Monthly Archives: June 2013

WALL OF SHAME

One of the most fascinating aspects of history is that people and governments keep making the same mistakes, again and again. The Spanish philosopher, George Santayana summed it up best in his famous and often-quoted line that: “Those that fail to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat their mistakes.” We can see that on a daily basis in this country concerning our failed drug policies. We tried prohibition of alcohol in the 1920s, and not only was it a monumental failure, but it gave us the lasting legacies of the Mafia and organized crime which exists to this day. We finally threw in the towel on alcohol only to resurrect a new prohibition against drugs, which has, similarly, been a huge failure, but has given us the legacies of drug cartels and street gangs. And this prohibition is taking a lot longer to get rid of than the one on alcohol consumption.

While most of you are probably familiar with Santayana’s famous quote, very few, if any of you, have probably heard of the Maginot Line. It was named after the French Minister of Defense in the 1930s, and was built along the French western border with Germany. As Nazi Germany was rapidly re-arming in preparation for WWII, the French built a heavily armed fortification along its German border. The Maginot Line consisted of a series of trenches, bunkers, heavy artillery, land mines barbed wire, and other military forces to preclude Germany from successfully invading France. The trouble was, the Germans were not stupid enough to try and penetrate such huge fortifications. So instead of invading from the west, German troops came sweeping down from the north through Belgium and other small, defenseless countries, and roared into France’s northern border which was only lightly defended. The French military collapsed within weeks, and France had to live under the evils of Nazi Germany for 5 years, until it was finally liberated by the Allies.

Why is this relevant today? Because there’s legislation wending its way through Congress that would erect our own version of the Maginot Line along our border with Mexico. And this time, there isn’t even a shooting war. In the full -“not learning the lessons of history”-mode, Congress is proposing a 21st century type Maginot line because, God forbid, one illegal alien might still be able to sneak across the border. And given how successful the previous Maginot Line was, how can we resist the temptation to build a new one?

In my previous entry, I described how legislation, being sired by Republican Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, to give 11-12 million illegal aliens in this country, legal status, is being fiercely resisted by the far right-wing of his own party. Sen. Rubio, himself, is an interesting study in contradictions. The son of immigrants who fled Castro’s Cuba, he was a tea-party favorite from the get-go because of his strong conservative ideology. When he was elected to the Senate in 2010, with his boyish good looks, and an easy speaking style, he was quickly being cast as a future GOP presidential candidate. He established his far right-wing chops, by calling for deep slashes in Government welfare and entitlement programs. It’s standard Republican mantra that if we cut government spending, it has to be for the poor, the sick and the elderly. For example, about a year ago, or so, Rubio gave a speech in which he declared that he had just made the final payment on the student loans he had borrowed to get through college. And since he’s making good enough money to where his own kids won’t need student loans to attend college, he advocated getting rid of the entire Government-sponsered student loan program. (It’s my words about his kids not needing student loans. The rest are his words.) It was that kind of stuff that made the tea-party swoon in delirium.

The problem is that Rubio desperately wants to become president, and he knows that if he’s typecast as just another right-wing looney-tune, he chances drop dramatically. A la Sarah Palin, Michele Bachman, wacky Ricky Santorum, Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, and other tea-party boys and girls. So Rubio is trying to demonstrate that he’s not there just to slash Government programs; but that he can also be bi-partisan by resolving our broken immigration policies. The Democrats are eager to go along with his legislation to give 11-12 million illegals hiding in the shadows, legal status, and an eventual pathway to citizenship. But he can’t get the far-right of his own party, which is practically the entire GOP, to get on-board. So as an inducement to the Rush Limbaugh-types, (who will never come on-board no matter what), the proposed legislation is getting harsher by the day. The latest version, as I’ve said, would create a modern-day replica of the Maginot Line. Even the solidly Republican “Wall Street Journal” blasted the latest Republican efforts in today’s editorial.

The latest proposals would extend the wall on the border with Mexico by hundreds of miles. About 40,000 border-patrol agents would be hired-practically one for every 100 hundred feet of border. (If you need a well paying job, you might try going on down there.) There would be drones, infra-red cameras, sensors of every type imaginable, all to protect our border from a supposedly friendly country. Employers, large and small, would be periodically harassed to make sure that not even one illegal is on their payroll. Harsh penalties would exist if an illegal is found. The list just goes on and on, becoming more ludicrous almost by the hour. And the cost for all this would be, at least, another 40-50 billion dollars a year. But in this instance, money is apparently no object to all these- slash government spending- tea partiers and right-wing whackos.  It would, thus, appear that Rubio’s dream of becoming president through bi-partisan enactment of major legislation is getting more and more remote.

I look at it this way. Civilization is barely ten thousand years old, so mankind is still pretty far down in the evolutionary cycle. As evidence, we still eat the flesh of dead animal carcasses. It would appear that we may need about another thousand years of evolution to wise up to the point that we actually learn from history, and not keep repeating the same mistakes. Or maybe we’re just doomed to keep repeating them, over and over. Deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would have said.

 

 

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LEGALIZING THE ILLEGALS

As you’re probably well aware, there is a great debate going on in Congress, mostly in the Senate, about enacting legislation that would create a pathway to legalization for an estimated 11 million undocumented people in the U.S. Almost all of the 11 million, as you know, are Hispanic. The idea is to give these people legal status so they can work openly without fear of deportation, pay taxes, get driver’s licenses, and openly provide a public education for their children. The main obstacle to such a course of sanity and rationality is, of course, the tea-party element of the Republican Party, which includes almost everyone calling themselves Republican. Although the proposed legislation is being pushed by an Hispanic Republican senator from Florida, Marco Rubio, most GOP senators and representatives are on record as opposing this effort. The facade of obstruction emanating from these looney tunes right-wingers, is that legalization of undocumented persons should not occur until our border with Mexico is tightly secured so no further illegals can enter. Since the border with Mexico is almost 2000 miles long, I guess this would mean building a 100 foot high concrete wall along that 2000 miles, with electrified barbed wire on top. Plus extending the wall 20 feet below ground so illegals couldn’t tunnel their way in. Plus adding about 9 million security guards along the border, plus drones, sensors and other electronic gadgetry. When it comes to securing our border with Mexico, money is no object to right-wing whackos.

Opponents of legalizing the illegals claim that race or ethnicity is not a factor, but I strongly disagree, and will prove otherwise. Lets change the scenario, slightly. For example, our border with Mexico is under 2000 miles, but our border with Canada is well over 3000 miles. Plus our Canadian border is lightly manned, and virtually anyone that wants to, can enter the U.S. from Canada, illegally, by just taking a stroll through the woods, almost anywhere along the U.S.-Canadian border. So let us suppose that instead of illegal Hispanics, we had 11-12 million illegal Canadians in our midst. They got fed up with the long, cold Canadian winters, or with socialized medicine, or whatever, and millions came streaming across the border and headed south to warm up. Let us further assume that most of these illegal aliens were primarily French-speaking. Does anyone think that this would even be a blip on our political radar-screen. Of course not. Why? Because these illegal Canadians are white like us with the same ethnicity. And besides, doesn’t French sound so much more cultured and sophisticated than Spanish? So, 11 million illegal Hispanics- big problem. Eleven million illegal Canadians- no problem at all. They would just blend into the population.

Thus, as I’ve said, right-wing tea partiers, and other assorted kooks and racists are fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent this very modest legislative effort from succeeding.  One of the bill’s main opponents in the Senate, a newly elected tea-party favorite named Ted Cruz, is one of the most vociferous in leading the opposition. The fact that he himself is Hispanic, will not, in any way, compromise his right-wing ideology of preventing his own people from attaining the benefits of legalization and eventually citizenship.  Then there are those who fear that should these illegals eventually obtain citizenship, they would mostly vote Democratic. God forbid. Although I can’t imagine why, since the GOP seems to welcome Hispanics with open arms. The prognosis, at this time, is that Rubio’s bill will likely squeeze through the Democrat-controlled Senate, but will face very rough sledding in the Republican-controlled House. It might very well be impossible to get House Republicans to agree to this legislation, and, in the end, all that effort will be for nought. Time will tell.

Democrats these days are having a multitude of political problems, not the least of which is President Obama’s sinking poll numbers. A lot of people, especially young voters, are upset over the NSA snooping into our phone calls and e-mails. Although I’ve written a previous entry explaining how this was not only necessary, but vital, in preventing further terrorist attacks. The Director of NSA has claimed that over 50 planned terrorist attacks have been disrupted thanks to these NSA “snooping” efforts. Then there are the IRS fiasco and the 4 killed Americans in Libya, that the GOP has skillfully manipulated into being labeled as Democratic “scandals.” To say nothing of a still very sluggish economy, high unemployment, and oceans of red ink. And let us not leave out the huge problems the Administration is having in trying to implement Obamacare. It doesn’t look like implementation will be ready by 2014. So by all rights, the GOP should obliterate the Democrats in the up coming 2014 elections. But that’s not likely to happen because of Republican right-wing ideology. For example, just the other day, the Republican-controlled House passed legislation to ban all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Just to further piss-off the women voters they lost in the 2012 presidential election. All to satisfy their evangelical (religious fanatic) base, and, even though they know that this bill will almost certainly die in the Senate. And even though it’s contrary to the law as established in the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe V. Wade. It’s just who they are.

It reminds me of an old story you may be familiar with. It seems that a turtle was sitting at the edge of a river, contemplating swimming to the other side. Along comes a scorpion who says to the turtle- I would really like to get to the other side of the river, but I can’t swim. But you, Mr. Turtle can swim. So if you let me ride on your back we can both make it to the other side. The turtle says- I’m not going to to that. You’ll sting me with your venom, and I’ll die in the river. That’s ridiculous-replies the scorpoion. If I did that we would both drown. The turtle is finally convinced that the scorpion means him no harm and says-ok, hop on my shell and we’ll head for the other side. About half way across, the scorpion suddenly stings the turtle’s with a lethal dose of poisonous venom. Why did you do that-cries out the turtle. Now were both going to drown and die. Couldn’t help it-replies the scorpion. It’s just who I am.

 

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SECURITY VS. PARANOIA

Once again the denizens of both left-wing and right-wing looney-tunesville have teamed up in an unholy alliance that has resulted in a mindless chorus of howls of protest. This time the kerfuffle seems to be over the National Security Agency’s ability to listen in on phone calls or intercept e-mails or texts sent my both Americans and foreigners, in an attempt to uncover terrorist plots. The left sees black helicopters swooping overhead ready to discharge deadly missiles upon their residences, while the right sees tanks rolling down their streets ready to confiscate their guns and ship their asses off to concentration camps. Or is it the other way around. Hard to keep up with the latest thinking projections coming out of looney-tunesville. But first a little background.

The Department of Defense has several intelligence agencies which include (but are not limited to) the NSA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, and separate Army, Navy and Air Force intelligence agencies. There is of course also the CIA, which is technically not part of Defense, although it gets its funding from DOD. By far, the largest of these intelligence agencies is NSA, which is housed in a building the size of a squared city block, in the Maryland suburbs of Washington,D.C. NSA has recently built a second facility, about the same size, out West, in Utah or Idaho, I believe. Most of NSA’s data gathering is accomplished through electronic eavesdropping, although a smaller portion is obtained through human resources, or HUMINT, as the NSAers would say. The latest computer technology allows NSA to gather massive amounts of intelligence sent via electronic means, and then process all this data through its enormous computer capability. The idea is to uncover bits of communications that might disclose a terrorist plot in the making, or imminent terror actions about to be undertaken. NSA has always done this. The only difference these days is that technological advances have enabled NSA to accomplish this on a much larger scale.

Many years ago, when I worked for the Pentagon, I was among the first group of DOD auditors that were given special intelligence security clearances, and told to go audit the DOD intelligence community. This included NSA, DIA, and the Service intelligence agencies, all of whom were used to getting rubber-stamped approval for all their budget requests, with no one looking over their shoulders to see how the money was being spent. As can be expected in such situations, we uncovered massive amounts of wasteful spending, useless acquisitions, and unnecessary duplication. The amounts of waste we reported on ran into the billions. (That’s when billions were still considered significant. Now, “it don’t mean a thing” unless you’re talking trillions.) What we DID NOT find, however, was a single instance of where any of the intelligence agencies were abusing the rights and privileges of any American citizens, or anyone else for that matter.

One must keep in mind that there are a considerable number of some very nasty people all over the world that are plotting, every minute of every day, to do serious harm to the U.S. and its allies. This includes getting their hands on weapons of mass destruction that, when used by terrorists, could result in casualties numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands of lives, if not more. If all the NSA or other intelligence agencies snooping can prevent just one of these events, all the money and effort that went into uncovering such a plot would be well worth it. I feel certain that such intelligence efforts have prevented these types of plots from occurring in actuality. Unfortunately, security concerns prevent their public disclosure.

Thus, if NSA electronic eavesdropping comes across certain texts between Fred Waternobby and his wife, in Ames Iowa, I fail to see where any harm is done. Fred may have texted his wife, one Friday, that instead of coming straight home from work, he’s going out for a couple of beers with the boys. Which is fine with Mrs. Waternobby, because she has to take their daughter to her soccer game anyway. Which is only fair, because Fred had to previously endure their son’s little league baseball game. Can you imagine if, instead of computers processing this data, some poor intelligence analyst to to read through all this rubbish every day. Guaranteed, he’d but a bullet in his brain before the first day was over. It’s all but certain that 99.9% of all communications processed by NSA are of a similar nature. But that one-tenth of one-percent that NSA may be lucky enough to pick up on, could dramatically save lives and prevent devastation.

Nevertheless, as I’ve said, such considerations never seem to enter brain cells of right-wing tea partyers, or left-wing ACLU lawyers. After all, one must never violate the purity of people’s individual rights. No matter that they have been violated out of necessity, almost from the time the Constitution was put to paper. Of course, in the case of the right-wing whackos, it’s just another pretext to bash Obama. Had this been occurring under a Republican president, as it had under George W. Bush, there would be much less objection, if any at all. Thus, the tea-party thinking is that lets pile this NSA surveillance “scandal” on to all the other issues being used to attack the Obama administration. What’s more important- keeping us safe or getting revenge against Obama for winning the election. On the other hand, the far left will never come out of their delusional ivory tower concerning the purity of civil rights. Even if it means enduring another 9/11 or Boston marathon terrorist attack. Even though NSA is merely doing what they’ve always been doing, only on a more massive scale due to enhanced technology.

All of this further illustrates that the far right and far left, are, in the end, blood brothers. Their common genetic inheritance is living in a continual state of delusion, from which they can never emerge.

 

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IS GOD LISTENING?

Apparently not, at least regarding the recent devastation left in the wake of deadly tornadoes that ripped through Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, and other parts of the country. Scores of people lost their lives for the simple infraction of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Many others survived the storms with their lives intact, but lost their homes and all other material possessions. Yet the most intriguing facts of these events were that they occurred smack in the middle of the bible-belt states; and that those who did survive the storms only to lose their homes and all other possessions, nevertheless, professed that their faith in God had not been shaken one iota. If anything, their faith was only made stronger by the misery surrounding them. And why not? When reality is so brutal and destructive, as in the case of these storms, the soft cushion of delusion is so much more comfortable to sink into. Keep in mind also, that the material losses these people suffered will likely be replaced by insurance companies and Government assistance. So being homeless with no possessions will likely be a short term proposition for almost all that were affected. Thus, I for one would be the last person to tell these people to forsake their delusions that God is looking out for their best interests. At this point, what else do those that so tragically suffered, (the loss of a child, for example) have to fall back on.

But it raises the question of why events that humans have no control over,(hurricanes, deadly blizzards, earthquakes, etc.) often take their heaviest toll on those who have the strongest traditional beliefs in God, as espoused in both the old and new testaments. To put it more bluntly, why do bad things happen to good people. In fact, there was a book written some years ago with just that title.  Seems that the author’s view was that God was just testing the strength of our faith. Also, we only exist in this lifetime for such a small amount of time, whereas we’re over on the other side for, like, all eternity, so what difference does it make in the first place. Not very comforting answers as far as I’m concerned. So the following is my view as to why devastation occurs to some and not others, and why some people who seem to be as pure as the driven snow often die young, while other miserable, evil, lowlifes can lead full and enjoyable lives into a very ripe old age. Think Mafia leaders, serial killers who are not caught, tyrants and despots who often slaughter their own people by the thousands, and other miscreants. So here are my theories as to why all this transpires. The gospel according to me.

First of all, I’m not an atheist. I do believe that there is a higher power out there; I just don’t know what that higher power is. It could be the total collective energies of all living beings in the universe. Whatever that power is, I’m pretty sure it’s not an old man with a long white beard, wearing a white toga, and sitting on a golden throne somewhere in the heavens, as often portrayed in classical works of art. In fact, if God did have a gender, I would think it would more likely be female, since women provide the initial source of life. Secondly, I believe the bibles, both the old and new testaments, to be, basically, a collection of fable, mythology and superstition. Much the same as was written about Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, and the other gods in ancient Greek mythology. Religious fundamentalists believe the bibles to be the word of God. The trouble is, both testaments were written 100% by men, not God. Yes, there are some fascinating stories in both bibles, much the same way that Greek mythology had fascinating tales to pass on from one generation to the next. But, they were still completely written by men and contain all the fears, superstitions and myths that people over 2000 years ago possessed. And did I mention that they’re laden with one contradiction after another; i.e., is it an eye for an eye, or do we turn the other cheek.

So, in the gospel according to me, the Hebrew and Christian bibles are of little value. What is of interest, however, are a long list of near death experiences by hundreds of people, just in the past 50 years or so. While this is purely anecdotal, the similarity of these NDEs, and the volume of their happenings, would appear to suggest the existence of a spiritual after-life. And if such an after-life does exist, logic would indicate that a higher being also exists that has orchestrated this entire scenario. (Be advised, however, that some people who stopped breathing for several minutes, and then were brought back to life, did not experience the traditional NDE event. There was no light for them to go into, and no being waiting to welcome them with deep love. There was just- nothingness. So the possibility of an after-life is not necessarily a slam dunk. What you have now may be all you’ll ever get.)

But as I’ve said, the prevailing anecdotal evidence would suggest the existence of a higher being who created the mechanisms to get this whole universe thingy into motion. But once having done so, God, in effect, sat back and said his work was done, and all you living creatures out there are pretty much on your own. At least until you leave this material dimension, and enter his spiritual dimension. You may be on your own there too; who knows. Remember, it’s not just the 7 billion people on planet Earth that are involved. If God is omnipotent, then his realm is the entire universe where gazillions of planets exist housing gazillions of living creatures. It would unreasonable to expect God to be personally involved in the events of anyone of these life forms. And that is why bad things often happen to good people or vice versa.

It’s called randomness. Flip a coin a hundred times and it will like land close to 50 heads and 50 tails. Flip it 1000 times, and the 50-50 split will likely be very close indeed. So when you hear stories of how this couple prayed mightily to God to save their child who was in dire peril, and God answered their prayers and saved their daughter from some terrible affliction, remember that it could just as easily gone the other way. And often did for some parents whose children were not saved in similar circumstances. Like in the recent carnage at the school in Connecticut. I’m sure all the parents of those school children affected, prayed with ever ounce of their being that their child would not be one of the casualties, as they raced to the scene of that horrendous crime. And for most parents, their prayers were seemingly answered. But for 20 sets of parents, it appeared that God was indifferent to their pleas. Just call it the randomness of the universe. And you can take that as gospel.

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