Monthly Archives: February 2013

VOTING RIGHTS

The essence, and entire premise of democracy in this country is, majority rules. Yes, we have a constitution that spells forth certain basic rights that cannot be denied by a majority of the people. Such as freedom of speech and press, or the right to due process if criminally accused. Of course, these basic human rights have often been infringed on from time to time. It’s all in the way the constitution is interpreted. But outside the enumerated basic rights that are constitutionally mandated, the machinery of government functions on the basis of majority rule. And that rule is determined through the process of voting. We go to the polls and our vote establishes who goes to Congress or sits in the Oval Office. Majority voters determine who will be handed the responsibilities to make the government function or dysfunction, as the case may be. (These days, it’s primarily dysfunction.) But what if that vote can be illegally manipulated or otherwise distorted so, in essence, it doesn’t represent the will of the people. Then the basic political foundations of democracy in this country are made a mockery of. Unfortunately, such has been the case for too many times throughout our history.

All this came to mind because of a current case being presented before the Supreme Court, relating to the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Certain southern states are suing to have parts of this Act overturned. First a little background. After slavery ended through Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and then the 13th Amendment, virtually all southern states established a series of racist Jim Crow laws. These laws established strict segregation laws between whites and blacks in all public venues, including public schools for children. In addition, since most southern states had large black populations, the white establishment wanted to assure that blacks were denied any influence at the polls when voting for political candidates. So most southern states established the poll tax, whereby it would cost an individual money if he wanted to vote. (Women, at that time in history, had no voting rights.) The poll tax could be as small as $10-$25, or perhaps as much as $50-$100, but it didn’t matter. Most blacks, especially in the south, were dirt poor at the time. So given the choice for a poor black laborer of paying for the right to vote or using that money to put food on the table for his family, the decision was easy. Besides, the white establishment would always find a way to rig the election, with or without black voting. Such was the thinking and reality in those days.

Thus, 150 years of slavery in this country was followed by another 100 years of semi-slavery, known as Jim Crowism. Which, by the way, also existed in many parts of the north. Things finally came to a head in the early 1960s with the great civil rights marches and demonstrations, often led by Martin Luther King. In 1965, under the leadership of Lyndon Johnson, Congress, with strong bi-partisan support, passed the Voting Rights Act which banned the existence of poll taxes, or any other form of discrimination, concerning the right to vote. (In those days, there were many in the Republican Party that actually worked for the good of the people, instead of catering to looney-tunes, crackpot, fringe elements.) In any event, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 turned out to be one of the most successful pieces of legislation in our history. Almost immediately after passage, large numbers of black voters were added to the enrollment columns. Today, black voter enrollment is on a par, or even exceeds white registration throughout the south.

Part of the 1965 Act requires southern and even a few northern states to obtain prior approval of the Dept. of Justice for any changes they seek to make in voting procedures. Hence, southern states are suing the federal government to have these provisions declared unconstitutional. They argue that the days of the poll tax, or any other form of racial bias in voting, has long been swept away. They point to black state legislators, and Congressional representatives that have been elected throughout the south. Which is all very true. So the early indication is that the Supreme Court will buy their arguments and rule in their favor. But that doesn’t mean that unscrupulous individuals throughout the entire country are not plotting and scheming to manipulate the voting process for their partisan purposes. And unfortunately, most of this scheming is taking place under Republican auspices.

Florida is a good example in the election we just held this past November. Republican Governor Rick Scott and his Republican State Secretary, went on a frenzied binge in the weeks before the election, to remove registered voters from the eligibility rolls, on the basis that these people were really not citizens of Florida. Tens of thousands of eligible voters were thus denied access to the voting booth. The trouble is, that virtually all those removed were poor, or low -income individuals that normally vote Democratic. Despite this blatant manipulation, Obama carried Florida by a narrow margin, which is a minor miracle in itself. Another attempt to put a damper on Democratic turnout in upcoming elections, are laws requiring picture ID that have been passed in many states that the GOP controls. Millions of people don’t drive and, thus, have no driver’s license. Thus no voter ID. (My driver’s license is the only picture ID that I own.) And, of course, those without driver’s licenses tend to be on the low-end of the economic totem pole, and, again, more likely to vote Democratic. A good example is Indiana which Obama carried in 2008. Then a Republican Governor working with a Republican legislature passed a picture ID requirement for voter eligibility. And Obama then lost this state in 2012.

Of course, the biggest fiasco to the election process, and which makes a mockery of the entire concept of democracy in this country is the Electoral College. This body of unknown individuals determine who will be declared the presidential winner in each race. As Al Gore found out in the election of 2000 when he won the popular vote but was still denied the presidency. It came down to several hundred votes in, again, the state of Florida. A Republican Secretary of State refused to allow the recount of thousands of disputed votes which could have swung the election to the Democrat. By a vote of 5 to 4, the Supreme Court agreed with her and Al Gore was left to whistle dixie.

Now, GOP strategists are plotting to enact new laws, especially in the so-called swing states, that will award electoral votes on the basis of county election results. Since most counties in this country consist of thinly populated small towns, and always vote Republican, it would give the GOP a lock on the White House. Democrats win by carrying the much fewer heavily populated counties that usually contain major cities. If Republicans can pull this one off, it will truly destroy any semblance of a democratic process in this country. Even without a poll tax.

As I’ve said previously, a monarchy form of government is beginning to look better all the time.

 

 

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THE WASTELAND

Perhaps the single greatest piece of poetic literature ever written is the “The Wasteland”  by T.S.Eliot, composed in the early part of the of the 20th century. The opening lines that run as follows: “April is the cruelest month; Breeding lilacs out of the deadland,” were meant to convey the idea that a false sense of hope exists that believes that mankind or society or the very essence of the human condition was somehow redeemable. When, according to T.S. Eliot, it clearly was not. It’s a difficult poem to comprehend because it uses vast amounts of symbolism, especially in the passages relating to the quest for the holy grail. But, it’s worth a read anyhow, if nothing else, because of the rich poetic phraseology such as : “Those are pearls that were his eyes,” when describing the drowned Phoenician sailor. In any event, it got me wondering what Eliot’s thoughts would be regarding the human condition if he had visited current day Las Vegas. I guess he would have to call his poem-“The Wasteland Squared.”

Probably, the local media, wherever you may live, carried the story on the latest mayhem that occurred on the Las Vegas Strip, early Thursday morning. A 27-year old aspiring rapper, who somehow was able to afford a Maserati, was cruising along the Strip when he was shot and killed by an unknown assailant driving a much cheaper Range Rover. The Maserati then crashed into a taxi, killing the cab driver and his passenger. Three people dead in the blink of an eye, and not a clue as to who the shooter was. Now, there’s a multi-state manhunt for driver of the Range Rover who, apparently, made a clean getaway. Good luck with that. All this turmoil occurred at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. While I haven’t traveled all over the world, I’ve been to major portions of Europe, the Pacific, and even Latin America; but I have never seen a worse traffic intersection (on a good day) than Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road. So I can only imagine what kind of traffic hell must have ensued yesterday, after this incident. Police theorize that an argument developed between the shooter and the victim at a major Strip hotel, in the early morning hours on Thursday, which led to the ensuing deadly carnage. The taxi driver and tourist were just collateral damage. Come visit Las Vegas folks, for the time of your life, or death, as the case may be.

Still tourists keep pouring into Las Vegas, non-stop. Las Vegas (and the rest of Nevada) reported record profits in the past year from hotel/casino operations. Some people do come here on the cheap, staying at low cost motels, and wisely not venturing into the casinos or going to expensive shows. But then, why come at all? I used to see this when I was able to finagle annual business trips to Hawaii.  (Freeloading has always been one of my best talents.) People would visit Hawaii, on the cheap; I assume,  just so they could say they’ve been there. They would stay at Holiday Inn type motels and eat in fast food joints, or restaurants that featured cheapie type Asian fare. Most people coming to Las Vegas these days, however, do stay in the overpriced mega-resorts on the Strip, and apparently, have little compunction about gambling away their life savings in the casinos. Or spending out-landish sums on show tickets at these hotels. Meanwhile, in the surrounding areas that are just off the Strip, there is widespread decay. Abandoned shopping centers or apartment complexes proliferate due to the highest unemployment rate in the nation. Panhandlers exist at virtually every major intersection, and foreclosed houses are everywhere. A lot of people situated here are hurting badly, but are oblivious to the tourists staying at Strip resorts.

A couple of weeks ago, my daughters paid us a visit; so we bought tickets to one of the lesser-priced shows on the Strip. Which is something we otherwise rarely do. In any event, it was a rock music show that explicitly promised an evening of debauchery and depravity. As it turned out, it was hardly either. I would rate it more along a PG-13 type of entertainment. That’s Las Vegas; lots of glitter and glitz and promise, but short on substance. Don’t get me wrong, however,  there is a lot of high quality entertainment to be seen on the Strip. The problem is that it costs anywhere from $250-$1000 and up per ticket to see these shows. The $250 seat is in the nosebleed section. They basically exist to entertain people whose motto is-money is no object.

Amid the blaring headlines in the local newspaper about 3 dead on the Strip, was a smaller article about how Lake Mead (from whence Las Vegas gets its water) is expected to drop another 13 feet this year. The lake level will soon be low enough to where people can wade in and build mud castles. It seems that the snowfall in the Sierra mountains has been especially disappointing this winter. Lake Mead gets almost all its water from the snow runoff in the spring from the Sierras. I’ve written before about how Las Vegas is caught up in a vicious and prolonged drought with no end in sight. With each passing year the water situation here gets evermore critical. If something isn’t done about the ferocious grip the drought has on the Valley, and, indeed, the entire Southwest, some drastic consequences will likely ensue. Like tourists, spending $500-$800 a night at a Strip mega-resort, going into the shower one morning, turning on the facets, and then staring in disbelief as nothing comes out. A kind of poetic justice, as T.S. Eliot might have put it.

Too bad that T.S. Eliot is not alive in this day and age, to experience the devolvement and degeneration of the human condition, as it exists in modern day Las Vegas.

 

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RIGHT WING/LEFT-WING CRACKPOTISM

One of the few foreign policy successes of the Obama Administration has been its drone program. This aerial, remote-control arsenal has enabled the U.S. to take out hundreds of some real nasty, vicious bad guys. Like al-Qaeda terrorists or other assorted would-be low-life, mass serial killers that have sought to do great harm to the U.S. and its allies. People whose greatest joy in life is to murder unarmed, innocent civilians on a massive scale. Better yet, in their mind’s eye, would be to kill children in their school rooms, or babies in their cribs. But as I’ve said, the drone program (started under the Bush Administration) has been successful in eliminating a lot of terrorist scum before they could bring their diabolical schemes to fruition. One can only speculate as to how many thousands of lives have been saved as a consequence of the drone program. And by the way, as I mentioned previously, a terrorist is just a serial killer on a larger scale, who uses some trumped up religious fanaticism theory to justify his lust for murder.

So despite the huge success of the drone program in preventing untold tragedies, there are those on the far right, and far left, that have combined in a marriage made in heaven (or is it hell) to sharply criticize the use of unmanned drones to kill off would-be mass murderers. It seems that a memo has surfaced, written by legal types in the Obama Administration, that spells out the legal justification the President has in ordering a drone strike on a terrorist, even if that would-be killer is an American citizen. According to this memo, the President has nearly unfettered power in issuing the okay to undertake such action. This has set off howls of protest from both right and left wing crackpots that too much power has been assigned to one person, namely the President. So I thought it might be worthwhile to explore the delusional fantasies that infect those on both ends of the political spectrum.

To be clear, the only other alternative to using drones to kill off bad guys would be to parachute troops into harm’s way in what might be a fruitless attempt at capturing these terrorists. Undoubtably, this would result in significant loss of life to American troops, as well as the real possibility that their action could result in failure. And yes, American citizens have joined al-Qaeda and other sundry terrorist groups, often in high profile positions. I don’t think that those victimized by a terrorist attack, however, would care a hell of a lot, if the perpetrators came from the U.S. or Saudi Arabia. Once an American has committed himself to acts of treason against his native country, I believe that all his rights have been forfeited. So let’s explore first, the left-winger’s objections to what should otherwise be considered acts of sanity and rationality.

Under the far left’s umbrella huddles those who consider evil to be virtually non-existent. If a person commits what society would normally consider acts of evil, it’s not because he is really a bad person. After all, could such a person be blamed if he was raised in rat-infested slums, surrounded by gangs pushing drugs and whores, had abusive parents, bad genes, or was brain-washed by religious fanatics or other unsavory characters. If he does bad things, it’s not really his fault. Or perhaps he was raised by affluent, but cold-hearted parents who were always dumping him off in boarding schools while they continually vacationed aboard luxury cruises. Again, not his fault when he decided his hobby would be strangling unsuspecting women. I mean, he never felt the love. In fact, there are no evil people; just bad environmental or genetic influences.  And besides, doesn’t the Constitution guarantee due process for every American citizen, even if they are traitors? Such goes the thinking on the far-left as they shudder in horror over the drone program successes.

The far right, in contrast, never had any inhibitions about killing bad guys. In fact, their motto has usually been-“ready, FIRE, aim,” or shoot first and ask questions later.  Those hacking away through the far right-wing underbrush usually have an extensive weaponry arsenal, and are always ready for the next gunfight at the OK Corral. Their objections to the President’s right to decide on drone kills exists because that President is Barack Obama. After all, giving all that power to someone who’s a Communist, Socialist, Marxist, Leninist, Stalinist, left-wing pinko (pick one or two) out to destroy the country, can never be a good thing.  Besides he isn’t even American, having been really born in Kenya. No less a personage as Donald Trump will attest to that. So how can you give such a person the final say in drone strikes? These are the delusional other-worlds that both left and right wing whackos choose to occupy.

To be sure, no one is saying that the drone program is not without its faults. Very often, when drones are launched, besides killing the terrorists, innocent civilians who happen to be in the vicinity are also killed or wounded. It’s called collateral damage, and it occurs in every war. It is highly unfortunate, but we are in a war with fascist Islamic Jihadism. Normally, extensive efforts are undertaken to avoid collateral damage, but it will happen as long as Islamic Jihadists continue their battle with Western societies.

I will leave you with one last mention. Through diligent investigation, I uncovered a fact about the killing of Osama bin-Laden that has never been reported in the media. After he was shot, the Navy Seals found a “Trump for President” button attached to his robe.

 

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WAR AND PEACE

No, this is not about Leo Tolstoy’s timeless masterpiece, which was required reading when I went to school, although that, in itself, would be worthy of serious commentary. (The book was so long, that the word going around school was that students were reading just every other page.) Instead this piece will be about war as being the ultimate failure of the human condition, and yet extremely necessary at times. Americans, as a rule, like to revel in peaceful pursuits such as making a living and trying to have fun whenever possible. We carry on about the Super Bowl (just completed in a very exciting game,) or other sporting events; go to shows, movies, or nightclubs; dine out frequently; or just have neighborhood parties where the booze flows like the River Ganges. We keep up with the Kardashians or the exploits of such tabloid stars as Brittany Spears and Lindsay Lohan. All extremely superficial but harmless, peaceful pursuits. But while we’re pursuing fun or otherwise going about our daily routines, something like 9/11 01 comes crashing down on our heads, as 3000 Americans are murdered without the slightest forewarning. Suddenly life isn’t so much about having fun anymore. Suddenly we shift from being a nation at peace to one going on a war footing. Suddenly, we’re a nation in mourning, soon to be followed by a real shooting war in some hellhole part of the world called Afghanistan, that many people barely knew existed or heard of, as we seek justice for the events of 9/11. Sometimes, war just comes wether we want it or not.

While war is an abomination for those involved, not going to war can lead to even worse consequences. I’ve written before about how the French and British were asleep at the switch as Hitler built his military machine in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. The French could have gone in as late as 1937 or 1938 and destroyed Hitler’s army and the Nazi regime, with little effort. Instead they did nothing. Instead, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich in1938, and attempted a policy of appeasement. Hitler, of course, saw this as a sign of weakness, which it was, and plowed ahead with his plans to conquer all of Europe by force. And the French and British, who tried to avoid war at all costs, soon were involved in the greatest war the world had ever seen. Over 60 million people died in Europe alone, as a consequence of the Allied policy of appeasement. In a human history filled with evil acts by evil tyrants, the Nazi’s were able to pull off the most evil event of all time, the Holocaust. Over 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and people opposing Hitler’s policies, were slaughtered in the gas chambers. The magnitude and extent of such evil is still more than the mind can comprehend for many people.

On the other hand, an example of where force was unwisely used was the fiasco known as the Viet-Nam war. It was a direct result of our paranoia and fear of world communism. Although none of our vital interests were even remotely threatened, the John Kennedy administration decided to consign hundreds of thousands of troops to another planetary hellhole-the jungles of Viet-Nam. The Eisenhower administration had initially got us involved in what was an essentially a civil war against a corrupt regime. But Eisenhower had sent over only a few hundred men to assist the corrupt government in office in its fight against the Communist rebels. However, when Kennedy, and then Lyndon Johnson became presidents, somehow, vital interests were manufactured, and up to half a million American troops were sent over to fight in Viet-Nam’s civil war. And unlike now, a draft existed in those days. So young men, often against their will, were drafted into the military and sent to die in the rat-infested, hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam. In the end it took Republican Richard Nixon to extract us from this folly created by Democratic presidents. Today we have peaceful relations with Viet-Nam and extensive commercial ties. Which is of little consolation to the near 60 thousand  Americans that perished in those jungles, or the tens of thousands of American lives ruined because of severe injuries. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese that were killed.

After 9/11, war and peace were again major issues as the newly installed George W. Bush presidency took office. As I said earlier, we went to war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, ostensibly to seek justice for the slaughter of 3000 Americans on 9/11. It was, however, really a quest for vengeance, because the Taliban had fully supported Osama bin-Laden and his band of lunatic terrorists and the havoc they wrecked on American soil. What at first appeared to be an easy and quick victory over the Taliban has now turned into an on-going war almost 12 years in the making. It has been like death by a thousand cuts, as the Taliban have proved to be far more resilient than first contemplated. President Obama has stated his intent to pull our troops out of the war zones by next year, so that the Afghan army will supposedly be doing all the fighting. But will this lead to a resurgent Taliban taken back the country, so that all our sacrifice will be for naught? In any event, the American public is sick of the Afghan war, and by large majorities wants us out of there.

The Bush administration also went to war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, on the pretext that Saddam was harboring chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Now there’s no question that Saddam was a very evil guy, and would have no compunctions about using WMDs;  but imagine everyone’s surprise when no WMDs were found after Saddam was driven from office. Overwhelming support for the war quickly crumbled, especially as it dragged on and on for years. President Obama finally extracted us from that one, but again not before the loss of about 6,000 American military and civilian lives; and the expenditure of almost a trillion dollars. Today a very fragile “peace” exists but widespread terrorist acts are committed almost on a daily basis. Will this country also descend into terrorist hell, making all our sacrifices be in vain?

Now the main evil threatening civilization on this planet is Iran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Their fundamentalism and hatred of Israel are like bottomless pits. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the Mullahs running the country, creates the very real possibility of using those weapons against U.S or Israel. This would result in nuclear retaliation by Israel and the entire planet would descend into a nuclear conflagration. Even the roaches would not be exempt from extinction. So do we go in and take military action by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities before they develop the bomb. The way the French should have gone in and wiped out Hitler’s army in 1938. Or, as is most likely the case, do we do as the French did, which is nothing; because neither the American public nor the present administration has the stomach for another war. Then we would have to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Like marriage, war and peace go together like a horse and carriage, don’t they.

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