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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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A ZERO-SUM GAME

In Trump’s world of unbridled derangement and pathological narcissism, he believes that he can only win if you lose. The “Art of The Deal” that he famously wrote was basically about how to stick it to the other guy before he can stick it to you. It was not about how two or more parties can enter into mutually beneficial arrangements, as  most books are that deal with business topics. As I’ve said, in his mind he can only win by you losing. It’s called a zero-sum game. If you win then he loses. That was in full evidence with the recently concluded G-7 conference held in Canada where Trump managed to insult our most important allies such as Canada, Britain France, Italy, Spain  and Germany while calling for our ostensible enemy such as Russia to be included in future G-7 economic summits. Then he hastily exited the meeting to run off to Singapore to supposedly negotiate a de-nuclearization of North Korea. Decry our allies while pretending to be nice to our enemies, or as it’s better known- Trump’s negotiating style.

It seems that any country, and especially our allies including Mexico, automatically becomes part of Trump’s shit list if they dare to to levy tariffs on U.S. exported goods. Never mind that we also institute tariffs on goods imported from those or other countries around the world. A tariff is merely a tax, most often paid by the consumer that purchases imported products or services. Yes, we run serious trade imbalances with most countries we deal with. But it can’t be hurting us too badly since the U.S. is by far the number one economic powerhouse in the world. Trump’s own private company (managed now by his grown children) import many products from China which it then sells to U.S consumers. Nevertheless, Trump deliberately, nastily, and crudely hurled vicious and derogatory comments at the host of the G-7 conference, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The U.S. should be so lucky as to have such a sane, rational, and decent leader as Justin Trudeau. Maybe we should turn ourselves over to Canada.

Prior to these trade negotiation shenanigans, Trump saw fit to pull out of the de-nulearzation deal that President Obama had negotiated with Iran. It’s part of Trump’s plan to rid the country of everything Obama had accomplished. Yes, it was a poorly negotiated treaty with many loopholes. But it did slow down Iran’s thrust in acquiring nuclear missile capabilities. It required Iran to shut down many of its centrifuges where uranium was being enriched- an absolute necessity for nuclear weaponry. Now, with no restrictions on the table, Iran is free to pursue nuclear weaponry with unrestricted zeal. Very shrewd deal-making with our number one enemy in the world.

So now Trump is in Singapore to supposedly negotiate with North Korea’s tyrant for an end to that country’s nuclear weapon capability. North Korea is like a giant concentration camp run by a ruthless dictator, and where mass starvation of the populace has become a common occurrence. Every U.S. president since Bill Clinton has offered and provided that country with tons of free food and other products based on the promise that North Korea’s dictator would destroy all nuclear weapons and capabilities. Every promise has been broken. To the point where N. Korea supposedly now has the capability to sling nuclear tipped missiles that can reach anywhere on the U.S. mainland. Remember, as I said in the beginning, for Trump to win the other guy has to lose, i.e. total and verifiable North Korean weapon denuclearization. So far, however, North Korea has been winning at every junction for the past 25 years, so don’t hold your breath.

Despite all the chaos in government affairs, all the wrath, all the firings of White House officials, all the derangement and prevarication, it appears that a good 40 percent of the American electorate still remain firmly in Trump’s camp. My theory on this has to do with “ennui.” Ennui is a French word that translates roughly to the English word – boredom. But not just every day, run-of-the-mill boredom. It’s boredom squared, or boredom on steroids. It was ennui that brought down the Roman Empire and now it’s doing the same to America.

At the zenith of it’s power, roughly 2000 years ago, Rome had conquered most of Europe and North Africa. The Roman Empire spread over continents. The standard of living for the average Roman was beyond anywhere else in the world. With no further mountains to climb, the average Roman became easily bored. They began to suffer from ennui. They became too unmotivated to do their own fighting and hired mercenaries instead. Eventually, these mercenaries would turn against them and lead to their downfall. To alleviate their ennui, they built the Roman Coliseum, part of which stands today. They would attend the main events of the coliseum which basically involved lions tearing gladiators to shreds. It was only that type of excitement that aroused the Roman populace from their lethargy or ennui. In the end, as I’ve said, it led to their ruin.

I believe the reason that Trump was elected in the first place, was the sense of ennui that had spread across the American populace. While, yes there were economic problems, nevertheless, the standard of living and prosperity for the average American had never been higher. The recovery from the deep recession of 2008 had been remarkable. As a result, a significant portion of the American electorate in 2016 were tired of the average politician, and suffering from ennui, were looking for something or someone different and more entertaining, They found it in a businessman turned TV entertainer, who spoke with a lewd, vile crudity not previously heard in the political arena. It turned on just enough people to get the entertainer elected president.

So the only remaining question is is whether America’s sense of ennui will over time, bring down its empire. It took a few centuries for the Roman Empire to fall, but now, in the electronic age, events are speeding up at a faster pace. Stay tuned.

 

 

 

 

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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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REVERSE ROBIN-HOOD AND OTHER INSANITIES

Donald Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris accords on climate change was nothing more than the demagogue tossing red meat to his most xenophobic and otherwise assorted white supremacist supporters. To these people, any agreement or treaty with foreign countries is a sacrilege that cannot be tolerated, and Trump, as he had promised during the presidential campaign, fed directly into their myopia and revulsion of foreign engagements. The entire world, except for 2 countries, had signed a treaty in Paris calling for a reduction of each country’s carbon footprint in order to combat the effects of global warming. The only 2 countries that abstained were Nicaragua and Syria. Nicaragua didn’t sign on because they believed the Paris Accord didn’t go far enough in reducing each country’s contribution to climate change, which is essentially true. But at least it was a start. Syria was a non-signor because tyrannical dictator Bashir al-Assad was too busy killing his own people to be bothered with such things as global warming. So far he’s slaughtered more than half-a-million and counting of his county men.  Now, the U.S. becomes the third country in this “illustrious group.” It’s an embarrassment, although I believe that Trump’s innate narcissism prevents him from experiencing such feelings. When one is so totally devoid of any semblance of compassion or empathy as Trump appears to be, embarrassment is not an option.

I have always felt, however, that ardent environmentalists often miss the boat when they focus too heavily on “global warming,” but not heavily enough on environmental degradation due to other pressing factors. Such as our rapidly disappearing rain forests that soak up enormous amounts of CO2 while putting forth similar huge amounts of oxygen. Scientists who have studied the matter estimate that there had been about 6 million square miles of rain forests at the dawn of civilization. We’re now down to less than 2 million with more acreage disappearing on a daily basis, due to lumber jacking and just the spread of mankind into these once pristine areas. Our oceans are also being severely degraded with huge erosions of photo-plankton that also emit huge quantities of oxygen on a daily basis. If you’re used to inhaling oxygen every day, it might become increasingly difficult once photo-plankton has basically disappeared from the scene. To say nothing of the vast amounts of garbage, mostly the plastic type, that currently floats on the surface of many oceans, especially the Pacific. Add the enormous erosion of top soil in most parts of the world that is needed to grow crops, and one has the perfect trifecta of ecological degradation that could end life on this planet as we know it. In my unscientific calculations, I figure we have about another 45-50 years before life on Planet Earth starts to become tenuous, unless, of course, radical changes are made to preserve what’s left of the environment. Anyone for a Mars expedition?

In other news, the Trump Administration has issued forth its budget plan for fiscal year 2018. It embodies the typical Republican mindset of taking from the poor to give to the rich. Call it the reverse Robin-Hood initiative. Under the Trump budget, significant slashes to poverty and health care programs would be enacted simultaneously with large reductions of of income tax rates, especially for upper levels of reported income. People receiving food stamps, housing assistance, Medicaid, Social Security disability payments or other similar types of government support could be in big trouble if the Trump budget is enacted. But not to worry. The top one percent of income earners will see their tax liabilities dramatically slashed. I mean, who among us is so heartless as to deny the upper one percent another chateau in Italy, or a larger private jet, or perhaps a red-colored Rolls Royce this time to go with the black one sitting in the garage. We have to get our priorities in order. Of course, in fairness to Trump, the reverse Robin-Hood scheme has been a Republican initiative since FDR’s NewDeal. Trump is just the latest in a long-line of Republicans seeking to put reverse Robin-Hood into actuality.

And finally, we have the latest in a series of horrific Islamic terrorist attacks, once again in England. As I’ve written many times in the past, the barbarians are once more at the gates of civilization, and much too little is being done to combat these religious fanatics. As the Roman Empire fell to the barbarian butchers of those ancient days, centuries ago, so could the West, in the present time, fall to the Islamic fanatics in ISIS, Al-Qaida, and other assorted terrorist groups unless it steps up its game. Rome fell because its citizenry became too bored and lazy to defend their way of life. They hired mercenaries to do the fighting for them, but these same mercenaries often turned against Rome when the barbarians outbid the Romans. As in those ancient times, there is currently little desire among western countries to undertake an all-out effort to militarily crush today’s barbarians. When Trump was campaigning, he promised to “bomb the shit out of ISIS” but so far, there’s little evidence of that happening.

So that’s the way the world is spinning these days of late Spring. I often wonder that if we discovered a planet out-there, with an Earth-like atmosphere and conditions, and it was technologically feasible to reach that planet via a space ship, how many people would sign up for a one-way voyage. Maybe, in about a thousand years such a scenario could become reality. Assuming, of course, that we haven’t already destroyed life on Earth through war or ecological degradation.

 

 

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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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IN THE TRUMP ERA, BIG BROTHER MAY BE WATCHING YOU

It comes as no surprise that George Orwell’s dystopian masterpiece, “1984,” first published in 1949, is once again rising to the top of the New York Times best seller list. Apparently,  large numbers of people out there want a heads up on what to expect when the Trump Administration begins rolling into high gear. Will the already apparent similarities between “1984” the novel, and 2017 the actuality, grow even stronger as the months and years unfold, and the Trump regime assumes more and more dictatorial power, and Big Brother becomes ever more watchful and tyrannical. Time will tell.

In Orwell’s novel, by the year 1984, there are only 3 major political entities left in the world, and he focuses on the one that’s headquartered in London. It’s run by a despot known as Big Brother, with signs everywhere announcing that “Big Brother Is Watching You.” No one knows for sure if Big Brother even exists, but that’s unimportant. What is important is that the regime is so tyrannical in its thirst for power, that Big Brother watches you everywhere. In your home, your workplace, in the streets or stores, through electronic devices, Big Brother is always watching to assure that one’s behavior is totally in sync with the motives of the regime.  And it’s not enough to be docile and compliant with that regime. One must also have nothing but the purest benevolence toward Big Brother, or one would likely be accused of harboring “thoughtcrime.” Which would inevitably lead to he or she becoming an “unperson.” I don’t believe I have to spell out what that means. One other thing too. The 3 despotically run super powers left in the world are always at war with one another; but alliances are constantly shifting so that one’s enemy today could quickly become one’s ally the following week in it’s war against the third  tyrannical entity.

So, as I’ve mentioned, hordes of people are currently reading or re-reading “1984” to see if the same nightmare world that Orwell described fictionally, will come to pass under the Trump regime in actuality. The opening salvos seem unfortunately to be headed that way. From the time he sat down in the Oval Office about two weeks ago, Trump has issued a non-ending stream of “executive orders” on everything from the environment, to foreign travelers entering the U.S., to healthcare, to financial regulations and much more. As if they were edicts posted by the monarchy. Who needs that pain-in-the-ass, hyper-polarized Congress to actually pass legislation, anyway, when his royal majesty can just rule by edict. And since Congress is fully in Republican control, it seems to quite willingly abide by this arrangement. Of course Trump’s edict barring all visitors from 7 Moslem nations from entering the U.S. had something of a “Keystone Kop” aura about it. It was amateur at the White House at best. So much so, that a courageous judge in Seattle put a hold on its enforcement, much to the wrath and Twitter tirade of King Donald himself.

It’s important to note that Trump’s immigration executive order had nothing to do with keeping the U.S. safe from potential terrorist assaults. That could have been done by even more carefully vetting incoming visitors. Instead, this now infamous decree was all about throwing red meat to  the large section of his white base of voters that are xenophobic, nativist or outright bigots. This is what he promised them, and he was merely rewarding those people that put him in the White House to begin with. It’s also important to note that the finger prints of two of Trump’s closest aides are all over that decree. I’m, of course, referring to the two Stephens-Bannon and Miller, who are also leaders in the quasi-fascist Alt-Right movement. Steve Bannon, especially, who was Trump’s campaign manager, and is now one of his closest confidants in the Oval Office, used to be head of the white supremacist Breitbart News organization that was known for its conspiracy theories and for demonizing minorities. Now he’s in the Oval Office on a daily basis. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, if you don’t think that the real events in 2017 are not starting to resemble “1984.”

Trump, of course, predictably responded to the judge’s stop order, by publicly denouncing  him, similar to the way he denounced a judge in Indiana for being Hispanic, during the recently concluded campaign. He vowed that the stop order decision would be overturned by a higher court. And if not, will he just ignore the court’s rulings and do as he pleases? He already fired the Acting Attorney General the previous weekend, because she refused to enforce his anti-Moslem decree declaring she felt it was unconstitutional. The Constitution-what a quaint relic of bygone years. Who needs it when we can have Big Brother rule by edict. Edicts brought to him by Steve Bannon and Steve Miller.

As I’ve said many times in the past, in the end we do it to ourselves. “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Trump’s low poll numbers would seem to indicate that at least some of his voters may be having buyers remorse. But does it really matter anymore. My take is that once this crowd has seized power, as it has, it will never relinquish that power under any circumstances. George Orwell might have hit the nail squarely on the head. He just might have been a little premature in selecting the year it would happen. And remember, above all else, Big Brother is Watching You.

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WHEN CHARACTER NO LONGER COUNTS

One may agree or totally disagree with Barack Obama’s policies or overall politics, but one would have to admit that while he occupied the office of the presidency, he always conducted himself as a perfect gentleman. He was always cool under fire; he never went on Twitter rants against perceived opponents; he never engaged in long, on-running battles or feuds against those whom he felt were out to “get him;” and he certainly never engaged in vile, crude or lewd language when verbalizing in public media. He always displayed the proper decorum befitting someone that occupies the highest office in the land. One, of course, cannot say that of the current occupant of the White House, who just moved into the Oval Office a few days ago. Donald Trump’s politics are not only the polar opposite of Obama’s, but so  is his persona. Because of his deep-seated narcissism, Trump feels compelled to rather viscously strike back at those that bruise his ego. For example, Meryl Streep, perhaps the finest Hollywood actress since the end of WWII, becomes a second-rate loser via a Trump tweet, because she dared to criticize him at the academy awards.

We have thus entered an era of right-wing politics where character, obviously, no longer counts. Where statements such as, “she had blood coming out of her whatever,” or expressing a fondness on tape for “grabbing women by the pussy” becomes the new norm. Where even an innocuous statement by the media that the crowd at Trump’s inauguration was smaller than the one at Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 has to be attacked with what a Trump spokesperson described as “alternative facts.” A fascinating concept in itself.  If existing reality is too harsh to tolerate, just create your own parallel universe of delusion and “alternative facts.” Some turn to drugs or alcohol to drown out the reality of how miserable their lives have become. But why bother? Heavy drug or alcohol dependency will only lead to early death. Instead, just create a parallel universe of alternate facts where you can live as a king, or queen, as the case may be. Problem solved. Fascinating that in a country that has become the most prosperous and economically viable in the history of this planet, so many people felt it necessary  to choose a candidate that could only offer trite platitudes to soothe their concerns. Just print “Make America Great Again” on a baseball cap and all of the issues facing this nation will dissolve like an ice cube left outside in the hot sun.

Thus the Trump presidency has begun in predictable fashion. Among Trump’s appointees are an Attorney-General who couldn’t be less interested in civil rights issues, an Environmental Protection Agency administrator that has spent his career battling EPA initiatives in the courts with one suit after another, and a Department of Education secretary who has made a career out of attempting to destroy the public education system in this country, in favor of private schooling. The same public schools attended by at least 90% of the nation’s school children. And yet, the Trumpanistas are puzzled by and taking umbrage at the massive protest demonstrations occurring not only in Washington D.C., but in cities throughout not only the nation, but throughout the world as well. It seems that a trite cliche written on a baseball cap might not sell all that well after all , at least not in some quarters. Trump enters office with the lowest approval ratings of any president in the modern era. Something below 40 percent. In comparison, Obama’s approval when he first entered office in 2009 was up near 70 percent. And the roller-coaster ride is just beginning.

Of course, a decent opposition party might put the brakes on some of the current administration’s more radical initiatives. The trouble is, the Democrats are in a state of shambles. Hillary Clinton ran about the worst campaign in the history of politics. She lost Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin by a combined total of 100 thousand votes. States that any Democrat would normally win with just minimal effort, and that would have given her the presidency. She never even visited Wisconsin, made relatively few campaign appearances in general, and ran boring and mundane campaign ads on TV. For example, she didn’t run a single ad highlighting Trump’s business failures such as his 4 casino ventures in Atlantic City that went belly-up. Or the “Trump University” sham that also had to shutter down. Or the Trump line of vodka that also went out of business. I mean, how hard is it to sell vodka once the business is up and running. Instead her ads seemed to focus solely on some unhinged comments Trump made while on the campaign trail. Such ads were minimally okay for openers, but they were run incessantly, to the point that they eventually became boring. Bad television ads, a lack of campaign appearances, minimal effort to get Democratic voters to the polls-a sure recipe for defeat.

The Democrats need a young Lochinvar to come riding in on his magnificent steed and save the Party, but none appear to be in sight. A Bernie Sanders type but much younger. Without such a hero, Trump is almost guaranteed a full eight years in the Oval Office. Assuming, of course, that he wises up and learns to stay off Twitter, and otherwise not respond to every perceived slight or offensive comment. If he can keep his narcissism under control, he could have rather smooth sailing during his administration. If not, the U.S. is in for a very rocky and tumultuous four years.

After all, we do live in an age when character doesn’t matter anymore. Don’t we?

 

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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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THE LAST STAND OF THE WHITE VOTER

Political conventional wisdom dictates that when individuals decide to run for president, they swing far right ( for the GOP nomination), or far left (for the Democratic nomination), in order to appeal to the base voters in their respective parties. Then, once securing the nomination, they move back toward the middle, to seek the votes of moderates, independents, and undecided voters that don’t adhere to any particular ideology. But in 2016, Donald Trump has defied this supposed political theory. He did swing very far right in order to become the Republican presidential nominee. But once the GOP convention was over, he has gone even further right during the general campaign. He has doubled down on building that hideous monstrosity on the Mexican border that will become known as the Trump Wall. ( Although he has backed away from the ludicrous notion that Mexico would pay for such a wall.) He’s still asserting the policy of throwing all undocumented individuals out of the country, and refusing to allow Muslim refugees into the country. Reversing his previous positions, he has become anti-abortion, anti-immigration, and anti-free trade. He strongly advocates for trickle-down economics, as well as tax -cuts for the rich, while slashing government assistance to the poor, the sick, and the elderly. As well as for using “nukes” when he feels it’s necessary.

This calculated decision to go as far right as humanly possible is based on the assumption that he, Trump, can garner such a heavy white vote, especially among older white males, that it would more than offset black, Latino, Asian, Moslem, and other minority voters that will undoubtably vote heavily against him in the general election. An interesting theory, as white voters still comprise a major, although shrinking share of the electorate. Consider this election to be the last stand of white voters who fell the special privileges of being Caucasian in the U.S. is slipping away from them. And they’re very unhappy about that. There’s even a new book on the market, written by an extreme right-winger, called “The Angry White Male” that espouses and solidifies this political phenomena. As I’ve written previously, this “Whites Only” political thrust became reality when Trump decided that his overall campaign chief would be a guy named Steve Bannon. Who was previously affiliated with a neo-fascist group known as Breitbart News. It’s Bannon who’s directing this white majority campaign thrust; but it was Trump who hired him and decided on this direction in the first place. Trump, who used to be pro-choice, “but now has become anti-abortion for all of 15 minutes.” That last quote was from a column written by George Will, a conservative Republican newspaper pundit.

The last time a “whites only” reality existed in the U.S. was in the early 1970s, in the Jim Crow segregated South. There were “whites only” schools, lunch counters, bathrooms, water fountains, and every other public institution and facility that existed. When the federal government tried to intervene to break down these segregated barriers, Southern states began to howl that it was a question of “states rights” and the Feds had no business interfering in such matters. Eventually, sanity and human decency did prevail, as the walls of Jim Crow segregation finally started to crumble. But not before the lives of many black people and civil rights workers were lost along the way. And keep in mind that the Ku Klux Klan, the chief advocate for the segregated South and its practices, the murderer of many civil rights members, still exists to this day. And guess which candidate the KKK  is supporting, the one it says is their kind of guy.

But, to me, the most worrisome aspect of the 2016 campaign is who will have his or her fingers on the nuclear trigger. While our founding fathers wrote numerous “checks and balances” into the U.S. Constitution, it’s unfortunate that they couldn’t foresee a nuclear armed world. Hence there is no check on a U.S. president that wants to launch a nuclear attack against some perceived enemy. It is solely at his or her discretion. Bobby Knight, a former Indiana basketball coach, and an avid Trump supporter, has stated that with the election of Trump, “at least we’ll have someone in the White House that won’t be afraid to to drop a few nukes.” Trump, himself, has indicated he wouldn’t hesitate to launch nuclear missiles when called for. The world would never be the same. His election would put the nuclear trigger in the hands of an unhinged, deranged, pathological narcissist. Abuse his ego, and bammo.

Current polls show Clinton in the lead, with 2 weeks to go. But at this same time in the 2012 election, polls showed Mitt Romney headed for the winners circle, and we all know how well those predictions turned out. I prefer to check what odds the bookies are giving, because unlike the pollsters, the bookies have to put their money where their mouths are. The bookies are giving more favorable odds on Trump victory, meaning they expect Clinton to win. (One can actually bet the election on-line with bookies in England.) But there’s an unfortunate sense of over-confidence in the Clinton camp, which could prove disastrous. As it did to Mitt Romney in the last go-round.

Since I’m an old guy, there’s not much a Trump presidency can do to me these days. Even if the worst scenario occurs, at least I’ve had a life. (Some may view it as a so-called life.) But for you younger people out there, I would imagine that there would be oceans of worry, should the narcissist wind up sitting in the Oval Office on January 20, 2017.

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