Monthly Archives: March 2014

THE SMARTLESS ONES

One of the cartoons in yesterday’s comic section of the paper, had the cartoon characters climbing up the peak to confer with the political correctness guru, who then informed them that calling people stupid was no longer acceptable. Instead the new politically correct terminology was “smartless.” People didn’t habitually act in incredibly stupid ways. They just fell victim to the state of smartlessness. So I thought I would illustrate how being “smartless” can often result in tragic an horrific events. Because being smartless is just another way for humans to avoid reality and dive head first into a state of delusion.

Lets go back to the 1930s when Hitler and the Nazis where gaining more and more power and control over the German population. Jews were already being persecuted, by either being hauled off to concentration camps or just outwardly murdered by Nazi thugs. (By the way, the same held true for homosexuals and political dissidents or opponents of the Nazi regime.) During this period, a new term was coined in German-“JudenFrei.” It meant that an organization, town or city had been ethnically cleansed of all Jews, and was now JudenFrei. For example, Berlin became JudenfFrei in May,1943. Being JudenFrei was cause for great celebration among the German populace. There was partying, beer drinking, fireworks, and dancing in the streets once a town or city achieved that goal. Because most Germans had already been hypnotized into a state of delusion by the skillful demagoguery of Adolph Hitler.

In actuality, the only real effect for a town to become JudenFrei, was the loss of income experienced by that town’s merchants and shopkeepers. Since Jews and others on the Nazi hit list no longer lived there, they could no longer spend their money on the goods and services available in that town. But who cared about reality in those days. After all, Germany was becoming more prosperous in the 1930s, due primarily to the huge increase in weapons production, as the Nazi war machine went into overdrive. Now there were good paying jobs for everyone. Hitler had told them that Germany was becoming more powerful and respected by the rest of the world. Especially, after the shame and disgrace Germany had been forced to suffer at the hands of the Allies after WWI, by having to sign the Treaty of Versailles which required Germany to disarm, and become a second rate country. Hitler used Germany’s supposed humiliation caused by having to sign the Treaty of Versailles as a demagogic sledgehammer on his way to achieving ultimate power.

One thing the Nazis were especially proficient at was filming Hitler and his entourage as they wended their way through an endless stream of parades. Even with cameras that would be considered obsolete by today’s technology. When those cameras spanned over the crowds, one can see hordes of young frauleins, maybe 12, 14, or 15 years old, waving and smiling in adoration, as Hitler’s motorcade slowly went by. After all what was there not to like. As long as you weren’t a Jew or homosexual or didn’t make waves. As long as you didn’t mind persecution of those that were, or a total lack of freedom of speech and press. In other words as long as you were in total denial and lived under the comfy blankets of delusion. But it wasn’t stupidity; it was just being smartless.

Such delusional stupor continued on in Germany into the early 1940s, as WWII commenced, and the Nazi war machine conquered virtually all of Europe. Only Britain and Russia were left standing, and they were hanging on by their fingernails. Then at long last, the U.S. entered the fray, the Allies regrouped, and the tide of war began to turn against Germany. Allied bombers, as they gained strength, began to bomb German cities around the clock, until they became heaps of rubble. Young frauleins were no longer gazing at Hitler in adoration, but instead, were keeping their heads down and trying to avoid being blown to bits. The average German was now being forced out of his comfy state of delusion and had to face reality whether he liked it or not. If he wanted to survive, he could no longer afford the luxury of being smartless. He was now experiencing first hand, the suffering, misery and death, that the Nazis had inflicted on the rest of Europe. That’s the thing about avoiding reality. Eventually it does catch up with you, and then the misery is usually twofold.

But we don’t have to go back decades ago to view how the human condition often leads one into a state of “smartlessness.” It’s currently going on right before our eyes in the Ukraine, as well as in other countries, including ours, of course. As I’ve recently written, the Crimea region of the Ukraine, by overwhelming majorities, has just voted to place themselves under Vladimir Putin’s boot. I’ve written previously about the dictatorial thug that is Vladimir Putin so I won’t rehash it again. Except to say he runs Russia Mafia-style where he is the Godfather; and that the Russian economy is so bad that, as a result,  the Russian birthrate is declining rapidly, to the extent that Putin himself is deeply worried. This is what the people of Crimea have so joyfully voted to become part of. Great celebrations over the Crimean vote, not just in Crimea, but in Russia too. Putin’s favorability ratings have skyrocketed due to Russia’s sudden acquisition of additional territory. Just as they celebrated Hitler’s early conquests, in Nazi Germany.

In a few months, when the situation in Crimea dies down, (assuming that it does) the average Russian and Crimean will be forced to come out of the comfy warmth of their delusions. They will be forced to face the rotten state of their lives, and how bad their economy and living conditions really are. They will have to face the fact that their only relief is to drown their sorrows in Russian-made vodka. But it’s not their fault. They were victimized by being in a state of smartlessness.

 

 

 

 

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A HOUSE DIVIDED

In 1858, in a speech Abe Lincoln gave before a Republican convention that would nominate him for the Illinois Senate race, (an election he would lose, by the way), Lincoln proclaimed the following phrase that would live in history: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was, of course, talking about the issue of slavery which had so polarized the country, that civil war would break out almost immediately after he was elected President 2 years later. A civil war that would claim the lives of over 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million with today’s population. The 1858 Senatorial race was between Lincoln and his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas who would win the election, and it resulted in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, which were mostly about the slavery issue. The same 2 squared off for the presidency 2 years later, and as we all know, Lincoln was the victor in that campaign. The relevance to today’s landscape, however, is that this country is more polarized and divided, as well as mired in dysfunction, as it has been at any time since those historical events more than 150 years ago. So let us examine the different ways that the country is split into ever growing fault lines.

Let’s start with the difference between rural and city life in America, today. That’s relevant because voters in small town America tend to vote heavily for Republicans, while metropolitan areas vote Democratic almost as heavily. That Red State-Blue State thingy. It all comes down to a question of values. People living in rural, small town-America tend to be more religious and self-protectionist. It’s a matter of tradition. Bibles and guns are the mainstay of most people living in the country-side. They have been raised to believe in a literal translation of both the old and new testaments, and no force on Earth can shake the foundations of those beliefs. Of course gay marriage should be prohibited since homosexuality is a sin. It says so, loud and clear, in the bible. Likewise, all abortions should be banned, since only God can take a human life. (Although, interestingly, all these anti-abortionists seem to have no trouble with the government executing criminals.) And it’s rather difficult to pinpoint a biblical passage that strictly forbids abortions. Not that any of that matters, since most religious beliefs come from sermons being preached in churches across the nation by priests that apparently have an insider’s pipeline to God’s desires.

As for the guns part of bibles and guns-wasn’t Jesus packing heat when he gave his famous sermon on the mount. Besides, doesn’t everyone know that our immoral, communistic, atheistic government would throw us all into concentration camps without hesitation, if we didn’t maintain our own guns. And not just a handgun, but an entire arsenal of weaponry. So goes the thinking over much of rural America. Such are the beliefs that one in indoctrinated with while growing up in this country environment. Young people being raised in this setting, if they are sharper, more industrious, and more ambitious, will often leave these small towns for metropolitan areas where they have much greater economic, cultural, and entertainment opportunities. Those that stay behind are usually more content to lead the same lives as their parents did, and inherit the same set of doctrines and dogma. Thus, the Republican Party, which goes out of its way to cater to religious evangelicals, or bible thumpers, as I would call them, reaps the lion’s share of the vote in rural America.

Living in big cities almost forces people to become more tolerant. While rural America is almost solidly white, metropolitan areas usually consist of a mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Moslems, Jews, etc. Gays are just as likely to be living in the apartment next to yours as are heterosexuals. If one is to live well in big city life, the dogma of demonizing homosexuals, or other religions or races, or women having an abortion, necessarily must become a thing of the past. Hence, city dwellers become less attached the the religious dogma they may have been raised with, and increasingly become more secular and more tolerant. They will then mostly vote for Democrats who are more in tune with their secular beliefs.

One can also look at the great political divide in this country as between white men and the rest of the populace. White men (and often married white women) tend to vote mostly Republican, because they feel their privileged status in American society is being taken away from them. With black, Hispanic and Asian populations seemingly on the increase, older white men and women believe that a time will come in the not too distant future, when they will no longer be able to call the shots. Then all these minorities will become the dominant voting bloc, which, in turn, will greatly increase government handouts and welfare payments to people too lazy and shiftless to fend for themselves. Or so goes their thinking. Thus, the GOP, which is continually trying to significantly cut the food stamp program, housing assistance, or health insurance benefits, is the party for them. Democrats tend to exhibit more empathy for for minorities or those in need of financial help. This doesn’t sit well with the current white majority.

The thing about our current political divide is that it is increasingly hardening. Less and less is there any room for political compromise, or a meeting of the minds. In this November’s election, if the GOP gains control of both the House and the Senate, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, today’s dysfunction and polarization will seem like a minor spat between family members. And all political pundits are predicting that Republicans will win big time. Then we will truly become a house divided against itself, as Lincoln warned 150 years ago. And we all know how well that turned out last time.

 

 

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NO REMEDY FOR ACTING STUPID

There was an article, a little over a year ago, about a woman in Minnesota, in her early 60s that was suffering from a heart condition. One morning she woke up and had great difficulty breathing. She managed to arrange to shortly see her cardiologist, who was able to bring her breathing difficulties under control.   But it was the beginning of July and the woman mentioned that she and her husband had been invited to a neighborhood outdoor party for the Fourth of July holiday. Under no condition, the doctor warned her sternly, was she to eat any hot dogs or other similarly fatty foods. If she did, he admonished, she would likely wind up in the hospital. So did this woman heed the doctor’s clear warning and wisely choose her food selections at the neighborhood party? Of course not. That would have been too rational. Instead, she let her weakness for consuming hot dogs gain the upper hand, and knocked down two extra large ones in the blink of an eye. And sure enough, the next day, she suffered a mild heart attack and had to be rushed to the hospital. After all, what was more important-continued living, or the few minutes of pleasurable taste attained in eating those hot dogs.

It’s too bad that medical science has not been able to develop a pill, or a therapy, for curing stupid. For example, almost 43 million adults, or near a quarter of the adult population 18 years or older, continue to smoke in this country. This, despite over 50 years of harsh warnings from the Surgeon General on down to the local councilman, about the destructively ill effects resulting from smoking. Despite the fact that over 400,000 Americans die a painful death each year as a result of smoking. Millions more develop life-long debilitating illnesses. It is also interesting to note that all these millions of smokers, at one time or another, manage to wind up in Las Vegas casinos. Because casinos are the one place in America where smoking is not only not demonized, it is, in fact, welcomed. Because casino owners know that as eager tourists start shoveling their life savings into slot machines or the craps tables, smoking is the one outlet left to help soothe the nerves of people that have just lost a bundle. They also get free drinks, as long as they’re gambling, to further calm their anguish.

This is sort of a long way around to discuss the situation in Crimea, where over 90% of the Crimean population just voted to align themselves with Russia instead the Ukraine which they are actually part of. To put themselves under Vladimir Putin’s boot, so to speak. Because life in Russia is so peachy. I discussed last time, the thug and tyrant that is Vladimir Putin, so I won’t rehash that again. Suffice to say that the Russians themselves are not quite as enthralled as the Crimeans. An interesting detail is the fact that Russia is slowly but steadily losing population. Even Putin has decried the seriousness of this problem. In the early 1990s, Russia’s population stood at 148 million people. Today, it has declined to 143 million, and continues to fall at a rate of 700,000 to 800,000 per year. It’s like watching a catastrophe unfolding in slow motion. By 2050, it’s estimated that the Russian population will be down to 110 million.

Apparently the Russians themselves don’t believe they are quite living in the Garden of Eden, as their death rate continues to outstrip their birth rate. Russia’s death rate is 15 people per 1000, each year. That’s far higher than the world average of 9 people per 1000, per year. In the U.S. it’s 8 per 1000.   In Russia, people die at an earlier age than in most countries, mainly because of rampant alcoholism. For example, the average longevity for men in Russia is 59, versus about 76 for men in this country. The primary reason for the difference is alcoholism, especially among men. As I mentioned last time, Putin’s cronies get all the capital, and the rest of the peasants, who generally experience great economic hardships, are left to drown their sorrows in Russian vodka.

Coupled with the high death rate in Russia, is an exceedingly low birth rate. Due to poor economic conditions, freezing weather, and a general lack of freedom and liberty, Russian couples are becoming less inclined to bring new off-spring into the world. The Russian fertility rate stands at only 1.3 births per woman during her lifetime. A replacement rate of 2.1 births per woman is required for the population to just stay even. In overall numbers, this amounts to about 10 births per 1000 people, versus the 20 deaths per 1000 that is currently occurring in Russia. Doesn’t look to me like there’s a lot of sustainability there.

Other European countries who also have low birth rates, (not as low as Russia’s birth rate, however) are experiencing a considerable influx of immigrants, which helps them maintain a sustainable population rate. However, the amount of immigrant migration to Russia is virtually nil, primarily because of the poor economic outlook. In fact, the emigration out of Russia, especially for the best and brightest who seek better economic opportunity in other European countries, often exceeds immigration into Russia. The Russian economy is built around one product, which is energy. It does have considerable deposits of oil, gas and coal. But due to the crony capitalism inherent in operating the Russian energy system, there is great waste, fraud and mis-management which results in low productivity. In any event, it’s difficult to achieve a high functioning economy with just one product. Oh, and there’s vodka manufacturing, also.

So congratulations to all those that voted in Crimea to cast their lot with the Russian bear. You’re joining a system that most people with brains are running away from. But as I said at the beginning, science has yet to develop a remedy for stupid. That’s the one freedom that no one can take away-the freedom to act with stupidity.

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THE UKRAINE DEBACLE

Hillary Clinton was right-0n target when she described Vladimir Putin and his Russian forces take-over of the Crimean sector of the Ukraine as being virtually identical to Hitler’s takeover of Chechoslovakia. In 1938, Hitler marched his Nazi troops into northern Chechoslovakia on the pretext that he was merely protecting the rights of the large German population that inhabited that region. This led to the infamous Munich conference between Hitler and England’s Neville Chamberlain as well as the Prime Minister of France. Hitler promised no further military incursions if his act of aggression was allowed to stand. Chamberlain agreed, and returned home to wildly cheering crowds when he proclaimed that that he had “achieved peace in our time.” At Chechoslovakia’s expense, of course. The French PM knew this was all a charade but was powerless to reverse the course that was unfolding. It was only a few months later that Hitler tore up the Munich accord by taking over the rest of Chechoslovakia, and then invading Poland, as World War II was on for real. The British finally came to their senses and replaced Chamberlain’s policy of appeasement, with the toughness and realism of a Winston Churchill.

So it is with Putin’s military takeover of Crimea. After all, he only did it to protect the rights of the large Russian populace currently living in Crimea. The first thing to know is that Putin is an old KGB mid-level thug who rose to power with the fall of the old Soviet empire. The KGB was Moscow’s equivalent of the Nazi Gestapo, and had used virtually identical Gestapo methods as standard operating procedure. Since knocking off his opponents and achieving ultimate power, Putin runs the Russian government Mafia-style. If anyone of significance crosses him, they’re either deposited in Siberian prison camps for the duration, or just simply eliminated. Putin’s economic system relies heavily on crony capitalism-his cronies receive all the capital, and the rest of the peasants are left with their vodka to blot out their unhappy lives. As I’ve said, it’s a Mafia-style government with Putin being the godfather, or the boss of bosses. It’s a primary reason that Russia is chief among all nations in the world, in actually losing population, due to a significantly declining  birth rate, that doesn’t keep pace with its death rate.

The thing is, however, that Putin is also a highly ambitious man, and is not satisfied with just ruling Russia. He has big dreams of re-assembling the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or USSR, and bringing it all under his command. In 2008, his troops invaded and took over half the state of adjoining Georgia, while President George W. Bush, and the rest of the world stood by and did nothing. He maintains an iron-grip on Chechnya, which is a Moslem country fighting for years for its independence from Russia. The Chechnians have resorted to unleashing horrific terrorist acts against the Russian people; but this has not dissuaded Putin from granting Chechnya its freedom.  The Ukraine, however, is the biggest prize in Putin’s ambitions, and the takeover of Crimea is just the beginning.

Just as Hitler got to preside over the 1936 summer Olympics in Berlin, shortly before the out break of WWII, Putin took center-stage over the 2014  just-ended winter Olympics in Russia, shortly before invading Crimea. Amazing how consistently history keeps repeating itself. Both men presented themselves as models of rationality who enjoyed world class sporting events as much as the next guy. Their sinister goals remained well-hidden during the Olympic festivities. But the wolf in sheep’s clothing eventually bares its fangs. And when it does people die.

The mess in the Ukraine began when its democratically elected leader decided to switch sides. Preparations had been made for the Ukraine to join the European Union, which would enable it to reap all the trade, economic, and other financial benefits that membership in the EU had to offer. The whole world expected that to occur, including the leadership in this country. But Putin could never allow that to happen. At the last minute, Putin persuaded the Ukrainian leader to renounce EU membership and, instead, come in under Russia’s umbrella. The Ukrainian people were up in arms and massive demonstrations started taking place. The government’s answer was to slaughter protesters by the hundreds as the streets literally ran with blood. Even more massive protests took place, and the Ukrainian government was finally overthrown, with its leader fleeing for his life to Russia. An interim government has been established, with a pro-western agenda. It was at this point that Putin decided on a military take-over of the Crimean portion of the Ukraine, which is now solidly inside the Russian orbit.

While President Obama and other western allies have generally denounced Russia’s military aggression, there’s not a lot options available to us. There was a time in recent history when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization had the military muscle to counter such Russian operations, but it no longer does. Today NATO is just a shadow of its former self. England, France and Germany have cut their military resources to the bone; leaving the U.S. to pretty much do all the heavy lifting. It’s one of the reasons why we sustain $700 billion dollars a year in Defense expenditures. But there is virtually no appetite in this country for further military adventurism for any reason. After being sapped by a decade’s-long war in Iraq, and a still on-going 13 year-old war in Afghanistan, the one thing almost all Americans agree on is, no more military involvements.

There has been talk of imposing economic or financial sanctions against Russia, but major problems exist with those courses of action too. Russia supplies western Europe and the Ukraine with almost all of its energy resources. Gas and oil flow through Russian pipelines to virtually every European country. If we imposed economic sanctions against Russia, Putin could just as easily shut down all Russian energy deliveries to the rest of Europe. It’s known as being caught between a rock and a hard place. So consider that Crimea is now permanently within Moscow’s sphere of influence. The real question is, however, whether or not Putin will be satisfied with just ownership of Crimea, or does he have all of the Ukraine within his sight. Stay tuned for further developments.

 

 

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THE KOCH BROTHERS

It was probably, mostly true a century and a half ago, when Abe Lincoln stated in his famous Gettysburg Address, that this was a nation “of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Back in Lincoln’s time, candidates could often run for political office on a shoe-string, and money didn’t come close to dominating the political landscape to the extent it does today. So there was a semblance back then, that the democratic process truly ruled America. Now, a 150 years later, we know that this is no longer the case. Today, if anyone desires to run for a political office higher than local dogcatcher, he or she will need fistfuls of cash just to get out of the starting gate. And the higher the office, the more money required. In the 2012 presidential election, the 2 major party candidates managed to blow through a cool billion dollars, just so one of them could occupy the oval office. So I thought it might be interesting to look at who is providing all this cash, since these are the people that really run America.

When the two major parties have their political conventions every 4 years to nominate their candidates for the office of the presidency, thousands of delegates swarm onto the convention floor with great hoopla. There’s a lot of noise, singing and shouting, horn blowing, balloons, and endless speeches demonizing the other party’s choice, while, of course, praising their own guys. There is endless pontificating and merriment, all of which is televised for the home viewing public. What TV viewers don’t see, however, are the large, black limousines that pull up to side or back entrances and off-load a bunch of usually older men in dark suits, (they’re almost always men), who are then escorted to luxury quarters somewhere in that convention center. These are the rich men that really run America, and there’s no way they would mix with the rabble on the convention floor. But they show up to make sure that the multi-millions they’ve stuffed into various candidates pockets is a wise investment and money well spent. Sometimes these billionaires don’t even bother going to the convention center; but, instead, rent out luxury suites in nearby 5-star hotels, from whence they can watch the  convention proceedings on large-screen TVs.

Besides the regal furnishings in these quarters, the world’s finest booze is on display for their drinking pleasures. Imported caviar and other delicacies are available if they get hungry. There are also likely the best cigars, illegally imported from Cuba. So these men settle into plush recliners, with their 30-year-old scotches in hand, and watch to see that the candidates they’ve bought and paid for, deliver the goods as directed. Each party has their own contingent of such billionaires, which is the only reason that political contests remain somewhat competitive. But chief among the billionaires that run America are 2 men in their seventies, known as the Koch brothers. (Their name is pronounced coke, as in diet coke.)

Charles and David Koch are major industrialists that privately own a series of enterprises, most of them in the chemical and energy fields, that have given them the enormous wealth it takes to buy the candidates that will rule America. These 2 men not only own politicians, but they also invest heavily in a slew of right-wing initiatives such as anti-abortion and anti-gay rights. To give an example of their political philosophy, David, the younger brother, ran as the Libertarian candidate in 1980, on a platform of abolishing Social Security, Medicare, the FBI, the CIA, and the public school system. He lost, of course, but in the process, poured $500,000 of his own money into his campaign. After that, the 2 bothers acknowledged that the best way to achieve their goals was to invest heavily in the Republican Party, as well as other various far-right causes. Currently, the Koch Brothers teamed up with an organization called Freedom Partners, which has poured $236 million into far-right operatives such as the Tea Party Patriots, that have been vehemently advocating for the de-funding of ObamaCare. The brothers were estimated to have given Mitt Romney $86 million for his 2012 mis-adventure. They have also supplied millions to organizations in California that fought the legalization of gay-marriage in that state. When Republican Governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker, was recalled because of his efforts to repeal state workers collective bargaining rights, the Koch brothers infused Walker’s campaign with sufficient funding to ensure his re-election. Governor Scott Walker, successfully bought and paid for.

The Koch brothers have also spent tens of million of dollars fighting EPA rulings on limiting carbon dioxide emissions, as well as campaigning for unfettered energy usage from coal, oil and gas.The list of organizations receiving big-time Koch funding reads like a who’s-who of far right-wing looney-tunesville activities. So why is this germane now in 2014. Because starting this past January, the Koch brothers have already heavily funded  GOP ads running in supposed “red states” where Democratic senators up for re-election later this year. These TV ads focus heavily on the poor initial  rollout of ObamaCare and its continuing mishaps. The GOP believes that ObamaCare ills are the holy grail to achieving Republican domination in both the Senate and House; and the Koch brothers aim to provide the cash infusion to make that happen. At this point in time, it appears that they will achieve their goal.

Of course, the Democrats have their share of billionaires who provide funding for their causes, such as George Soros, for example. The truth is that both parties are hopelessly compromised by their base voters. The Democrats are compromised by relying on big labor unions and environmental extremists to provide for their cash requirements. The Republicans are compromised by their base of bible thumpers, i.e., all the anti-abortionists, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration extremists, as well as billionaires who feel it would be really neat to make the wealthy even richer at the expense of the middle and lower classes. The ship of state in the U.S. will never right its course until a third party is formed to represent the overwhelming majority of people that don’t fall into those categories. Unfortunately, I don’t see that happening, especially not in my lifetime.

 

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