Monthly Archives: October 2013

DIVIDING LINES

“We have met the enemy and he is us,” said Pogo, a cartoon critter located, with his pals, in the Okefenokee swamps in Louisiana. While this quote appeared in Walt Kelly’s cartoon strip during the 1970s, it was never more true than in today’s on-going political and social events. The country has never been more divided in the nearly 150 years since the Civil War ended. As a result, consequences adversely affecting our economy and and society as a whole are multiplying on a daily basis due to our highly polarized and dysfunctional government. And this polarized government merely reflects the deep divisions and fault lines that have developed among the citizenry of this country. Unless some leadership rises to the forefront that has a uniting ability to bring us together, we are becoming the divided states of America.

Let’s take a gander at some of these fault lines. Red states, those that reliably and consistently vote Republican, exist throughout the entire south, except, perhaps, for Northern Virginia and Florida. Red states also exist in parts of the mid-west and west, such as Kansas, Nebraska, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and Montana. Blue states, those that more often vote Democratic, are situated primarily in the northeast, and west coast, along with several in the mid-west such as  Ohio and Illinois. The problem is that there is a world of difference between the political, social and religious views of majorities in the Red and Blue states. Red state majorities are becoming more religiously fundamentalist, and politically right-wing in their views of American society. The tea party’s primary political clout comes mostly from southern Red states. Their extremism is made obvious in issues that were once thought to be settled policy, but are now up for grabs. For example, a woman’s right to obtain birth control pills, an issue thought to be firmly established by the early 1960s, suddenly became a big deal in the 2012 election. Also, Red states have been establishing more and more stringent abortion rules, to the point where it’s getting almost impossible for women in Mississippi or Texas or other Red states to obtain legal abortion services. The quest to overturn Roe V. Wade is a driving force among and Red state partisans.

Red states are also circumventing the Voting Rights Act of 1964 by enacting new barriers for the poor and minorities to cast their ballots. Knowing that these groups usually vote Democratic, Red states are now requiring that potential voters obtain photo IDs before being registered. Since many poor can’t afford cars, and thus don’t have a driver’s license, (the only photo ID I have in my wallet) the effort to cast one’s vote can become exceedingly difficult. But, a primary tactic, if you belong to the tea party, in keeping the “riff-raff” out of the voting booth, and assuring that Red states remain solidly red. The culture wars are also a casualty of the Red state-Blue state divide. While many, if not most Blue states have legalized gay marriage, almost all Red states are fighting gay rights and marriage, tooth-and-nail. In Red state country, homosexuality is still among the deepest of sins and an abomination. This past summer, the CEO of Chick-Fil-A, a fried chicken chain located mostly in the south and mid-west, likened approval of gay rights to punching God in the face. If we don’t change our ways, he warned, God will wreck his vengeance on this country. To show solidarity with that kind of thinking, this past summer, hundreds, if not thousands, of like-minded customers, lined up for hours in front of Chick-Fil-A outlets to gobble down some greasy fried chicken.

The worsening of the political, social, religious, and cultural chasms afflicting our country came to a boiling point in the latest government shutdown we all experienced. Led by Red state tea-partiers in the Senate, and, especially, in the House, Republicans were quite willing to have the government cease functioning unless the President agreed to defund his signature health care legislation. This political suicide mission was led by Senator Ted Cruz, the recently elected tea-party favorite from, of course, Texas. The son of Rafael Cruz, who fought with Fidel Castro to overthrow the Batista regime in Cuba; but who, subsequently fell out of favor with Castro and fled to the U.S. To atone for supporting Castro in the first place, Rafael established a large fundamentalist, evangelical church in Texas which he runs to this day. He also imbued son Ted with a deep hatred of secular, all-powerful government, to the point where Senator Ted equates the Obama administration to the regime run by Castro in Cuba. Thus, Senator Cruz’s kamikaze mission to defund and destroy Obamacare.

Of course, this tea party effort has been greatly abetted by unbelievable Democratic ineptitude. An overly clumsy piece of legislation to begin with, but with 3 years to prepare, the rollout of Obamacare on-line has been a mind-bogling nightmare. Administration sloppiness in implementing this Act is, in effect, the Democrats doing the Republicans dirty work for them. Perhaps the Democrats will finally get their act together, and create a reasonable, glitch-free on-line site, where, in the near future, people that are uninsured, can actually obtain reasonably priced health insurance. Don’t hold your breath, however.

Of course, tea-party Republicans, (most are now, especially in the House) will keep coming like the charge of the light brigade, that I wrote about previously, to destroy Obamacare and the rest of the President’s political agenda. Even if it’s a similar suicide mission. The agreement to re-open the government has an expiration date come January, when Washington, once again gets to put its fiscal follies on stage. Meanwhile the political, social, religious, and cultural values dividing this country, grow deeper and more entrenched. Nothing good can ever come of that.

 

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THE DIEHARDS

In 1854, British poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote his classic poem, “The Charge of The Light Brigade,” which was based on actual events that occurred during the Crimean War (1854-1856.) The war united Britain, France and Turkey in a very bloody confrontation with Russian expansionist goals in Europe. As you may well know, the history of Europe is replete with centuries of constant warfare. There were often shifting alliances among countries fighting each other. For example, Britain and France engaged in numerous bloody wars over many centuries. But in the Crimean War, Britain and France were united, along with Turkey, in battling Russia. Lord Tennyson’s poem covers a specific event that resulted from a General’s incredibly incompetent and blundering orders to have a British light brigade (which was comprised of about 600 calvary men) charge Russian fortifications over an unprotected, flat terrain.

There was no way this mission could have succeeded and every one of the 637 in the light brigade knew they were being sent on a suicide mission. Yet they were bound by their honor to obey orders. As Tennyson wrote: “Half a league onward, All in the valley of Death, Rode the six hundred.” Other famous lines from the poem are: “Theirs not to reason why, Theirs but to do and die.” Needless to say, the men in the light brigade were slaughtered like cattle, an obvious outcome from the beginning. But representative of a diehard mentality that will bear any price, no matter how hopeless the outcome, in order to achieve its goals. Which brings us to the Government shutdown we all just endured for a couple of weeks. It was the same diehard tea party mentality, that the only way they would allow the Government to stay open and function, was to defund Obamacare. A political suicide mission that failed to accomplish its goal and whose only achievement was giving about 800 thousand federal employees a free, two-week paid vacation. And since the Government was only allowed to re-open on a temporary basis, we get to experience this all over again in January.

So I began wondering who exactly are these tea-party diehards and extremists, that now seem to control most of the Republican Party, especially in the House of Representatives. From what I’ve gleaned, the common thread that runs through tea-party mentality is a virulent hatred of Government. Nothing delights them more than actually seeing the Government being closed for business. So I’ve put together a list of common denominators that one is likely to possess to be in the tea-party movement. Sort like that comedy routine some years back about being a redneck. For example, you know you’re a redneck if you pee against the same tree trunk that your dog does, when out for a walk. So here goes in identification of who is in the tea-party.

You’re likely to be a tea-partier if you’re a fundamentalist, evangelical Christian. Although the New Testament focuses heavily on helping the poor and the sick, evangelicals go bonkers at thought of the Federal Government providing such assistance. I believe this goes back to when the Government sanctioned stuff like legalized abortion, widespread availability of birth-control, gay rights and marriage, removal of religion from public schools, availability of pornography, etc. Nothing good could ever come from any Government that allows such satanic occurrences. So in the evangelical mindset, the Government is the devil’s playground, bent on destroying organized religion. The Government is to be fought tooth and nail in order to preserve their religious freedoms and beliefs.

You’re likely to be a tea-partier if you believe that the poor, the sick and the elderly that receive Government assistance are nothing but slackers. They’re either lazy, indolent, dumb, or inept, or a combination of all of these. They’re the 47% that receive Government handouts, that Mitt Romney talked about when he thought all the cameras had been shut off. I wonder if he still ascribes his election loss to those “on the dole” as they used to say. In these tea-party minds, the income taxes they pay are all going into the pockets of those too lazy to work. Their taxes are never spent on the military or counter-intelligence efforts, but go strictly to those with their hands out. Therefore, the tea-partier hates the Government in general and the IRS in particular, and bitterly resents forking over the tax money he’s forced to pay.

You’re likely a tea-partier if you’re paranoia has reached through the stratosphere, and you feel the Government is out to destroy your life or kill you altogether. Or perhaps throw you into one of those large concentration camps the Government is building somewhere in Indiana to house political dissidents. You know the Government is reading all your emails and tweets, so if you erred in emailing your recipe to Grandma for chicken-pot-pie your life is as good as over. And where does all this paranoia come from? Try listening to the Rush Limbaughs or Glen Becks of so-called “talk radio.” They claim to have millions of listeners all tuning in for their daily dose of paranoia or Barack Obama vitriol. The same is true if you watch Fox News on TV.

Your likely to be a tea-partier if believe that America should become a shrinking violet in foreign affairs instead of leader of the free world. Of course, in that regard, right-wing wackos have teamed up with left-wing looney-tuners to bring about this current state of affairs. It’s one of the reasons that the mid-east is crumbling into chaos before our very eyes. One of the reasons that a terrorist state like Iran is about to cross the finish line in building nuclear weaponry.

I could go on but I believe you get the picture. I haven’t even talked about Ted Cruz, the unofficial tea-party leader and crusader in Congress. Or his evangelical father who runs a fundamentalist church. But my endurance is waning, so I guess I’ll save all that for another posting. It’s that senior thing again.

 

 

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REMEMBRANCE OF THINGS PAST

This is not about the classic by Marcel Proust, although kudos to you, if you are one of the few that has been able to read Proust from cover-to-cover. Instead this entry is about what old-timers do with increasing frequency; and that is dwell on memories of past occasions. Mainly, I believe, to escape the aches and pains of the so-called golden years. Which should really be called the zinc alloy years.

In any event, and for no particular reason, I got to thinking about my life during the 1950s, as I was taking my Sunday walk, yesterday. During that decade I went from early teen-agehood into my early 20s. I grew up in a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn that was roughly half Jewish and half Italian; and would hang out with guys named Vinny or Vito or Carmine, as well as Robert, Alvin and Seymour. In those days people aged much more quickly and died a lot sooner than today. People started looking real old by the time they reached their mid-to-late 60s, and their life spans rarely went beyond their mid-to-late 70s. I remember as an early teenager hanging out with the guys in one of the neighborhood parks and watching the many old people that lived in the “hood.” Invariably, they were bent over, usually had to use a cane to walk, and barely had the energy to schlep from one park bench to the next. For most their teeth had been removed and they were wearing dentures. Or else, their teeth were in the process of falling out, virtually before our very eyes.

So, with youthful bravado, we declared that this was no way to live, and that the best thing for us would be in dying by age 60, or 65 at the very latest. After all, that was still a good 50 years into the future. At our young age, 50 years seemed like all eternity; so we bravely declared that by 65 we all preferred death rather than schlepping along, with a cane, all bent over, no energy and false teeth. We didn’t specify how death would occur by that age; it would somehow just materialize at our will. So now I’m well past that age limit, and I suspect the rest of my teenage “buds” are too. Indications of the progress medical science has made in the last several generations.

When I entered City College in the mid-1950s (where tuition at that time was a stunning $10 registration fee each semester) I quickly developed deep friendships with 3 other guys who shared similar views as mine. If you weren’t already aware, the 1950s was a particular stultifying decade, where strict conformity to what were considered societal norms was demanded of everyone. The 4 of us would routinely bemoan the widespread conformity that had been inflicted on everyone. So we became atheistic existentialists, and tried to behave as the French existentialist writers of the time did. Writers like Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and Simone De Beauvoir. We would read all their stuff, and tried to tailor our thinking to accommodate their philosophies. When Albert Camus was killed in an auto accident in Algeria in the 1950s, it was as if we had lost a parent. To believe in God when there was so much wretchedness and despair in the world was unthinkable. When the Beat Generation finally came upon scene during the latter part of the 1950s, with writers such as Jack Kerouac and Alan Ginsburg, it felt to us like a breath of fresh air.

But it came to pass, during those college years, that each of us got a part-time job, after school,  with a tax accountant who operated in the Bedford-Stuyvestant neighborhood of Brooklyn. For those of you not familiar with Brooklyn, (shame on you, if that’s the case) “Bed-Stuy” was an all black, mostly poor working class neighborhood, similar to Harlem in Manhattan. The man we worked for, who had a typical personality one would expect in a tax accountant, was named Herman Lord. Don’t think that the irony of we 4 would-be atheists working for The Lord, as we called him, was lost on us. The Lord had built his tax practice on the premise that everyone coming in to have their income taxes prepared would get a refund. And just about everyone did, since they all had low incomes. Once a man came in that had a high enough income to where he actually owed the Government money. I almost couldn’t find the words to inform him that he had to write a check to IRS.

In those days Bed-Stuy was as free from crime as any other neighborhood in America. Some nights I was in the office by myself, as the other guys didn’t have a shift, and The Lord had decided to take the night off. Never once did I have the slightest concern for my safety. When I would leave the office about 9:PM my car was often the only one parked on the street. Never once was any damage done to it. Of course, as we all know, those days are gone forever. After I graduated college, I had to get a full time job, and could no longer work for The Lord. Shortly thereafter, I wound up relocating to Paris, France for 3 years. I’ve written several previous blogs about my experiences in Europe, if you’re further interested.

The 1950s was also the decade that Dwight Eisenhower was President. Everyone liked Ike, even if you disagreed with his policies. Who couldn’t adore that warm smile he always generated. Today’s looney-tunes Republican Party would never nominate a sane, rational and moderate man such as Eisenhower who won 2 landslide elections. Perhaps the decline of the American empire started when the nation failed to heed Ike’s warning about the growing and intrusive influence of the military-industrial complex in our every-day lives. Or, perhaps it began when us four atheists stopped working for The Lord.

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ECOLOGICAL END OF DAYS

For most people long-range planning consists of preparations for the coming weekend. Some people might establish long-range plans for their retirement years by creating specially-crafted financial investments. Most don’t, however. Some parents might establish college funds for their children’s future. A few of these often decide to vacation in places like Las Vegas and wind up blowing the kid’s college funds at the craps tables or slot machines. In the end, it’s human nature not to think very far into the future because most have a full plate just coping with the present. But if you are the parents of young children, or are just a young person period, you might want to give some thought to the long-range prospects for the fragile eco-system of this planet. Because it ain’t looking too good.

Most people are aware of the dangers of global warming and the resultant climate change that is taking place because of ever increasing amounts of carbon dioxide being pored into the atmosphere. Man-made CO2 emissions caused by the ever-increasing burning of fossil fuels. But few are aware of just how fragile the Earth’s eco-system is, and the long-term degradation of both our oceans and rain forests. Or that the ecological loss of either will in turn destroy life on this planet as we know it. Let’s start with the oceans which cover 71% of the planet’s surface. Most people have probably never heard of phytoplankton and couldn’t care less. But the oceans have lost 40% of its phytoplankton since 1950, and are currently losing about 1% of the remainder every year. Do the math to figure out how long it will be before its all gone. And why does this matter? Because if you’ve gotten into that nasty habit of inhaling oxygen every day, (isn’t it amazing how we’ve all become oxygen junkies) phytoplankton provides our planet with 50% of its total atmospheric oxygen. Breathing might become a wee bit more difficult without it. For those not in the know, phytoplankton is basically microscopic marine algae that is the foundation of all oceanic food chains.  All marine life relies on phytoplankton for its food supply, including sea mammals, sea birds, fish, and in the end, humans. Also phytoplankton absorbs about half of all the CO2 that we pump into the atmosphere on a daily basis. So in the end once these microscopic critters are fully destroyed there’s no going back and fixing the oceans. And, of course, our old friend, increased CO2 emissions is the cause of all this degradation.

O course, other factors are also destroying our oceans. Such as acidity. Oceans have become 30% more acidic in the last 100 years, thanks again to our old friend, carbon dioxide. Also more man-made fertilizer is wending its way into our oceans which further exacerbates the problem. Much marine wildlife will not be able to survive in water that has become increasingly acidic. Coral reefs, which provide habitat for over 25% of marine wildlife are disappearing at an alarming rate, and are estimated to be virtually gone within 50 years, thanks to higher levels of acidity. And I won’t even get into other oceanic destroyers like vast chunks of the Pacific Ocean being covered with plastic debris that floats on top of the water. Sea birds sometimes mistake this debris for food, nibble away at it, only to choke to death. Concerned yet? If not, perhaps a look at our rain forests might have you thinking otherwise.

Like oceans, rain forests produce a prodigious amount of oxygen and absorb huge quantities of CO2. Rain forests cover only 2% of the Earth’s surface but are home to about 50% of the planet’s plant and wildlife. I’ve written before about how scarce drinkable water is on this planet, but it’s interesting to note that about one-fifth is in the Amazon forest alone. The problem here is that rain forests are disappearing faster than a pile of snow on a warm spring day. Originally, it has been estimated that rain forests comprised about 6 million square miles of land. At least until homo sapiens came upon the scene. Then they started shrinking like a cheap cotton garment thrown in the dryer. Of course, the biggest shrinkage has been in the last 100 years when Earth’s population mushroomed from about 1.5 billion to currently, over 7 billion and climbing. Today, only about 2.6 million square miles of rain forest remain, and the rate of deforestation is accelerating.  Currently more than 56,000 square miles of rain forest are lost each year. That’s about 80,000 acres lost on a daily basis. Most losses are attributed to uncontrolled logging, farming, cattle ranching, dam building, and mining. As Earth’s population continues to explode, more people are hacking down rain forest trees so they can grow crops or raise cattle. The Amazon in Brazil alone, the largest of all rain forests, is expected to be wiped out in about 40-50 years. Oh, and did I mention that life on this planet no longer becomes sustainable with the loss of either the oceans or rain forests. Is your interest piqued yet?

A few days ago, Congresswoman Michele Bachman, when commenting on the current ongoing political debacle in Washington concerning the government shut-down, stated, in her unabashed delusional, religious fanaticism style, that she believes all this political dysfunction indicates that we are in “the end of days.” In full dingbat mode, she went on to say that this was actually a good thing, because then Jesus would reappear and sweep all those that are worthy into heaven. But laying aside her religious crackpotism, she may be on to something. Because if the degradation of the planet’s ecology continues on its present course, these indeed, may be the end of days.

Perhaps this the the natural course of universal planetary life. Perhaps there was once a thriving civilization on Mars, maybe millions, or even billions of years ago, only to be swept away because of indifference to the planet’s ecological system. As I’ve said before, old guys like me can probably make it to the end without severe ecological consequences. But for young people, or those that care about the young, it might well behoove you to take notice about the on-going ecological destruction of this planet. And perhaps even initiate some actions that could make a difference.

 

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