Monthly Archives: April 2014

BALLOT ABSURDITIES

When the Civil War ended ended 150 years ago, President Lincoln managed, mainly through bribery and intimidation, to get the 13th amendment passed which formerly ended the practice of slavery. Shortly after Lincoln’s assassination, the 14th amendment was also passed which gave former slaves full citizenship including the right to vote. Since there were heavy black populations in the deep South, especially in states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, the fear among whites was that blacks voting in large numbers, could team up with enough whites that might have had a sliver of conscience, to elect candidates that actually possessed some human decency. Well, you certainly couldn’t let that happen. So the Southern white majority, along with all the segregation and Jim Crow laws, enacted legislation to assure that blacks would be unable to vote in any significant numbers.

First of all, most freed slaves possessed little if any education, or job skills, other than picking cotton. So many remained on the plantation and continued to pick cotton, for little more than room and board under the most squalid of conditions. If any of them should have been so foolhardy as to actually try to exercise their right to vote, the plantation owner made it very clear how he wanted the election results to turn out. If his guy wasn’t elected, these former slaves would likely loose the pathetic jobs they were forced to cling to. And, as if that weren’t enough, Southern states put into practice further roadblocks to prevent black turnouts at the voting booths. Laws that came to known as “poll taxes” were enacted in virtually every Southern state. In other words, one had to pay a tax for the Constitutional right to vote.

Now these poll taxes were usually set at a fairly nominal amount such as $10 so as not to discourage too many whites from voting. But $10 was a heap of lettuce to the average black family mired in poverty. So these poll taxes usually achieved their goal of minimizing the black turnout at the voting booth. But just to make sure, most Southern states also enacted literacy laws which required newly freed slaves to take rather difficult written tests on U.S. history and the Constitution, to prove that they were literate enough to cast a ballot. Tests that most high-school and a fair number of college students would likely fail today. As a result, all these barriers achieved their aim of greatly discouraging blacks from voting; resulting in totally racist Senators and Congressmen that could be counted on to always vote for Jim Crow segregation legislation, getting elected, generation-after-generation.

Now, fast forward to a century later, to when President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the civil rights legislation of 1964. This act abolished all poll taxes and literacy tests, as well as any other hinderances that might have existed when any U.S. citizen seeks to exercise his or her right to vote. For the first time, minorities and poor people in general started voting in large numbers, and the age of racist demagogues being elected to national office was over. The 1964 voting rights act also required that Southern states remain under special scrutiny by the U.S. Attorney General, to assure there wasn’t further hanky-panky going on to interfere with an individual’s rights at the voting booth. Interestingly, the Supreme Court has just struck that provision in the law, in the mistaken belief that racism is no longer a factor in national elections. In any event-“who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men. Only The Shadow knows.” (Sorry, those were the opening lines from a radio show in the 1940s. I just couldn’t resist.)

Now, 50 years after that historic civil rights legislation, it doesn’t take The Shadow to know that huge amounts of evil lurks in the hearts of men. Especially when it comes to finding ways to circumvent existing voting rights legislation. Thus, most Southern and many Mid-Western states, i.e. the red states, have now passed what are called voter ID laws. These laws require that before one can cast a ballot, they are required to produce valid photo identification. I don’t know about others, but the only picture ID I have in my wallet is my drivers license. If I didn’t drive anymore, and let my license lapse, would that mean that I could no longer vote? That’s exactly what it would come down to. In other words, it’s a method by which Republican states can keep those most likely to vote Democratic off the voter rolls.

Who is most likely not to have picture ID in their possession. First, it’s the old and/or infirm that cannot drive because of age or illness. If they don’t drive, what other picture ID would be in their possession. Their gym membership cards? Also, there are many people in this country that don’t have a drivers license simply because  they’re too poor to own a car. No car, no license. I’m pretty safe in saying  that these same people also fail to possess passports. So, in the end, it’s the poor, the sick, and the elderly that are being kicked off voter registration lists, and by the hundreds of thousands. The very groups that are most likely to vote for Democratic candidates. A rather simple but effective way to flush all the good intentions of voting rights legislation down the sewer. In the 2012, the Republican Governor and Secretary of State in Florida, arbitrarily booted several hundred thousand registered voters off the rolls about a month or two before the election. That Obama was still able to carry the state, albeit by a very narrow margin, is like the 8th wonder of the world.

In any event, the voting process in this country has been so thoroughly corrupted by big money, campaign donations, and voter ID requirements that its become a sick joke. I wrote previously (for those interested) about the far right-wing Koch brothers who possess a $100 billion in assets between the two of them, and how they plan to influence the upcoming 2014 elections. About how they, along with their other billionaire buddies, plan to spend whatever it takes to elect a GOP dominated Congress, come this November. But not to worry. I’m sure the Koch brothers will give us the best politicians that money can buy.

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UNDER THE RADAR

Life in Las Vegas is highly indicative of how people prioritize their major concerns. Indicative of the psychology of how people tend to focus on matters of little temporary consequence, while failing to address events that can have huge impacts on their very existences in the long run. For example, the local rag that passes for a newspaper in Las Vegas has been running front-page headline stories for over a week, about how a nearby cattle rancher has defied the federal government by letting his cattle graze on government-owned land. Which is okay as long as the rancher is willing to pay the grazing fees owed to the government for allowing his cattle to trespass. Which the rancher and his rather extensive family has refused to do for over 10 years so that he now owes the government over $1 million. This, in turn, led to the government attempting to round up the rancher’s cattle and repossess them, so to speak. Not a very smart move, since repossessing cows is not quite as simple as repossessing furniture.

In any event, the story made national headlines, prompting a horde of government haters calling themselves militiamen, armed to the teeth, to rush to the aid of the cattle rancher from supposedly every state of the union, including Alaska. They came for an armed confrontation with those nasty feds who were trying to take everyone’s rights away. Never mind that the rancher was under a court order to pay the all those grazing fees going back 10 years. It suddenly became the patriotic thing to do, i.e. defying the tyrannical federal government. Sort of like not paying your income taxes because everyone knows what a despised agency IRS is. The feds finally came to their senses and realized that this ensuing confrontation, which could have led to loss of life, was just not worth it. Even though they were legally justified in their actions. So the feds stood down, released the rounded up cattle back to the rancher, and left the scene. The entire kerfuffle was supposedly over. Except that every right-wing whacko radio talk show host, as well as Fox News, lionized the scofflaw rancher for defying the federal government and getting away with it. Including our local paper who, as I’ve said, is still running with the story although the confrontation in now long over.

After all, why examine real and entrenched problems that Las Vegas faces when you can sensationalize meaningless drivel like the cattle story. For example, the Las Vegas economy is still one of the worst in the country, with the unemployment rate being well above the national average. The LV public school system is continually, year-after-year, rated in the bottom worst 5 among the 50 states. Now it’s true that good chunk of the LV population is comprised of seniors who have retired here, and whose kids have long been well past public school age. But there are also a lot of young families living here who are employed in the hotel/casino or construction industries, and who have a lot at stake in the quality of the LV public education system. And lastly, there is the most intractable problem of all; the severity of the on-going drought in LV which has led to plunging water reserves for 2 million people living in the LV valley.

While this morning’s local newspaper was still carrying on about the cattle rancher, it took the Los Angles Times to publish a front page story about how critical the water shortage is here in Las Vegas. As the Times put it, Lake Mead from whence LV obtains 90% of its water supply, has shrunk to its lowest level in generations. “The reservoir…is ebbing as though a plug had been pulled from a bathtub drain,” as the Times put it. Readers of this blog know that I’ve written many times about the criticality of the LV water situation. Las Vegas is one of the driest places on this planet, getting less than 4 inches of rain in a good year. It has been in a prolonged 15 year drought, with no end in sight. As I’ve said, it gets its water from Lake Mead, which in turn, gets its water from the Colorado River, which runs from Northern Nevada all the way to Mexico. Only now, it should more properly be called the Colorado Streamlet, since the river is also drying up. Seems that the Colorado water level is heavily dependent on the snow accumulations in the northern Nevada mountains. The melting snow in the Spring is what replenishes the river every year. Only snow accumulations have also been decreasing each year, thereby adversely affecting the river’s flow.

By the way, central and southern California has also been caught up in this prolonged drought. This area produces a prodigious amount of the nation’s fruit and vegetables, as well as meat from cattle ranches. California farmers and ranchers are already having a very tough time combatting the drought, so it may be more than just the Southwest that will be devastated by this lack of water. Maybe it’s time to start being concerned about real rather than phony issues.

So, 2 million people have decided to settle in LV, one of the driest places on Earth, with little concern about whether there will be enough water to go around. This doesn’t include the millions of tourists that pour in here every year, expecting that when they turn their showers on every morning in their $500 plus per night hotel rooms, water will actually come out. Soon, the summer will be here, with daytime temperatures in the 110-115 degree range, which will further dry out Lake Mead. The city’s water authority knows how critical the water situation is, and has already spent a bundle trying to build lower intake pipes running from Lake Mead to LV. The fear is that by next year, the water level in Lake Mead will have dropped below where the current intake pipes suck it in like a giant straw. But it’s a slow and grueling, and very costly project, and it’s questionable whether the new straw will be ready on time. If it’s not, won’t we have fun then.

I often have said that the only benefit I saw to getting old is that I don’t have to have colonoscopies anymore. But maybe there’s an additional benefit in that I don’t have to be around when LV residents, and tourists in their overpriced hotel rooms, turn on the facets one morning and nothing comes out.

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OF KILLINGS AND REDEMPTION

There’s a psychiatric hospital in northern Israel whose inmates are comprised solely of Holocaust survivors. The dwindling population of this hospital houses those that were thrown into Nazi concentration camps as youngsters; but who miraculously survived the gas chambers and eventually emigrated to Israel. Now in their 70s or 80s, these people came to Israel after the war. But they were so traumatized by the horror of their experiences in the camps, that their psyche’s are too damaged to enable them to function, even on the most basic level, in normal society. While WWII ended almost 70 years ago, for the inhabitants of this hospital, it was still on-going yesterday. Some refuse to bathe because they’re certain the showers are really the gas chambers. Others hide pieces of meat in their pillow cases to prepare for the next round of starvation. Only Israel will care for these mentally-ill survivors. There are also another 200,000 survivors of Nazi terror living in Israel, who are considered sane enough to live on their own. But most live lonely existences filled with anxiety and depression. One elderly man describes how instinctively jumps whenever the phone rings or there’s a knock on the door. After all these years, his mind still envisions that it’s the Gestapo coming after him. In a world history filled with the most heinous and despicable tyrannies, these people are the continuing casualties of perhaps the single most evil act of them all.

So why bring all this misery up now? Well, this is a big week in the Judeo-Christain faiths. For the Jews, tonight starts the beginning of Passover, commemorating the time that Moses supposedly led enslaved Jews out of bondage in Egypt to eventually find a land of their own in Israel. Of course, it took decades to reach this promised land, and along the way, the Jews had to eat “unleavened” bread, better known today as matzos. (Oh, the horror.) These matzos are now considered something of a novelty, if not a delicacy. And, of course, for Christians, this Sunday is Easter, commemorating the time 2000 years ago that Jesus died on the cross for our sins, only to be resurrected into heaven shortly thereafter. Since man’s sin of eating the forbidden fruit in the garden of Eden was thus atoned for, it left man free to commit future sins, like say, mass murder.

American Jews tend to be mostly secular, ( the price paid, I suppose, for a lack of persecution in the U.S.),  but many still observe religious traditions like the seder on Passover eve. When I was a kid growing up in Brooklyn, my parents openly scoffed at these religious traditions. Nevertheless, as poor as we were, my parents kept 2 sets of dishes, with one set to be used for only the 8 days of Passover. The other set, which was used all the rest of the year, had to be packed up and put into storage, lest it contaminated the sanctity of the Passover period. Perish the thought. During those 8 days, we were only allowed to eat foods designated as kosher for Passover, which, of course, meant absolutely no bread. For me, it was the loss of bagels and cream cheese that was the most disturbing. And while my parents only attended service at the local synagogue during the Jewish new year, it didn’t stop the local Rabbi from coming to our apartment about once a month, essentially looking for a hand out. And unbelievably to me, after the Rabbi said some soothing words to my mother, she would slip him a twenty.

Now $20 in those days was really a big deal, especially to a family like ours which lived mostly in poverty. The Rabbi must have seen the look of consternation on my face when I saw my mother part with what seemed like a small fortune. He came over and assured me that he would pray each day for our family. Well, that sealed the deal in my young mind. If a holy man like the Rabbi, who obviously had a direct pipeline to God, prayed for us, how could our fortunes not change for the better. How could containers filled with ancient gold coins not come hurtling out of the sky and land at our feet. Soon we would be rich and live on Park Avenue. Somehow though, it never quite turned out that way.

But back to the Passover and Easter occurrences and traditions. I’ve written before about how the Israeli Government has spent million of dollars looking for the slightest shred of evidence, the smallest relic, that the entire story of Moses, the parting of the Red Sea, the decades of Jews wandering around in the desert looking for the holy land, the 10 commandments; that any of that actually happened. And all they’ve come up with is a dry hole. So maybe, instead of commemorating a story that is likely a total work of fiction, on Passover, Jews would be well served to pay homage to the 6 million people that actually died during the Holocaust, and to the remaining survivors that are also victims of those tragic events. My father repeated many times that his heart would forever be broken because of what happened to the Jews during the 12-year reign of the Third Reich. That’s what Passover should really be all about.

And maybe, it’s also time for Christians to accept the fact that man has created far greater sins than what supposedly transpired in the Garden of Eden. Which is another story that’s also, likely, a total work of fiction. If Jesus gave his life to redeem mankind, then let that redemption be for all the holocausts, various other murderous assaults, plundering, and other acts of evil that man has perpetrated during his entire history of life on this planet. That, I believe, would be a lot more meaningful for most people in this day and age.

 

 

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FAILURES OF THE HUMAN CONDITION

I’ve written before about how badly we mistreat animals on this planet. That while humans should protectors and benefactors in their behavior toward animals, often just the opposite is true. How, especially, the large animals, such as elephants, rhinos, hippos, and apes, as well as the large cats such as lions, tigers, cheetahs, etc. are rapidly decreasing in population due to man’s greed; and how we may be among the last generations privileged to have these animals populate the planet during our lifetimes. And how the evolution of mankind is still so rudimentary, that most of us still consume dead animal flesh as part of our daily sustenance.

But in this piece I want to focus on the mistreatment of animals in this country. Actually the mistreatment of one particular animal, the chicken. While those that supposedly know say that the chicken is every bit as social, inquisitive, intelligent and human-friendly as dogs and cats, chickens are probably the most abused animal on the face of the Earth. The reason: chickens are used for food instead of pets. So while many pet owners lavish affection and attention on their dogs and cats, the chicken is treated as a commodity, and its short life span is filled with nothing but pain and misery. Attention alert: the following may be too graphic for some readers.

Most of us consume chicken meat or eggs every week, or often on a daily basis. In the U.S., 7 billion chickens are slaughtered every year for their flesh, while 450 million hens are used for laying eggs. Americans consume almost a quarter billion  of these eggs, annually. And almost all chickens spend their short lives in rigid confinement and filth until the day they are mercifully put out of their misery. A baby chick on a factory farm will never be allowed contact with, or to be raised by his or her parents. It will never have the opportunity to feel the sun on her back, breathe fresh air, roost in trees, or build nests. Chickens raised for their flesh are called “broilers” by the chicken industry. They spend their entire lives in filthy sheds with thousands of other birds, where intense crowding and confinement can lead to outbreaks of disease. Part of their beaks are chopped off so that they don’t peck away at each other out of frustration and pain. The crowding is so brutal, that these normally clean animals are forced to urinate and defecate on each other. They are bred to grow up so quickly and so fat, that their legs and organs often can’t keep pace. As such, many suffer heart attacks, organ failure, and crippling leg deformities. Many become so crippled by their own weight gain, that they die because they can’t reach the water nozzles. If they do survive to 6-7 weeks old, they are then crammed into cages and shipped off to the nearest slaughterhouse. And then sold in supermarkets as another commodity in our capitalist system.

Chickens exploited for their eggs are called “laying hens” by the food industry. They are forced into cages so narrow that they’re unable to spread their wings. After their bodies are exhausted and their production drops, they are also shipped of to the slaughterhouse. But by this time their bodies are so bruised and battered that they can only be used for chicken soup or cat and dog food. I could go on-and-on with more bloody and horror details, but you should be getting the picture by now. So what got me to writing at this time about the misery and cruelty inflicted on these poor animals? Well, it seems that there’s a pretty interesting case wending its way through our court system regarding the way we mistreat chickens.

California, in an effort to prescribe some degree of humane treatment toward chickens, passed a law not too long ago, that requires larger cages and more room for laying hens. Right now, laying hens are crammed into cages about the size of a file cabinet drawer. As I said, there’s no room for them to spread their wings. The new California statute requires that the cage size for these hens be enlarged to be about as big as the flat-bed section on a flat-bed Ford. This is estimated to raise the price of eggs by about 20%. Since California imports millions of eggs from other states each year, it didn’t want to put its own egg farmers at an economic disadvantage. So part of the statute requires that egg farmers in other states that export their eggs to California, be required to have the same enlarged cage space for their laying hens. And the other states are non-too happy about incurring the additional cost of enlarging their hen’s cages. After all, who ever said that humane treatment of humans or animals was ever part of our capitalistic society.

Thus, the Attorney-General of Missouri, with several other states likely to follow, is suing California over this legislative requirement. The case is built around Missouri’s argument that California has no constitutional authority to prescribe economic or business practices allowed in other states. From a legal point of view, Missouri does appear to have a valid constitutional case. If this wends its way up to the Supreme Court, as expected, the conservative majority on that court might very well strike down the California statute. Then we’re back to square one. Of course, from a humane point of view, the Missouri case stinks to high heaven.

A while back, I wrote a piece about “Capitalisms Casualties,” which described the grief and misfortune a capitalistic system of economics can and has wrecked on certain individuals, past and present. In that piece, I focused primarily on the harm such a system has inflicted on humans. But as we see, great damage is also experienced by defenseless animals in our midst. Is anyone willing to take up their cause? So the next time you’re putting some salt and pepper on your scrambled eggs, or devouring that tasty chicken breast for dinner, you might want to give some consideration to the poor animals that have known nothing but suffering in their short lifetimes.

 

 

 

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