Monthly Archives: September 2012

BRAND NAMES

One of the more curious events of the recent Republican convention that was totally under reported by the media, was the fact that neither of the last 2 Republican Presidents, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush were not only not invited, but were never mentioned during the convention process. On the other hand, Bill Clinton, the last Democratic President before Obama, was hailed at the Democratic convention as the second coming, and one could almost see a halo ringing the top of his head when he gave his convention speech. This despite the whole Monica Lewinski scandal thingy. Yet both Bush the Elder and Bush the Younger were both persona-non-grata at the GOP production. Although I disagreed with some of his policies I always considered the elder Bush to be a man of integrity and decency. At least, for a politician. But, I guess, that since he’s a pretty old man now, and he did lose his reelection bid, were factors leading to his aura of invisibility at the Republican festivities. The younger Bush, who also possesses a high level of decency, was made a non-person as far as Republicans were concerned, for several reasons. One, of course, was the economic crash we endured during the last 2 years of his presidency, which got us into the mess that we’re still trying to emerge from today. But the other reason was that W. showed too much moderation for today’s GOP, which has swung totally over to the dark side of political fanaticism. After all, it was under Bush’s reign that the Medicare drug benefit was enacted and federal aid to education, as well as other social programs, was significantly increased.  Can’t have that, as far as today’s Republicans are concerned.

Regarding the economy, however, the economic disaster in 2008 was not Bush’s fault,  nor is it ever the President’s fault. Although Democrats in general, and Obama in particular, have made lifetime careers out of blaming Bush for the bad economy, the reality is that the fault lies in the inherent nature of our capitalist system, and the speculators that try to game the system. In the 1920s, the economy was on a roll and the stock market was booming. It was known as the roaring ’20s. There were big profits to be made in the stock market, and investors were making money hand-over-fist. It really didn’t matter what stock a person bought, the stock market could only go one way, and that was up. Or so the speculators and other capitalistic gamers would have you believe. Until one day in October 1929, someone took a second look at what was supporting highly inflated stock prices, and found there was really nothing there. Word got around, and sooner rather than later, panic began setting in. People started selling their stocks in a mass frenzy, and the entire market collapsed. We all know about the great Depression that ensued, and the misery that America went through for about a dozen years, until WWII pulled us out the hard times.

Similarly, in the 2000s, capitalistic speculators zeroed in on the real estate market where values could only go one way, and again, that was up. Whereas, in previous decades, people bought houses primarily for living quarters, in the early 2000s, speculators were grabbing houses to to make big, quick and easy bucks. Indeed, we bought our house here in Las Vegas in the year 2000, and saw the property nearly triple in value before the roller-coaster ride came to an end sometime between 2006-2007. Almost on a weekly basis, I would tell my wife that our builder had increased the prices of new homes by somewhere between 25,000 to 50,000 dollars, and she would shake her head and utter words of disbelief. We saw speculators buying up scores of houses in our development, in one get-rich-quick scheme after another. Until, as in 1929, someone took a second look, and asked how real estate prices could possibly be so astronomical, given what was being offered for those prices. As previously, panic selling started to set in, and speculators were dumping their properties on the market for whatever price they could get. Today, my house is back down to roughly what we paid for it almost 13 years ago, which is okay since we bought it to live in, not for speculation. Plus, I have the satisfaction of knowing that many speculators and gammers were financially ruined when the housing bubble burst.

Of course, the greatest economic downturn since the great Depression resulted from the bursting of that bubble, and the economy continues to limp along weakly since 2008. Once again the flaws of our capitalistic system raised their ugly heads. But Mitt Romney and the Republicans see the poor economy as their pathway to the presidency and perhaps full control of Congress. Just blame the high unemployment rate and huge deficit spending on Obama and the Democrats, and winning in November should be in the bag. So why isn’t it. When it became a sure thing that Romney would be the Republican nominee back in April or May, and given the lousy state of economic conditions, I expected His Mittness to open up at least a 10%-15% lead in the polling numbers. Yet here we are, a little over a month from balloting time, and the latest polls show the race to be a dead heat with Obama actually having a small lead. What happened?

Could it be that the Republican brand of politics just isn’t selling too well? That the GOP way of fixing the economy by giving tax cuts to the rich while sharply cutting Government spending for the poor, sick and elderly, is not the way many people view reality. You know, that pesky 47% of us always looking for a Government handout. Including veterans from Mid-East wars with brain damage, blindness, missing limbs, or PTSD that insist on asking the Veterans Administration for benefits. Or perhaps those obnoxious seniors always carrying-on about their Medicare or Social Security benefits being tampered with. Or perhaps those receiving food stamps, where the GOP wants to make substantial cuts. After all, if you have no money to feed yourself, is it really the Government’s responsibility to keep you from starving to death.

Or perhaps people are objecting to the Republican brand when it comes to social issues. Like the Republican platform that would not allow any abortions, even in cases of rape, incest, or where the mothers life is at peril. Or the GOP guy from Missouri running for the U.S. Senate, claiming that a woman’s body would take care of her in cases of “legitimate” rape. (I would hate to see what illegitimate rape looks like.) Or the Republican continuing war against gay rights and gay marriage. Thus, in a year when a bad economy should enable the GOP to sweep into power, Republicans, as I said previously, have gone so far over to the dark side of right-wing whackoism, that the race for both President and Congress remains exceedingly close. I still think that Romney will likely win, because he has more billionaires willing to spend whatever it takes to get him elected. But by this point in time it shouldn’t even be close, except for the Republican brand of extremism. And as I’ve said many times, Mitt Romney remains the best candidate the billionaires could buy.

 

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AT THE WATER’S EDGE

There used to be a saying, back in the day, that politics stopped at the water’s edge. What it meant to convey was that although there could be great debates and divisiveness about domestic policy and issues, when it came to foreign affairs, we should always present a united front to the rest of the world. Liberal or conservative, Republican or Democrat, when it came to foreign policy issues, it was in the best interests of our country that we would all act as one. This thinking stemmed largely from the time shortly before World War II, when our foreign policy was basically isolationism. Although storm clouds indicating mammoth wars were about to begin in Europe and the Pacific, most Republicans and some Democrats too, believed that having vast oceans on our east and west coasts would somehow protect us from becoming involved in those conflicts. The Roosevelt Administration tried desperately to assist England as it fought for its very existence against the maniacal evil of Nazi Germany. But a largely isolationist Congress refused to let Roosevelt engage Hitler militarily.

Of course, the folly of isolationism came abruptly to an end in December 1941 when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. The Atlantic and Pacific oceans would not give us immunity from being involved in the rest of the world’s affairs. Thereafter, a new breed of Republicans, known as internationalists, started getting elected to office, and isolationism was supposedly a discredited and dead issue. As I stated earlier, foreign policy was deemed to be at the water’s edge by this new wave of Republicanism,  where neither party would criticize the other on such matters. That began to unravel around the 1960s when Republicans began using foreign policy as a campaign issue, by stating that the Democrats were “soft on communism” especially when dealing with the old USSR and Red China. Those were the times when the cries from right-wing circles went forth such as: “Better dead than red, or lets kill a Commie for Jesus.” Ronald Reagan especially exploited the soft on communism theme in winning the presidency twice in the 1980s. We probably spend about one or two trillion dollars extra in defending against the “red menace.” In the end, the old USSR collapsed under its own unmanageable weight, and Red China became a market, instead of Marxist economy, and today is one of our largest trading partners, as well as holding about a trillion dollars of our debt. The Viet-Nam war, where we lost about 58,500 men, to say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese that were killed, was another exercise in the futility of fighting the “red menace.” Today we also have extensive trade agreement with the government of Viet-Nam, the same government we had fought against in vain decades before. Funny how unforgivable irony can be when recounting the foibles of man’s history.

All this came to mind a few days ago when Mitt Romney was fast to assault President Obama with the charge that having a weak foreign policy led to the deaths of 4 US ambassadorial members in Libya. He made this charge, of course, before any facts were known or verified. Once the facts were known, Romney was proven wrong, but apparently little things like facts will not dissuade the Republicans from attacking Obama”s foreign policy initiatives. No more stopping at the water’s edge this time around. Of course, to be fair, the Democrats strongly attacked George W. Bush’s handling of the Iraqi war, so I guess both parties have waded into the water and it’s now up to their necks. But getting back to Libya, as well as other Arab or Islamic nations, it would be useful to understand the rage, turmoil and protests going on against any US presence in that part of the world. To do this, lets look at the facts this time.

Arab or Islamic countries in the Mid-East (Iran is Islamic but not Arab) have some of the most wretched economies in the world. Living conditions are often deplorable, and the the unemployment rates, especially for young men, are through the roof. Thus, you have tons of young men with tons energy, but with no outlets such as job opportunities, to release that energy. For tens if not hundreds of thousands of young men in their late teens, or twenties, or even thirties, their days consist of a dismal process of sitting around with no hopes for decent employment or a satisfying future. They have already given up on any prospects that their lives will, in any way, ever amount to anything. Their futures have already been taken from them. Thus, these young men with no hope or prospects, make fertile breeding grounds for the vile and hate-mongering radical islamists and terrorists, ever eager to wreck vengeance on the US, Israel and the West in general.Those that seek power through hate, as has been shown throughout history, will always look for willing followers among those that believe they have no future. And this is exactly what happened in Libya, Egypt and throughout the Mid-East. Using the slightest pretext, such as the making of a piece of garbage anti-Islamic film, tens of thousands of protesters, almost all young men, took to the streets in rage and anger, burning American and Israeli flags, setting fires to Embassy buildings, and in the worst case scenario, murdering 4 innocent diplomats in Libya. That rage and protest gave young men who had no other prospects, a new purpose for living. If it wasn’t for the pretext of a bad, hate-filled movie, the violent protesters would have come up with some other excuse to wreck their vengeance. And to try to score political points off those events could be considered perhaps a new low in mudslinging in American politics.

Just one more point I want to make about the presidential race. A few weeks back Mitt Romney  made the curious statement before a campaign crowd, that if young people couldn’t find decent jobs, they should borrow money from their parents and go into business for themselves. And I thought, of course, why didn’t I think of that when I was young. All those years I worked for someone as an employee, I could have started my own business and been the boss instead. I could have asked my parents to loan me their entire life savings, all $164.82 worth, and gone into the venture capital business like His Mittness did. Again, why didn’t I think of that?

 

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THE BETTER SALESMAN

So all the conventions and hoopla are over and the race for President has started in earnest. Watching the rapt attention that convention delegates gave to their leaders’ speeches, one could see the adoration of the true believers that I’ve written about previously, and the blind trust they had that their guy, if elected, will truly transform life on this planet, and make it so much better for all of us. Now the race for the the White House goes into full throttle, and in the end it will likely be the better salesman who also has the most cash, that winds up sitting in the oval office. The one that can more effectively sell his visions and promises for America’s future, most of which, of course, will never come true. And by the way, is everyone enjoying those mean-spirited and nasty TV commercials blasting away at the other side with at least 95% fiction. They’re only going to increase in volume and viciousness over the next 8 weeks. In any event, I thought it would be useful to summarize what each party has politically accomplished over the years to improve our society, so that we don’t have to rely on those fictitious ads in deciding who to vote for. Lets start with the Democrats.

When Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 the great depression was in full swing, and the unemployment rate topped 25%. Tens of millions of people had just about lost all hope for a better future, or that anyone could help them, least of all, their Government. Roosevelt quickly ushered in the New Deal, which marked the first time in our history that a Government stated objective would be to play an active role regarding the economic welfare of its citizens. The New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration which together put millions of unemployed back to work and receiving a paycheck. Also created was Social Security, which for the first time established a federal pension system for the elderly. Other accomplishments of the New Deal were laws establishing the rights of workers to legally form unions and strike if necessary; unemployment insurance so people out-of-work wouldn’t necessarily starve or become homeless; workman’s compensation for employees injured on the job; the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee Wall Street stock and bond trading which led to the depression in the first place through excessive speculation, and much more. Perhaps Roosevelt’s greatest accomplishment, however, was the establishment of a decisive federal role in the welfare and economy of our country.

Fast forward now to 1961 when John Kennedy took office. Though Kennedy’s term was tragically cut short by his assassination, he began the long march toward equality for all Americans, and especially black people who were denied basic civil rights, mostly in the South. Segregation laws throughout the South were increasingly being challenged, sometimes violently, as some civil rights protestors lost their lives during demonstrations. Blacks were often denied the right to vote through most of the South, and JFK pushed for a voting rights law which came to fruition in 1964 under Lyndon Johnson, after Kennedy lost his life in November 1963. (Interestingly, southern states justified their racial and voting rights discrimination laws on the basis of “states rights,” i.e., the federal government had no constitutional right to interfere with how individuals states governed their citizens. Not unlike tea party members of today screaming that the federal government has no role in the welfare of the people. Only the states do. As the old adage goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.) As I mentioned LBJ brought the voting rights bill to success in 1964, and for the first time, blacks were able to vote in large numbers. Once that occurred, formal segregation, or Jim Crow laws began to crumble, and blacks throughout the country, after a hundred years of semi-slavery since the end of the Civil War, began to enjoy the freedom of equality.

LBJ’s accomplishments didn’t end with passage of the voting rights act. Working with a largely Democratic Congress, he was able to enact two major health care laws, Medicare for the elderly, and Medicaid for the poor. Also established were food stamps for the poor, which currently puts food on the table for over 45 million Americans. Even the most rabid anti-government types are fearful of advocating reversal of these acts. Unfortunately, LBJ allowed us to get hopelessly bogged down in the quagmire of the Viet-Nam war, which greatly tarnished his reputation and destroyed his chances for re-election. Jimmy Carter’s presidency has largely been maligned because the economy was in poor shape at the time. But he did manage to get Israel and Egypt to make peace, which has had huge consequences for the Mid-East until this day. Bill Clinton gave us the best 8 years of peace and prosperity in my lifetime. Barack Obama in his first term, has given us universal health care (if it survives the Republican onslaught) and greater financial oversight over the banking business. However the economy remains in poor shape.

Now lets see what the Republicans have given us. Basically it can be summed up thusly- tax cuts for the rich, trickle down economics, anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights, and anti-gun control laws. So why is the GOP commanding at least half, if not more, of the vote, and is within striking distance of taking over the White House and Congress, in a few weeks. I believe the reasons can be summed up in two words: redistribution and evangelicalism. On the financial side the Republicans appeal to people’s basic greed and fear of being taken advantage of. Many Republicans view the Government as a vast redistribution point, where a person’s hard earned income is taken away in taxes and given to those who receive any form of Government assistance. After all, the thinking goes, anyone receiving welfare, food stamps, unemployment checks, etc., has to be either lazy or stupid or both. Ronald Reagan called them “welfare queens” and made huge political profit as a result. Newt Gingrich has called Barack Obama the food stamp President. Never mind that Defense, interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare take up 85% of the Government’s budget. In the minds of average Republicans, their tax money all goes to those that refuse to take care of themselves, and Republicans are perpetually irate over that.

The other half of Republican successes come from religious fanatics, better known as evangelicals. They interpret both the old and new testaments literally, (regardless of the huge number of contradictions), and hence, their fiercely anti-abortion and anti-gay rights stances. In a country where more than half the population denies the existence of evolution, the GOP has found a rich mine-field of religious fanatics to enlist in their cause. Financial greed and selfishness, coupled with bible thumpers and holy rollers, and the GOP believes it has a winning combination for this year’s election. And why shouldn’t they. It has frequently worked for them in the past. Given that the economy is still in poor shape, it may very well work for them once again.

 

 

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ADORATION BY THE MASSES

Watching parts of the Republican convention last week, I was particularly fascinated when the cameras swept to the the faces of the thousands of delegates in attendance, as various speechmakers gave their orations. For many, those faces were of pure, rapt adoration, as the promises being made would surely transform their lives into eternal bliss. Just elect the Romney/Ryan ticket, and thereafter, the sun will shine, the birds will chirp, and every morning we can tiptoe thru the tulips with carefree abandon. All the orator had to do was say: United States of America, we’re number one, and the crowd would erupt into screaming hysterics. Sort of like at a football game. It reminded me of films made by Nazi propagandists during the 1930s of Hitler’s motorcades through the hearts of Berlin or Nuremberg. Thousands would line the streets as young frauleins, with faces beaming in sheer adoration, would toss flowers at Der Fuher’s motorcade. Of course all that adoration turned to dust in the 1940s, as the war progressed and Allied forces were bombing German cities into piles of rubble.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned after all these years, it’s this. If you’re unhappy with your life, or things aren’t going well, there is only one person that can make the changes needed to rectify the situation, and you all know who that person is. Yes, you can get help from outside sources, but it sure as hell won’t be from some lowlife politician.

That’s not to insinuate that there aren’t consequences regarding who gets elected to run our government. For example, in the year 2000, Al Gore was elected President, but was not allowed to take office. Instead the Supreme Court handed the Presidency to George Bush through a highly questionable ruling. Bush was determined to get rid of Saddam Hussein, then the unquestionably evil despot ruling Iraq. Bush initiated the war in Iraq (a war Al Gore would never have started) which did depose Saddam who was later executed. But the cost of this war was almost a trillion dollars, plus the loss of over 6000 American military and civilian lives, plus another 30,000 seriously wounded Americans whose lives are effectively over because of injuries such as blindness, brain damage, or being paralyzed from the neck down, etc. To say nothing of the over 100,000 Iraqi lives that were lost. But without the war Saddam Hussein would likely still be in power, so one has to weigh the costs and make his or her own determination as to whether it was all worth it.

In any event, watching the convention last week, one could see the expressions of the true believers that I wrote about last time, on the faces of many of the delegates, and I’m sure we’ll see the same expressions of pure adoration when the Democratic convention starts tomorrow. So I thought it might be worthwhile to look at some actual facts surrounding this upcoming election. You know, those pesky little things that politicians like to mumble over when making soaring promises that never seem to materialize. Take Medicare, for example, a subject I’m quite familiar with since I’ve been on it for quite awhile. Medicare is a reasonably good plan but nothing great. It doesn’t cover stuff such as eye exams, eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentistry and a bunch of other stuff that seniors increasingly depend on with advancing age. Plus there’s a significant co-pay with every doctor’s visit. Every senior knows that if one depends on Medicare, one must also acquire a medigap policy with additional premiums to pay, in order to cover what Medicare does not. While Medicare premiums are not unreasonable, once the cost of a medigap policy is factored in, costs start to add up. But costs to the government are going up even faster, so Paul Ryan has a plan to address this issue, that is so convoluted that I won’t bore you with the details. The bottom line, however, is that new seniors entering Medicare would have to pay a lot higher share of the doctor’s bills. That’s it, plain and simple. The Democrat’s plan is to pretend that Medicare is not going broke, and keep it as it is.

Both positions are ridiculous, because neither party will face the true issues. Of course Medicare costs will skyrocket as people live longer, baby boomers for example, and as new and expensive medications and therapies come onto the market. But the answer is not to make vulnerable seniors, especially those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder, pay thousands of dollars more than they can ill afford, as the Republican plan would stipulate. The solution is simply to raise the age of eligibility to say 70, instead of 65 as it is today. Raising the eligibility age would be entirely justified, because life spans have significantly increased over the years since Medicare became law in the 1960s. The same is true with Social Security which is also going broke if nothing is done. Just raise the retirement age, commensurate with increased life spans and the problem is solved. Yet both parties will spend tens of millions of dollars on obnoxious and obscene TV commercials, accusing the other side of destroying Medicare and Social Security. Such is the nature of politics these days.

The important thing to remember is that when people vote for President, they’re also voting to bring in the entire Democratic or Republican establishment to run the country. That can be a frightening thought. For example, the Republican platform has a section advocating the total elimination of all abortions, even in cases of rape or incest or where the life of the mother is threatened. When Romney is elected President the people who wrote that policy will be brought in to oversee social issues. (Romney has said he would advocate allowing abortions in those limited cases. Who said he wasn’t all heart.) It’s also interesting to note the men who drive up in black limos and go into these conventions through the side entrance, as quietly as possible. These are the multi-millionaires and billionaires that fund the Presidential campaigns, and they expect big-time payback when their guy is elected. Currently, there are about 14 billionaires in the Romney camp, all old and religiously fanatical white men. Of course Democrats have their billionaire backers too, so it might be worthwhile to research out which set of rich white guys who will really run the country, you want controlling your lives. In any event, as I’ve said previously, Mitt Romney is the best candidate the billionaires could buy thus far.

 

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