Monthly Archives: December 2015

A FINE BROMANCE

Just when you feel that things couldn’t possibly get much worse, they invariably do. We now have Vladimir Putin, the tyrant dictator of Russia, and Donald Trump, the would-be tyrant dictator of the United States, exchanging accolades with each other. A fine bromance indeed. As I’ve written before, both have egos that would make the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the sidewalk. Both pal around with the super-rich, but promote themselves as populist heroes of the working class. In a recent Moscow news conference, when asked about a possible Trump presidency, Putin remarked that Trump was “brilliant” and very talented.  Putin further stated that a Trump presidency would unquestionably lead to better relations between Russia and the U.S. Trump then, of course, returned the favor by announcing that he was flattered to be so nicely complemented by  this “highly respected man.” Are you feeling the onset of extreme nausea yet?

I’ve written many times before about the Russian dictatorship that Putin has established. That Putin controls Russia mafia-style, where he is the boss of bosses or the godfather. That he runs a system of crony capitalism, whereby his cronies get all the capital and the rest of the peasantry are left to drown their sorrows in Russian vodka. (As if to vindicate this point, a few months ago, Putin personally intervened to have the price of Russian vodka lowered, so the peasantry could drink even heavier amounts.) That so-called Russian elections are controlled by Putin’s goon squads to assure his landslide victories. And that Putin maintains his popularity through military conquest of defenseless European territory.

The Russian economy is in the tank because its primary source of revenue is the exportation of its huge reserves of oil and gas. But with oil now less than $40 a barrel (a little more than a year ago it was over a $100 a barrel), the economy in general is on life-support. So to compensate for miserable living conditions, and to keep the masses pacified, Putin has to engage in military adventurism. Like Mussolini’s grandiose dreams of restoring the old Roman Empire, that I wrote about last time, Putin’s dream is to return to power the USSR empire that existed during the cold war in the 20th century. Accordingly, in 2008, he invaded the neighboring state of Georgia and took control of half of that country. It was the first time since the end of WWII that a European country acquired another country’s territory by military force. More recently he has militarily seized the Crimea from the Ukraine, and is now engaged in annexing the eastern half of that country by brute force. This slicing and dicing of the Ukraine has already led to the deaths of thousands of civilians.

But don’t take my word for what a bad guy Putin is. Read some of the many columns written by Gary Kasparov, a world class chess champion, considered  by many experts to be the greatest chess player of all time. Kasparov, a native born Russian, won his first championship at age 22, and then dominated the world of chess until his retirement not too long ago. But he’s also involved in Russian politics, and has written column after column, as well as a recently published book, decrying what he calls Putin’s fascist dictatorship. At the same time, he’s been highly critical of the West’s moral failure to confront the evils of the Putin regime. On that score, however, it gets a bit more complicated, since virtually all of Europe  receives its energy supplies from Russia. Since Europe is so highly dependent on Russian oil and gas, it’s reluctant to issue anything stronger than some weak-kneed sanctions against some of Putin’s cronies because of Russian military aggression in the Ukraine.

And the current U.S. foreign policy, being the weakest in history, has merely followed Europe’s lead. We don’t even have the fortitude to supply the Ukrainians with the military hardware needed to defend themselves from Putin’s onslaught. Much the same way that Britain and France didn’t want to upset Hitler and the Nazis in 1938.

In any event, Putin is the guy that Trump has formed a mutual admiration society with. If you want to view what a Trump presidency would be like, look no further than what Russia has become since a former mid-level KGB thug rose to absolute power in Russian politics. Trump has already displayed his own unique brand of fascism by first going after undocumented Hispanics who comprise only about 3.5% of the U.S. population; than blasting away at the Chinese, even though they own about a trillion dollars of U.S. debt; and finally proclaiming his desire to deny entry into this country of all of the over one billion Moslems populating this planet. All in gratification of the most important thing in Trump’s life; his own ego.

Does anyone really believe that once in power, Trump would have any regard for Constitutional niceties, or the actions of Congress or the courts.  He would  rule primarily by executive order, and those that didn’t like it could go lump it. Now it’s true that a hyper-polarized and dysfunctional Congress has brought about the type of gridlock where the masses are virtually screaming for necessary actions to be taken. But are these same people willing to forgo their Constitutional protections so this would-be dictator can rule with an iron fist of tyranny. I guess we’ll get to know in a little over 10 months. Putin and Trump, the fab duo of modern day fascism.

 

 

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THE SMELL OF FASCISM

When one watches Trump surging toward ultimate power, one is reminded of the train disaster metaphor. A man stands atop a high hill overlooking a serene valley miles below. Down in the valley are train tracks and as the man stands on the valley peak, he views a train barreling down tracks at high speed and about to go around a steep curve. But the man suddenly notices that just around the bend, parts of the train tracks are missing, perhaps washed away in a heavy storm the night before. The engineer is completely ignorant of the missing tracks as he plows full steam ahead, about to around the bend. The man views the impending disaster with alarm, knowing that it will probably kill and maim hundreds of passengers, but he is helpless to prevent the subsequent derailment. He is just too far away and its impossible for him to alert the engineer in time. A perfect metaphor, I believe, for Trump’s slow-motion derailment of the U.S. political scene leading up to the presidential election in November, 2016.

To better understand Trump’s snowballing popularity among the masses, it’s worthwhile to view another figure who used bellicosity, belligerence and bullying to also acquire total power in the early part of the 20th century. Like Trump, he would never back down from a fight, political or otherwise. He had a vast ego, and would strut around like a pompous peacock. His name was Benito Mussolini, and he rose from humble beginnings to become the fascist, tyrannical dictator of Italy in 1922. He, in fact, was the originator of fascism, which stressed extreme nationalism to the detriment of minorities, as well as adventurist militarism. Adolf Hitler merely copied Mussolini’s fascist style when he rose to power in Germany in 1933. Like Mussolini, Hitler became head of state largely through a democratic process, but once in power, systematically destroyed all vestiges of democracy, and became absolute dictator. Mussolini adored being called “Il Duce” which, translated into German, means “Der Fuehrer.”

Il Duce rose to power by promising to make Italy great again. (Sound familiar?) He had grandiose dreams of restoring the old Roman Empire,  which at its zenith, stretched from almost all of Europe to North Africa. As such, he joined Hitler’s Nazi Germany, and Imperial Japan during WWII in a fascist axis of evil. The problem was, however, that Italy’s military capabilities were rather puny in comparison to those of Nazi or Japanese forces. Il Duce would eventually lose almost all military battles that Italy engaged in. He did invade Ethiopia in North Africa, (which had virtually no military) and captured it for awhile, but eventually his armies were driven from that country as well. Finally, the Allies drove Mussolini out of Rome in 1942, and he escaped to rule over Northern Italy which was still under Nazi domination. As the Nazi’s were being defeated, Italian partisans caught up with Il Duce and had him killed. His body was hung upside down in the public square, for all to see. A rather inglorious end to the belligerent bully that strutted about like a self-indulgent peacock.

Now, in 2015 America, the rancid odor of fascism is once again percolating throughout the land. With his face set in a perpetual, petulant scowl, Donald Trump has set out to seek ultimate power by playing on the the fears and hatreds of the American populace. In other words, the old fashioned way- through the fascist imperative. He started  out by denigrating John McCain’s prisoner of war experience where McCain was held captive by North Viet-Nam under the most hellish of conditions for 6 long years. Republican voters ate it up. He then used the most crude and vile language in denigrating a female TV news host, (on Fox News, no less) and his popularity grew even stronger. Next up was the demonization of 11.5 million undocumented Hispanics living in this country, (about 3.5% of the U.S. population), and the delusional and demented promise to round them all up and ship them back to Mexico. At the same time, Trump would build a nearly 2000 mile long wall that would cost a gazillion dollars, in order to keep illegals from coming back. But he would get Mexico, a country that’s nearly broke, to pay for it all. Nevertheless, his foray into this parallel universe of total delusion only increased Trump’s poll standings.

The recent terrorist barbaric attacks, first in Paris, and then in California, played right into Trump’s demagoguery by further spreading fear and hatred in the U.S of all things Islamic. Trump’s proposal to prohibit any of the 1.2 billion Muslims that live on this planet from entering the U.S. goes beyond delusional derangement. It outright damages U.S. interests in friendly Moslem countries such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Kuwait, Indonesia, Singapore, and others. Yet with his latest exercise in fear-mongering, Trump’s poll numbers continue to soar.

I believe that the saddest thing occurring in the U.S. these days is not Trump’s increasing popularity. He just saw an opportunity and plunged right in. I think the saddest thing is that so many millions of Americans are allowing themselves to be beguiled by this snake oil salesman who is peddling outright fear and hatred. Can anyone possibly think that once gaining entry into the Oval Office, Trump would have any respect for the Constitution, or the machinations of Congress or the courts. Trump would rule in a manner similar to the way Il Duce ruled over Italy, and it’s tough if anyone didn’t agree to that. 

In the end, it’s the people that do it to themselves. I’m reminded of that famous line from the Pogo comic strip in the 1970s- “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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PEARL HARBOR REMEMBRANCES

It was on this date, 74 years ago, that the pristine, idyllic island of Oahu, in the Hawaiian island chain, was shaken to its very foundation. A sneak bombing attack by 360 warplanes of the Japanese Imperial Air Force on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor on Oahu, decimated virtually the entire U.S. Pacific naval fleet. Only the U.S. carrier force, which was, fortunately, out to sea at the time, was spared. There was a horrific loss of U.S. lives as thousands of sailors died trying to save their ships. U.S. Army and Air Force bases on Oahu were also bombed, adding further to the loss of U.S. lives and military equipment. It was a day, as President Franklin Roosevelt stated in a following day radio address, “that will live in infamy.”

Until then, the U.S. had remained primarily isolationist in a war begun in 1939 by the Axis powers of Germany and Japan. Although President Roosevelt had wanted us to become more heavily involved, the feeling in Congress was that the U.S. was protected by 2 large oceans, and we could, therefore, follow a policy of strict isolationism regarding all the messiness of WWII. Even as Hitler and his Nazi thugs had gobbled up almost all of Europe, and Imperial Japan was conquering one country after another in the Pacific. Finally, with the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the blinders were removed from the isolationists eyes, and the U.S. went all in. It was a time to face reality.

A draft was enacted, and millions of young men were inducted into the U.S. military. Factories that had been producing consumer products had to be converted, almost overnight it seemed, into the production of military hardware and supplies. Food and gasoline became strictly rationed. Marginal tax rates on the wealthy were raised to 91% in order to pay for the war effort. It became everyone’s patriotic duty to buy war bonds. Even grade school children such as myself were enlisted to buy these bonds. Us poor kids would bring nickels and dimes to school each week to purchase stamps that were pasted into a bond book. When the stamps in that book totaled $18.75, we would be issued a war bond worth $25, cashable in 5 years. No one was immune from contributing to the war effort.

Such all-out effort finally paid off although it would take several additional years. It wasn’t until 1945 that the twin hellish evils of Nazism in Europe, and Japanese Imperialism in the Pacific were thoroughly destroyed and discredited. It would take two atomic bombs dropped on Japanese cities to finish the Pacific war. Also discredited was the U.S. policy of isolationism, as it became abundantly clear that the U.S. was the one indispensable nation on this planet. Tens and tens of millions of lives had been lost during WWII and it took the U.S. entry into that effort to save the world and stop the carnage. Unfortunately, the lessons of WWII have not taken deep enough root and the old discredited yearnings of isolationism have now crept back into the American psyche. 

Today the world is witnessing the same type of Fascist evil that propelled Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during the 1940s. Today, such horrific evil is taking the form of Islamic-Jihadism. The barbaric atrocities being inflicted on helpless human beings by groups such as ISIS, Al-Qaida, and other lunatic Jihadist groups bears testament, once again, that evil is a bottomless pit, and must be torn out by its roots if it’s to be destroyed, discredited, and buried. And once again, the U.S. is the one indispensable nation that has to be called upon to undertake this effort. Unfortunately, the efforts the U.S. has thus far taken have been meager to say the least. They are grossly insufficient to do the job that needs to be done.

Yes, I get it that Americans are sick and tired of war, and just want to be left alone. Yes, I understand that Americans are no longer willing to make sacrifices similar to those made during WWII. Yes, as I’ve said many times, war is the ultimate failure of the human condition. But if we don’t destroy every vestige of this new Fascism, tear it out by its roots, it will continue to metastasize like virulent cancer. It will continue to attract new recruits by maintaining its credibility. If we no longer have the will power to fight off these modern day barbarians, we eventually will succumb to these modern day forces of evil. Much like the ancient Roman Empire became too weary to fight the barbarians at its gates many centuries ago. Rome was eventually destroyed and the world was plunged into the dark ages for a very long time.

Perhaps its in the nature of the universe that great civilizations rise to an apex, and then over time, begin to crumble. When life at home becomes too cozy and comfortable, thereby sapping the will of its citizens to fight and die on some foreign battlefield, in a struggle between good and evil. When we’ve reached that point, the U.S. will no longer be the one indispensable nation on Earth.

 

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