Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan

A SOLITARY LIFE

Many years ago the wife and I were on a plane ride, probably heading back East. The row we picked had 3 seats  across with a middle-aged woman already occupying the window seat. My wife Vivian took the middle seat and I was left to sit on the aisle. (I would always take an aisle seat on flights since, even then, I would have to pee like 40 times a day and I needed quick access to the bathrooms.) Once Vivian was seated comfortably, the woman next to her began a stream of non-stop chatter that lasted the entire flight. Seems she lived alone on a small mountain top, isolated in the woods, with no one to converse with. I believe it was somewhere in Wyoming. With the opportunity now to release all that pent up verbiage that was bottled up inside her, she let it flow non-stop onto my poor wife, like lava erupting out of a mountain. Vivian exclaimed after the flight that her ears were ready to fall off.

But it got me to thinking why a single woman, or anybody for that matter, would choose to live in such lonely isolation. I guessed at the time that there was probably some childhood trauma or abuse involved in her making that decision, but on further reflection, perhaps not. People these days are generally extolled for their extroverted personalities, while introverts are usually regarded as anti-social. But just as extroverts recharge their batteries through inter-action with others, introverts are often more comfortable alone with their own thoughts. Of course no-one is entirely one way or the other. Extroverts do need some alone time while introverts do occasionally mingle with others. But neither life-style choice is inherently good or bad. It just is-for the person exhibiting that type of behavior. In any event, it had me thinking more about this subject, since my personal circumstances have changed so dramatically at the present time.

As I’ve written before, an out-going, glamour filled existence doesn’t necessarily fill the bill. If it did, four of the biggest American pop stars since the end of WWII would not have done themselves in so gracelessly. Neither fame nor fortune, nor tens of millions of adoring fans world-wide, could stop Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston from ending up at the undertakers abode decades before their time. More recently, Anthony Bourdain, famous celebrity chef and world traveler, hung himself in a Paris hotel room. He seemed to have it all, fame, fortune and world-wide recognition, but just could not cope with the process of daily living. I guess it takes a certain quotient of fortitude to get through each day until we end up on the other side in the next dimension. And for those fearing death, Helen Keller, a person who should have had a keener insight than most, stated that death is merely the process of going from one room to the next.

The comfort that comes with living a solitary life was expressed brilliantly by American writer and philosopher Henry David Thoreau in his opus on Walden Pond. Starting in July 1845, Thoreau lived alone on the shores of Walden Pond, located in Massachusetts, and kept a journal of his solitary experiences witnessing the beauty of nature for over two years. Walden is an exceptionally deep and remarkably clear kettle lake, and it inspired an awareness and respect for the natural environment ethic in Thoreau as shown in his writings. One hundred and eighty years later, Thoreau could be considered the father of today’s environmental movement. Thoreau always believed that living alone on Walden Pond greatly enriched rather than diminished his life. The solitary experience amidst nature was almost beyond description he later confided. Today Walden is visited by over 600,000 tourists annually.

I bring all this up because now, in the final stages of my life, I’m forced to live a solitary existence. As I wrote in my last piece, my dearly beloved wife, partner and best friend for 53 years died of of cancer this past January. So I’m left to rattle around in this big empty house by myself. And it’s not on Walden Pond. Of course, I still have my 12 year old cat, constantly begging for treats, so I guess I’m not entirely alone. But for those of you with religious leanings, do you ever wonder why God created or allows cancer to flourish. Yes, man has performed heinous, dastardly, hideous and evil acts throughout the centuries. But cancer? That’s on God’s watch.

 

 

 

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BEFORE THE CANCER CAME ….

Before the cancer came there wasn’t the slightest doubt in my mind that I would be the first one to go. After all, I was 3 years older than her, and in this country women generally outlive men by about 5 years. And she always seemed so much stronger than me health wise, and much more capable of handling difficult, messy legal and personal situations that inevitably occur after the death of a spouse. Besides, from personal experiences it appeared that women were better equipped to handle this type of tragedy and adversity than men.

Before the cancer came she was eager to indulge in all the various social opportunities that life in our new home city had to offer. We both retired from our jobs when we were in our fifties and moved from the the East Coast to Las Vegas. She loved going to the overpriced, style over substance shows featured in Strip hotels. Yes, they generally offered lots of noise and glitz, little in the way of depth, and were designed for tourists who wanted a break from throwing their money away in the casinos. But it made her happy so we went. As the years wore on, however, we frequented those shows less and less.

Before the cancer came, she had designed for herself an entire array of card and mahjongg games in the community social center to keep herself fully occupied. She, and her card-playing buddies, would often go at it to well past 10: PM. When she finally came home she would have to watch a little TV in bed in order to wind down before shutting out the lights. As the years wore on, however, her night games became less and less frequent, until finally she only played during the day. Then the daytime games began to diminish also.

Before the cancer came she had decided that our weekends would start on Thursday, which generally meant eating out and gambling. The only nights we ate dinner at home were Monday-Wednsday. On the weekends we would always see new movie releases, then have dinner at a quality restaurant and finally end up feeding the machines in some casino. The few times that she did manage to accomplish a major hit she was so highly excited and joyful. It was wonderful to behold. And then, like all the others, that activity also began to diminish. I suppose one could call it the process of growing old.

Then one day the cancer did come. I remember I had been out by myself that evening and when I came home I was in a hurry to check my email on the computer. Before I could do that, she announced to me that she had cancer. “What kind of cancer” I shouted in shocked disbelief. Seems she had been to the doctor who ran some tests and told her that she had Stage 4 cancer in her colon that had spilled over into her liver. At first I was in full denial. “How can they determine that you have colon cancer without first doing a colonoscopy,” I shouted. So she scheduled an early morning colonoscopy. When the doctor finally came out after the exam and told me that she did indeed, have colon cancer that had spread to her liver, my heart sank. This can’t be happening I told myself over and over. This is what happens to other people that you hear about through gossip. But now, this was the new reality for both of us.

So, at first she sought treatment at a nearby Cancer Center, which put her on a regimen of chemo pills which in the end did nothing but give her neuropathy in her feet. The simple task of walking became more and more painful for her, and then impossible as time wore on. So next they started giving her almost 2-hour long infusions of chemo which initially seemed to be working. But they also made her highly nauseous and by the end of the week she was usually throwing her guts up. She started losing a lot of weight, not an unusual occurrence for cancer patients. But early in 2018 the chemo seemed to be doing the job to the extent that she planned to attend our granddaughters wedding that was be held back East, 3000 miles away.

Two days before the wedding in May 2018, however, she developed a stomach blockage and had to be taken to the hospital, and the trip was cancelled. Our other granddaughter was also planning a wedding on the East Coast in October 2018, and my wife had faint hopes of making that one. But by then her health had deteriorated to the point that such a trip also became unthinkable. Another stomach blockage occurred and this time they decided to operate. But it meant staying off the chemo for weeks before the operation. She became weaker and weaker and the simplest of movements like getting in and out of bed became undoable. The last time we went out together was in early December 2018 and she could barely make it. I sometimes believe that if she had not been denied the chemo for such a long period she might still have been with us. Maybe thats just wishful thinking.

On January 9, 2019, the love of my life, my wife and best friend for near 55 years succumbed to cancer. And here I am, alone and broken-hearted, left to rattle around in this big empty house by myself. I Skype with my 3 daughters which does help considerably, but it’s still an empty existence. I’m reminded of the poem that Irish poet Dylan Thomas wrote to his father who was on his deathbed at the time-” Do not go gentle into that good night; but rage, rage against the dimming of the light.” In the end, my beloved Vivian did go gentle into that dark night. But she was more than ready to be finished with the suffering that cancer had inflicted on her frail body. The only consolation I have is that I’m pretty old myself, so I should be with her again on the other side in the not too distant future.

 

 

 

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A SHOOTING IN MANHATTAN

As I’ve said previously in past pieces, about the only truthful statement Donald Trump uttered during the 2016 campaign was that he could could shoot someone dead in the middle of Fifth Avenue and there would be no erosion of his base support. To test the validity of this hypothesis, I’m offering up a scenario that might look like the following.

It’s a hot summer day, and Trump has decided to make a campaign appearance in his native New York City. He’s packing heat for self-protection since he knows how crime-infested N.Y.C. is and that he’ll be vulnerable riding in an open-air limousine. As the motorcade wends its way up 5th Avenue,  Trump spots someone in the crowds lining the street  holding up a sign that’s highly critical of his presidency. Anger overcomes his better judgement and he pulls out his gun and pumps 3 bullets into the protester, who is immediately killed. After initial gasps, most in the crowd agree that the protester got what was coming to him.

When news of the shooting reaches Washington, the White House Press Corp immediately swings into action. Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell is quickly interviewed for his reaction. McConnell replies, “As I’ve said many times in the past, I’m not going to comment on all the President’s idiosyncrasies. Now if you want to talk about new legislation that will further cut taxes for the rich, I’ll be happy to discuss that with you.” Reached for his comments, Republican Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, replies that, “From what I’ve learned, I think it was just a case of an unfortunate tourist being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’m told that the victim’s name is Fred Waternobby, and he was from Ames, Iowa. He had come to N.Y. to see the sights; but if he had stayed back in Ames, he’d be alive today. Nevertheless, I’ll convene a House committee to further study this incident.

When reached for comment, Trump’s Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos stated that this occurrence further proved her point that students needed to be armed with semiautomatics for their own self-protection, when entering the classroom. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flat-out said that, “this would have never happened if North Korea had de-nuclearized as they had promised.” On Fox News, the lead story for the evening was that an illegal immigrant tried to hold up a bank in Boise, Idaho; further proving how critical it was to build a wall along the Mexican border. Fox News commentators Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity did comment on the shooting, but only to say that this was just another example of how the mainstream media such as the New York Times and CNN were still trying to to bring down the Trump Administration and force Donald Trump from office even though we have a roaring economy. Why, look how low the unemployment numbers are, they both stated. Finally, later that evening Trump went on Twitter and wrote the following Tweet: “Some people are saying that the shooter looked a lot like Barack Obama. I’m not saying it was him. Believe me folks. But some people are.” A few days later, a new Gallop poll comes out that shows for the first time, Trump’s approval rating is over 50 percent.

Unfortunately, we all know that much of this scenario is probably true. We’ve arrived at a point in time in the U.S. where up is down and down is up. One notable exception to Trump’s world of make-believe, was the respect and honor paid to Senator John McCain after he died last week, just days short of his 82nd birthday. Three former presidents, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama attended his funeral. Trump was noticeably uninvited. McCain coming from a Navy family attended the Naval Academy in Annapolis. He graduated fifth from the bottom of his class and expressed disappointment that 4 other mid-shipmen beat him out for last place. He would go on to fight in the Viet-Nam war as a fighter pilot, and was shot down over North Viet-Nam. He would then spend 5 hellish years in the notorious N. Viet-Nam prison known as the Hanoi Hilton.

When his captors offered to release him from prison early, McCain, with broken bones and other injuries, said he was not leaving until all American prisoners were released. He would go on to spend 4 more torturous years in the Hanoi Hilton before that finally happened. In civilian life McCain would become a senator from Arizona. In 2008 he won the Republican nomination for president and wound up running against a young rookie from Illinois who was also the first black man to secure either party’s nomination.  That rookie made several rookie mistakes during the campaign, and McCain led comfortably in all the polls going into September, and seemed well on his way to achieving the presidency. But then Lehman Brothers, a giant Wall Street brokerage firm, went bankrupt in September because of all the worthless debt paper they were holding, and the economy accordingly went into the dumpster, along with McCain’s prospects for the presidency. The young rookie, Barack Obama, would become president instead.

So there you have it-the good, the bad, and the downright ugly. I’ll let you, gentle reader, decide which category our current president belongs in. As for me, I guess you know which side of the aisle my butt is firmly planted in.

 

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TRUMP DERANGEMENT FAILS TO DISSUADE TRUMP SUPPORTERS

During the 2016 campaign for the presidency, about the only truthful statement that Donald Trump offered was that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue in New York, and shoot someone dead, and there would still be no loss of support among his most loyal followers. That’s even more true today, especially among Trump’s evangelical base of bible-thumpers that put him over the top in the 2016 election. It was estimated that near 80% of voters considering themselves as “born again” voted for Trump. It was their votes especially in the Mid-West that gave him the presidency. Such renowned evangelical ministers as Franklin Graham (Billy Graham’s son), Jerry Falwell Jr., who runs a bible college in Virginia, and Robert Jeffress who operates a mega-church in Texas, are among Trump’s strongest supporters. Yes, that same thrice married Trump who had an affair with porn stripper Stormy Daniels while he was married to his third wife, and continues to lie about it.

I think the utter phoniness and hypocrisy of of the Trump persona and his legion of evangelical followers was brilliantly caught in a political cartoon I viewed a short time ago. It was when Trump, in his infinite wisdom, decided to separate children from their parents that were illegally trying to enter our southern border.   The kids were thrown in cage-like cells and told they would never see their parents again. The cartoon I’m referring to shows an angry Jesus trying to protect a group of small, frightened children clinging to him. Jesus the utters this quote from the New Testament-Matthew 25:40- “I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.” Standing in front of Jesus and the children he was protecting is Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his goon bodyguard. Sessions asks his goon-“Whose the weirdo in the pajamas?” The goon replies-“He says his name is Hay-Seuss. You want me to whack him Mr. Sessions?” Sheer brilliance, but still there is no loss of support among the Trump base.

Because there was something of an outcry from Trump’s cruel border shenanigans, Trump, ever the demagogue, was forced to reverse course and release these innocent victims back to their parents. Certainly not because of any humane concern. Remember that at Trump’s fundamental core is pathological narcissism, and he will always initiate any action that further feeds his monumental ego. Years ago I wrote that Trump’s ego makes the Grand Canyon look like a crack in the sidewalk. Nothing has changed from those days.

Trump supporters like to point to how well the economy is doing as the basis of their support. And there’s no doubt that the economy is on a strong upward trajectory and has been since the “great recession” ended in 2009. There now appears to be more job openings than there are unemployed. But the economy would have been in about the same position had Clinton been elected, and has little to do with any of Trump’s actions. The main reason for the economy’s strong tail wind is because the European economy has vastly improved as well, and there is substantially increased trade and commerce between the U.S. and the EU. Remember that the recession in 2008 occurred world wide, not just in the U.S. So unless Trump wants to also take credit  for Europe’s revival (which is not beyond him) Trump is just the beneficiary of a near ten year world-wide upward thrust. Meanwhile not content to just let the economy continue humming along, Trump has started to throw monkey wrenches into worldwide trade practices that could soon spell disaster for the U.S. economy.

Continually obsessed that the U.S. is economically being taken advantage of, (even though we’re the number one economy in the world,) Trump has instigated a number of crippling tariffs against our trading partners, who have replied, in kind, with tariffs against U.S exports. Remember that tariffs is just a 10 dollar word for taxes that are ultimately paid, in this case, by U.S. consumers. Europe and China have retaliated against the Trump tariffs by placing their own tariffs on on U.S. exports such as farm produce. Soy bean farmers in the mid-west for example are having a tough time exporting their products because of foreign retaliation. Nevertheless farmers throughout the country are still firmly lodged in the Trump camp, believing that any hardship they’re presently suffering is simply a temporary situation. Just as Trump tells them.

One last thing. Trump likes to brag about how great his tax cut enacted by the Republican Congress has been for the average American. Actually it was a giant giveaway to large corporations with a few peanuts thrown to the middle class. It also greatly exacerbated our national debt which in now running at about a cool trillion a year, with a cumulative total of about $21.5 trillion. Funny how the national debt only mattered when Obama was president but is now a non-issue among conservative Republicans. Add a few hundred billion more to this red ink explosion by building the Trump wall on the Mexican border and you will have hit the spending jackpot. But what happens when the world stops buying our bonds of indebtedness. People will go to their banks, put their ATM cards in the machine to withdraw cash, but nothing will come out. Even though it shows they have a healthy bank balance.

In the end politics really is just a game of salesmanship. Trump, with his Twitter tantrums, and his overall demented and bizarre behavior, still commands the respect and loyalty of a solid 35-40 percent of the American electorate. And it will probably remain so until the roof crashes in on our heads. Which could be any time soon.

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THE PSYCHOLOGICAL UNDERPINNINGS OF TRUMPISM

Madeleine Albright was the first and only U.S. female Secretary of State, being appointed by Bill Clinton in the 1990s. At 80 years old, and still teaching  at Georgetown University in Washington, Albright has published a new book called “Fascism: A Warning.” If anyone is capable of foreseeing the rise of fascism it would certainly be Albright, who as a child fled Nazi Germany during Hitler’s rise to power in the 1930s. In her book she points out that it was Italy’s Benito Mussolini that started the fascist ball rolling in Europe a century ago. Hitler merely replicated what he viewed as Mussolini’s game-changing fascist demagoguery, and added an anti-semitic spin that led to perhaps the most evil act in all of history-the Holocaust. Now, in her new book, Albright is seeing the same dark forces that unfolded through Europe in the 20th century begin to spread its wings in both the U.S. and Europe during this early part of the 21st century.

Albright points out that Donald Trump’s campaign cliche of “draining the swamp” was first used by Mussolini a century ago. Reminds me of the statement that famed playwright Eugene O’Neill made, also a century ago- “There is no present or future. There is only the past that keeps reoccurring over and over.” It should also be noted that Trump’s primary cliche- “Make America Great Again” was first used by Ronald Reagan in his presidential run in 1980. So much for originality. In any event, Albright finds a common denominator among the populations of first Italy, then Germany and now the U.S. that gives power to the fascist imperative. That denominator being the desire among a large chunk of the electorate for strong, authoritarian leadership. Namely dictatorial leadership. And Trump, with his white supremacist agenda is fulfilling that desire as far as about 35% to 40% of the U.S. electorate is concerned.

After all, democracy can be so messy. Having to rely on Congress to accomplish anything meaningful can be like languishing in the Wasteland. (The one that T.S. Eliot wrote about in his poetic masterpiece.) Wouldn’t it be better just to have a strong figure at the top issue proclamations that become law, unrestrained by the legislature or the courts. Didn’t a magnificent leader such as Winston Churchill even decry democracy as “the worst form of government; except for every other that’s ever been tried.” And it’s not as if the U.S. didn’t already have its fling with a would-be fascist dictatorship. As I’ve written before, and as Albright points out in her book, Senator Joseph McCarthy, a Wisconsin Republican in the 1950s, was a showman who had the “mentality of a fascist bully and the instincts of a Mussolini” but lacked the intellect to achieve his tyrannical dreams. He used the primary tactic of a would-be dictator’s thrust by “repeating a lie often enough until it begins to sound like the truth.” McCarthy was riding high on his way to tyrannical despotism until that new-fangled entertainment contraption called television exposed him for the fraud he really was. After that, he drank himself to death.

Albright writes that regarding the onset of fascism in the U.S., we are not there yet but the signposts are ominous. The elephant in the room is, of course Donald Trump.” He won the presidency in a squeaker by convincing just enough voters in the right states that he was a teller of blunt truths, a fantastic negotiator, and effective champion of American interests.  The fact that he is none of these should disturb the sleep of the American public, as well as the fact that “Trump is the first antidemocratic president in modern U.S. history.” But psychologically, Trump supporters will never admit nor acknowledge such obvious truths since holding on to their prejudices is more important than coming to grips with reality.

To recognize the impact of one’s psychological prejudices, think back to how the 2016 campaign for president started off. There were 17 candidates vying for the Republican nomination to be president- 16 men and one woman. At the beginning, most of these candidates had higher poll numbers than Trump. Then Trump gave his initial speech where he castigated Mexico “for sending us their rapists and murderers.” He also castigated John McCain’s 5 years of hellish captivity in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” during the Viet-Nam war. And he further vowed to bar all Muslims  from entering the U.S. even for legitimate business purposes. As a result of these brutish and disgusting utterances, Macy’s fired Trump as being on of their spokespersons. NBC fired him from their TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice.” One would expect that in a sane society, the public would be repulsed by such comments. But instead, Trump’s poll numbers shot up from single digits to about 35%. Suddenly he was the leader of the pack, and none of the other candidates could catch him. They were just too rational for the public’s taste.

In the general election Hillary Clinton was favored to sweep to victory in a landslide. But she turned out to be about the worst candidate in the history of mankind. Her general lack of campaign energy, her e-mail fiascos, and her dismal, unaspiring TV ads dragged her down. While Trump was making at least 5 or 6 campaign appearances each day, Clinton could only manage perhaps one or two if she was feeling up to it. Still she might have won if FBI director James Comey hadn’t reopened the FBI’s investigation into her e-mail shenanigans a mere 12 days before the election.

So there you have it. According to Madeleine Albright the signposts are plentiful and pointing to a Trump dictatorship. After all, now that Trump has tasted the ultimate power, does one think he would easily relinquish such power should he lose the next election. The results of the 2018 Congressional elections will indicate which direction the country is headed, especially regarding the potential loss of basic American freedoms. Stay tuned.

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GUN FETISH RESULTS IN GUN VIOLENCE

A wise man once said that no one ever committed mass murder with a knife. Okay, maybe it wasn’t a “wise man.” In fact might have been me. In any event, the latest gun massacre that occurred in Parkland, Florida, where 17 high school students were slaughtered by a deranged 19 year-old using firearms proves this point. Welcome to the new norm, where mass murder is committed on a periodic basis in the United States. The only remaining question is where and when the next one will occur. Prior to the Florida shooting, here in Las Vegas we had a real doozy back last October. Another mentally unbalanced crackpot, this one was age 64 , using a semi-automatic rifle, shot into a crowd attending an outdoor music festival, killing 58 people while wounding more than 500. Prior to that, there was the shooting at the Pulse night club in Orlando that left 49 dead. And let us not forget the individual that went on a shooting spree in a school in Connecticut that killed 26 students and staff just before Christmas of that year. The list goes on, but the one common denominator in all these mass slaughters was that guns had to be used to achieve the murderer’s vile intentions.

Despite all these slaughters, any mention of increased gun control in the U.S. sends about half the country into a frenzy of fear-induced paranoia. With the National Rifle Association leading the way, gun owners loudly proclaim that any mention of increased gun-control means that the “big, bad government” is coming in to seize everyone’s firearms; after which unarmed people will surely be rounded up and marched off to concentration camps. It’s called a gun fetish and no amount of reasoning or sanity can prevail against this mindset. Fetishes are almost impossible to rid oneself of, since they act as an irrational hammerlock on one’s brain that precludes clear thinking. Add to this the fact that the NRA, supported by million of members, dispenses tens of millions of dollars in campaign contributions to favored members of Congress, while threatening to campaign against those members that may be inclined to support some form of gun control, and you have the perfect storm of non-action in reducing the availability of firearms across the U.S.

Don’t think there’s a gun fetish in the U.S? Then consider the following. The U.S. with a population of about 325 million people, or about 5% of all humans currently alive on Planet Earth; nevertheless possesses an estimated 48% of the civilian guns currently in existence. That’s right- of the estimated 650 million guns currently owned by civilians world-wide, about 310 million reside in the U.S. In comparison, the country with the second largest civilian gun ownership is India where 46 million firearms are dispersed among a populace of well over a billion people. Yet even the most feeble effort to enact  some form of legislative restrictions on the acquisition or ownership is met with the fiercest of opposition from gun owners. Compare that to the events that transpired in one of our Pacific allies, namely Australia. Some years ago, also traumatized by a mass killing using firearms, the Australian government asked its citizens to turn their guns into the government which would then reimburse them for each confiscated firearm. Today Australia is almost civilian gun free, and amazingly, seems to have thrived quite well. At least they haven’t had to suffer through any further gun-related massacres.

Of course, our illustrious president couldn’t resist weighing in on the recent school shooting in Florida. Commenting on the police failure to confront the murderer until after the massacre was over, Trump said that if he was in the vicinity, he would have gone into the school and charged the shooter even if he was “unarmed.” Right. Trump who managed to dodge the draft in his younger days and thus avoid serving in the military, would have gone into the school unarmed, and confronted the shooter barehanded. Overweight and out-of-shape as he is at age 71. The disturbing thing about that kind of comment is not that he made it so boldly. After all it was a typical Trumpism. The most disturbing thing is how many Trumpinistas will actually believe he’s telling the truth. Sadly, probably most of his base will probably take him at his word.

Speaking of the Trump follies, the latest one is his intention to slap hefty tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. Tariffs is just a polite word for taxes. In this case, it will be U.S. consumers that will pay these increased taxes when buying imported cars or any other product using these metals. Most of our steel imports come from Canada, our neighbor, friend, and supposedly our most trusted ally. Until now, that is, when Trump decided what great fun it would be to piss them off. Increased tariffs on imports also invite retaliation from other countries that buy our exports. In the end, tariffs economically batter all nations involved. Increased tariffs, also known as protectionism, is given by historians as the leading cause of creating the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Back to gun control, my own view is that no one needs guns except for the military, the police, and those civilians employed in security operations. Hunters need guns, why? To kill innocent and defenseless animals generally minding their own business or foraging for food? But good luck separating gun owners from their weapons in the U.S. It will probably take another few hundred years of human evolution for that scenario to play out. Despite the fact that the Aussies were able to achieve that distinction within this lifetime.

 

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THE FREE LUNCH COUNTER

Desperate for anything resembling a win, the Trump Administration along with Congressional Republicans, finally passed major legislation in late December in the form of supposed income tax overhaul. Except it’s not much in the way of  overhaul. Basically it gives certain components of American society “free money” in the form of income tax reductions. Well, you might say, who could be against receiving free money. Except the government is handing out funds it doesn’t possess. It would be one thing if we were running a budgetary surplus every year and rebating that surplus back to the people. But just the opposite is true. The government is accumulating about half a trillion dollars in new debt every fiscal year. The current total debt is over $21 trillion and growing each month. Funny how so-called conservatives never made a big deal when the deficit went over the $20 trillion mark after Trump became president. I guess it was only earth-shaking when Obama was running up huge deficits.

In any event, this new legislation gives rather huge tax reductions to corporations, and significant tax cuts to the top one percent and the rest of the uber wealthy. The middle and lower classes, of course, get only a few crumbs of tax relief. A typical Republican game plan of trickle-down economics. Give generous tax deductions to the rich and they’ll reward the party with generous donations during election campaigns that allow more Republicans to be elected to office. Except as I’ve said, anything that significantly increases the public deficit is totally unaffordable as far as the best interests of the people are concerned. I realize that virtually no one lies awake at night worrying about the size of the public debt. But it’s a ticking time bomb that can bring Depression-era financial ruin to large segments of the population if not brought under control.

First, one must realize that the public deficit will never be paid off. It’s far too gigantic for that. The best that we can hope to manage is to pay off bonds and notes that are coming due by issuing new debt and praying it will sell on the world’s financial markets. So far it has, since the U.S. continues to make good on interest payments and bond principals as they mature. One thing that has worked in our favor regarding those payments is the fact that interest rates on world financial markets have remained extraordinarily low for many years. But as economies around the world continue to recover from the great recession that began in 2008, interest rates are slowly starting to climb. Low inflation has been a boon to the U.S. economy, especially in servicing its public debt. But once inflation begins to creep up, as it is current showing signs of doing, servicing the public deficit will become far more costly. How will we pay for these increased costs, especially with less tax revenue coming into the government coffers. It might give future potential bond holders pause for thought.

The U.S. budget has now climbed to about $4 trillion annually. The accumulated deficit, as I’ve stated, is over $21 trillion. Mind-boggling numbers to be sure. Almost too other-worldly to get one’s head around. To put it in perspective, when Ronald Reagan entered the White House in January 1981, the accumulated deficit stood at just under $1 trillion. It had taken over 200 years between the presidencies of George Washington thru to Jimmy Carter to reach that figure. In the 37 years, however, from Reagan thru to the first year of Trump, we’ve calmly, with hardly any notice, added another $20 plus trillion to that figure. But the general public attitude has been to just party on. Lets keep spending money we don’t have. What great fun. And now, more free money to the people in the form of an unaffordable tax cut.

Five items comprise over 80% of our annual spending. They are Defense, which includes the military, weapons, intelligence, nuclear missiles, etc. and which is now gobbling up close to a trillion dollars in annual spending. And whose budget most people, especially conservatives, want to see increased rather than reduced. Then there’s interest on the debt which, as I’ve stated, must paid if we want the world to keep buy our bonds. Next come social security and medicare, which seniors especially, threaten open revolt should any mention of reduction be made. Last is Medicaid, which might be trimmed slightly, but not enough to make any real difference. The remaining whole rest of the government is funded with less than 20% of available revenue. Not a lot of places to try saving some money. Might as well just keep partying on.

In pre-television days of the 1930s and 1940s, there was a show on the radio called Duffy’s Tavern, with the by-line of-“where the elite meet to eat.” Of course, it was anything but elite. More like a hole-in-the-wall bar. In any event when the rare customer did enter the tavern, and was willing to plunk down a nickel or dime for a beer, proprietor Duffy would tell the customer that this entitled him to go over and partake of the “free lunch counter.” In actuality, many bars actually did have a free lunch counter during the Depression era, available for the price of a beer. But one could only imagine the quality of food available at this counter. Probably more like ptomaine heaven. In any event the acceptance by the U.S. public of this latest tax cut which further imperils our financial future, makes it look like we’re still willing to chow down at the free lunch counter. What a rosy picture concerning one’s health.

 

 

 

 

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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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DIRTY AIR AND OTHER OBSCENITIES

It’s been the hallmark of the Trump Administration that those he appointed to head up major cabinet departments or other bureaus have governed in direct opposition to the missions of these offices. For example, Betsy De Vos, who Trump appointed as Secretary of Education, is an ardent foe of America’s public school systems which the vast majority of young students attend. Instead she’s a huge supporter of private or religious schools, or even home schooling, and is working tirelessly to effect such a major shift away from what she considers “government schooling.” Jeff Sessions, our Attorney-General, whose management responsibilities include overseeing the Office of Civil Rights enforcement, is the very antithesis of a civil rights leader. As a former senator from Alabama, Sessions was known rather for his hostility toward enforcing equal-rights for blacks being discriminated against, especially throughout the South. I guess in Trump’s world, this what’s meant by “draining the swamp.”

But nowhere is this opposition to properly carrying out the missions of various agencies of the federal government better illustrated than with the Environmental Protection Agency. As we all know, the essential mission of EPA is to provide clean air and water by  removing as many pollutants from the environment as feasible. But in Trump’s upside down world of appointing opposites, he made someone named Scott Pruitt to head up the EPA. Most Americans had never heard the name before, but it’s quite essential that anyone still breathing air or drinking water know who this person is. Pruitt used to be the Attorney-General of the state of Oklahoma, where he spent most of his career suing the EPA over regulations issued to provide a cleaner, healthier environment. For example, when EPA issued rules to prevent chemical companies from dumping toxic waste into local rivers and streams, Pruitt was there to legally challenge such regulations throughout the various court systems. True, it was more costly for these companies to properly dispose of waste rather than use local waterways as a dumping ground, and apparently that’s all that mattered to foes of EPA such as Pruitt.

So, among his first acts as agency chief, Pruitt has mandated that EPA eliminate rules issued under the Obama Administration that restricted the burning of coal because of coal’s high level of toxicity to the atmosphere. Trump himself has bragged that as a result of his administration’s actions, tens of thousands of new jobs in the coal industry have been established, and that coal is much more widely used these days, especially in the utilities industry. All this is true. However one needs to be aware of coal’s high toxic level. True, coal pours a huge amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but after all, CO2, while a factor in the global warming debate, is still a benign element. What isn’t benign, however, are the large volumes of sulfur dioxide that also emanate from burning coal, and sulfur dioxide is most assuredly not benign. Entire forests in the northeast and Canada have been denuded because air currents have carried sulfur dioxide emanating from coal burning Midwestern utilities to the Northeast. If it strips trees of their foliage imagine what sulfur dioxide does to ones lungs. Only, of course, if you’re used to inhaling oxygen on a daily basis. Someone ought to notify Trump that while his children and grandchildren may live in mansions or penthouses, they still have to breathe the same air the rest of us commoners breathe. And that air now more befouled due to enhanced coal usage.

Another factor to consider is that working as a coal miner is a hell of a way to have to make a living. I realize that for many people, no other viable options exist. But coal miners often develop black lung disease, which is akin to lung cancer, and have shortened life spans. The trend in the U.S. for at least two decades, had been toward moving away from coal usage in favor of natural gas or alternative energy development, which would have meant a cleaner environment for everyone. Now with the Trump Administration in power, we’re back to dirtier air and water. Something you might want to think about over your Cheerios tomorrow morning.

But not to worry. At least Trump is concentrating and putting all his efforts and energy on the most crucial events of the day. So while North Korea threatens us with nuclear armageddon, and the Mid-East is still in flames, it’s good to know that Trump is focusing all his efforts on the nation’s highest priorities. Such as whether pro-football players are taking a knee during playing of the national anthem, to protest ingrained bigotry toward the nation’s black population. Or by his kissing up to religious evangelicals so as to maintain their 80% support levels that will be crucial toward winning his 2020 re-election effort. After all, why shouldn’t the evangelical community support someone who’s such a devout and serious biblical scholar as Donald Trump. Someone who gave the green light to the U.S. populace that it was okay to say “Merry Christmas” again.  Like people were never uttering that any longer.

In the end, it’s as they say, people do it to themselves. By electing Trump, even by the narrowest of margins, we get to experience a steady degradation of not only the U.S. ecology, but of life itself. Look for white supremacists (neo-fascists) such as Steve Bannon to be in the ascendency while it’s all papered over with the demagoguery emanating from Trump’s constant Twitter tantrums.  It is rather fascinating, however, to watch these continual circus shows, while the parade marches on.

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THE COMFY STATE OF DELUSIONAL PARANOIA

It’s a well recognized truism of the human condition that an individual’s sense of self-worth is almost entirely dependent on what goes on within the perimeter of that person’s skull.  A person’s view of the world, and of his or her well-being in that universe, is totally a product of brain functioning. You might say that while this is true, such thought processes are a usually a direct result of external events affecting peoples’s lives. The loss of a loved one, for example, will normally drive an individual into a deep state of sadness or depression; while winning a giant lottery might create a huge sense of euphoria. But this is not always true, and such deep feelings of depression or happiness are often transitory rather then long-term. Most people eventually survive and move on even from a deep personal loss; while there have been cases of lottery winners eventually going broke and ending up in even worse circumstances than previously. Again, it’s people’s internal sense of self-worth that’s the driving force.

To further illustrate, consider that four of America’s biggest entertainment and pop culture figures since the end of WWII, who would outwardly appear to have everything to live for, nonetheless, did themselves in. They had tens or hundreds of millions of adoring fans world-wide, fabulous wealth, and universal idolization; but somehow that wasn’t enough  motive to sustain their existences. I’m talking, of course, about Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Michael Jackson, and Whitney Houston; all of whom took their lives at an early age. In short, the inward perceptions they had of themselves were not congruent with their actual outward successes. Compare those tragedies the plight of the poor Bolivian wheat farmer, who back-breakingly works his fields from dawn to dusk just to put food on the table and a roof over the heads of his family. He tumbles into bed when darkness descends, and falls into a deep sleep from the day’s exhaustion. No sleeping pills required there. He’s up at first light to start the process all over again. The poor farmer has no energy left to consider how depressing his plight might be. In his mind, he’s meeting life’s requirements, and there’s no room for other delusional considerations such as suicide or abandoning his obligations. And he’s fine with that.

For many people, however, getting through the day means clothing themselves in a warm, furry blanket of life’s delusions. It smooths out the rough and jagged edges of reality, and sustains their existences. Life would be too unbearable if they had to constantly remain in a state of this reality. We saw this especially among the white supremacist element in this country during the U.S. election campaign of 2016. When Trump said he would bar Mexico from sending us their “rapists and murderers,” they perked up their ears. When he said he would “build a big beautiful wall” to keep illegal Mexicans and other Hispanics from entering the country they swallowed the bait. And when he said that he would bar any additional Moslems from entering the U.S. the deal was sealed. From then on he had a solid base of white supremacist voters that would never abandon him. The one true statement that Trump made during the campaign was that he could shoot someone in the middle of 5th Avenue, and still, none of his loyal followers would desert him or his cause. And why is that? Call it delusional paranoia.

For people living in a state of unreality, imagined events never have to actually occur. All one has to do is say they will happen, and the delusional mindset will do the rest. As far as the Trump base is concerned, Trump never has to actually build a wall; it’s enough that he said he would. He also said he would make Mexico pick up the tab for this wall, which is beyond laughable. But not to worry. It was enough for Trump to say he would make this happen, even if it doesn’t actually occur. To worry about whether such promises are kept would mean leaving the warm comfort of delusion and entering the harsh state of reality. Ugh. After all, can’t the essence of life be boiled down to a hackneyed phrase on a baseball cap, first used by Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election campaign. Trump was going to make America great again. What else does one have to consider.

The world saw this once before. When Adolf Hitler rose to power in the 1930s he was going to make Germany great again. The Nazis would hold grand parades as they marched through German cities with thousands lining the streets to show their adoration for the man that was restoring Germany’s grandeur. Indeed, Hitler did build a mighty military machine that came within inches of conquering all of Europe. But when the tide of war began turning in the 1940s, and German cities where being bombed into a heap of rubble, the masks of delusion began disintegrating, and the German people were forced to face the havoc being wrecked upon them because of their faith in delusional paranoia.

Today, 9 months into his presidency, the Trump base of white supremacists which comprise about 35%-40% of the voting public is still standing by their guy. His only real accomplishment was putting an anti-abortion Justice on the Supreme Court, which gets the bible-thumpers one step closer to overturning Roe V. Wade and making abortion illegal again. But that’s okay, since Trump keeps promising to do all the other stuff. Reminds me of the lyrics to a Joni Mitchell song in the 1970s- “It’s life’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know life at all.”

 

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