Monthly Archives: December 2013

TAKING INVENTORY

As 2013 winds down to its dreary conclusion, a look back over the year would seem to be in order. Both internationally and here in the U.S., events generally did not go well. From the hysterics surrounding the rollout of ObamaCare and the general dysfunction and demonization of political opponents in our so-called government, to to the triumphs of tyrants and murderers abroad, 2013 will not make the hit parade of winners over the years, decades or centuries, past or future. So lets us start with the “unpleasantness” occurring overseas before we swing back to what has taken place in this country.

Take Greece. Please. (Still attached to that old Hennie Youngman joke.) Greece, as we all know, has long been considered the cradle of democracy, if not civilization itself. Between Plato, Socrates, Homer and others, Greece has profoundly enriched western civilization and culture with literature, art, philosophy, etc. But modern day Greece, as we further know, has been an economic basket case. The country has been in a virtual state of bankruptcy for at least the last 6 years, and its economy would have been driven down to the very depths of depression if it hadn’t received continual cash infusions from wealthier European countries such as Germany. So, as what usually happens in societies that are suffering hard economic times, extremism on a broad scale has raised its ugly head.

A political movement in Greece called “Golden Dawn” which espouses a neo-Nazi philosophy, has been steadily gaining political muscle and influence. Much like the race riots caused by Nazi brownshirts in 1920s Germany, the Greek police have generally stood on the sidelines while Golden Dawn’s para-military squads have rolled into action, spewing forth hate and violent demonstrations against anyone deemed genetically inferior. And much like Hitler and the Nazis in the 1920s, Golden Dawn, once considered a fringe group known for its stiff-arm salutes and Holocaust denials, has now achieved at least 15% support and growing, among the Greek populace. They also have 18 seats now in the Greek parliament. Emboldened by their rising popularity and parliamentary successes, Golden Dawn has embarked on an ever-increasing level of racial violence and street demonstrations which have resulted in scores of deaths. And why not? This was the same route so successfully taken by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis on their road to political domination. So, in addition to the economic misery the average Greek citizen is expected to suffer through, they now have to combat the rising tide of right-wing fanaticism. And I would submit that all this is all going on under most Americans radar screens.

I’ve written before about the other on-going, long-term,  festering foreign policy  problems that the U.S. tends more and more to walk away from. In 2013, the rising tide of U.S. isolationism gathered increased momentum. Both the political left and right in this country have entered into an unholy alliance to disengage from foreign affairs. For example, the one thing that Ted Cruz, on the far-far right, complimented President Obama for, was not taking military action in Syria. Even though bloody dictator Basher Assad has now slaughtered about 130,000 of his on people in a never-ending civil war. Even though Assad crossed Obama’s red line in the sand by using chemical warfare in killing hundreds of Syrians. Even though Assad orders bombings of Syrian cities, killing hundreds on a daily basis. But who are we to intervene? Certainly not the leader of the free world. Not anymore.

I’ve also written before about how Iran, the leading world sponsor of terrorism, is first-down and goal to go on the one yard line, as far as acquiring nuclear weaponry. About how, in 2013, we’ve eased up on the economic sanctions placed on Iran in attempting dissuade the ruling mullahs from crossing that goal line. In return for relaxed sanctions we’ve gotten supposed negotiations which appear to be going no-where. About how absent any direct military action by this country in bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, they will almost certainly come into possession of dirty bombs. And, about how, given the growing isolationist tendencies in the U.S., the chances of such military action are about….less than zero. Because we all know how well isolationism worked out in the past; say just before WWII. The one thing I’ve learned in life is that there’s always a price to pay for every action, or inaction, as the case may be. That free lunch everyone’s always looking for-it just ain’t there.

Moving back to our shores, 2013 saw an increasing amount of dysfunction and polarization among the American public and its representatives. We saw the Government shut down for weeks in October, as both parties created one phony crises after another to further their political agendas. Any thought of actually enacting something beneficial for the American public evaporated like the morning mist. As a result, the decades-long decline of the American middle-class continued unabated. Average annual income for middle-class families declined from about $56,000 before the recession to about an inflation-adjusted $51,000 currently. Meanwhile, the richest one or two percent saw their wealth grow considerably higher. We are becoming more and more like a third-world banana republic, where the one percent richest elite will rule the rest of us peasants. Republicans, smelling blood in the water, are attacking the highly Democratic ineptitude in rolling out ObamaCare. The GOP figures that the ObamaCare failures in 2013 will give them an absolute lock on winning both the House and the Senate in 2014, and perhaps they’re right. Won’t life in America be fun then. So to my thinking, 2013 has recorded a pretty dismal record when it comes to the betterment of mankind’s future.

Meanwhile, dysfunction will still be the order of the day, come 2014. Starting early next year, another Government shutdown is looming over the debt-ceiling debacle. And I haven’t even discussed the enormous progress made in  the ecological degradation of our planet during 2013, and sure to continue as 2014 unfurls. (I’ve written about that previously, if anyone is interested.) So raise a glass of good cheer come New Year’s Eve. After all, the fun just never stops coming.

 

 

 

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IN GOD’S IMAGE

A few years back, the late author and intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, wrote a book entitled-“God Is Not Great,” which, in my opinion, contained a very provocative concept. Hitchens stated that-“God did not create man. It’s the other way around. Man created God.” His theory was that because of man’s fear of the unknown, and of death, man had to create a being greater than himself, to provide comfort from the stresses of living, and an after-life to alleviate the fear of death. Over the millions of years these belief systems  evolved, first into pagan religions that worshipped idols, and then into the formal religions that we have today such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. But all these religions have one thing in common; they are all man-made. The Hebrew old testament, the Christen new testament, the Moslem Koran, etc. were all written by men. Not a single word was scripted by God. This, of course, left man, or at least the men that were writing these bibles, which went on to serve as the underpinnings of their religions, a free hand to create God in whatever image they desired. So let’s examine how man created at least one of these major religions, Christianity, since it’s the primary belief system in the U.S. And, of course, the time of year when Christianity is most celebrated.

While the new testament supposedly convey’s a message of love, compassion, empathy and respect for your fellow human beings, many conservative Christian pastors don’t quite see it that way. For example, North Carolina pastor Charles Worley (who has a huge following) recently sermonized about creating a gay concentration camp. “Have the fence electrified so the homosexuals can’t get out. In a few years they’ll die out… because they can’t reproduce.”

Or how about Kansas pastor Curtis Knapp, who, during a recent sermon about homosexuality, stated-“Oh, so you’re saying that we should go out and start killing them? No, I’m saying the Government should. They won’t, but they should.” Or maybe the colorful language expressed by Indiana pastor Paul Brewster might be considered more vivid when he said-“A decision to allow same-sex marriages today lays the foundation for the definition of marriage to become silly putty tomorrow…which is a recipe for children to be made victims of all sorts of abuse, and the welfare of our society to receive a fatal blow.” I would also be remiss if I left out Maryland’s pastor Dennis Letterman’s shouts from the pulpit, when referring to homosexuals-“Kill them all. Right? My flesh kind of likes that idea.”

Perhaps we should put pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona at the top of the homophobic and Obama hate list. A few of his recent quotes will show why. “Let me tell you something: Barack Obama has wrought lewdness in America. America has become lewd…. Obscene. Dirty Filthy. Homosexuality. Promiscuity… We don’t even know what lewdness means anymore. We’re just surrounded by it. Inundated with it.” Or how about, when referring to President Obama, stating-…you’re going to tell me that I’m supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children or babies killed through abortion….No, I’m not gonna pray for his good. I’m gonna pray that he dies and goes to hell….When I go to bed tonight, that’s what I’m going to pray.”

Well, you might say. These are just small time hate-mongers preaching to like minded rubes in the hinterlands. Okay, then let’s hit the big time. One such prime-time pastor is Mark Driscoll who preaches every Sunday to over 7000 congregants at the Mars Hill mega church in Seattle, WA. Besides his attendees, hundreds of thousands more people are estimated to watch his sermons on YouTube every week. He’s been preaching for over 15 years and he doesn’t view Jesus, or Christianity as being all that empathetic. Recently he stated that-“Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning. Once the wick is burned up, he’s saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.”

Can’t you just feel the love. In 2007 Driscoll sneered at Christians who “recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair.” Instead he said that”Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand and the commitment to make somebody bleed.” Of course, preaching a violent rather than peaceful or loving form of Christianity has a long history in the U.S. In the early part of the 20th century the Reverend Billy Sunday developed an immense following by sermonizing about the fires of hell and damnation that await all sinners, which included just about everybody older than nine. In the 1930s, Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience as he spewed forth a particularly virulent form of anti-semitism.

Not that other religions don’t spew forth hate and violence as well, all in the name of God. A prime example being the mullahs in various mosques around the world ranting on about Islamic Jihadism. But I don’t put the blame on any of these sermonizers. They’re just giving their audiences what they want to hear. As long as so many people in this world possess such huge quantities of hate and vitriol, you can bet that preachers in all religions will arise to give them what they’re asking for. If the demand is there opportunists will come forth to provide the supply. If, as Christopher Hitchens said, man created God, then man also has the option of defining or redefining God in any manner that’s suitable to his whims.

 

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LURKING UNDER THE HOLIDAY RADAR

We’re currently right in the middle of the holiday season; a time for merriment, frolicking, and joy for all. Or almost all. A time for lighting up Christmas trees all over the world, or decorating the exterior of one’s house to resemble pinball machines. A time for office and neighborhood parties, for egg nog or harder spirits, and for gorging and feasting on holiday treats with a calorie-be damned attitude. After all, we’ll all go back on our diets after the new year, won’t we? It’s a time for college students to enjoy a lengthy break from their studies and return home to their families, or for extraordinarily lucky ones, to vacation in some tropical paradise. A time to engage in holiday shopping in overcrowded malls with lengthy lines at the checkout counters in most stores, for gift giving and receiving, and perhaps for even feeling more generous than usual toward one’s fellow man.

Of course, not every one will be in such a celebratory mood. Ask the 1.3 million, long-term, unemployed Americans whose benefits are about to run out just before Christmas, if they’re experiencing heaps of the holiday spirit. These people receive roughly $325 a week in unemployment payments which enables them to sleep with a roof over their heads and put some food on the table. But the legislation providing these benefits expires shortly, and our dysfunctional Congress seems little inclined to renew it. Which leaves these people with 2 alternatives; either becoming homeless, or just simply dying. Or how about the millions of people incarcerated in our nations prisons. Think they’ll be frolicking in their cells? Many are there for either using or selling illegal substances such as marijuana or heroin. While these may be unwise choices, the stupidity of jailing people for bad decisions not only destroys millions of lives, it also costs the taxpayer hundreds of billions dollars. While the most deadly substance of all, smoking tobacco, remains perfectly legal.

In any event, I thought it might be fun to examine some of the world’s problems that we like to ignore during the holiday season, but which stubbornly refuse to go away, even with the on-going holiday merriment. The ones currently flying below the radar screen, but which will emerge in all their full glory, come January. Take Iran, for example. Please.

Iran, which is the world’s leading purveyor of terrorism and anti-semitism, is first down with goal to go on the one-yard line, as far as acquiring nuclear weaponry. Those crazy-kid mullahs who run the country have repeated many times that their ultimate goal is the destruction of Israel. The acquisition of nuclear bombs will, of course, give them the means of accomplishing that goal. It doesn’t have to be a direct attack either. For example, a nuclear suitcase bomb left in a hotel room in Tel-Aviv by an Iranian sponsored terrorist, will not only kill hundreds of thousands of residents, it would render the city uninhabitable for generations to come. Israel would undoubtably respond by unleashing their own nuclear missiles against Iran which could kill millions more. But the carnage would not end there. Radiation clouds would form in the stratosphere and travel around the globe, pouring down radiation poisoning on all countries.

The U.S. effort to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weaponry has been to impose fairly tough economic sanctions on that country. While these sanctions have resulted in some impairment of Iran’s economy, they have apparently not been enough to dissuade the mullahs from pushing ahead with their nuclear ambitions. So now, the Obama Administration has engaged Iran in negotiations to prevent its nuclear acquisition. As part of these talks, we have eased up on many of the existing sanctions while Iran has given up virtually nothing. Most foreign policy experts believe it’s sheer folly to expect Iran to discontinue its nuclear bomb development no matter what the on-going talks produce. The mullahs running the country are too fanatical in their hatred of Israel and the U.S. for that to happen. By the way, since the Iranian government despises the U.S. almost as much as Israel, a dirty bomb placed in a hotel room in Houston or Chicago would not be beyond the realm of possibilities. The only way to stop Iran from from acquiring nuclear weaponry would be for the U.S. to undertake decisive military action against Iran’s nuclear facilities, such as around-the-clock bombing of these facilities until they are ruble. But that will never happen with this Administration; nor would it have happened had his Mittness won the presidency in 2012.

Speaking of weak foreign policy initiatives, the on-going “civil war” in Syria continues unabated with us doing nothing about it. The Assad government long ago crossed Obama’s red line in the sand by killing thousands of its fellow country-men using chemical weapons, with out any repercussions from the West. The war is now pretty much stalemated, but the killing goes on without any end in sight. And we do absolutely nothing; a course strongly applauded by both the far right and far left. The one thing that Ted Cruz praised Obama for was not taking any military action in Syria. A good illustration of the sanity of that foreign policy position.

Of course, many other long-term disasters are waiting in the wings. I’ve written before about how the steady and systematic destruction of our rain forests and oceans, coupled with climate change, will have devastating consequences for the very existence of life on this planet. Or how about our highly dysfunctional and polarized government that can no longer produce anything of benefit for its citizenry. The same citizenry that elected this government into power in the first place. I could go on but you get the picture. Besides it’s holiday time. So get in the holiday spirit, and eat, drink and join in all the festivities. We don’t have to check the radar screen until after the first. That’s when we’ll go back on our diets too. And also pay attention to what’s going on in the world.

 

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CAPITALISM’S CASUALTIES

I haven’t writing for awhile, mainly because of doctors appointments, (that senior thing again) and going away for the Thanksgiving Day thingy. Now all that is past, so I thought I would write about one of my favorite topics, as the title explains. It should be a quick and easy read, however. As Elizabeth Taylor said to each of her 7 husbands – I won’t keep you long.

The subject is capitalism, which every single person is involved with, whether they like it or not. Or more explicitly, those that have been victims to the many downsides of capitalism. Capitalism, as we know it today, was kicked into hi-gear by what historians refer to as the Industrial Revolution; which is generally accepted to have taken place from the mid-18th century thru the mid-19th century. Although, of course, the Industrial Revolution has been ever on-going. The latest manifestation, for about the last 30 years, has been in the electronics industry with the proliferation of home and business computers, I-Pods, tablets, and, of course, the latest consumer craze – grossly overpriced cell phones.

To set the mood, picture that since the beginning of time until late into the 1700s, the societies of most of Europe and North America were rooted in agriculture. Farming was the primary industry throughout both continents. Farmers would grow their own food, and what was considered excess would be sold in local markets. Whatever manufacturing that existed at the time, such as the production of clothing, tools, furniture, and horse drawn carriages, etc., were often made in people’s homes or small workshops. But the Industrial Revolution remarkably and dramatically changed all that. It started in England, where a previously manual labor-based economy transitioned into a machine and factory-based type of mechanization. It then spread to North America with the mechanization and factory creation of the textile industries, the development of iron-making techniques and subsequently steel, and the increased development and use of refined coal. Trade expansion was dramatically increased through the introduction of canals, improved roadways, and, of course, railroads. The development of all metal machine tools in the early 1800s facilitated the manufacture of more production machinery in an ever increasing proliferation of factories. Production of goods began shifting from a manual labor-based effort, to that of factory machinery- driven assembly lines. The world began changing in profound ways.

The Industrial Revolution marked a major turning point in human history. The cost of producing those products that were on the market at that time dropped significantly with the introduction of factory mechanization. People who had known nothing farming all their lives began moving off  farms and into cities where most factories were located. As small as pay scales were for factory workers at the time, they were still better than eking out a meager and back-breaking existence by continually tilling the land. In fact, average income began to experience unprecedented sustained growth. In the two centuries following 1800, the world’s per capita income increased over 10-fold from where it had been from the previous 10,000 years. As Nobel Prize winner Robert Lucas wrote: “For the first time in history, the living standards for the masses of ordinary people began to undergo sustained growth. Nothing like this economic behavior has happened before.”

That’s the good part of capitalism. Now for the bad. The fundamental cornerstone of capitalism is based on a few people with extraordinary talent exploiting the masses that don’t have similar talents. Exploitation is the very foundation of capitalism. For example, in the 19th century, a guy named John D. Rockefeller came to understand that energy was the very lifeblood of the Industrial Revolution. He further came to know that oil could be a relatively cheap and plentiful source of energy to fuel factories and homes. The rest, as they say, is history. He founded a giant oil discovery and refining empire starting with Standard Oil, and made billions (in today’s money.) While his employees who often put their lives on the line drilling for or refining oil, earned chump change. Same with Andrew Carnegie. To be fair, though, both John D. and Andrew, in later life, set up charitable trusts and started giving away their money almost as fast as they made it.

Other bad examples abound and are too numerous to list them all. For instance, sweat shops sprung up like weeds where textiles were manufactured. They employed mostly women, who had to slave over sewing machines, in the most narrow confines of non-ventilated of spaces. Since the air on these factory floors was both stale and hot, they weren’t called sweat shops for nothing. Children were often employed in these sweat shops, as young as six. It wasn’t until Teddy Roosevelt became President in the early 1900s, that Congress finally passed legislation prohibiting the employment in these sweat shops of anyone under the ripe old age of 14. Since safety regulations were non-existent back then, it was not uncommon for fires to break out in these sweat shops killing many workers. Or how about coolie wages, which I assume most of you have heard of. Coolie wages got it’s name from what workers who built transcontinental rail lines in the 19th century were paid. Most of these workers were immigrants from Asia (mostly Chinese) and were paid little more than slop that was passed off as food and sleeping quarters, for their back-breaking labors. Needless to say, life expectancy among the working class did not extend into longevity.

The institution of slavery, particularly in the South, and in the British territories was based on obtaining the cheapest of labor costs, a fundamental principle of capitalism. The picking and manufacture of cotton was the prime industry of the American south, and slavery offered plantation owners the lowest possible labor costs. That’s why it took a bloody civil war to get rid of it. In today’s world, much, of course, has greatly improved in terms of wages and working conditions for virtually all workers. But millions of what would be well paying jobs in the U.S. have been shipped overseas where labor is far cheaper, in accordance with the rules of capitalism. That’s why the American economy is limping along with high unemployment. Average per capita income has steadily headed downward for middle-class families for the last 30 years, not only here, but in most of Europe as well. Perhaps the leaks in capitalism’s well-crafted dike have sprung into gushers.

Well, I’ve kept you longer than I intended, but I would like to mention one other thing. The new catholic pope, Francis, very recently came out with a paper critical of capitalism. He specifically mentioned “trickle-down economics” as being particularly injurious to the poor. Or to those who, for whatever reason, cannot function well in a capitalist society. And here, all along, I thought trickle-down economics was the cornerstone of the Republican Party’s platform.

 

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