Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies

EXTREMELY EXTREME EXTREMISTS

When the horrors of WWII finally ended 72 years ago, Americans looked forward, hopefully, for an ensuing era of peace on the world stage and prosperity at home. Those dreams were to be short-lived, however. By the late 1940s the world was again in virulent turmoil. Russia, our ally during WWII, started gobbling up countries in Eastern Europe and turning them into Communist dictatorships, much to the consternation of the U.S. and its allies. In Asia, Communist forces overthrew the established government in China and turned that country into another dictatorship. Communist China then abetted the establishment of a Communist revolt in northern Korea which then led to the infamous Korean War and the division of the Korean peninsula into democratic rule in the South, and dictatorship in the North. The same dictatorship that now threatens us with a nuclear holocaust in today’s world. The icing on the cake, however, occurred when Russia developed a hydrogen bomb in 1949 to match our own nuclear weaponry.

Communist forces seemed to be relentless in advancing their cause on the world stage. Of course, this led to enormous fear and dismay among the American populace that the U.S. and its European allies would be next in line to fall under the spell of Communism. Where there is fear, there is, of course, great opportunity for fear-mongers to use that world situation to further their own interests as far as acquiring power and dominance. The cry went up-“better dead than red”-among other such brainless cliches. One of the earliest scare mongers was a Senator from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy who sought to become an “anti-communist dictator” through exploitation of the fear of a Communist takeover in the U.S. I’ve previously written extensively about the rise and fall of Tailgunner Joe, (his nickname from WWII.) He was finally exposed for the fraud he was in 1956, through that new-fangled contraption called television, and eventually drank himself to death. But there were others on the scene in those tumultuous times who also sought to exploit the Communist hysteria for their own personal gain.

One of them was a man named Robert Welch who founded a fear-mongering organization called the John Birch Society. Not that it mattered, but John Birch was a Christian missionary in China that was killed in 1945 by Communist forces in the process of taking over that country. To Welch, he was the first casualty of the coming of WWIII that would pit the U.S. against Russia and China. The John Birch Society, under Welch’s leadership, would become the epitome a conspiracy-mongering, anti-communist, anti-United Nations, anti-civil rights, and anti-anything resembling decency and progressivism, type organization. Welch himself denounced WWII hero and then president Dwight Eisenhower as a “dedicated conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.” There was no limit to his fanaticism. Thanks to people like Welch, and other rabid extremists on the right, the U.S. and Russia entered into what was called the “Cold War” that lasted from about 1948 to around 1990. Trillions were spent as each side tried out-arm and out-militarize the other.

Which brings to our current gaggle of right-wing extremists that have taken over the U.S. government. As in days of yore when Communism was the designated enemy, with today’s fanatics it’s the Muslim world, with perhaps Mexicans and, indeed, all Latinos thrown into the mix. Not just Muslim terror organizations like Al Qaida and ISIS, but virtually any believer in the Muslim religion. And, as previously, in today’s world of right-wing fanaticism, all government expenditures are bad and should be abolished, except those spent on the military and to procure armaments. And, of course, as previously, white supremacy must dominate our culture, while anything resembling civil rights is moved to to the trash heap. Just ask white supremacist Steve Bannon who used to be Trump’s campaign manager and then his chief strategist in the White House. He was eventually bounced from his White House job but still advises Trump from his cozy nest as head of far right Breitbart News.

While no longer on the government payroll, Bannon’s white supremacist philosophy still inflicts great damage on U.S. society and culture. A prime example is a Republican Senate primary election that was recently held in Alabama. One of the candidates was a twice disgraced former judge named Roy Moore. Among Moore’s more quaint beliefs is that 9/11 was divine retribution from God for the sin of allowing homosexuality to flourish in this country. He’s a proud anti-Muslim bigot and wouldn’t rule out advocating the death penalty gay people. Even Trump, as far right as he is, made a visit to Alabama to campaign for Moore’s opponent. But Alabamians, in their devotion to far-right extremism gave Moore the victory, which is tantamount to putting him in the U.S. Senate since Democrats are too inept and pathetic to win elections in the South. Oh, I should also mention that Steve Bannon campaigned heavily in Alabama for Roy Moore, and was justly rewarded for his efforts.

So there you have it. The rise once again extremely extreme right-wing politics as it casts its dark shadows over the American landscape. The first time around, during the Cold War, the damage done was held to destroying the reputations of some innocent Americans, and the needless expenditure of a few trillion dollars. This time, with the extremists now in control of all the levers of government operations, the damage will likely be considerably worse.

 

 

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Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, World War II, Viet-Nam, Anti-Communist Witch Hunts, Army-McCarthy hearings, Islamic Jihadist terrorism, Soviet Union, Red China, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE FLOWER CHILDREN

The start of the flower child movement is often pegged to the year of 1967 when tens of thousands of young people gathered in San Francisco during the summer to begin a new era in American culture. Actually its beginnings go back to the 1950s with Jack Kerouac and his roving band of beatniks that began a sub-culture opposed to the corporate, statist, capitalist mindset that dominated the cultural mindset of American life. The flower children of the 1960s inherited the beatnik objectives and fine-tuned them. They got their label because many of them, especially the women, often wore floral wreaths, and would hand out flowers to strangers as a symbol of their kindness. Their objective was to create a new society based on peace, love, gentleness, and empathy, in contrast to the hardbitten, and often mean-spirited corporate and Wall Street life style that prevailed in those years.

The thrust of the flower children movement was to create and thrive on communes that would be self-providing. There would be no bosses or underlings in these communes. Instead each individual would put in the necessary effort to grow and harvest the crops, weave the clothes, and build the shelter that was necessary for their existences and that would make the communes self-sufficient. They would live on peace, on love, on pot or LSD, and on rock&roll or folk music. Mind altering drugs such as LSD were a big part of the scene. They were seen as a means to escape the ugliness of life in America at that time. In unison with the flower child movement of those days was a book written by Charles Reich called “The Greening of America” that sold millions of copies. The thrust of that best seller was that a new wave was being established in America that would replace the economic and social mores of those times. Instead of the prevailing ethic of a capitalistic meritocracy, which was based almost totally on a survival of the fittest mentality, a new society was being formed where everyone contributed to the best of their abilities and were then equally rewarded. There would be peace, love and harmony and wars would be a think of the past.

Lifestyles and customs changed in those days as a result of the flower child movement. People wore their hair much longer and clothing fashions were much more radical. Even yours truly had longer hair, a leisure suit with bell bottom trousers, and a belt with a large peace symbol as the buckle. For it was the anti-war thrust of the 1960s that actually created the flower child movement. As the U.S. became more and more involved during the 1960s in fighting the Viet-Cong in the hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam, the anti-war and the related flower child movements began gathering strength and numbers. In those days young men, 20 and older, were routinely subject to the military draft. A young man might be in school or working productively at job he enjoyed, when a draft notice could suddenly wind up in his mail. Report to Fort Dix for 6 months of basic training, and after that we’re going to ship your ass to Viet-Nam where you’ll probably step on a land mine in the jungle and be killed or maimed for life.

Not a very appetizing scenario. Some young men went AWOL to Canada, who was not at war with Viet-Nam, and they were branded as draft-dodgers. Most, however, complied with the draft, with the result that about 58,500 Americans died in those Viet-Namese jungles with thousands more being maimed for life. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese deaths we caused. Today we are at peace with Viet-Nam with substantial economic trade between the two countries. But back in the late 1960s as more and more troops were being shipped to Viet-Nam, the anti-war and resultant flower child imperatives gained millions of followers. Massive anti-war protests were being held every weekend in Washington, where signs abounded saying “Make Love, Not War.” Ironically, it would take the election of Richard Nixon as president to end that nightmarish war, but also to suck the life out of flower child movement.

Nixon quickly realized that sending more American troops to Viet-Nam was fools gold. Instead he listened to the anti-war protesters and began drawing down the American presence there. It took four long years but Nixon was finally able to extricate the totality of U.S. forces. Of course, this led to a Viet-Cong victory and an American loss, but nobody really cared anymore. The entire country was just grateful that the U.S. was no longer involved. And, in a politically brilliant strategic move, Nixon ended the military draft. Young men (or women) would no longer have to worry that their lives would be enormously disrupted by being drafted into the Army. The U.S. would, henceforth, have an all-volunteer military. But with no war to protest, the anti-war/flower child movement began to wither on the vine. While their communes appeared to be productive for awhile, the entire concept began to seem naive and childish.

Young men and women began moving back into the corporate, dog-eat-dog world that America had known since the industrial revolution. People began cutting their hair back to what was considered normal length, bell-bottom trousers went out of style as did brilliantly colored clothing. The gray-flannel suit of corporate America was back in fashion. By 1980, when Ronald Reagan was elected president, it was like the flower children and the greening of America had never existed.

As for Richard Nixon, despite his huge accomplishments of ending the Viet-Nam war, and opening diplomatic relations with Communist China where none had previously existed, he would have to resign the presidency in disgrace, because of a minor burglary by some Republican thugs, in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington D.C. Strange how history can so vehemently and carelessly smite someone with total disregard for what they’ve accomplished for mankind.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, John Kennedy, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE COST OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The American Civil Liberties Union has been taking a lot of heat recently for defending the free speech rights of Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other low-life scum in places and events such as the recently concluded uproar and demonstrations in Charlottesville VA. As far as the ACLU is concerned, the principle of every American having the right to freedom of speech, as embodied in the first amendment to the Constitution, is sacred and never to be “abridged” as the Constitution states, no matter how vile, vulgar or bigoted that speech may be. Of course, free speech rights are “abridged” virtually every day in common sense ways that the framers of the Constitution never envisioned. For example, try verbally threatening someones life, and see how fast you wind up in the clink should the cops overhear that threat. Or try crying out “fire” in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, and you will also accrue that same jail house experience. To say nothing of all the civil libel actions that could brought against you should you wrongfully defame someone’s character. Because of all the backlash received from the Charlottesville experience, even the ACLU may now be reconsidering its long-standing position regarding the sacredness of the first amendment. So let’s go back a century and see the consequences, end results and havoc that unbridled freedom of speech can lead to.

The year is 1919, and WWI has recently ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1918. The Allies have inflicted harsh punishment on Germany, through the Treaty of Versailles, for instigating the war in the first place. One of the provisions of that treaty was that Germany would not be allowed to militarily re-arm without permission of the Allied countries. The German economy is a disaster as a result of that war, with a combination of rampant inflation and high unemployment. The Allies refuse to provide any economic aid to help Germany recover. A young German corporeal, (originally from Austria) who was wounded toward the end of the war, finds himself with little money and no job prospects upon being released from the hospital. Although he fought for four years, he could only achieve the rank of Corporeal whereas almost all other recruits in similar circumstances rose to at least the rank of Sergeant. In his younger days he fancied himself as an artist; but his paintings were mediocre at best and certainly not salable.

With no particular job skills, and virtually out of money, the ex-Corporeal, in desperation, visits an office of the German government’s bureaucracy in Berlin and practically begs for some type of work whereby he could earn a paycheck. At first he’s denied, but finally the head bureaucrat agrees to give him some work. He tells the ex-Corporeal that a fringe element of rabble-rousing morons, calling themselves the German Workers Party, is trying stir up unrest against the government because of the existing deplorable economic conditions. While the bureaucrat believes the movement is really too small for the government to be concerned, just to make sure, he would pay the ex-Corporeal to attend one of their meetings and report back his findings.

So ex-Corporeal Adolf Hitler agrees to sit in on the next gathering of the German Workers Party. There are less than 20 people in attendance. Various attendees give speeches about Germany’s dismal current state of affairs, but they all revolve around the same themes. Germany’s predicament was due to two major factors-the harsh treatment at the hands of the Allies through the Treaty of Versailles, and, of course, because of the Jews. The same Jews that constituted about 3% of the German population, and were almost all peaceful shopkeepers or teachers. The demonization of Jews throughout, not only Germany, but virtually all of Europe, had been a universal imperative almost since the crucifixion of Jesus, or for nearly 2000 years. While the speech-givers at that get-together were amateurs, Hitler liked what he heard. They jibed almost exactly with his own prejudices and deep-seated hatred of all Jews.

Hitler never did report his findings back to the bureaucrat that hired him. Instead he continued to attend meetings of the German Workers Party, and began making impassioned speeches of his own, castigating both the Allies and the Jews. Hitler found that he had a natural talent for speechifying and demagoguery. Soon, as word spread, hundreds of people and then thousands, began attending these meetings, to hear Hitler demonize the Jews and Allied powers. Hitler quickly rose to top party leadership, and renamed the German Workers Party as the National Socialist, or Nazi Party. And in a particularly brilliant public relations move, he found an ancient tribal symbol, and adopted as the insignia of his newly formed Nazi Party. It came to be known as the Swastika, and it began popping up everywhere-on armbands, flags, shirts, etc. Since Germany had a rich cultural history, especially in music, philosophy, literature, and education, most Germans considered Hitler a fringe crackpot during the 1920s. But as Swastika armbands and flags began showing up more and more in the public square, greater numbers of Germans began paying more attention to Hitler’s impassioned vitriol and demagoguery, and Nazi power and popularity exploded throughout German cities. For those that were unbelievers, Hitler had formed gangs of Nazi goon squads, called the brownshirts, that roamed throughout Germany beating up or other wise terrorizing any and all opponents.

By 1933, due to unbridled German political machinations, the former ex-Corporeal from WWI, ascended to the German Chancellory and within months used his power to become absolute dictator. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. Hitler broke every provision of the Treaty of Versailles, especially when it came to vastly re-arming Germany. The Allies, by comparison, stood by and did nothing. By 1939, Hitler felt he was powerful enough to initiate WWII which eventually would kill 60 million people on the European continent alone. About 6 million Jews died in German concentration camps during the Hitler-initiated Holocaust. Millions of American and other Allied forces were slaughtered on European battlefields. And it all began with the demagogic power of freedom of speech.

So the next time you hear someone defend the unbridled and unconstrained ideal of free speech, you might want to point out how that ideal led to the greatest slaughter, tragedy and misery in the history mankind. Germany, today, 70 years after the end of WWII, is a thriving democracy; but its constitution forbids the advocacy of Nazism in any way, shape or form. And yet, it seems to perform quite well, even with this constitutional prohibition.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Economics, human affairs, Israeli-Palestinan Relations, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

DISSOLUTION OF THE MIDDLE

When the middle cannot hold, extremism leading to violence and anarchy invariably ensues. Pragmatism is really the only mechanism that actually works when the people choose the method by which they will be governed. But it’s one of the great ironies of the human condition that large numbers of the existing populace often become too impatient or too agitated when governments follow such a path of moderation.  Or a consensus, if  you will, whereby different factions on the major political issues of the day settle for compromises that give each side at least partial achievement of their goals but not the entire loaf. Instead of this tacit moderation, passions often become  inflamed, and an “all or nothing” attitude becomes the ruling imperative. Then, instead of a large middle ground of consensus on key issues, extremist factions begin to form, each one diametrically opposed to the other, and ready for battle. A prime example was the outbreak of violence in Charlottesville last week, where, as I wrote last time, our president chose to draw a moral equivalence between the “haters” and those opposed to their hate-mongering.

In the U.S., the last time the center of political pragmatism began to dissolve into hardened extremist positions was over 150 years ago, and the issue was slavery. While our Declaration of Independence proudly proclaimed that “all men are created equal” our Constitution made no mention of such equality. Although most members of those writing the Constitution were opposed to slavery, and, indeed, most northern states had banished the enslavement of their black citizens, the South adamantly refused to to cooperate nor form a union, unless the Southern states were allowed to maintain the institution of slavery. It was all about economics. The South’s economy was almost entirely based on farming and its predominant crop was cotton. Since there was virtually no farm machinery at the time, cotton fields had to be harvested almost entirely by manual labor. The way to lower the labor costs of such of such harvests was, of course, to employ black slaves imported from Africa. Besides, the thinking went, Africans would be used to the sweltering summer heat and humidity while picking cotton in the South.

It seemed, at least to Southern plantation owners, the perfect solution. For the cost of providing minimal food and board, usually under the most dismal of conditions, the Southern cotton crop could be harvested and sold at prices that under-cut virtually any competition from any other country on the planet. Also, the slave traders, those that sent their ships to Africa to round up black people and transport them back to the U.S., usually under the most abhorrent of conditions, generally made a handsome profit in this human trafficking operation. Thus, Southern representatives to the constitutional convention were not about to abide by any prohibition against slavery and threatened to walk out and form their own confederacy if their demands were not met. The North finally acceded to the Southerners stipulations, the union was formed, and the Constitution remained silent on the issue of slavery. It would take another 70 years or so, when the middle could no longer hold, and the mandate to abolish slavery in this country would result in massive death, destruction and misery throughout the U.S.

When Abe Lincoln was elected president in 1860, his immediate imperative was to preserve the union at all costs. He stated that Southern states could keep their slaves if they agreed not to secede. Indeed, his Vice-President, Andrew Johnson from Tennessee, was an ardent believer in the institution of slavery, but also openly stated that the South should remain in the union. Despite these assurances, the middle could not hold, as Southern extremists opened fire on a union fort in South Carolina and the Civil War commenced. It would take over four long, bloody years of massive body counts, and bone-chilling atrocities committed by both sides, before the fighting was brought to a conclusion. Over six hundred thousand battlefield deaths were tallied during the fighting, the equivalent of over six million deaths with today’s population. Massive destruction existed everywhere, but especially in the South. Lincoln did live long enough, however, to see the enactment of the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution which abolished the abominable institution of slavery, and gave full citizenship to blacks that were previously treated as possessions of white plantation owners, instead of as human beings.

After Lincoln’s death, however, the South quickly enacted a series of Jim Crow segregation laws that forced Southern blacks into a state of semi-slavery, which lasted another hundred years, before the walls of segregation finally began to crumble in the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. During those hundred years of Jim Crow, life for the average black man or women in the South barely changed from the days of formal slavery. One reason was that among many whites, a firm belief in white supremacy had been formed in the minds, and had taken hold as a concept among large numbers of the U.S. citizenry. Thus, the Ku Klux Klan, among other white supremacist organizations, found fertile ground in both the North as well as the South. Which brings us to today’s landscape, and the events in Charlottesville last week.

As I wrote last time, Trump’s breathtakingly lame moral equivalence between the haters, and those opposing the various hate groups, was virtually unprecedented. But I think the calculus formed in Trump’s mind is as follows. While Trump himself might not be a white supremacist, he believes that a large chunk of the white Republican base is thus bigoted, and voted for him because he gave lip service to their cause. It was the white bigots in his base that put him over the top and he goes to great pains not to antagonize them. Thus all the Neo-Nazis, KKKers, and other various hate groups continue to believe they have a friend and ally in the White House. But those opposed to all forms of this bigotry are also hardening their stances leaving less people to occupy the middle.

From this vantage point, the center is slowly dissolving into hardened left wing/right wing extremist politics that will not bode well for this country. Unless Trump mends his political ways, which is highly unlikely, look for greater and greater polarization among the American public. And we all saw how well such polarization turned out for this country about 150 years ago.

 

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Economics, human affairs, politics | Leave a comment

THE NEVER-ENDING CAMPAIGN TRAIL

So, did you hear the one about how Sweden suffered this violent terrorist attack this past Friday. No? Well that could possibly be because such an attack never took place, despite our president’s proclamation to the contrary. Not only did a bloody terrorist assault occur, according to Trump, but it was Sweden’s own fault for acting humanely, by allowing so many refugees fleeing for their lives, to enter Sweden in the first place. It’s alternative facts, baby, as Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway would have put it. I’ve said in the past that politics usually comes down to a matter of salesmanship, which is the one thing that Trump excels in. It’s a matter of telling people what they want to believe in, whether the described events exist in reality or not. And so with the president’s approval ratings headed in a downward spiral, Trump figured it was time to return to the campaign trail, and offer his loyal base of primarily white-supremist followers, the red-meat they hungered for. And sure enough, a crowd of supposedly 20 thousand die-hard Trumpanistas gathered in Florida to hear the latest in Trump demagoguery.

At this early stage of the game, previous presidents from Reagan thru Obama, enjoyed approval numbers from the electorate that ranged from the high 50-60 percentiles, according to polls taken during their administrations. But according to the latest Gallop poll, Trump’s approval rating is currently only about 40 percent. Could the reason be that all the blustering, bullying, belligerent, and angry Twitter offerings issued on virtually a daily basis really don’t sell all that well outside of Trump’s hardcore base.  Or the fact that, despite all the threats, promises, and grand designs offered up by the president and his Republican Congress, very little has been accomplished in actuality thus far. Trump did roll back some of Obama’s executive orders, including one that barred coal companies from dumping mining refuse and waste into local rivers and streams. I’m sure that the residents that receive their drinking water from such canals will be more than delighted.

The one notable action the Trump administration did proclaim was an executive order barring people from seven Muslim countries from entering the U.S. on the pretext that this would make America safer. But the rollout might as well have been orchestrated by the Marx Brothers (Groucho and Harpo, not Karl.) With no advanced warning, it caught people who were already in flight, in its ridiculous net. When their planes landed in the U.S. people from these seven countries were informed that they couldn’t leave the airport; but instead had to book a flight that returned them to their countries of origin. One victim of this badly managed edict was a three-year-old Iranian girl that had a serious heart defect and was booked for a life-saving operation that could only be performed in the U.S. The parents of this “highly dangerous potential terrorist” were told that the operation would now have to be called off because Iran was one of the seven banned countries. Fortunately, the courts intervened and blocked this ill-advised executive order from being enforced, and the little Iranian girl was permitted to have her operation. But the Administration is threatening to roll-out a new edict that does essentially the same thing as the old, but is worded differently. And the beat goes on.

We now have a better understanding of how the Trump calculous works. During the campaign, the appeal was to white xenophobic, or out-right bigoted voters, primarily throughout the South and Mid-West. Yes, while the black, Hispanic, Asian, and other minority voting blocs were increasing in the U.S., there was still enough of a white majority to nudge Trump and his angry, anti-foreigner message over the finish line. Just barely, but a win nonetheless. His strategy was and currently is formulated by Steve Bannon, who if he were any further right-wing, would be wearing a Swastika arm-band. Bannon headed up the white-supremist Breitbart  News site before he became Trump’s campaign manager, and now is in the White House daily as a top presidential advisor. And Trump continues to draw heavy support from all the far right fringe hate groups, that include an entire range of bigots from the KKK  to the Bikers of America. He’s their kind of guy. And the message of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. to building a hideous wall to keep the Mexicans out, still resonates powerfully  in those circles.

Thus, to counter media and political opposition criticism of his white supremacist agenda, Trump has devised the strategy of the perpetual campaign. When his daily Twitter thrusts that rant against perceived enemies don’t seem to be accomplishing the job, go back out on the campaign trail where he can attract thousands, or tens of thousands of hardcore followers, so as to give the appearance of massive voter support. As well as giving his ego and morale a major boost. And with the Democratic party virtually in ruins, there really is no serious political opposition to his daily shenanigans.

The moral of all this is how curious the human mind functions at our current state of evolution. A leader, or would be dictator, doesn’t actually have to accomplish anything. All  he has to do is sell people on the notion that major events are moving in their direction. Create a parallel universe of delusion that satisfies and soothes the electorate’s fears, anxieties and bigotry, and all is well with the world once again. After-all, reality is often such an ugly thing, isn’t it? While delusion can cover one like a warm comforter on a cold winter’s night.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs, politics, Ronald Reagan | Leave a comment

PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

Some time back, I wrote a piece called “Returning to The Days of Silent Cal.” It talked about the 6 years that Republican Calvin Coolidge was president of the United States, from 1922-1928, when the federal government did essentially….nothing. Outside of the State and War Departments and the Attorney-General’s office, there was little, if any, governmental expenditures. Coolidge, often known as Silent Cal for his taciturn image, who had inherited the presidency when Warren G. Harding died in office in 1922, often boasted that the federal budget was lower when he left in 1928, than when he first assumed the presidency in 1922. Coolidge was wildly popular because he served during the decade known as the “roaring twenties” when there was peace, prosperity and a booming stock market. Get-rich-quick schemes abounded everywhere, especially if they involved stock investments. Coolidge would easily have won re-election in 1928 but he decided not to run, stating that 10 years in the White House would have constituted the type of cruel and unusual punishment that’s forbidden by the U.S. Constitution.

Instead it fell to his hapless Republican vice-president, Herbert Hoover, to be the one sitting behind the desk in the Oval Office, when the roof finally caved in- big time. All the wild speculation on Wall Street, as we all know, led to the infamous stock market crash in October, 1929, and, from there, to the ensuing Great Depression of the 1930s. At the time, there was no Securities and Exchanges Commission (SEC) to put the reins on all the stock market manipulations and dishonest schemes that had abounded like weeds in an unkempt garden. Suddenly, as the Depression oozed across the landscape, tens of millions of Americans, who thought they would live out their lives in comfortable middle class existences, were plunged into dire poverty instead, begging for nickels and dimes on the streets, or standing in hours long unemployment lines. The Depression also resurrected a rather dormant Democratic Party, which swept Franklin Roosevelt into the presidency in a landslide in 1932. FDR then began the “New Deal” which, for the first time had the government spending large amounts of resources for “social welfare programs,” i.e., stuff that wasn’t related to fighting wars or other foreign affairs.

Under FDR’s New Deal, and in subsequent Democratic administrations, Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid programs were enacted. The right for workers to organize into labor unions and the right for those unions to call a strike became law over 80 years ago, but has been fought every step of the way by conservative Republicans. And the Republicans seem to be winning their never ending battle against unions since membership is down to single digits in most unions still in existence. Also enacted by Democratic administrations were housing assistance programs, unemployment insurance benefits, disability benefits, healthcare insurance programs, and many other types of social welfare legislation. Of course, all these socials initiatives have helped balloon the cumulative public budget deficit to just under $20 trillion today, not exactly pocket change. Although it should be pointed out that it was conservative Republican Ronald Reagan that was the first president to spend like a drunken sailor, when he mushroomed the public deficit from $1 to $4 trillion during the 1980s. But his deficits occurred because of massive increases in military spending, which is fine and dandy in Republican mindsets.

So now we’re in 2017 with a fully Republican congress, and a Republican president promising to “drain the swamp” as well as “make America great again” among its many trite cliches. A large part of that effort will supposedly be to drastically cut back if not completely ax much of the social welfare initiatives enacted by liberal Democrats over more than 80 years. Perhaps taking us back to the days of Silent Cal, when the government essentially did nothing outside of defense and foreign affairs. And its not just about cutting expenditures. Its also about eliminating the many rules and regulations that govern much of the financial, business, banking, and Wall Street transactions that occur in our daily lives. Perhaps drastically reducing or eliminating the SEC so that would-be stock market shysters can once again flex their scheming muscles. In the end, it all comes down to philosophical differences concerning the size, scope, and involvement of government in the public square. It’s not only the amount of public expenditures, of course, but the level of taxes paid by the public as well. Republicans continually advocate for tax cuts for the rich, while Democrats are constantly trying to raise taxes on those wealthy that can well afford to pay the increases. Imagine that.

Not everything in government, however, is about spending money or creating oversight over financial transactions. There’s also the social side of the equation involving gay rights, abortion rights, and immigration. And there, strangely enough, conservatives and liberals appear to swap their philosophies concerning the extent of government involvement. Conservative Republicans demand strong government oversight to prevent gay marriage, deny a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy, and not only prevent illegal immigration, but sharply curtail the legal kind also. So what if there are no migrants to pick the fruit off the trees in Southern California. And no matter how much those actions may cost. Liberal Democrats, naturally, campaign for just the opposite. A woman’s right to choose, a couple’s right to choose, and for peaceful undocumented immigrants to be left alone. Philosophical differences with an unbridgeable divide, seemingly wider than the Grand Canyon.

Right now it’s the ultra-conservative Republicans that are holding vitally all the cards. The Democrats are still shell-shocked over the loss of the election. So it should be interesting to see if a Republican president and congress can roll back the size and scope of government so it more resembles the administration of Silent Cal. Except, of course, when it comes denying gay rights, abortions, and the right for illegal immigrants to live and work in peace. Then the sky’s the limit when it comes to government involvement.

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FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO THE ALT-RIGHT: A NATION’S MORAL DECLINE

It took less than 60 years, 56 to be precise, for the United States to go from electing a president that would champion the cause of civil rights for blacks and other minorities, to electing a president that intends to further the cause of white supremacy and privilege. In 1960, a young John F. Kennedy would squeak out a narrow win for the presidency over Richard Nixon. With brother Bobby as attorney-general, JFK set out to tear down the walls of Jim Crow segregation that had permeated throughout the entire South. A system whereby blacks had to attend separate schools from whites, drink from separate water fountains, sit at separate lunch counters, sit in segregated sections when attending sports events or movies, and on and on. Of course, blacks were strictly forbidden from living or buying property in white neighborhoods. And black people usually found it all but impossible to vote in public elections in virtually every district throughout the South. But the early 1960s were also a time when a young black minister named Martin Luther King Jr., with the backing of the president and the attorney-general, began organizing huge protest marches and civil-disobedience throughout the South to attack this system of second-class citizenry. A system of semi-slavery that had lasted 100 years after Lincoln had ended the existing system of formal slavery.

The peaceful protests and civil-rights marches of those days eventually achieved their desired results as the walls of Jim Crow semi-slavery began to crumble into dust. But not before a slew of both black and white civil-rights workers were murdered along the way by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. And tragically, by 1968, both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King were all dead at the hands of different assassins. And to be clear, racial hatred and discrimination didn’t exist only in the South. There was plenty of that in the North as well, minus a formalized legal system of Jim Crow segregation. But when Lyndon Johnson took over the presidency after JFK’s murder, and signed the civil rights act of 1964, black people were at least free to participate in U.S. elections without fear of reprisal. The tumultuous 1960s were also a time of massive protests and civil disobedience against America’s ill-fated entry into the Viet-Nam war. When that debacle ended in the early 1970s, and with the successes of the civil-rights movement, it seemed as if America’s worst days were behind it. Sadly, this was not to be.

Now fast-forward to 2016 where the winning presidential candidate, also by the narrowest of margins, is definitely not a civil-rights proponent. Instead he is praised by the KKK and other white-supremist groups as being their kind of guy. One of these hate groups is oddly referred to as the Alt-Right, presumably meaning alternative right wing. A rather benign sounding term to cover up its underlying racist intentions. A former leader of the Alt-Right, a man named Stephen Bannon, eventually became Donald Trump’s campaign manager, and will now sit in the White House on a daily basis as Trump’s co-chief of staff. A rather comforting vision to start off the new year of 2017, wouldn’t you say? So who, or what is the Alt-Right. Well, according to one of its current leaders named Jeff Schoep, their decision to dispense with using the swastika as its symbol was “an attempt to become more integrated and more mainstream.” An attempt to make racial hatred seem more like the norm. Their central belief is that white identity has become endangered by what they deride as this era of dangerous diversity and political correctness. But though they may no longer use the Nazi swastika as their symbol, the name of their game is still white supremacy over blacks and virulent anti-semitism.

When Trump, early in the campaign, promised to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, whom he described as murderers and rapists, the Alt-Right raised its collective head to listen. One movement leader, a retired school teacher from Dallas, who grew up in a family opposed to desegregation, stated: “I’ve been waiting to hear those words from a mainstream political leader all my life. We don’t have any power, – but now we’re suddenly close enough to smell it.” After Trump’s victory, the Alt-Right held a conference in Washington under the leadership of its president, a 38 year-old man named Richard Spencer, who fashions himself as the coming American Il Duce. He wears his hair in an undercut style called a “fashy” as in fascist. “Race is real” he said “Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.” Of course, this Alt-Right movement is supposedly distinct from old-line white supremacist fascists, bigots, race-haters and Jew-haters such as the KKK. But early in the election campaign, when David Duke, former grand dragon of the KKK enthusiastically endorsed the Trump candidacy, it took The Donald two days to eventually choke out an-“okay, I disavow the endorsement,” after repeated grilling by the media.

So, welcome to the world, circa 2017. The year 1961 stared off with a new president in the White House committed to achieving racial equality for minorities that were afflicted by Jim Crow prejudice, bigotry and segregation. The new president in 2017, about to enter the Oval Office, is a man seemingly adored by those very same bigots and haters. But that’s not even the most disturbing part about all of this.  Even more upsetting is the fact that candidate Trump figured out that there there was all this bigotry still in existence among the white population. Enough so that he could win by achieving such an overwhelming portion of the white vote, that it was more than sufficient enough to offset the minority voters opposition to him. And he was right. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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SIFTING THROUGH THE RUBBLE

By 2011, Hosni Mubarak had been ruling Egypt for almost 30 years, by the imposition of a type of benevolent dictatorship. While he undertook certain economic reforms and initiatives that benefitted the Egyptian people, there was no question that he ruled with an iron fist. He was finally overthrown in 2011 by the Army, and then prosecuted and convicted on charges of corruption and other misdeeds, and sent to jail. The Army ruled Egypt for awhile after Mubarak’s fall, and then paved the way for that country to have its first democratically held election in ages. That election, held in 2013, pitted 2 candidates against each other. One was the Army general who had led the coup against the Mubarak regime, while the other represented the Muslim Brotherhood. It should have been a no-brainer as to which candidate was better for the Egyptian people, but it didn’t turn out that way.

For those unfamiliar with Mid-Eastern politics, the Muslim Brotherhood is an organization founded in the 1920s to promote the most fundamentalist and radical brand of Islam within Egypt. While Egypt is one of the more secular Arab states, the Brotherhood’s stated objective was to reverse this course, and create a system whereby Muslim Imams would have final rule over the everyday workings of Egyptian life. Every aspect of that life would require an Islamic litmus test. Sort of like the way those crazy kids, the Ayatollahs in Iran, despotically govern that country. Anyone not adhering to their vision of fundamental Islamic tenets is usually properly disposed of, one way or another. So this was the goal of the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, a fellow named Morsi. And it wasn’t as if the Brotherhood attempted to disguise or in any way alter that organization’s objectives. They were out in plain view for all to observe.

Nevertheless, when election time came, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Morsi, received 53% of the popular vote, in what appeared to be an open and reasonably honest election process. Morsi became President of Egypt, and surprise, surprise, began to actually implement the Brotherhood’s agenda. When the populace viewed what was happening they entered a state of shock. How could this be, they cried, as if the facts were not well known ahead of time. In desperation the people cried out for the Army to save them from becoming a fundamentalist Islamic state like Iran. Finally the Army did intervene, and overthrew and jailed Morsi and his cohorts, and Egypt returned to its mostly secular underpinnings. But this was yet another example of how the people do it to themselves; of how “we have met the enemy and he is us” reality, as Pogo said decades ago.

I bring this up because unlike Egypt, the Army cannot save the U.S. from the folly of the just concluded election results that puts a pathological narcissist without an ounce of empathy into the White House. Nor should it. In this country we have a solid tradition of civilian control over the military, and above all else, it should just remain so. Besides, even though she conducted one of the worse campaigns ever run for the presidency, Hillary did win the election, or at least the popular vote. It was that system from the dark ages known as the electoral college that gives Trump possession of the Oval Office. The second time in 16 years that Republicans have  benefitted from this archaic relic. No wonder they fight off every attempt to abolish this undemocratic and ludicrous  system. So, although the missteps of the Clinton camp are almost too numerous to list, I thought I would mention just a few of the more obvious ones.

Start with the Clinton campaign TV ads. They all seemed to portray Trump in his more unhinged and deranged campaign moments. That’s okay for awhile but you need a lot more diversity. No mention was ever made of the four Trump casino fiascos in Atlantic City, each of which went belly-up in short order. Trump campaigned on a platform of being a shrewd businessman that would be creating jobs, but how many thousands lost their jobs when each of Trump’s casino ventures went bankrupt. I fully expected some TV ads featuring those that lost their jobs during that period of time, but none came. There was also no mention of the Trump University scam for which he’s being sued, and which may go to trial before inauguration. In addition, Clinton never forthrightly addressed her reckless email debacles. She could have bought some TV time, and explained that while it was a mistake to set-up servers in her home, no U.S. interests were harmed or compromised by this process. Her email fiasco was probably the prime reason a chunk of the population refused to vote for her.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Trump was making 5 or more campaign stops before crowds of thousands, while Clinton made barely one or two. Clinton lost 3 states that normally vote Democratic by a combined total of less than 120 thousand votes. Had she carried those three states, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan, she would have won the election. The reason she lost those three was that the black vote did not turn out in near the numbers that voted for Obama in 2008 and 2012. In the end, it was basically a lack of hustle and energy that cost Hillary the presidency. Perhaps her campaign became way over-confident based on faulty poll projections. I could go on but you get the picture of how the Democrats snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

So now we’re left with the rubble of watching the Republicans not only taking over the White House, but also controlling both houses of Congress. Watch for an agenda of tax cuts for the rich while slashing governmental assistance to the poor, the sick and the elderly. As well as anti-abortion (Roe V. Wade will become history once Ruth Ginsberg retires from the Supreme Court), anti-gay rights, and anti-immigration. And lets not forget that “beautiful wall” to be built on the Mexican border. As well as the deportation of millions of Hispanics from the U.S. Fun times- they are a-coming.

 

 

Categories: Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, World War II, Viet-Nam, Anti-Communist Witch Hunts, Army-McCarthy hearings, Islamic Jihadist terrorism, Soviet Union, Red China, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

AMATEUR HOUR AT DEMOCRATIC HEADQUARTERS

One must first recognize that all of politics is basically a sales job. The better the salesman (or woman), the more likely that he or she will prevail in the general election. In 2016 there’s no question that through the use of demagoguery, bombast and bullying, Trump is far more effective at salesmanship than Clinton. The fact that unlike husband Bill, Hillary’s natural political skills are sorely lacking, especially when campaigning before large audiences,  is obvious to even the most casual observer. While, for Trump, his abilities in exciting large crowds to buy into his demagogic and delusional promises is virtually unmatched in modern times. One has to go back to Hitler and Mussolini, almost a century ago, to find comparative skills in unbridled demagoguery. Thus, the only thing holding Trump back from enjoying a commanding lead in this race is Trump himself. His vile, vulgar, disgusting, and pathologically narcissist personality, shines through loud and clear, and tends to offset his natural salesmanship talents. His lewd and pornographic remarks about women, his inherent racism toward Hispanics, Chinese and others, his serial lies about the current administration and the state of world affairs, plus other nasty characteristics do tend to be rather off-putting. His unhinged and delusional mind-set might also give pause to those imagining his fingers on the nuclear trigger.

All that would tend to create a plausible explanation as to why Hillary had, until recently, a rather commanding lead in most polls. With this latest kerfuffle, however, initiated by FBI chief James Comey, concerning her entire email debacle, that lead seems to be shrinking rapidly. But let’s start at the beginning. When she was Secretary of State, Hillary decided to set up a private server in the basement of her residence in New York, to correspond by email. Which would have been fine if only private emails were conducted through those servers. (There were more than one server.) If the only thing being sent or received were recipes for chicken pot pie, or arrangements for daughter Chelsea’s upcoming wedding, etc., no scandal would have emerged. But Hillary, in reckless disregard for the reality of American politics, allowed emails concerning official State Department business to also be processed through those unprotected servers. Some of those emails supposedly contained highly classified information. Not only was this a clear violation of State Department protocols, but it created a situation whereby foreign enemies could have easily hacked into her servers and obtained that info.

It would have been one thing if Hillary was planning to retire from politics when she stepped down as Secretary of State. No one would have given this a second thought. But knowing that she had presidential aspirations, it was beyond recklessness to establish such an email arrangement. The first rule of politics is to never knowingly hand your opponents a weapon they can use against you in upcoming elections; and she deliberately handed the Republicans a beauty. As I’ve said, this is reckless in the extreme. Thus, when the GOP started a nonstop drum beat about Clinton’s unprotected private servers, the FBI was more or less forced to investigate. After a lengthy study, FBI Director Comey made a public announcement that while Clinton had been extremely careless and irresponsible, the FBI believed there were no grounds for criminal prosecution. This, of course didn’t stop GOP stalwarts from denouncing the FBI conclusion, or from wearing tee shirts with a “Hillary For Prison” pronouncement on them. Comey was routinely denounced as an Administration lackey by Republicans, while being lauded by Democrats for his honesty and objectivity. A collective sigh of relief was breathed at Democratic headquarters.

However, just 11 days before the nightmare election of 2016 would come to an end, Comey reversed course. He had obviously been taking too much heat from the Republican Congress and others on the right, to make living bearable. He, thus, announced that the FBI would re-open the Clinton email investigation based on new evidence that came to light. To make matters worse, this evidence, he stated,  consisted of thousands of newly discovered Clinton emails found on the computer of one Anthony Wiener, who is the spouse of one of Hillary’s closest associates.  The same former ex-congressman who is under investigation by the FBI for child pornography. Fresh emails, a disgraced ex-congressman, kiddie porn- all mixed together in the same narrative. It’s like one Republican congressman stated- “Christmas has arrived in October.”  Of course, at Democratic headquarters, there was nothing but panic and dismay as they watched Hillary’s lead in the polls begin to evaporate like the morning mist.

Being the pathetic rank amateurs that Democratic operatives usually are, they could come up with no better response to this sudden turn of events than denouncing Comey (who they had previously praised) and calling for a more detailed explanation of this new FBI initiative. No ringing protestation from Hillary that while she may have erred in judgement regarding her private servers, no laws were broken. No U.S. interests or security had been compromised, etc. That she was, by far, the better candidate. Of course Trump, who had denounced Comey’s previous decision to end the investigation, was now singing his praises to the roof. Thus is the day-to-day nature of politics. And people wonder why only half the eligible population shows up to cast a ballot for president on election day. Even less in an off year contest.

The reason that Republicans win  so many elections is not because they have a superior agenda. If anything, their platform appeals to the most narrow-minded of the U.S. populace. They reason they win, however, is that their campaigns are organized and run by political pros who actually know what they’re doing when playing the game of politics. While the Democrats have rank amateurs orchestrating their so-called political operations. It’s like a major league baseball team playing against a minor, bush league class AA team. So unless the Democrats can come up with another tape of Trump bellowing additional profanities, the election seems to be headed toward a GOP victory. With all its ensuing horrors.

 

 

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THE BUDGET DEFICIT TIME-BOMB

When the subject of budgeting and government financial deficits comes to the forefront, most people suddenly develop a condition known as MEGO- my eyes glaze over. Yet it’s a subject well worth exploring because the growth and size of the U.S. budget deficit is such that it has become a ticking time-bomb in our midst that could explode within a few years. And when it does most people will be severely burned where it hurts the most, right in their pocketbooks.  It will especially affect younger people just starting out in new jobs and careers. A tidal wave of overwhelming deficits could sink the stock market and most American’s savings and investment accounts, leading to a severe economic crises. It could make the 2008-2010 financial downturn look like a romp in the park on a Sunday afternoon. So lets try to figure out how we’ve arrived at this unenviable point in our history.

First a little perspective. The accumulated U.S. budget deficit in the nearly 200 years from the beginning of George Washington’s presidency to the end of Jimmy Carter’s reign in January 1981, stood at just under one trillion dollars. This despite the U.S. fighting in two world wars as well as the Korean and Viet-Nam wars which were extremely costly. In the ensuing 35 years, however, from Ronald Reagan to the end of Barack Obama’s term, the deficit will have mushroomed to just under $20 trillion, with annual deficits  running at about half-a-trillion a pop. It was the the supposedly ultra-conservative Ronald Reagan that started us on the path toward major budget-busting. Under the 12 years of the Reagan and George Bush the Elder presidencies, the budget deficit grew from one to four trillion dollars, a 300% increase. Reagan accomplished this stupendous feat by hugely increasing military spending while significantly cutting income taxes, especially for the rich. Hmmnn. I wonder if it ever dawned on people within the Reagan Administration that if make large increases in expenditures while sharply cutting revenues, bad things were likely to ensue, budget-wise. Reagan believed he could make up the difference by curtailing social spending, but that turned out to be a total non-accomlishment.

The following 8 years under Bill Clinton’s presidency saw the budget-deficit monster actually being tamed. In 2 of those years, the Government surprisingly ran a budget surplus, a rarity never again seen. The period that Clinton was president, from 1992-2000, were probably the best years of peace and prosperity that the U.S. has experienced since at least the end of WWII, and perhaps in its entire history. Starting in 2001, however, when George Bush the Younger ascended to the White House, (even though Al Gore had actually won the election) we once again began to travel on the yellow brick road of financial irresponsibility. Bush began piling up large deficits the old-fashioned way, again by tax cuts for the rich and large increases in government spending. This time it was by enacting a prescription drug benefit under Medicare. The Bush presidency was further marred by an over-heated economy, especially in the housing market, which finally led to the collapse of the behemoth Wall Street investment firm known as Lehman Brothers, which further led to the collapse of the U.S. economy as a whole, and ensured the election of a rookie senator named Barack Obama to the Oval Office.

Contrary to popular belief, the large budget deficits that have accumulated under the Obama Administration have not been due to sharply increased spending; but instead were caused by a large drop in revenues due to the financial crises that lasted from 2008-20012.  All those people that were out of work were certainly not paying any income or FICA taxes. Now that we’re back to near full employment, however, we’re still running half-a-trillion in the red, annually. All the while U.S. infrastructure  is slowly but surely crumbling into disrepair. Roads are becoming alarmingly over-used with bumper-to-bumper traffic everywhere; bridges are virtually disintegrating before our eyes; water and sewer piping, some of which was built at the end of the 19th century, is rusting away to nothingness; the electrical grid is over-taxed, outdated, and highly susceptible to a terrorist attack; the list goes on and on. Just think what a joy your life would be if electricity ceased to exist. But where will we get the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to repair our aging infrastructure. Well, one solution might be to increase the revenue side of the equation.

But, you might say, we’re already being taxed nearly to death.Besides income and FICA taxes, there’s property taxes (even if you rent it’s in your monthly payment), taxes on all the utilities used, taxes at the gas pump, taxes on your cell phones and land lines, taxes in your internet provider’s fee; death taxes; the list is endless. Sort of reminds me of a song by the Beetles in the 1960s, called the “Taxman.” Some of the lyrics go as follows: “If you drive a car I’ll tax the street; If you try to sit I’ll tax your seat; If you get too cold I’ll tax the heat; If you take a walk I’ll tax your feet.” That pretty well sums up where we are on the revenue side of the balance sheet.

Over 80% of our annual 3.5 trillion dollar budget consists of only 5 items. Namely, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Defense and Homeland Security, and interest on the debt. You can’t screw with interest on the debt or no one would ever lend to us again. The likely next president of the U.S. says he want’s to sharply increase spending on defense and homeland security, not decrease it. As well as increase infrastructure spending. Both candidates regard tampering with SS or Medicare to be the third rail of politics which invites instant execution. And so the budget deficit time bomb keeps ticking away.

I used to think that the only benefit of growing old was that I didn’t have to have colonoscopies anymore. But I’ve now discovered another benefit. I likely won’t have to be around when the financial roof of this country eventually  collapses on our heads due to uncontrollable deficit spending.

Categories: Ben Franklin, The Constitution, Monarchies, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, Ronald Reagan | Leave a comment

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