Monthly Archives: November 2012

SUSTAINABILITY

As waterways go, the Colorado River doesn’t get anywhere near the publicity it deserves. Great todo is made over both the Mississippi and Missouri rivers on a continual basis. They are revered in songs and poems as well as in movies and on stage. Mark Twain based almost his entire literary career on writing about life along the Mississippi. Yet the Colorado gets hardly mentioned. Which is unfortunate because the lives and livelihoods of tens of millions of people living in the Western United States, indeed their very existences, depend upon the clear, cool waters of the Colorado River.

The Colorado begins in the northern Rockies and wends its way through 7 states-Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado to the north, and New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California to the south- and then flows into northern Mexico, and finally empties into the Gulf of California. Some 30 million people along the way, are dependent upon its waters. Major cities like Las Vegas (almost 2 million people in the Las Vegas valley) and Phoenix, Tucson, San Diego and Los Angles (population almost 13 million in the greater L.A. area) depend almost solely on the Colorado for their drinking water. Los Angles and Phoenix use the river’s waters to generate much of their electricity. And of course, vast ranches, farmlands, industries and hotels along the way would not exist if not for the Colorado’s life-sustaining flow. The vast Central Valley in California from whence most of the nation’s produce and beef comes, would soon become a desert without the Colorado’s waters. So why is this noteworthy at this time? Because the Colorado River is slowly but steadily beginning to run dry, and a time will come in the not too distant future, when it can no longer sustain life in the west, or for our country, as we know it.

A good example of the water problems we face in the west (except for the Pacific Northwest) is right here in Las Vegas, which is one of the driest places on the entire planet. In a good year, the sky may dribble out about 3.5 inches of rain. Basically Las Vegas is a desert, and was certainly never meant to sustain life for almost 2 million people. About 200 would be more like it. Technically, L.V. gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn gets it from the Colorado River. But water levels in Lake Mead have been dropping faster than Michele Bachman’s popularity ratings when she ventured into presidential politics. Besides over-population, a good part of the problem is the severe drought that the southwestern U.S. has been experiencing for over 15 years, with no end in sight. Droughts can sometimes last for 25-50 years or longer, and this one shows no sign of abating. Nevertheless, people party-on in Las Vegas as if the water-scarcity problem never existed. I guess they will do so until one day, they’ll  turn on the water facet and nothing will come out. It’s just human nature to live for the short term.

The Colorado gets most of its flow from the winter snowfall in the Northern Rockies. In the spring, when a heavy snow accumulation from the winter starts melting, the river’s waters are replenished. Unfortunately, snowfalls in most recent winters have been paltry, leading to a continual reduction in river flows. The most immediate problem for those of us living in Las Vegas, is the fact that water levels in Lake Mead have been dropping so rapidly, that the intake piping that transports the water to the city will be above sea level. So the county has been feverishly trying to build new intake piping at a far lower sea level, and have it completed by 2013, when it’s estimated that water levels will go below today’s water intake system. Meanwhile, this fall’s weather in the northern Rockies, as well as here inLas Vegas, has been exceptionally mild, with nary a snow flake in sight. But, as I’ve said, everyone continues to party-on, without a care in the world. Living for the short term.

Compacts have been written and signed by the 7 states involved, allocating to each, as well as to Mexico, its share of the Colorado’s precious waters. But these allocations become more difficult with each passing year as the river flows become less. There is a new book out called “River Notes” by Wade Davis explaining all this in much greater detail, for those of you that may be interested. In the book the author goes into other factors that are draining the river’s water supply, such as the 100-plus golf courses in Phoenix ( plenty of them here in Las Vegas too), and the 250 million western acres devoted toward raising 500 million head of cattle. It takes mind-boggling amounts of water to grow alfalfa fields for the cattle to feed on. Even my own development here in L.V. wastes considerable water. Private lawns, as well as common areas, still grow grass which necessitates an enormous amount of watering in 110-115 degree summer heat. The author concludes that unless there is a drastic shift in western life and industry, the Colorado River will decline to a point where it can no longer sustain that life style.

There are only 2 good things that I can find about growing old. One is, that past the age of 70 you normally don’t have to have colonoscopies anymore. ( You may laugh, but for us seniors, that’s huge.) The other is that past a certain point in age, one doesn’t have to make long range plans. Thus, if the Colorado runs out of water one day, there’s a good chance I may not be around to experience the ensuing hardships. As for my children and grandchildren, they all live on the East Coast or the Pacific Northwest where water is not a problem. So let’s party-on like there’s no tomorrow which there won’t be sometime in the future. Hopefully past my time on this planet.

 

 

 

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VULNERABILITY

Whoever said that old age was not for sissies hit the nail right on the head. As one ages, inevitable aches and pains start creeping into one’s muscles, joints, knees, ankles, necks, shoulders and other parts of what’s left of your body. You slowly but surely begin accepting these pains as they become interwoven into into your daily life routines. After awhile, it becomes nearly impossible to imagine life without them. They become your constant companion, almost certainly for the rest of your life. Although I am generally considered to be in good health, unquestionably, I have my share of maladies. Among my list of ailments are asthma, allergies, arthritis, and that’s just the A’s. If I went through the whole alphabet, I would need a blog longer than the Dead Sea Scrolls. Along with the physical ailments comes a mental degradation, as you realize you’re no longer strong enough to take on various physical challenges or threats. Thus, as one ages, invariably, a foreboding sense of vulnerability continues to creep into one’s psyche and grows in strength. All part of the fearfulness you often see in seniors’ behavior.

One of my chief physical impairments is a loss of hearing, or as they called it back in the day, deafness. Yes, I have to wear hearing aids, which are not only obscenely expensive, but of marginal effectiveness. People with normal hearing capabilities usually don’t realize that hearing aids come nowhere close to restoring ones hearing capabilities to what they once were before hearing loss began to set in. In a crowded restaurant or other similar environment, they are practically useless. That’s because hearing aids magnify noises indiscriminately. So dishes clattering, conversations of people across the room, and all other sounds are magnified to the same degree as the words being spoken by the person sitting next to you. It’s your demanding job to try to hear the conversations of the people at your table, above the interference from the other sounds emanating in the room, and being picked up by your hearing aids. Often, an impossible task. But like everything else, you muddle through and rationalize. After all, it’s a lot better to have hearing loss than blindness. But, like all other disabilities, it feeds one’s sense of growing vulnerability.

Since we have lived in a seniors community, we have seen much disease and death over the years. Just a couple of days ago, the obits in our local paper carried the news that one of our residents had just died of lung cancer. He was 10 years my junior; so I figure that as long as I’m looking at the green side of the lawn every day, I’m ahead of the game. A few years back, a man we knew quite well, developed liver cancer in his early 60s. He was a really good guy, well-liked by everyone, and had a strong thirst for life. Hence he decided to fight the cancer tooth and nail. This meant heavy doses of chemo, with all its debilitating effects, being in and out of the hospital almost every week, and an array of non-ending surgical procedures. It did extend his life by a few months, but at an enormous cost as to the quality of that life. In the end, the inevitable occurred. I think if I were put in similar circumstances, at my age, I would opt not to undergo the chemo or any other therapy, and just let nature take its course.

This man, after he was diagnosed, told me that no one in his family had ever made it past 60. Bad genes, apparently. The fact that he had made it into his early 60s, was for him, something of a triumph. But as I get older, I see more clearly the role that genetic inheritance plays in determining one’s longevity. We know people well into their 80s, who seem to plow through life with little physical difficulty. Others have aged well before their time. It’s all in the genes. As for myself, I feel that I have a lousy genetic inheritance, (to say nothing of an even worse financial inheritance) since everyone in my family history died young, save for my father. I try to compensate by going to the gym every day and working out like a dog, but I think, in the end, poor genes will trump exercise. In the meantime, I just take it one day at a time, and continue to look for the green side of the grass.

The fact that seniors instinctively know they have far more mileage behind them than in front of them, is often what makes them so fearful and oblivious to all but their own needs. Many spend most of their remaining lives going from the doctors offices (they usually see a multitude of doctors) to the dentist office. Most cling to life with every ounce of their remaining strength. In Las Vegas, It’s not uncommon to see seniors dragging along oxygen tanks as the come to play the slots in smoke filled casinos. Some are in wheel chairs, or can only get around with walkers or canes. But they come because it gives them some form of entertainment, to say nothing of the casino noises and hordes of people throwing their money away on the machines or the craps tables. At least it gives them a chance to get out of the house.

I believe the fear of death is mostly rooted in the fear of the unknown. What is on the other side, if anything. Anecdotal evidence from those that have undergone near-death- experiences would indicate that the soul does enter a different dimension, one usually described as being  paradise. But there is obviously no sex, no food, no drink, no TV. So I’m thinking-how much of a paradise can it be? You would think that by now, some sort of a skype-like arrangement would have been set up between us and the departed, so we could know exactly what to expect. And your mother could continue to nag you from beyond the grave. In the meantime, I, along with a bunch of other seniors, will continue to value the time we have left above ground in this dimension.

 

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MORE AFTERTHOUGHTS

I know that some of you, upon reading the title, are shouting out-“Enough with the election, already. It’s coming out of my ears.” But I believe there are certain metaphysical and existential implications which haven’t been explored, but which greatly influenced the outcome. So if you’ll bear with me one more time, we’ll do a little exploring in those areas.

To recap what I wrote previously, Obama went into the campaign with one of the worst records an incumbent seeking reelection could have. High unemployment, an economy that was almost on life support, oceans of red ink due to huge budget deficits, and a weak foreign policy were just a few of the negatives on the top 10 list of reasons to not reelect him. In addition, Obama’s opponent was lucid, an excellent speaker, and looked presidential. But Romney was was also saddled down with a glaring set of negatives, not the least of which was being tied to the very large evangelical wing of the Republican party. If Romney was to curry favor with these religious fanatics, as he believed he had to, it basically meant owning a campaign that would be dissing minorities, especially Hispanics because of vehement anti-immigrant policies; women because of anti-abortion and anti-birth control policies; and the gay community because of the GOP’s basic homophobic fears. In addition, there was that core values thingy, where Romney was for universal health-care before he was against it, for legalized abortion rights before he was against them, for gun control before he was against it, etc. etc. I guess the GOP believed that most voters have short memories as well as attention spans, which is probably true.

So there you had it; 2 candidates that turned out to be the abysmal and the the abysmaler. ( Don’t bother telling me that’s not a word.) The choice came down to picking the least abysmal contender. On some level the public understood that, and early polls showed the race was essentially tied. Then came the Democratic convention around Labor Day, and Bill Clinton gave a rousing speech on Obama’s behalf, which led to a bump in the poll numbers for the incumbent. Clinton who now goes around with a permanent halo over his head, (where’s Monica Lewinski when you need her) probably had more to do with Obama’s reelection than anyone else. In any event, Obama maintained a small lead going into the first presidential debate in October. Possibly because of that, Obama decided it was siesta time instead of debate time, while Romney came on like gangbusters. Democrats and Obama supporters in general, were beside themselves in anguish, believing that the President had forfeited the election with his anemic performance. Overnight the polls began shifting in Romney’s favor and continued is his upward trajectory. Obama tried to recoup in the next 2 debates but the damage was already done. It seemed like victory was within Romney’s grasp. And then, as if by magic, the metaphysical factor kicked in.

Days after the official end of the hurricane season, which is October 31st, a powerful storm named Sandy, after killing several hundred people in the Caribbean, came barreling up the East Coast. It smashed into the New York-New Jersey area causing well over 100 deaths, and massive devastation and destruction. Some people, even now, are without power. With about a week to go before the election, Sandy gave the President an opportunity to act…..presidential. Obama took the day off from campaigning and went to New Jersey, met with Republican governor Chris Christie, and pledged all available Government assistance to helped the people affected by this tragedy. Christie put his arm around the Obama, thanked him profusely, and was generous in his praise of the President. It should be noted that Chris Christie is one of the shining new stars in the Republican party. Earlier this year, even the grand duchess of right-wing whackoville, none other than Ann Coulter herself, had endorsed Christie for president and pushed for his nomination. Now here he was making kind remarks about Obama.

The next day, Republicans across the nation were outraged by the Governor’s kind words. They called in to talk radio, went on TV, etc. to express their apoplexy over Christie actually being civil to the President of the United States. Didn’t he know that when it came to Obama, it was every Republican’s mission to bash and demonize him? Being civil? How un-Republican was that? Christie, who is still working 24/7 in recovery efforts for the people of New Jersey, as far as Republicans were concerned, went from star status to the dog house. But the chance to act presidential was therapeutic for Obama. Romney’s momentum in the polls was stopped and Obama’s fortunes began to rise. The rest, as they say at Yankee Stadium, is history.  Polls taken of voters after the Obama victory, found that 42% stated that Obama’s presidential appearance with Governor Christie the day after Sandy struck, was a significant factor in making their voting choice. It was as if the universe was giving the middle finger to Romney, who until then, had led such a charmed and privileged life.

It should be noted, however, that being on the winning side of an election is a lot like being in the home town of the winning team of the world series or supper bowl. There is great euphoria the night of the victory, singing and dancing, and parades and celebrations for a few days after that. Then reality sets in with full force. You still have to drag yourself out of bed in the morning, and get stuck in rush hour traffic as you schlep your way into the office. The screaming little ones in your family have to get fed, the chores have to be done, the house has to be cleaned, food shopping is necessary, bills have to be paid, and your rotten-to-the-core teenager will continually remind you of how clueless you are as to what really matters in this world. People will get sick, some will die, and babies will be born. For almost everyone, the rhythms and patterns of their lives will continue unchanged no matter who is elected. In the end, most people will come to realize that their successes or failures, their joys or sorrows, and the end results of the lives they lead, will depend almost totally on the nature of their actions, or inactions as the case may be.

One last thing. The Senate race in Massachusetts resulted in the election of a woman named Elizabeth Warren. For those of you unfamiliar with her background, she was a Harvard professor who President Obama picked as the first chief of the Consumer Financial Protection Agency. For the dying breed of true blue liberals in this country, she is considered a rock star. Except for Barack Obama in 2008, no one has been hailed as the true defender of the liberal faith since Bobby Kennedy, before was shot and killed in 1968, the way Elizabeth Warren is being hailed today by liberal followers. She is already considered as a powerful candidate for the Democratic nomination in 2016. (Don’t, for a moment, think that the race for 2016 didn’t start on November 7th, the day after the election.) In any event, wouldn’t it be neat, if the choice in 2016 came down to Elizabeth Warren for the Democrats, and Sarah Palin for the Republicans. Now that would be a race worth writing about.

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AFTERTHOUGHTS

The fact that Barack Obama edged out a narrow victory in this election was nothing short of a minor miracle. The last time a president won re-election with an unemployment rate near 8% was in 1936. Then there’s the fact that the country is bleeding red ink with annual trillion plus dollars of budget deficits, and a combined overall red-ink tab exceeding $16 trillion. Let us also not forget that the entire economy is one step away from being on life-support as it barely limps along from one month to the next; and the real estate market, is for the most part, still in the dumpster, with housing prices still well below par, amid a continuing rate of foreclosures. On the international front, the recent fiasco in Libya, where the ambassador and 3 of his aides were murdered by terrorists because of a failure to provide adequate protection, would normally be enough sink any presidential candidate’s hopes. Then there’s Iran on the very cusp of developing nuclear bombs as they defy our puny attempts to shut down their nuclear capabilities, and the risks posed by the growing military strength of China and Russia which we also can’t stop. Although in China’s case, they’re really isn’t much of a risk since they own over a trillion dollars of our debt which would suddenly become worthless should they try any funny staff. To say nothing of the fact that we are such a lucrative market for them to dump their shlock goods on. The clothing aisles in Wal-Mart would be barren if not for cheap Chinese imports.

So how did Obama pull off this miracle. Certainly not by getting the white male vote which went to Romney by 20 points. But Obama achieved a 12 point plurality in receiving the white female vote, mainly because of the Republican’s almost fanatical anti-abortion position. Romney could have significantly cut into Obama’s lead among women had been willing to utter just one sentence such as: “If elected, I will NOT appoint a justice to the Supreme Court that would vote to overturn Roe V. Wade.” With that one statement, Romney would have likely siphoned off enough women’s votes to give him the election. But he couldn’t make himself do it, mainly out fear that his base of white evangelicals (read religious fanatics) would be so turned off by such a statement that he would lose their votes. A false assumption, as it were, since these people would never, under any circumstance, vote for Obama. The rest of the coalition that Democrats were able to stitch together, was comprised of young people under 30, and minority groups such as Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. The GOP, after all these years, has made relatively little effort to secure votes from these groups, and it cost them heavily.

About 95% of the black vote went to Obama, understandably, given the pride blacks felt in seeing one of their own in the Oval Office. But where Romney really lost the election was among Hispanic voters that went for Obama by an incredible 71%. They were the key element in several swing states such as Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and my own state, Nevada. All of these states went for Obama, albeit by narrow margins provided by the Latino vote. Back in the fun days of the Republican debates, each of those crazy kids up on stage were out to prove their anti-illegal immigration chops by trying to out-do each in how tough they would be on that subject. One of the main goals of the Tea-Party movement, in addition to slashing Government spending, was to stop illegal-immigration in its tracks, and deport as many illegals as possible. In those heady days, it was thought that Republican success at the polls was highly dependent on currying favor with Tea-Partiers, and Romney was no exception. During one of the debates, Romney, again trying to show how tough his anti-illegal stance was, made the curious statement that anyone here illegally should self-deport him or herself back to Mexico. (Like that would ever happen.) It seems that upon hearing that, Hispanics were not in a very forgiving mood, and as I said, 71% voted against the Republican candidate. Asians, because they were experiencing the lowest rate of unemployment among any voting bloc, also went heavily for Obama. Altogether, blacks, hispanics and asians comprised more than 25% of the votes cast, and further illustrated the GOP’s continuing problems with minorities.

There is one more factor I feel is significant, and that is Romney’s inability to connect, on a personal level, with the average man and woman. Almost all of us go through life with feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, weakness, fear, anger issues, depression at times, and even a sense of personal failure, etc., although we may not admit or show these feelings to the rest of the world (except maybe to a psychologist, if you have the money.) Is there anyone out there that has not had some or all of these feelings from time to time. But not Mitt Romney. He was born rich, handsome and smart. He was an honor student in high school and college, which, by the way, was Harvard. After graduating college, he plowed through the world of finance without a setback. He eventually become boss in a huge venture capital operation and earned hundreds of millions of dollars. He has a picture perfect marriage and 5 sons that any parent would die for. And he wears these incredibly successful life experiences like a suit of armor that cannot be penetrated by the slings and arrows of any possible misfortune. No self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy there. If there is any chink in Mitt Romney’s armor, it’s the fact that there are no chinks in his armor.

Who can identify with such a person? The guy behind the counter at your local 7-11?  The truck  driver that has driven hundreds of miles to his destination, and now has to schlep all the heavy boxes he was carrying off the truck? Has anyone, in the history of mankind, ever led a more perfect life? I kind of doubt it. All this abundance has shown thru in the hugely self-confident way that Romney conducts and projects himself. Not that Obama hasn’t also led a privileged life. But Obama goes to great lengths to identify with the average person. He openly roots for the Chicago White Sox. He makes his picks well-known for the NCAA college basketball finals, known as March Madness. He takes his girls to local ice cream stores or hamburger joints in Washington. But Romney’s life has been so perfect that he is just unable to make a personal connection with his fellow citizens. In the end, I believe this went a long way toward crushing his dreams of sitting in the Oval Office.

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FINALLY OVER

At long last, it’s finally coming to an end. Today is the final day we’ll have to put up with all those vile, obnoxious, mudslinging TV ads; all the mendacious junk mail assaulting  our mailboxes every day advocating for every candidate from state assemblyman to president; and all the equally vile and obnoxious attack phone calls invading the privacy of our homes. The phone calls got so bad that I have had to unplug the phone in our bedroom when we turned in for the night. I was getting calls before 5 A.M or after 11 at night; probably from East Coast campaign workers oblivious to the 3- hour difference between Eastern and Pacific Coast times. But, as I’ve said, what started well over a year ago, finally comes to it’s conclusion tonight.

I do have to admit that I sort of miss the-carnival-is-coming-to-town atmosphere of the Republican debates that began in 2011. There, up-on-stage were the carnival actors or clowns if you prefer. There was the dingbat element represented by Michele Bachman and wacky Ricky Santorum, the old crank that was Ron Paul, rotund Newt the Lovable, the bible thumper Rick Perry, and, of course, His Mittness, who by appearing to act with some clarity and sanity out-lasted all of them and secured the Republican nomination, and is now on the very edge of becoming our next president. There was also one other candidate, Jon Huntsman, former governor of Utah. But his problem was that he spoke with such common sense and rationality, that Republican primary voters just couldn’t handle someone that didn’t feed into their world of delusion. Therefore Huntsman wasn’t able to gain any traction, and finally had to drop out of the race. Those were the fun days of the 2012 election, but now it has become a colossal and nauseating drag.

If nothing else, however, this election has richly displayed both the coarsening and polarization of modern-day America. The mean-spirited venom that has spewed forth from from each candidate and their surrogates, from president, to congressional, and to state and local races speaks to both social conditions. First, there is the mind-boggling $3 billion that will have been spent on all these candidates when it finally ends tomorrow. How many hungry people in the world could that $3 billion have fed; how much infrastructure, water or sewer pipes, electrical grids, roads and bridges, etc. could that money have built or repaired. When you think of all the good that money could have been used for versus the garbage ads some of you may be removing from your mailboxes even as I type this, you can only conclude-what a waste. About $2 billion of that amount will have gone into the presidential race where both men are now so hopelessly compromised and beholden to their fat-cat donors, that it’s hard to see how anything meaningful can be accomplished for the rest of the country.

The polarization of America can be seen in the fact that a day before the election, all polls show the race to be a 50-50 toss-up. About half the electorate believes the answer to our huge problems is to severely slash Government spending (except for  military spending),  and cut tax rates that will primarily benefit the rich, while the other half believes that Government is needed to help the poor, the sick, the unemployed and the elderly. Half believes that we should edge toward a Christian theocracy by banning abortion and gay rights and gay marriage, while the other half maintains that we should hold onto a secular society. There appears to be no meeting of the minds or a desire for compromise on either side. So even if Romney wins tomorrow (as I suspect he will) it will be a divided nation with a divided Government. The Democrats will have at least as many Senators as needed to mount a successful filibuster, which could throw a monkey wrench into a President Romney’s agenda. If Obama should manage to squeak out a victory the same would hold true for the Republicans ability to filibuster in the Senate. In the the end we are likely to have a Government that barely muddles through the process of governing and achieves nothing meaningful.

A good example of the coarsening of America could be seen after the 2008 elections. After it was clear that Obama was the victor, there was a huge run on gun stores to purchase as many guns and as much ammo  as people could stuff into their trucks. Now buying a gun is not like buying a loaf of bread. A gun goes for around $500 a pop and can increase in cost into the thousands. Yet millions of people, most of them of modest means, were buying firearms as if they were loaves of bread. In their minds, with the Democrats in power, tanks would soon be rolling down their streets, with armed military going door-to-door, and taking away everyone’s firearms. These people would be defenseless, and then soon shipped off to concentration camps if they opposed the administration. Of course, the gun mentality is just one example of the coarsening of our society. Everything from the degradation of our pop culture to the lack of civility in our everyday dealings with one another, to the lack of compassion in the way we treat the less fortunate among us, to the growing superficiality and shallowness among the populace, bespeaks to the constant dumbing down and coarsening of American society. And now with society so highly polarized, that trend seems to be going in a steady stream downhill.

One last thing. The worst possible outcome in tomorrow’s election would be if the voting was so evenly divided, especially in the swing states, that no winner could be readily ascertained. Counts and recounts could drag on for days or even weeks, with both sides fighting vociferously to get their guy declared the winner. The election results could even wind up for the courts to decide, the way the Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, granted George Bush the winner over Al Gore in the 2000 election. If something like that were to happen, imagine the bitterness and hostility that would emanate from the losing side. It would result in polarization on steroids.

 

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