Monthly Archives: August 2012

THE TRUE BELIEVER

When I was still working, thousands of years ago, I used to have a sign hanging in my office that read as follows: ” NO AMOUNT OF HARD WORK OR CAREFUL PLANNING CAN EVER REPLACE SHEER DUMB LUCK.” It was, of course meant to convey the capriciousness of life, where through no effort of their own, some people seem to experience a constant stream of good fortune, while others appear to inherit a disproportionate boatload of bad luck. Just read through the obit column in your daily newspaper. There is the 26- year-old who just died of a brain tumor before her life had barely begun. Right next to the obituary of the 97-year- old who led a full and enjoyable life before simply dying of old age.

As we grow from childhood into becoming adults, we gain the experience to recognize the basic unfairness of the human condition. We accordingly adjust, learn to comprise, and recognize we won’t acquire everything we desire. That life is basically a game of give-and-take, and we mostly make pragmatic choices to get us through the day. As a child we may cry and scream or even throw a tantrum because Mommy won’t buy us the toy or candy bar we so desperately desire. But as we become adults, that type of behavior is shut down to us, and we have to make necessary compromises with our spouses, our families, friends, and even strangers in order to reasonably function on a daily basis within society. But for some people, the idea of compromise or pragmatism is beyond their comprehension. In their personal lives such behavior often leads to dysfunctional relationships, as well as dependency on drugs or alcohol. But when this type of uncompromising behavior enters the social and/or political arenas, it usually means death and misery for millions of people. Because more often than not, the persons perpetuating such hardcore, fundamentalist and uncompromising positions are “the true believers.” Those that believe that only their views of religion, or politics, or social behavior, is the right path, and those that deviate from that path must either be coerced into changing, or else, in extreme cases, be put to death. And unfortunately history is replete with such examples.

A good example, and certainly on the hit parade’s top ten list of man’s follies through the ages, is the Spanish Inquisition. When the Catholic Church became dominant in Spain in the late 15th century, the Inquisition was begun to convert all non-believers into becoming Catholics. By the way, this practice didn’t end until the mid-19th century, almost 400 years later. The non-believers that had to be converted into Catholicism included Jews, Muslims and eventually Protestants. The Inquisitors (true believers) stated that they didn’t have anything against these beliefs; it was just that the only way to save a person’s soul, and hence enable them to enter the kingdom of heaven, was through conversion to Catholicism. Some Jews and Muslims converted while others didn’t. Those that didn’t were either imprisoned for life, or burned at the stake. But it was for their own good. After all, the important thing was to save their souls. So went the mindset of the true believer.

In the 20th century we saw this type of rigid, true-believer mindset take hold in Europe and the Pacific, with both Communist and Fascist dictatorships causing the deaths of hundreds of millions of people. When the Bolsheviks took control of Russia, those that refused to become true believers in the merits of communism, were usually sent to slave labor camps in Siberia or simply put to death. In Germany, in 1925, Adolph Hitler got his autobiographical “Mien Kamf” published with its viciously anti-semitic diatribes. Most Germans at the time considered the book the ravings of a lunatic. After all, Germany was a well-educated, sophisticated country with a rich cultural history. But persistence and demagoguery began paying off, and slowly but surely, as more and more swastikas began appearing in the public square, Hitler’s lunatic ideas began taking hold, and the rest, as they say, is history. More than 60 million people died in in Europe, thanks to the fascist ideology  of the true believer. In the Pacific, at the same time, the fascist and militaristic dictatorship of Japan was killing millions of more “non-believers.” After WWII, China came to be ruled by the truest of all believers in Marxism, Mao Zedong. Those that refused to follow or bow to Mao’s rigid beliefs were slaughtered by the millions. On a slightly smaller scale, we saw similar occurrences when Castro took over Cuba and the dictatorship that reigns over North Korea. Today, the most fundamentalist of all regimes controls Iran, which has also murdered tens of thousands of its people that refused to abide by the tenets of true belief in radical Islam, which holds that all non-believers in strict Sharia law should be put to death.  And Iran is developing the nuclear capability that can make that happen.

What’s the lesson to be learned as far as this country is concerned, at this point in time?  The lesson is that the true believers in our country are acquiring more and more power and influence, and will have a dominant role should the Republicans win the November election. Among the true believers are the anti-abortion fanatics, who will strive to outlaw all legal abortions, because, after-all, this is what Jesus would dictate. Also, gay rights would be denied and homosexuals would have to get way back in the closet, because such unbiblical behavior cannot be tolerated is a proper society. Government assistance to the poor, the sick and the elderly would be sharply curtailed because, although the New Testament stresses helping the poor, it’s somehow a bad  thing if the Government does it. I could go on but you get the picture. The only question is whether the people will allow the true believers of today to really exert their rigid and fundamentalist beliefs on all of us.

 

 

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RETURNING TO THE DAYS OF SILENT CAL

With the selection of Paul Ryan as his running mate, Mitt Romney has come full-circle. In the 1990s, Romney, posing as a liberal, ran for the Senate seat held by Ted Kennedy in Mass.,  but lost. In the early 2000s he ran as a moderate for the governorship of Mass., and this time he won. His reign as Governor was noted by the success he had in pushing for, and passing a universal health-care law that was the predecessor of Obama-care. To this day, Mass. is the only state in the union that has a rate of 99% health care coverage for its citizens. However, when he decided to run for President, Romney determined that the only way to secure the Republican nomination was to swing over to being a far-right wing conservative. It didn’t work in 2008, when he lost the nomination to John McCain, but it did work this year. Now in selecting Paul Ryan as his Veep, he has truly become what he described himself as-a “severe conservative.”

Paul Ryan is a very earnest, far-right GOP Congressman from a district in Wisconsin that has voted Democratic in presidential elections. This tea-party favorite has demonstrated his political chops by winning 6 straight elections in a normally Democratic district. He is a darling of the tea-party because he believes in sharply cutting government spending, especially on programs for the poor, sick and elderly. Most of his cuts would be in stuff like food-stamps, student-loans, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, etc. You get the picture. Left intact would be tax-cuts for the rich, which the tea-party believes would further enhance “trickle-down” economic theories, whereby the rich, if sufficiently placated, will trickle down enough resources to satisfy the lower classes. What’s lesser known about Ryan is that he has a strong right-wing agenda on social issues as well. As an example, he co-sponsored a bill in Congress that would outlaw all abortions, including those in cases of rape or incest, or to save the mother’s life.

There is an excellent chance that the Romney/Ryan ticket will win in November, and that the Republicans will take control of Congress as well. This would be the tea-party’s dream come true, to roll back much, if not all, of the social welfare and fiscal regulatory legislation and progress of the last 80 years. So let’s see what that world would look-like, by going back into the not-too-distant past. The year is 1920, and after 8 year of Democratic rule under Woodrow Wilson, the Republican ticket of Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge wins the presidency. Harding is soon entangled in various corruption scandals, and dies in 1922 under mysterious circumstances. Coolidge, a taciturn New-Englander, becomes President and vows a program of Government fiscal austerity. Coolidge doesn’t possess the usual politician’s propensity for speechifying, and is thus referred to as Silent Cal, although he did have the distinction of being the first president to give a speech on that new-fangled, high-tech contraption known as radio. Coolidge also had the distinction of overseeing the only presidential administration that spent less money when it ended than when it began. At that time the federal government didn’t do much of anything. It had puny military resources, especially compared to today’s military, a few ambassadorships in some foreign countries, an Attorney-General (because there were always crooks in the government since George Washington’s time), and a Department of Agriculture to help out farmers in need, especially during droughts or floods. Outside of that the government did little of anything.

That period was also known as the roaring ’20s, because of a booming economy, that was fueled by rampant speculation on Wall Street. Stock speculators, fast-buck artists, and other scammers were running wild, since there was no Securities and Exchange Commission to reign in their activities. Kind of like the real-estate scammers in the early 2000s. The mantra was that stocks could only go one-way and that was up. It hardly mattered what stock one bought since the market was only going on an upward trajectory. Sound familiar, in regard to real estate in this century? Big money could be made in the stock market because everyone knew stocks could only go up. Until one day they didn’t. Instead they came crashing down. With a vengeance. It was October 1929, and almost overnight, millions of people saw their wealth and life savings melt away. Companies started going out-of-business, and millions suddenly became unemployed. The Great Depression had started. It was not a rarity to see people ending their lives by jumping out-of sky-scrappers as all the money they thought they owned went up in smoke.

Coolidge decided in 1928, when times were still good, not to run for re-election. He had served 6 years as President, and decided that another 4 years, for a total of 10 years, would indeed be cruel and unusual punishment supposedly banned by the 8th Amendment to the Constitution. In that, he certainly had a valid point. So in 1928 the presidency went to Coolidge’s VP, Herbert Hoover. When the Depression started to get a stranglehold on the economy in 1930, Hoover did attempt some New Deal type legislation, but it was too-little, too-late. Of course, as we all know, Hoover was swept out of office in a landslide defeat to Franklin Roosevelt in 1932, and the New Deal began in earnest. While the Depression was an economic catastrophe for millions, it also represented the dissolution of the American dream for a huge chunk of the populace. That dream was based on the assumption that if one went to college and learned a profession, or developed blue-collar construction skills and worked hard, one could lead a comfortable middle-class family life, often in their own private homes. Now all that was gone. Men sat on park benches, penniless, and gazed into space, wondering what had happened.

That is, until the New Deal started to take hold, and people began to finally believe that they had a Government that was on their side. We all know how the tale then unfolded. Roosevelt and the Democrats gave the nation Social Security, the Civilian Conservation Corps which put hundreds of thousands of people back to work, the right to form unions and strike if necessary, created the Securities and Exchange Commission, and many, many more pieces of progressive legislation. Succeeding administrations have built on that record, such as Democrat Lyndon Johnson getting both Medicare and Medicaid passed, and Republicans Richard Nixon who defined a role for the federal government in health, education and welfare, and even George W. Bush who created the Medicare drug benefit.

Now the Romney/Ryan ticket threatens to undo most, if not all, of those accomplishments if elected. If we let them as we likely will. After all, they’re severe conservatives, and the tea partiers, and the Rush Limbaugh types, are already salivating over the prospects of cutting government to the bone. Then we can go back to the days when Silent Cal was President and the government did virtually nothing. After all, we all saw how well that turned out.

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ENSLAVEMENT BY CHOICE

Supposedly all people yearn to be free and worship at the temple of liberty. That comprises the cornerstone and building blocks of what we call democracy. Yet, throughout history a different picture emerges. People throughout the ages have often put themselves, voluntarily, into a various forms of subjugation, and you don’t have to go too far back to find sterling examples of  such voluntary servitude. Adolph Hitler came to power largely through the democratic process, and then, of course, quickly extinguished all vestiges of that process, becoming, perhaps, the most ruthless tyrant in history. But there are plenty of additional examples in more modern times.

In the 1970s Iran, which used to be called Persia(a far more romantic and better sounding name I thought) was ruled by a Shah in what was considered a benevolent dictatorship. Although there were no elections, citizens were pretty much able to say or print what they wanted, and they generally had a high level of individual freedom. And although Iran is a Moslem country, the Shah ran a secular society, so religious liberty existed as well. Apparently all this freedom and liberty were too much for the populace to handle, so they allowed the Shah to be overthrown by those crazy kids known as the Ayatollahs. As soon as the overthrow was completed, all traces of freedom melted away like butter sitting out in the hot summer sun. Women, who under the Shah, wore western- style clothing, now had to bundle-up in burkas so only their eyes were exposed to human sight. I guess, if men saw any other parts of women’s bodies unclothed, they would swoon into a state of sexual delirium. Over the next 30 years or so, the Ayatollahs have put to death tens of thousands of their people who tried to oppose their tyranny. Iran has become the leading state sponsor of terrorist organizations, and almost on a daily basis, they solemnly vow the destruction of Israel, who the few as their mortal enemy. In addition, Iran is racing ahead with its plan to build nuclear weapons, and all the while, the West has done nothing to impede Iran’s progress, other than slap a few ineffectual sanctions on Iranian businesses.As the West did nothing to impede Hitler’s Germany in the 1930s until it was almost too late, the West is, similarly, doing little to impede Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons of mass destruction today.

More recently, Egypt, which had been governed by a secular, benevolent dictator similar to the Shah, overthrew that dictator (who was too old and sick to govern anyhow); but in a stunning repudiation of individual freedom, democratically voted in a member of the Muslim Brotherhood as their new president. The Muslim Brotherhood is dedicated to fundamentalist Islam, similar to the beliefs of the Ayatollahs that rule Iran.  In effect, the majority of voters declared they were not interested in secular freedom, but instead, wanted religious fanaticism to prevail. Right now, the secular military is battling the president as to who will wield the most power, but in the end, the Muslim Brotherhood will likely succeed. Isn’t it strange, but predictable, how people will voluntarily give up the secular rights they enjoy and embrace religious fanaticism, where they will have no rights. I guess it all has to do with fear and paranoia.

Which brings us to the situation in this country and the upcoming elections. Due to the poor economy, it is highly likely that we will see the election of a Republican president and congress, come November. And with such GOP victories will also come our own unique brand of religious fanaticism. A President Romney will get to put a new, anti-abortion justice on the Supreme Court, probably within the first year of his presidency. Roe V. Wade will be overturned, and legalized abortion will be just a memory of the past throughout most of the country. It’s already a scarcity, as most states in the bible belt have highly restricted a woman’s right to obtain a legal abortion, in contravention of the court’s rulings. The Republican “base” which consists mostly of evangelicals, more fondly known as religious fanatics, thirsts mightily for the illegalization of abortion, the way one might thirst for water after being stranded for days in the desert. Electing a Republican government will finally mark the realization of their fondest fundamentalist dreams come true. Along with abortion, we can also kiss  gay rights and gay marriage goodbye. Instead, the movement will be to shove homosexuals back in the closet, the further back the better. After all, isn’t this what God wants? The evangelicals seem to believe so. Of course, I keep forgetting that they have a direct pipeline into God’s wishes, through Twitter, as I wrote in my last entry. There will, I’m sure, be other examples of where secularism in the political arena, and in society as a whole, will begin to vanish and be replaced by religious doctrine.

They say that about 14 billionaires, all of them old white guys and religious zealots, are providing a good chunk of the money going into Republican coffers. Looks like they will finally be able to rid society of secularism and buy the fundamentalist-type society they’ve pined for. But if they do, it will be we the people that allows that to happen through the voting process.

 

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MORE SUMMER FOLLIES

I’ve written before about this being the summer of our discontent, with some very real problems, and some that are totally fabricated. On the real side, there’s a very severe drought gripping at least two-thirds of the country causing some serious pain to many of the nation’s farmers. Crops are withering on the vine, and a huge shortage of corn and other grains needed to feed animal livestock has developed. Prices are sure to surge dramatically in the ensuing months because of fruit and vegetable shortages, and the increasing costs to import food for farm animals. A real problem with no end in sight as the severe drought appears to be locking itself in with increasing intensity. Then there are the manufactured problems that a lot of people love to indulge in because they’re so much easier to attack as well as feed into people’s delusions.

Recently there has been a big kerfuffle over the fact that the president of a fast food chain has said on the radio words to the effect that we are incurring God’s wrath if we allow gay marriage in this country. The food chain is called Chick-fil-A and it’s major distinction is that it’s closed on Sundays in deference to God’s wishes. (I had never heard of them until this latest tizzy.) Now I wonder if the president of Chick-fil-A gets regular e-mails from God (or the invisible man, as George Carlin used to say) specifying exactly what God’s wishes are, and if he does, how come I never get these e-mails. Or maybe he gets a steady stream of tweets directly from God. Maybe my problem is that I don’t belong to Twitter, so I never get these proclamations. That must be it, since God never let me in on what His definition of marriage is, or why people of the same gender should be forbidden from such unions. My view is that homosexuals should be allowed to indulge in the same marriage sufferings as heterosexuals.

Of course what’s really in play here, is the fear among religious fanatics they if we don’t adhere to what their perceived notions are about how God wants us to behave, He will crush us like a bug. Also if we allow gay marriage, it’s tantamount to accepting homosexual behavior as a legitimate life-style. The bible-thumpers and those that are holier-than -thou can never accept that because in their minds, such behavior will always be sinful. It must be all laid out in those tweets I’m not getting on Twitter. So playing deftly to those fears, delusions and prejudices, a guy on Fox News (where else?) named Mike Huckabee, who used to be the governor of Arkansas when he had a real life,  declared that all right-minded thinking folks like him ought to show their support for Chick-fil-A by buying their greasy fried chicken, en masse, on August first. Sure enough, on August 1, thousands of people lined up at fast-food joints throughout the country in the summer heat to chow down some of Chick-fil-A’s artery-clogging offerings. There were reports of lines that were hours long to dine on fried chicken and other greasy, fast-food venues. But, a small price to pay to show their disapproval of what they considered a sinful life-style, and support someone willing to oppose such sin.

After all, gays are the perfect minority to scapegoat and demonize since they are supposedly less than 5 percent of the population. If they were, say, a quarter to a third of the population, I can assure you that politicians and corporate execs, including all the “family values” nut-cases would be falling all over themselves trying to curry favor with the gay community. Interestingly, in ancient Greece, historians estimate that nearly half the population was homosexual, which was considered on the same level as heterosexual behavior. The Chick-fil-A types would have undoubtably had a lot tougher time in that period.

In other fascinating summer news from looney-tunesville, the state of Texas just had a primary to fill the Senate seat of out-going Senator Kay Baily Hutchinson, a moderate conservative. The winner in the Republican primary normally has a lock on winning the general election, since the Democrats in that state are apparently too inept to be competitive. So the winner of the Republican primary was a far, far right-wing tea party favorite, who as one of his first actions after being sworn-in, has promised to do everything in his power to eliminate the Environmental Protection Agency, (EPA.) And why not. For example, those of you that have seen aerial photos of Pittsburgh in the 1950s, can remember seeing huge billows of toxic smoke belching forth from the steel mills that were dominant in that area during that period. It added such ambience to the scene. Now that EPA has come into existence, all those billows of smoke and particles are gone. If you take an aerial shot of Pittsburg today, all you see is plain ole blue sky. How disappointing. And have you noticed how bland the water tastes these days, since chemical companies have been prevented from spewing some of their toxic waste into local streams and rivers. Nothing like just the right amount of arsenic to spruce up the taste of the local water system.

But never fear, we will all be well protected. In Idaho, which along with Montana and Utah, is the paranoia capital of the country, a new militia has formed and they are armed to the hilt. They have weaponry that the Army is envious of, and they claim sovereignty from every form of existing government, especially from the Feds. With just the right-mixture of uber-nationalism, hate and defiance, they recognize no governmental jurisdiction over any of their activities. With Americans like these, marching through the western countryside, who needs enemies. And so the summer continues on, as all the nut-cases and haters have seemingly been given the green light to come slithering out from under their rocks, and display their craziness and delusions in the bright sunlight.

 

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