Monthly Archives: June 2015

SYMBOLISM

Suppose the modern day German government came out with a proclamation that they would be erecting a flag poll on the grounds of their capitol building in Berlin. Atop of this flag pole they would be hoisting the Nazi Swastika pennant that was the official flag of Germany from 1933-1945. They might explain with words such as: “We certainly don’t mean to offend or denigrate any race, religion or ethnic group. But we strongly feel that it’s important for us to honor the brave men who fought so valiantly and gave their lives for the fatherland during World War II; as well as the men who had the thankless duty of running the concentration camps and operating the gas chambers.” You think the rest of the world might be shocked and dismayed by such an unthinkable act. You think that everyone outside of Germany might vocally condemn this action in the strongest possible terms. As well as most Germans. Even the Obama administration might put its lethargic foreign policy proclivities aside and express total outrage. Fortunately, today’s German government is far more intelligent and rational to ever pull a stunt like that. The same can’t be said, however, for that part of the United States known as Dixie, or the  Southland.

The murder, a short while ago, of mostly elderly black parishioners peacefully going about their church services, by a deranged white racist cannot be blamed solely on the power of the Confederate flag. After all, a flag is merely a piece of cloth with certain markings. But people, not just Americans, but all over the world, are heavily invested in symbolism- which those markings on that piece of cloth represent. As we all know, the scumbag young killer responsible for this tragic event wore a shirt that had the Confederate flag on its face and presumably represented a symbol of his racial hatred. This flag also flies on capitol state grounds in South Carolina where this horror took place. The next day the governor of S.C. appealed to the state legislature to enact legislation removing the flag from the vicinity of their capitol. We’re still waiting for that to happen. To his credit, the governor of Alabama acted unilaterally through executive order had the Confederate flag removed from Alabama state capitol grounds. Throughout most of the rest of Dixie, however, it flies strongly and proudly. As well os other Civil War monuments such as statues or plaques dedicated to Confederate generals and other Southern soldiers and politicians of that era. And there isn’t the slightest hint that any of this is going away.

Just to be clear, the Civil War, which ended 150 years ago, was not just a fracas between the North and South, that kinda, sorta got out-of-hand. It was a 4-year-long bloody massacre that slaughtered 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million American deaths in today’s population. Blood-drenched atrocities and savagery were committed by both sides that would constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity had their been a world tribunal in those times. The Nazi-military machine and Japanese Imperial Army of WWII would have been proud of all the depravity and blood-spilling. When the war finally ended in 1865, renegade southern diehards tried to re-ignite the Confederacy by ambushing innocent civilians and causing their deaths. One such Confederate diehard was the famed outlaw Jesse James who murdered with impunity. Today he is virtually considered a Western legend and hero. It took almost to the end of the 19th century before this Southern diehardism finally began to peter out.

In the meantime, shortly after defeat, the Southern states began to quickly institute a policy of strict segregation against its black population that became known as Jim Crow. The symbol of this state of semi-slavery against blacks was, of course, the Confederate flag, born at the outset of the Civil War. Any “uppity” blacks that tried to rebel against this state of semi-slavery were often subject to lynchings, torture or dismemberment. A good indication of the mood of times in Dixie at the turn of the 20th century occurred when President Teddy Roosevelt invited a mild mannered educationalist named Booker T. Washington to the WhiteHouse in 1901, the first black man so invited. Southern politicians went into a rage at this sacrilege. James Vardaman, Governor of Mississippi, proclaimed that: “If it is necessary, every Negro in the state will be lynched; it will be done to maintain white supremacy.” Not to be outdone, Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina stated: “The action of President Roosevelt in entertaining that n****r will necessitate killing a thousand n****rs in the South, before they will learn their place again.” Although TR loudly rejected these race-haters, he never invited another black to the White House again.

The Confederate flag also became a symbol for the Ku Klux Klan, which performed most of the lynchings and other crimes committed against blacks in the South for the next hundred years. In 1917 a young producer named D.F. Griffith filmed a movie called “Birth of a Nation” which had a profound propaganda effect on most of America. The movie, although crude by today’s technology, had a message and sold it well. Griffith, a strong Confederate sympathizer, portrayed blacks going a crazed rampage against Southern whites after they were freed from slavery. Blacks were seen as murdering defenseless white men, ravaging white women, stealing and burning plantations to the ground. But who rode in to save the day for the helpless white population? Why those brave, fearless men in the KKK, of course. It may sound crazy delusional in today’s world, but people back in the day swallowed this propaganda, hook, line and sinker, as the cliche goes. Klan popularity and membership soared during the 1920s, and not just in the South, but in the North too, mostly due to D.F. Griffith’s film.

So has the Confederate flag caused all this misery and tragedy? Obviously not, since, as I’ve said before, one could rationally certify that a flag is merely just a piece of cloth with certain markings. But are people so heavily invested in symbols that they would undertake the most heinous of crimes and hellish behavior based on the symbolism evoked by this piece of cloth. Absolutely. That’s why, for everyone’s sake, the Confederate flag should be removed throughout all of Dixie, (as well as other artifacts from the Civil War), so that from now on, no other deranged individual can use it as a motivation to commit pure evil. After all, modern Germany seems to function quite well by having the Nazi Swastika banished from public viewing

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MINOR MIRACLES

Sometimes, in the affairs of mankind, it will come to pass that flickers of human decency and just plain common sense will shine through in the most unexpected places. For example, a few weeks back, the state of Nebraska, a solidly red state, voted to repeal its capital punishment laws. The Republican governor actually vetoed the new legislation, but a heavily dominated Republican legislature overrode his veto. Thus, this relic of biblical times, (an eye for an eye type mentality) where the state is allowed to legally commit murder in the name of vengeance, now exists in one less place. Also about that time, Ireland, a heavily Catholic country, voted, in a public election, to overwhelmingly approve gay marriage throughout the land, much to the chagrin of its Catholic clergy. While states in this country, mostly in the South and West, still battle furiously to deny such unions. As I said, just small flickers of light in an otherwise dismal landscape.

Here in Nevada, where I reside these days, another minor miracle has also recently occurred. When the Republican dominated state legislature convened in January, our Republican governor, Brian Sandoval, was actually and actively promoting tax increases, mostly on businesses, in an attempt to remedy the state’s deplorable public education system. Nevada’s public school system, year-after-year, indeed, decade-after-decade, has consistently been ranked between 45th-50th place in quality of performance. In short, Nevada public schools are among the worst in the nation. To fix this, Sandoval is seeking more tax money to pour into public education in hopes that its rankings will dramatically improve. Of course, he wouldn’t dare call for personal income tax increases, which would invoke howls of protests from his fellow Republicans in the legislature, as well as from the public at large. So he sought increased business taxes, which, as everyone knows, is eventually paid for by ordinary citizens, since all businesses pass on their costs in the price of the goods or services they provide.  As it was, there was strong protest among many GOP state legislators at the thought of raising any taxes at all. But Sandoval eked out a narrow victory with enough Republicans joining the handful of Democrats left in the legislature to enact the new statutes.

Predictably, the far right fossils entrenched in the state of Nevada, screamed about the heresy of Republicans raising taxes. Aren’t Democrats the only ones supposed to do that? The dreary rag in Las Vegas that laughingly calls itself a newspaper, couldn’t get over this Republican betrayal. Continuing editorials, as well letters-to-the-editor from known right-wing looney-tuners continually denounced the tax increase and referred to Sandoval and his cohorts as RHINOs, (Republican in name only), who had, indeed, drank the kool-aid. They had absolutely violated the free-lunch-counter mantra of government, established during the Ronald Reagan era in the 1980s.

I have written before about the free lunch counter mentality among Americans, but it’s worth repeating because this mentality is still alive and well in today’s society. It first started during the great Depression of the 1930s. Just about everyone was broke and especially hard hit were bars serving alcohol. After all, who could afford to spend what little money they had on drinks in a bar. So these bars, desperate for business, established what came to be known as the free lunch counter. For the price of a nickel or dime beer, one was allowed to migrate over to the free lunch counter and avail themselves of free food. One can only imagine about the quality of this food, available for purchasing a really cheap beer, or similar spirits. When the Depression ended, the free lunch counters also disappeared, but the thought processes behind this concept remained alive and well.

When Ronald Reagan became president in 1980, he kicked the free lunch counter concept into high gear. Reagan  was supposedly a fiscal conservative bent on cost-cutting throughout his administration. In actuality, however, Reagan spent like a drunken sailor, and the U.S. budget deficit mushroomed beyond belief. The accumulated budget deficit from the George Washington thru Jimmy Carter administrations totaled just under one trillion dollars when Reagan first took office. In the following 12 years under Reagan and Bush the Elder, the deficit ballooned to to $4 trillion, a 300% increase. Reagan was given his conservative chops because he supposedly trimmed social programs, mostly around the edges. But when it came to Defense, Reagan spent like there was no tomorrow on military hardware and troop increases, in order to do battle with the old USSR during the cold war. ( I guess the theory was that military spending would be funded by the money tree that grows in the Pentagon courtyard.) At the same time, Reagan pushed through a slew of tax cuts, mainly for the rich, which further exploded the budget deficit. The free lunch concept was thereby firmly established. You want vastly expanded military hardware and forces, but you don’t want to pay for it all. No problem. Just gorge yourselves at the free lunch counter of deficit spending.

The budget deficit did moderate during the 8 years of Bill Clinton’s presidency. But it once again picked up steam during the Bush the Younger and Obama presidencies, and now stands at over $18 trillion. Remember, that 35 years ago it was only $1 trillion. Along the way, the GOP agenda, carved in stone, is that taxes can only go one way, and that’s down, especially for the rich. It must be because the food is so enticing at the free lunch counter. Obama did manage to squeeze through a very minor tax increase on the super-rich a few years back, but Republicans in Congress are still belly-aching about that. In any event, when a Republican governor in a mostly rural state does manage to achieve a tax increase with the help of members of his own party, one should consider this a minor miracle. In the meantime, I think I’ll have myself a sandwich down at the free lunch counter.

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THE TRITE AND THE HACKNEYED

When Senator Ted Cruz announced for the Republican nomination for the presidency, (the first of what looks like to be about 2 dozen potential candidates), he used the phrase-“we’re gonna take this country back”- during his announcement speech. He didn’t say from who or what we were “gonna take this country back,” but it didn’t seem to matter to his gung-ho right-wing audience. Of course, Ted is by no means the first politician to utter empty platitudes on his way to political stardom, since Rand Paul and Ben Carson and probably all the other would-be candidates have also indulged in similar triteness. But in Ted’s case, since he’s a Harvard graduate, I figure he has to be a pretty smart guy; and to so unashamedly pander with such banality is, in my estimation, unforgivable. I believe Harvard should, retroactively, declare that Ted’s degree is null and void, as a warning to any other panderer that might be tempted to also orate with such hackneyed phraseology.

Of course politicians have been attempting to “take our country back,” probably since the beginning of the republic. I remember Ronald Reagan using that time-honored phrase on his way to swamping the hapless Jimmy Carter in the 1980 election. Who was he taking the country back from, poor old Jimmy? Whatever your opinion may be of the Carter presidency, I don’t recall Carter ever stating that he owned this country, lock, stock and barrel. When today’s politicians, (almost always Republicans) vow to ‘take our country back,” perhaps they’re referring to Plutonians that came down in space ships and took over the halls of our government after we downgraded Pluto from being a full-fledged planet some years back. Yes, that must be it. I mean, it took great hubris on our part to arbitrarily declare that Pluto was not a real planet, without us even bothering to discuss the matter with representatives from other entities in the galaxy. I can see where Plutonians would be angry and upset enough to initiate aggressive action. Otherwise, who else would we be taking our country back from. Well, you might say, there is Obama and the Democrats. The problem is, however, no matter how much you might despise them both, neither Obama nor any Democrat has laid claim to ownership of the United States. Obama will be gone in about a year and a half, and the GOP will almost certainly lock in majorities in Congress, and will also, likely, take over the White House in 2016. Talk about who will have ownership of this country then.

Another exercise in meaningless babble is the political infighting taking place over the illegal immigration issue. Earlier, Senator Marco Rubio managed to, rather heroically, have an immigration bill passed by the Republican Senate, that would, among other provisions, create a pathway to legal status for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. The problem was, that his fellow tea-party looney-tuners in the House became feverish and delirious at just the thought of even one undocumented immigrant in this country achieving legal status.  Their opposition was vociferous, and, in the end, Rubio had to disavow ownership of his own legislation in order to keep his presidential aspirations alive. So, the new mantra of meaningless babble emanating  from the GOP is that nothing will be done regarding the illegals until “our borders are made secure.” None of the candidates have defined how our borders are to be made secure, or how many more gazillion dollars they are willing to allocate for that purpose, above what we are already spending on border patrol. The only thing that matters is that our border, (at least with Mexico) ‘be made secure.”

So, since none of the Republican candidates are willing to discuss the details of what a secure border means, I will do it for them. The first thing you have to know is that our border with Mexico stretches for nearly 2000 miles. So securing that border would be no easy task. But if we really want to make sure that no illegal gets into this country, we would need to build a solid concrete wall across the entire 2000 miles. The wall should be at least 100 feet tall, and 20 feet deep, to assure that none of those sneaky illegals can tunnel their way into this country. We would also need to put electrified barb-wire on top of the wall just in case they have really tall ladders. Then we would need a few hundred drones constantly patrolling the area, as well as few thousand additional border patrol agents. All this could probably be accomplished for under another trillion dollars of additional debt. Think  the tea-party loonies will rally around this idea? Oh the dilemma.

To show just how racist the GOP immigration policy is, consider the case of Canada. Our Canadian border is just about twice as long as our Mexican border. All anyone has to do to enter our country illegally from Canada is to take a pleasant stroll through the woods. Yet our Canadian border, besides being twice as long, is almost unguarded.  Why is that? Because in the Republican mindset, Canadians are white like us, or most of us. They almost all speak English like us. For those that can only speak French, there’s an excuse for that too. I mean, French is so much more sophisticated sounding than mundane Spanish.

So the next time you hear some brainless politician tell you that he or she “is gonna take back our country,” or that the undocumented immigration issue can’t be addressed until “we secure our borders,” be on full alert. Those our just code phrases for the unthinking. In any event, with so manny politicians entering the Republican race, I’m thinking of throwing my hat in the ring as well. With the primary vote split among so many candidates, I might just be able to sneak in. Besides, someone has to take our country back, and secure the borders as well.

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DEVISING AN EXIT STRATEGY

In my last posting I described how the United States has been the sin eater for the rest of the planet during the past century. How the U.S. has come to the rescue of everyone else, over and over, when the world appeared to be overtaken by some very evil forces. And how most Americans are becoming sick and tired of sin-eating the rest of the world’s most dire problems. Yet with the rise of ISIS and other Islamic terrorist groups, as they continue to gobble up more chunks of territory and expand their caliphate in the Mid-East, as well as commit the most heinous of crimes while doing so, there are renewed calls from powerful figures in this country  and elsewhere, for the U.S. to once again initiate military action against these jihadists. And not only against jihadism. Many militarists would have us go to war with Iran by bombing their nuclear facilities, since they have no faith that current negotiations with Iran will lead to a cessation of that country’s nuclear weapons ambitions. For example, our illustrious former Vice-President during the Bush Administration, Dick Cheney, has come out with a new book recommending the use of military force in both situations. As well as in the Ukraine, where Russia’s Vladimir Putin seems intent on taking over huge chunks of territory through military means. The problem is that the U.S. has become like a person treading water while stranded in the ocean and waiting for rescue. Our arms are getting tired.

So let us see if the U.S. can devise an exit strategy from it’s role as the world’s sin eater. First, it should be noted that more and more Americans are having less and less interest in the U.S. becoming involved in foreign entanglements, much less being involved militarily. When the I-Phone 6 came on the market not that long ago, huge, hour-plus long lines formed at Apple stores around the country. Those on line just had to be among the first to acquire the new cell. I guarantee that everyone standing in those lines already had an I-Phone 5, but thought that by acquiring the new model, their lives would somehow be magically transformed from the pathetic existences they actually were. Same situation when the Apple Watch started being sold. Does anyone think that even one person on those lines had any interest for the U.S. to engage in militarily adventuring overseas. Of course not, since that would not increase their instant gratification impulses. Same is true for those worrying about who the next American Idol will be or those keeping up with the Kardashians, etc. The U.S. has become too soft and mushy to even consider the sacrifices needed and the costs incurred in going to war overseas.

Those that would have us militarily engage ISIS point out that the U.S. was steeped in isolationism when Nazi Germany was on the rise during the 1930s; and that by the time we did enter WWII the Axis countries had become so powerful that the cost in lives alone was unspeakable. Which is all very true. But it was a different time and a different  country. Americans at the time were willing to make sacrifices if it enabled the war effort. Food was rationed by giving every family a book of stamps that limited the amount of goods that could be consumed each week. Such basics as meat, sugar, dough, baking powder, etc. were only available in very limited quantities. Consumer products were virtually nonexistent, as factories around the country were transformed into producers of military hardware. You think consumers today, contemplating their next purchase of a top of the line Lexus or Mercedes, would be willing to make similar sacrifices. It’s almost laughable.

Also to be considered is the fact that if we did engage Islamic-Jihadists on the battlefield, it would not be the same conditions as military operations against Germany and Japan during WWII. The jihadists know that they would be no match for superior American forces and equipment, and that they would be slaughtered in a head-to-head battlefield confrontation. Most would, therefore, slip away and meld into the local population and bide their time. Some might stand their ground and would likely be killed. But, as I’ve said, most would avoid such a scenario. Unlike WWII battlefields where each side had huge tank forces that sought to destroy the opposing forces tanks. If we engaged militarily today, once we cleared the area of terrorists and the like, we would eventually have to leave. The terrorists are quite patient at waiting us out, and would simply re-organize and move back in when the U.S. left Dodge City.

So how do we get out of this mess. Is there an exit strategy short of war? I believe there is. The key is in understanding what motivates young men, and some women, to likely sacrifice 60-80 years of their lives by joining organizations like ISIS in the first place. While some recruits may be true believers in the cause of Jihadism, most come to join because they’re from poverty-stricken backgrounds with little or no skills, and virtually no prospects for a better future. So what if they’re gunned down while in their twenties. Their lives are filled with nothing but misery and poverty to begin with, and none of that is likely to change. ISIS likes to boast that it doesn’t matter how many of their members get slaughtered, because thousands of new recruits are willing to join their ranks every month.

Thus the key to ending the terrorist initiative is to convince would-be recruits that they do have something to live for, and that it’s myopically brainless for them to throw their lives away in such meaningless fashion. We need to fight ISIS on-line, where much of its recruitment efforts and propaganda take place, rather than fight them on the battlefield. Only when we can convince those that are down-and-out even at a young age, that their future is not as bleak as they imagine, will the terrorist thrust begin to wither.

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