like getting Medicare and civil rights legislation thru Congress, but he also got us bogged down in Viet-Nam which turned into a disaster. That ruined his presidency and he didn’t run for re-election.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy was running in the Democratic primary against Hubert Humphrey. Both were were excellent candidates, but I thought that RFK would have made a great president because of all the suffering he went thru at time of his brother”s death. It seemed to me that he knew and empathized with others who had also known great sadness in their lives. But 1968 turned out to be one of the most tragic years in American history, with the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King during that year. That enabled Hubert Humphrey to get the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, Richard Nixon returned to the fray, after vowing to the press in 1962 that they wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around anymore. Also in the race was third-party candidate George Wallace, a fiercely segregationist governor of Alabama. In a very tight election, Nixon edged out the win for presidency he had so long desired. The burden of Viet-Nam was to heavy for any Democrat to bear.

Some months after the election was over, they had a “roast” for Hubert Humphrey on TV that was run by entertainer Dean Martin. Martin arose before the mic to speak, and said words to the effect that: I want to introduce a person of such high honor, decency, integrity, and honesty that he’s sitting here next to me tonight at this crummy roast, rather than being in the White House. Truer words were never spoken. Even Humphrey couldn’t stop laughing.

We’ll pick up at this point next time around.

Categories: Uncategorized | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.