Monthly Archives: August 2013

THE BOTTOMLESS PIT OF EVIL

I’m assuming you’re all familiar with the story last week about 3 teenagers in Oklahoma who randomly shot and killed a young man because they were “bored.” These 3, whose ages ranged from 15-17, murdered an exceptionally fine young Australian, who had come to the U.S. and gone to school here in hopes of playing professional baseball.  After all isn’t this what most people do when they’re bored. Go out and shoot an innocent victim, just to spice things up a little, and dispel the boredom. Laying aside the fact that their brains had not fully developed to the point of realizing the heinous nature of such an act; on some level these 3 teenagers had to understand that they were also flushing 60 or 70, or perhaps even 80 years of their own lives down the toilet. At this point, the best they can hope for is to spend the rest of their lives in prison. All to relieve a little afternoon boredom. Of course, none of the 3 had any parental guidance or supervision in their lives, so the end result was descent into the bottomless pit of evil. Where serial killers reside; who also kill just for pure pleasure without regard to civilized human decency. Unfortunately, from the beginning of time until present day, there have been and are figures on the world stage for these killers to draw inspiration from.

Also last week, the brutal dictator of Syria, Basher Assad, used poison gas to kill hundreds of his own people who have been rebelling against his despotism for over 2 years. Over 100,000 Syrians have been killed in this bloody civil war; but Assad refuses to relinquish power. Last week Assad’s evil hit a new low, even for him, with the use of poison gas on the opposition. Yes, one is just as dead with a bullet to the head as they are from inhaling poison gas. But the difference is, that with a bullet to the brain, death is usually instantaneous; while inhaling poison gas usually results in several minutes of the most the most agonizing and gruesome torture before death finally takes over. (Google the effects of poison gas on the human body if you’re interested in more gory detail.) Sometimes not enough gas is inhaled to result in death; but the victim is left with years of the most torturous and debilitating aftereffects. The heinous nature of this use of poison gas might have even motivated our President to undertake military action against Assad, even though he appears to be fond of having the weakest American foreign policy in history.

The use of poison gas first reared its ugly head in WWI. My father, as it turns out, who was drafted into the Army during that war, was wounded by mustard gas used by the Germans in the Argonne Forest in France. Fortunately for him, the wounds were minor and he was eventually sent home. (Fortunately for me too, I guess.) When both sides in that war saw the unbelievable horrors caused by poison gas, they both quickly agreed to outlaw its use. ( The war was then fought on a much more humane level of using just bullets and bombs to kill people.) The next use of poison gas was in 1935 by the ruthless dictator of Italy, Benito Mussolini, who had decided to invade the largely defenseless African nation of Ethiopia. Although Ethiopia had virtually no military, it held out for 6 years before Italy could finally claim its conquest. It was Mussolini, by the way that inspired Adolf Hitler to install a similarly brutal fascist dictatorship in Nazi Germany. While Hitler refrained from using poison gas on the battlefields of WWII, he had no compunction about using it to kill 6 million innocent victims in Nazi concentration camps. The Holocaust stands out as probably the single most evil event in recorded history.  It’s also a monument to the bottomless pit nature of evil itself.

Fast forward to the 1990s  and a civil war going on in Iraq. Saddam Hussain, another legend in evil’s hall-of-fame, employed a despotic dictatorship not unlike Hitler’s in Nazi Germany. The Kurdish people, who occupied a large portion of Northern Iraq, were seeking to break away and form an autonomous state, mostly to free themselves from Hussain’s shackles. Thereupon Hussain ordered his air force to drop canisters of poison gas over heavily populated Kurdish areas. Thousands of people were murdered by this action, and the suffering and anguish of that event lives on, even to this day. Besides the thousands that were killed, hundreds survived, only to live out their lives in anguished debilitation. The world was outraged by this action but it didn’t seem to preclude good ole Saddam from getting a restful night’s sleep. Eventually, President Clinton established a no-fly zone over the Kurdish area of Iraq. This meant the the U.S. air force patrolled Northern Iraqi skies and would shoot down any of Saddam’s planes should they enter that space. As we all know, Saddam was eventually overthrown when President George W. Bush launched an all-out war on his regime in 2003. After several years on the run, he was eventually caught and tried for crimes against humanity, in an Iraqi court. Found guilty, he was hung by his fellow Iraqis, and the world was instantly better, because he was no longer breathing in the same oxygen as the rest of us.

Now we have Saddam’s offshoot, Basher Assad further illustrating both the banality and the bottomless pit nature of evil. Of course, I could have also discussed Stalin in Russia and Mao in China, who also butchered millions upon millions of people in those 2 countries during their reign’s of terror. All this, just within the last 100 years. If I wanted to go back further in history I’d have to write a book about evil. People who aren’t barbarians, or those with a conscience, have a very difficult time understanding the enormity of other people’s capacity to commit evil. It’s like they’re from another planet. But they continue to thrive among us, be they young boys who kill out of boredom; or serial killers looking the thrills they can only obtain from the kill; or tyrants on the world stage willing to kill as many people as it takes to impose their will.

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LIVING ON ANOTHER PLANET

Know what the most precious commodity on this planet is? I’ll give you a hint-it’s not platinum or diamonds; nor is it gold or silver. The most precious resource on Earth is water, or at least the drinking kind. While 70 percent of our planet is covered by water, less than one percent of that is fit for human or animal consumption. It’s one of the reasons we have periodic famines throughout large chunks of Africa and parts of Asia. Lack of rains or periodic droughts seem to occur with increasing frequency in various parts of the world. Here in Las Vegas, which is one of the driest places on Earth, and where about 2 million people live in the LV Valley, we’ve been experiencing a severe drought for more than a dozen years. Las Vegas obtains its water from Lake Mead, which, in turn, receives its water from the Colorado River. Or to be more precise, the Colorado Streamlet, at this point in time. Our local newspaper recently ran an article about how Lake Mead is at its lowest level in history, and if drastic action isn’t taken by 2014, the area will simply run out of water. Although it didn’t specify what kind of drastic action options are available. Maybe the hotel/casino bosses can import kegs of drinking water into LV, the way they imported bootleg booze during the 1920s.

Here’s another fact you may want to consider. From the dawn of history through the year 1913, Earth’s population grew to a modest 1.8 billion people. That’s over a period of millions of years. In the last 100 years, however, our planet’s population has skyrocketed to over 7.1 billion. By 2025 it’s estimated to be around 9.5 billion. This, of course, not only adds huge amounts of stress and demand to available drinking water, but to all other precious resources such as coal, oil, gas, metals, etc.  Add to this, the fact that huge medical and technological  advances have considerably extended human life spans, which will put additional strains on food and water supplies as well as precious resources, and you have a situation where going to live on another planet looks more attractive by the day. Not that such an option is available at this point in time.

Perhaps the most brilliant mind in the world today, British astro-physicist Stephen Hawking, has recommended such a course of action. Single planet specious don’t survive, said Hawking in a recent interview. He further stated that the human race should not have all its eggs in one basket, or on one planet. He went on to say that should shrinking resources, nuclear proliferation, a growing population, or climate change threaten humankind on Earth, “a colony on Mars could serve as a lifeboat to keep the species going.” (Of course, one can debate whether our species deserves to be kept going, after the mess we’ve made on this planet.) He ended the interview by saying that technology being what it is today, he doesn’t foresee that kind of space travel in the next 100 years. (Where’s that “warp speed” technology they had on the Star Trek series, when you need it.)

Nevertheless, there is interest in a manned space trip to Mars. Since almost all large governments are broke these days, the technology would have to be developed by private industry. Mars is about 34 million miles from Earth, and astro-engineers estimate that with today’s technology, it would take a manned space craft about 8 months to make the trip. Provisions for the return trip back to Earth would have to sent to Mars on a second space craft, and be waiting there for the space travelers when they arrive. A Dutch organization called Mars One wants to start colonizing Mars within a decade. Its already received 78,000 applications from would-be colonizers willing to relocate. Which says a lot about how wonderful life has become on this planet.

Besides water, food and other resource shortages and overpopulation, you might want to consider certain other factors. Like ecological degradation.  Like the systematic erosion of our rain forests or ocean phytoplankton which capture huge amounts of carbon dioxide while emitting enormous quantities of oxygen. The final destruction of either will make life no longer sustainable on Earth. Or how about world-wide soil erosion which has caused the Earth to lose one-fifth of its arable land, just in the last decade. Perhaps global-warming ( whose existence is vehemently denied by all the Rush Limbaugh-types, and other assorted looney-tuners) is one of your hit-parade favorites. Let us also not leave out nuclear waste hazards as well as massive amounts of other toxic waste. As well as spreading holes in the ozone layer (which prevents from becoming as crispy as french fries) because of the existence of long-lasting chlorofluorocarbon gasses. And, to say nothing of the massive extinction of animal species due to all of the above, as well as man’s inherent greed and selfishness.  We are probably among the last generations to have the good fortune to co-inhabit this planet with large animals such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, the great apes, and major cat species-lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, etc. Within a hundred years it’s doubtful that they’ll exist even in zoos.

Old guys like me can probably make it through to the end of our lives without drastic global consequences. But young people might start to experience the effects of ecological degradation within their lifetimes. For example, global warming might finally result in the rise of ocean levels with the resulting flooding of word-wide coastal areas, which would displace hundreds of millions of people, and bury a large portion of the world’s primary agricultural lands. And none of what I’ve written takes into effect the craziness of many of the world’s leaders and governments. Anyone of whom could set off a nuclear holocaust at virtually any time.

So how about it. Anyone care to sign up to be one of the first voyagers to Mars?

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HOW FAR CAN WE FALL?

The answer to that question is -a lot further than most people realize. I suppose it’s human nature to take the constitutional freedoms we possess,  and the political process that ensures those freedoms, for granted. Most of the under developed nations of the world have no such process and are, therefore, in a constant state of turmoil. Look no further than recent events in Egypt, where a 30 year military dictatorship was replaced by an attempt at constitutional government, resulting in a freely elected president. However, the man elected was attempting to establish an Islamic dictatorship, which would result in the dissolution of all constitutional liberties that had been recently established. When the people rose up in protest, the Islamist president was then overthrown and replaced by a new military dictatorship. Back to square one; but the Egyptian people are probably better off with their new rulers.

In any event, as I’ve said, most people take the political process established in this country for granted. A full 40% or more of eligible voters can’t be bothered to take the time out to vote in a presidential election. That figure rises to near 60% in non-presidential elections. We assume that the political system we have in place will always be there, even if we’re not paying attention. Duly elected future presidents would never dream of suspending all further elections as well as civil liberties, would they? The way Hitler did in Nazi Germany, which had been a functioning constitutional democracy until he became Chancellor. I guess most Germans weren’t pay close attention either, at the time. In fact, we can thank George Washington for the fact that we have a constitutional election process in the first place. Our founding fathers wanted to establish a monarchy with Washington as king, until George nixed that idea.

This is kind of a long preamble to get to the point I really wanted to make, of how low we’ve sunk in our national election system. This past week the Chairman of the Republican Party sent off an angry missive to TV stations NBC and CNN, because both stations were in the early phases of developing documentaries about the life of Hillary Clinton. How dare these stations, said the Chairman, consider programming anything that might be seen as favorable to Hillary’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016. Threatening blackmail and other dastardly deeds, the GOP said the 2 stations must stop these projects dead in their tracks, immediately. Even though they are in the earliest stages of script writing, and no one knows exactly how the documentaries will turn out. To me, this represents a new low in political mudslinging and thuggery.

Now the GOP knows that its fiscal policies of trickle-down-economics, tax cuts for the rich, and slashing Government assistance to the poor, the sick, and the elderly  doesn’t sit that well with large parts of the electorate. Couple that with its social agenda of anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, and anti-gun control, and one can see how the Republicans have a problem in winning over a majority of the electorate. So to compensate, Republicans engage heavily in the politics of personal destruction and demonization. Democrats try that too; but they’re far more inept and incompetent at it than Republicans. With Democrats it’s like amateur night versus highly professional Republicans when the politics of personal destruction are employed. For example, early in the 2008 primary season, when it appeared Hillary Clinton would easily win the Democratic nomination against an unknown, black Senator from Illinois with the peculiar name of Barack Obama, the GOP mud-slinging machine kicked into hi-gear. It already started printing up bumper-stickers that said: “Monica Lewinski’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife For President.” You can expect the same treatment if she’s dumb enough to run for president again. With all the grief she had to endure when Bill was President, and being in her late sixties by 2016, one would think that the Oval Office would be the last place she’d want to spend her remaining years. But, I guess, one never knows.

Being president these days means having to cope with a government mired in dysfunction and polarization. The greatest amount of polarization since the Civil War. Congress is currently on its month-long vacation for all of August. It’s recuperating from the enormous burdens of having to put in 3-day work weeks,  (Tuesday thru Thursday) at least 2 or 3 times a month. Who can cope with such stress? When it returns sometime after Labor Day, Republicans will try mightily to defund Obamacare and further slash social spending. House Republicans are threatening not to pass a fiscal 2014 budget, or raise the debt-ceiling unless those objectives prevail. The President, of course, will refuse to go along with defunding his signature piece of legislation. So look for a government shutdown after September 30, similar to the one that occurred in 1995. That’s when House Republicans led by GOP firebrand Newt Gingrich, refused to fund government operations unless deep spending cuts were made to Medicare. President Bill Clinton refused, and the government was shut down for 3 weeks before Gingrich finally budged. I can foresee a similar scenario occurring this year, perhaps resulting in an even lengthier government closure.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the human condition to see great civilizations rise to the apex, and then slowly crumble. Many social prognosticators have already proclaimed that America’s best days are behind her. There are those that trace the start of America’s downhill decline to the time a dingbat like Sarah Palin became prominent in American politics. But I would go back further to 1960. In the waning days of his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people about the undue influence and power accruing to the military-industrial complex. He warned that if left unchecked, such power could destroy America from within. Coming from a 5-star general, it was a warning to be heeded. But America generally ignored what Ike had to say, and the chickens are coming home to roost. Like bloated $700 billion a year Defense budgets, and unwise American entanglements in all kinds of foreign escapades.

As I’ve said, perhaps it’s our destiny to fall after we’ve accumulated such vast power. For those of you interested, you might want to compare America’s history with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It’s eerily similar. Those of you that have great fortitude and patience can learn more by reading British author Edward Gibbon’s classic, six volume work called “The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire.” Because we seem to be trudging along the same path as the ancient Romans. So how far can we fall? All the way to the bottom. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to pay greater attention to the political process.

 

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TEA PARTY GOVERNANCE

Four high-profile Republican senators that were elected in 2010, and who are solid tea party favorites because of their extreme right-wing political views, are already running for president in 2016. Yes, I know that’s over 3 years away, but it takes a long time to put together the organization, the large amounts of necessary cash,  and the name recognition, to make a serious bid. You just don’t run for president on a lark, if one is serious about winning. These 4 senators consist of Rand Paul of Kentucky, Marco Rubio of Florida, Ted Cruz of Texas, and Mike Lee of Utah. (Of the 4, Mike Lee is probably the longest of long-shots.) The 4 of them are putting together campaign organizations, appearing with increasing frequency on Fox News and other far right radio and TV outlets, and increasingly undertaking campaign trips to early primary states such as Iowa and New Hampshire.

Rand Paul is, of course, the son of Ron Paul, a long-time Libertarian congressman from Texas, who recently retired. Ron Paul ran for president in Republican primaries in at least the last 3-4 presidential races. His platform was essentially to cut Government spending to the bone, and bring home all U.S. troops stationed  overseas. He would have also sharply curtailed intelligence operations such as the latest kerfuffle going on about the NSA eavesdropping operations. I guess his theory was that those meanies overseas that we call terrorists, are really just swell guys at heart. If we would just withdraw from all foreign operations, bring all U.S. troops home, and return to a policy of isolationism, (that worked so well prior to WWII and the bombing of Pearl Harbor), those mis-understood ruffians would be more than happy to leave us alone.  Although from Texas, Ron Paul had his largest number of supporters here in Nevada. People here felt that if he slashed income taxes as he promised, it would free up that much more money to throw away in the slot machines or at the craps tables.

In any event, son Rand Paul has taken over his father’s political inheritance by advocating the same far-right policies. A short time back, he launched a 13 hour filibuster on the Senate floor, because he felt that something President Obama said indicated that the President had the right to launch a drone strike on a domestic target. But I can see his point. Nothing will get the day off to a worse start than having a drone come crashing into the cafe where you’re having your morning coffee and reading the newspaper. The 13 hour filibuster and other similar stunts have, nevertheless, raised Rand Paul’s profile and have given him gobs of free publicity and name recognition.

Not to be outdone, Marco Rubio is slogging ahead to become the GOP’s standard bearer in 2016. He was instrumental in getting the Senate to pass a cockamamie immigration bill, that would theoretically create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. But the bill contains so many looney-tunes features that it turned out to be a really bad joke. It would mandate that a cement wall, about 1500 miles long, about a hundred feet tall, and 20 feet deep, ( you wouldn’t want those illegals to tunnel their way in), with electrified barbed wire on top, be built along the U.S.-Mexican border.  Plus, there  would be all kinds of motion detectors, infra-red cameras, and other devices along the wall. Plus, border-control agents would be posted about 50 apart. Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the picture. But as bad as this bill is, it’s still too moderate for the Republican-controlled House. Republican representatives have already stated that no legislation that gives undocumented people legal status, will pass the House.

The third member of the four horsemen of the government apocalypse, Ted Cruz, maybe the biggest tea-party favorite of all. He makes Marco Rubio seem moderate. He failed to support Rubio’s immigration bill, although Cruz, himself, is Hispanic. He calls for the abolition of the Federal Reserve banking system, a favorite plank in Ron Paul’s libertarian agenda. He too would slash Government spending to the levels that existed in Calvin Coolidge’s time, as well as create tax cuts for the rich. In any event, I thought it might be of some fun to picture what life in the U.S. might look like should one of these senators become president, and  both houses of congress come under republican control.

Let’s start with Social Security and Medicare. Where in the Constitution does it say that the Government is responsible for providing for senior’s pensions or medical needs. If you’re going to start slashing public spending, you have start with these 2 major budgetary sinkholes. Okay, we will fund those that are already in those two programs, but only on the condition that they don’t live too long thereafter. I mean, everybody knows that those pain-in-the-ass seniors are nothing but a drain on society. Not working and just taking handouts from us productive working-class types. Maybe we will even let those within 5-10 years of SS and Medicare eligibility get into those programs, but again they have to promise to die soon after that. Everyone else is on their own. Create your own savings programs to take care of your own retirement needs and medical treatments. Try not to invest your savings in some fly-by-night stock or other hair brained savings scheme, even though we know most of you will ignore that advice and do just the opposite. Next, we save a bundle by bringing all our overseas troops home, and slashing the Defense budget. As well as eliminating all those unconstitutional counter-intelligence snooping programs. After all, what’s more important- human lives or the purity of the Constitution.

Of course not all Tea Party related programs will be about slashing government spending. Some programs will actually get pumped up. Such as creating the anti-abortion police to make sure that some poor, unfortunate woman isn’t doing away with her baby.  Or hiring thousands more border security guards to make sure that not even one more illegal Mexican is allowed to slip through and contaminate our society. The sky’s the limit when it comes to funding fun-stuff like that.

So this is what we have to look forward to in our short-term future. I can hardly wait for 2016 to come rolling in, when the Republican/Tea Party types take over the reigns of government.

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