John Kennedy

THE FLOWER CHILDREN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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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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POLITICAL CAMPAIGNS AS THEATER OF THE ABSURD

In “Macbeth” Shakespeare wrote that: “Life is a tale told by an idiot…full of sound and  fury, signifying nothing.” Now, centuries later, the 2016 political campaign for the presidency of the U.S. is unfolding with the same absurdity as Shakespeare had described in his theater production of “Macbeth.” It has degenerated into a low art form of theater with various characters, besides the two main actors, playing out their various and highly predictable roles  on center stage. For example, you have characters such as Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie, who heretofore had fairly decent political reputations, but are now forced to pick up Trump’s dry-cleaning by twisting themselves into pretzels in trying to explain away each of Trumps incredibly moronic statements, uttered every time his ego becomes abused. Other players include the political pundits on the various TV news stations who analyze to death, every meaningless piece of drivel uttered by the theater production’s two main actors.

Of course, the highlight of this theater of the absurd is the debate performances between the two staring candidates. The first presidential debates go back to to the campaign of 1860 between Republican nominee Abraham Lincoln and Democrat Stephan Douglass. The primary topic of the day at that time was slavery. Presidential debates then fell out of favor for a century, until the advent of a television set being common in almost everyone’s home resurrected them in 1960. Now, everyone could watch the candidates perform from the comfort of their living rooms, and theater of the absurd was thus born. In 1960 the contest was between Richard Nixon and John Kennedy. Interestingly, those that watched the debate on TV felt that Kennedy had given the stronger performance; while those that listened on the radio believed that Nixon had prevailed. The reason- Kennedy’s handsome, charismatic persona had won out over Nixon’s rather drab looking appearance, while on the radio Nixon’s delivery appeared so much more reasonable than Kennedy’s. Since more people watched the debate on TV than listened to it on the radio, Kennedy won the election by the narrowest of margins. After he  was sworn in Kennedy stated that if he accomplished nothing else, he had saved the country from a Richard Nixon. As it turned out, however, he had merely delayed it.

So last week we had the first of three presidential debates, with a mind-boggling 84 million people tuning in to watch this theater performance. As if they would learn anything new that hadn’t been repeated hundreds of previous times. But it was showtime, and the show must go on. Trump started off predictably strong, hurling every malady the Universe has ever known as being caused by the Obama Administration, and Hillary Clinton in particular. But somewhere during Clinton’s other wise drab performance, she managed to toss a few good zingers where it hurt Trump the most- in his ego. Being the supreme narcissist that I’ve previously written about, Trump could not let this effrontery go unanswered, and thus went off script and began to lose it. The debate then degenerated into such pressing issues as to whether Trump had called a former Miss Universe who had gotten fat, Miss Piggy. Certainly one of the most immediate and urgent problems of the day on the minds of most of the American populace. It went downhill for Trump from that point on, and Clinton was generally declared the debate winner in contest where the bar is set exceedingly low. If there is such a thing as a winner when watching the theater of the absurd.

The next day, of course, all the political pundits sallied forth to verbalize their views of what was said that shouldn’t have, and what wasn’t said that should have. There was a general consensus on the Trump side that he should have brought up Bill Clinton’s sexual proclivities, and Trump has promised to do just that for the second debate. Why bother watching when you know in advance what the main characters will pontificate on. And, as if the fact that Bill Clinton couldn’t keep his zipper shut is, in any way, germane to the world we live in in 2016. Nevertheless, the name of the game is how much mud one candidate can sling at the other, and how much of it will stick. By all means, never discuss in the theater of the absurd, the actual problems and issues affecting large numbers of people on a daily basis.

The current polls show that the election is extremely close, almost a dead heat. As I’ve written before, in such cases the outcome is usually decided by the people that don’t bother to vote versus those that do. For example, in 2008 and 2012, large numbers of Democrats were motivated to turn out to elect Barack Obama as president. But in the 2010 and 2014 congressional elections, many Democrats stayed home on election day, and Republicans overwhelmingly swept those contests. So, in the end it all comes down to who will show up at the ballot box. There is one other factor that should also be considered.

Current polls also show that about 5% of eligible voters are still undecided. Hard to believe after all the shenanigans that have already taken place. My theory is that these are the same people that wait until about 11:pm on April 15 to go rushing down to the post office to file their income tax returns. In other words, these are people who, by their very nature,  hate making decisions or taking required actions until the bitter end. In the 1980 race between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, the polls also showed a virtual tie, until the final week when the undecideds for some inexplicable reason, broke for Reagan and he won in a landslide. A dismal viewer of the current landscape might believe the Universe has the same perverse fate in store, not only for the U.S., but the entire planet, by having the undecideds break for Trump.

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WHITE PRIVILEGE

When Richard Nixon ran for presidency for the second time, 1968 had already become one of the most turbulent periods in American history. The assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy had brutally inflamed both white and minority citizens across the country. Although the walls of Jim Crow segregation had finally began to crumble, blacks and other minorities, for the most part, still found themselves confined to the rat infested ghettoes of the inner cities that were riddled with crime, drugs prostitution and other horrors. During protests over the MLK killing, these slums in most cities were set afire in protest over the horrible living conditions that blacks still had to endure after 250 years of slavery in America, followed by another 100 years of of Jim Crow semi-slavery. There were also massive marches and protests over the growing unpopularity of the Viet-Nam war which had already claimed tens of thousands of American lives in addition to the hundreds of thousands Viet-Nam dead. To say that for most Americans, the world had been turned upside down would be an understatement. But for Richard Nixon, a golden opportunity had presented itself.

During the election that year, Nixon developed two strategies that would propel him to the White House. The first was his Southern Strategy. Ever since Republican Abe Lincoln had set the slaves free during the Civil War, the South had voted solidly Democratic in election after election. Even though Southern Democrats were usually highly conservative and generally racist, especially compared to their more liberal Northern counterparts, Southerners kept pulling the levers for for the Democratic Party through Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and into the 1940s. That began to change in 1948 when a young Democratic Senator named Hubert Humphrey induced his party to begin championing the civil rights of blacks and other minorities. (Humphrey would eventually become his Party’s nominee in 1968 and lose to Nixon.) While the black population in most southern states was significant, and would generally vote Democratic, they were no match for the white majority in these states that began to vote as a bloc for Republicans. This would give Nixon and his party an assured 200 or so electoral college votes in all future presidential elections, in a system where it takes 270 to win. Today, in the 2016 election, Nixon’s Southern Strategy is still in full blossom.

Nixon’s second strategy was to appeal to the nation’s “Silent Majority” which was primarily comprised of older white people that had become fed-up with massive anti-war demonstrations and the arson being committed in most inner city slums. Sound familiar? Today at almost all the GOP rallies, you’ll see people holding signs saying “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.” As the song goes- “everything old is new again.” And, of course, this so-called silent majority is almost exclusively white. And why shouldn’t the majority of whites favor the GOP. It’s not whites, for the most part, that have to inhabit inner-city ghettoes. It isn’t whites that still face residual racism and discrimination in housing, employment, wages, social mobility and other areas. Hence, it’s primarily older whites that are propelling the Trump candidacy and placing a highly deranged, vulgar, obnoxious snake oil salesman peddling a neo-fascist and xenophobic elixir, within hailing distance of the Oval Office. The GOP is betting that the white majority in this country is still large enough to get The Donald the 270 electoral college votes he needs to be the next president. Even with hardly any support from minorities or younger white people. And since the Democrats have such a damaged candidate in Hillary Clinton, the Republicans are probably right.

As for Richard Nixon, he won 2 landslide elections and had many accomplishments; but his volatile and narcissistic personality, similar to Trumps, eventually did him in. He did end the Viet-Nam war to a great sigh of relief from the American public. He initiated diplomatic relations with China, which was a huge foreign policy initiative. Probably one of the top five foreign policy achievements of the 20th century. He significantly raised spending levels for health, education, and welfare. He even tried to legislate for universal health care; but, ironically, it was the Democrats that foiled him in that attempt. It didn’t go far enough, they said. But like Trump, Nixon had a fragile personality disorder. He kept an “enemies list” of people he thought were out to get him or do him in. If you were on Nixon’s enemies list, you were likely to receive a visit from an IRS agent seeking to audit your tax returns. He got involved and sought to cover up a break-in by some GOP low-level thugs of of Democratic Headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in D.C. Nixon was re-elected in 1972 in a massive landslide, winning 49 out of 50 states. However, the Watergate scandal, as it came to be known, seemed to mushroom from petty larceny by some Republican hacks to presidential felony cover-up.

Two reporters from the Washington Post, Woodward and Bernstein, gained huge reputations for themselves by uncovering the sleazy details of the Watergate cover-up, and Nixon’s involvement. The air was steadily seeping out of the Nixon presidential balloon until, one day, Congressional members of his own party came to the White House and told him he had to resign the presidency or face impeachment. Nixon thus became the first president to resign from the Oval Office and lived out the remainder of his days in disgrace and humiliation.

Today, thanks to a majority of white voters, we’re on the verge of putting into the White House, a man that has an almost exact replica of Nixon’s personality disorder. As Yogi Berra might have put it, it’s like deja vu all over again.

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IN MY LIFETIME….

Although this planet is billions of years old, and life on this planet is measured in at least hundreds of millions of years, what is considered the beginnings of civilized society goes back a mere 10-12 thousand years. Barely a thimble of water in oceans of time. Therefore, the way I figure it, we’re still pretty far down on the evolutionary totem pole. Which explains why those 12 thousand years of of recorded society have been replete with bad behavior, mass killings, barbaric practices, evil despots and tyrants ruling over kingdoms built by using slavery, and, of course, ever-ongoing brutal, savage war-mongering. Although there were undoubtedly armed conflicts during the entire history of man on this planet, the first recorded war occurred just under 5000 years ago. It took place in Mesopotamia, (today’s Iraq, Syria and Kuwait), and the carnage has being going strong ever since.

So, just to pass the time of day, I was thinking about all that has transpired just in my lifetime. I was just a tot when a supremely gifted demagogue used his immense powers of preaching hatred to the populace to rise to power in Germany and eventually launch what came to be known as World War II. Which was really just a continuation of WWI with a couple of decades of respite. Before that confrontation was over, 60 million people would lose their lives throughout Europe, including millions of Americans. Several million more would die in the Pacific at the hands of Imperial Japan, Germany’s ally. Also, for the first time, the mass extermination of an entire ethnic group was just about successfully accomplished through the use of gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps. About 6 million Jews, and other opponents of Hitler’s Nazi empire, lost their lives in what came to be known as the Holocaust. In a history replete with evil savagery and barbarity, the Holocaust was probably the single most evil act of all time. And it wasn’t just Hitler and the Nazi’s that made the Holocaust work. It took hundreds of thousands of European bureaucrats  to establish the network of railroads bringing prisoners to the death camps, and to provide the immense amount of logistics it took to make the camps functional. Hitler’s willing accomplices as one writer called it.

Toward the end of WWII, the Nazis had supposedly developed rockets that were capable of hitting the U.S. East Coast. As a child growing up in New York, I remember being subject to air raid alarms and warnings which required everyone to turn off all lighting. During these air raid drills my parents would bring chairs into my bedroom as we sat there silently in the dark until the all clear sign was given. Most people aren’t aware that Hitler was just days or weeks away at the most before he fell, from developing atomic bomb capabilities that could be employed on rockets that could reach U.S. soil. Or that if Japan had invaded our West Coast immediately after Pearl Harbor, it could have gobbled up at least two-thirds of the U.S. before the Roosevelt Administration was prepared to take a military stand around Chicago. Such was the precarious nature of the freedoms we take for granted today.

After the war, the U.S. quickly demobilized as it appeared that peace would be on the horizon for decades. In the meantime, the most advanced electronics in everyone’s home was a radio and a land-line telephone. When television started coming on the market shortly after the war, it was like the 8th wonder of the world. Our first black-and-white TV had an immense 13 inch screen, and only 3 stations which broadcast only during certain parts of the day and night. But to actually view what one could only hear on the radio, was considered beyond the pale. Also some kind of contraptions they started calling “computers” entered the American vocabulary. But as people learned, they were about as big as a Sherman tank and could be used only for business purposes. The thought of having this contraption in one’s home was considered ridiculous. Until suddenly, something called the “internet” became a hot topic of conversation and they figured out how to downsize computers so they fit comfortably in people’s residences. But telephones always had to be hooked up to a cord, didn’t they? Until they further figured out a way to get rid of the cord and turn the phone into a mini-computer. And thus, on-and -on marches the electronics revolution. All in my lifetime.

In the meantime, the peace-in-our-lifetime dreams that Americans had with the conclusion of WWII evaporated as quickly as the morning mist. With the rise of Communist Russia and China, Americans became highly fearful of the “Red Menace.” When both countries acquired nuclear bomb capabilities deep fears and anxieties spread throughout the land. After a mere 5 or 6 years since the end of WWII, the U.S. was back on war-footing; this time fighting Communists on the Korean peninsula. More death and destruction. Meanwhile a Senator from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy saw a huge opportunity to demagogue the “soft-on-communism” issue. He was sort of like the Donald Trump of his day. He claimed that the U.S. government, as well as Hollywood and other institutions were riddled with Communist spies working for Russia. To be labeled a Communist by the McCarthy committee was equivalent to seeing ones life turned to ashes. McCarthy eventually went down in flames but not before he had destroyed countless lives.

The Communist scare, known as the better-dead-than-red mentality, eventually led from the stalemate in Korea to the huge loss of life in the Viet-Nam fiasco. Almost 60,000 Americans died in the hell-hole jungles of Viet-Nam before we lost the war and called it quits. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese that died during that fracas. And it wasn’t all that much later, that a new barbarism had come upon the landscape in the form of Islamic-Jihadism. Which has us militarily bogged down once more, this time in the Mid-East. It seems as if evil is like wild-fires. You douse one, and two more crop up somewhere else. In the meantime, in mid-2016, it’s as if the re-incarnation of Joe McCarthy has rose to power and he is now one step away from the White House. All of this, in my lifetime.

To say that I’ve lived through a fascinating panorama of events during my life would be a considerable understatement. But I’m not so sure that’s a good thing.

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A MALFUNCTIONING PSYCHE

It is often a reality of human nature, that when things are going badly in ones life, that person finds it too painful to accept personal responsibility. If a person’s life has degenerated into a day-to-day crawl thru chaos, or even worse, into a total disaster area, they frequently cannot accept that the fault is theirs. Surely, some one else is to blame. Surely, it’s the Wall Street bankers or hedge fund managers that have robbed them out of their ability to earn a decent salary. Surely, it’s the illegal Mexicans that have taken all the good jobs away and have thereby made it virtually impossible for them to earn enough to afford a quality standard of living. Surely, it’s the government that has placed too harsh rules and regulations on them, and thus, they cannot live the life that was really meant to be. It never has anything to to with the fact that they didn’t, for example, make the effort to study electronics, or medicine, or engineering, or chemistry, etc. which would have given them the necessary tools to earn enough to afford at least an upper middle class lifestyle. It would have been too exhausting to pursue such endeavors. Their psychic reality is that some other party is always the one to blame.

The poet, Edward Arlington Robinson, summed it up best in his poem called “Miniver Cheevy.” “Miniver Cheevy, child of scorn, grew lean while he assailed the seasons” is the opening line of this poem which describes how Miniver blamed the whole world for his failures and his alcoholism, and ends with -“Miniver coughed and called it fate, and kept on drinking.” The problem for society is, however,  that when large numbers of people are psychologically invested in blaming others for their shortcomings and failures, it provides fertile ground for the demagogue to move in and seize power. I’ve written many times before about how Hitler demonized the Jews and others in 1920s Germany  on his path toward total dictatorship. Hitler would practice in front of mirrors, with crony consultants advising him on how to fire up the German populace to believe that the many economic problems facing Germany at the time were not their fault. They didn’t have to take responsibility for existing conditions. He would strive for the most inflammatory speech patterns, inflections and hand gestures while demonizing a small, peaceful segment of the German population, who were primarily tailors and shopkeepers. Germans were suffering  because of the Jews, was the message of the day. At first most Germans disregarded Hitler’s ravings. After all, they were well educated and had a rich culture of philosophy, art, literature, and music. But in the end demagoguery prevailed over common sense and personal responsibility, and 60 million people lost their lives.

Someone once said that all of life is politics. If this is true that it must be pointed out that all of politics is a game of salesmanship, and this has never been more evident than in 2016 America. Whoever can deliver the best sales job in describing  his or her vision for the future of the U.S. will invariably win the majority vote and the election to become the most powerful person in the world. One path in this game of salesmanship is to take the demagogic route the way Hitler and Mussolini and others did so successfully. After all, isn’t it the Hispanic illegals that are destroying this country, (the way the the Jews were destroying 1920s Germany.) So what if undocumented Hispanics comprise less than 3.5% of the U.S. population and that their numbers are actually decreasing. They’re still the ones at fault for everything that’s gone wrong in my life. It couldn’t possibly be me. To say nothing of those shysters on Wall Street that have literally taken the bread out of my mouth.

The more one thinks about it,  the more one must  conclude that winning an election is not unlike selling cars. A car is basically a vehicle to get you from here to there. Yes, the more expensive cars may look prettier and give a smoother ride and have more bells and whistles on it. But its purpose is still to get you from here to there. If you never left your house, you would likely never buy a car. Yet, from the salesmanship that goes into advertising cars, especially on TV, one would think they are anything but a means of transportation. Recently, there was an ad on TV for Cadillac, that featured a very sophisticated, and pretty young woman behind the wheel of one of their models, stating: “The question you have to ask yourself is this. When you turn your car on….does it do the same for you?” So now Cadillac products are not there to provide a mode of transportation, but rather should be used as a means of sexual stimulation. Perhaps even sexual climax. Who knew?

So in the end, winning at the ballot box depends on who has the best salesmanship. Not unlike selling new or used cars on TV. For some candidates, their sales pitch  is to take the demagogic route, i.e. assure the populace that all their personal failures in life are the fault of others, usually a small defenseless minority. It has worked well in the past, and is likely to succeed this time around too.

Well, at least I’ve written an entire piece without mentioning  Donald Trump’s name, even once. Oops.

 

 

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FOREIGN POLICY FAILURES

In his Presidential inaugural address on January 20, 1961, John Kennedy implored the nation “to bear any burden and pay any price” in defense of liberty. The existential threat that existed back then was the spread of world communism through tyrannical dictatorships. How quaint those words seem today. Now the only burden most Americans are willing to bear is to stand in line for hours in front of the Apple store when a new I-Phone comes on the market. As well as pay the most outrageous prices for this electronic gadgetry. In that same speech Kennedy also implored the nation to “ask not, what your country can do for you. Ask instead, what you can do for your country.” More quaintness, as that type of thinking has long come and gone. Now the attitude amongst the U.S. populace, as shown by the current election campaigns of both parties, is almost totally, “what’s in it for me.”

I bring this up now because of this country’s tepid responses to the latest Islamic-Jihadist terror attacks in Brussels, and shortly before that in Paris, and before that in California, which have claimed so many innocent lives. We’re supposed to be fighting “a war on terror,” but outside of an occasional drone strike and some ineffectual bombing raids in Syria and Iraq, it’s not much of a war. I get it that Americans are sick and tired of armed conflict and are therefore willing to fight the Jihadists on the cheap. But the problem with that attitude is that it enables the rapid spread of terrorism on a global basis, as well as more audacious terrorist strikes. Right now, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram and other assorted Jihadist lunatics are on the march, not only in Mid-Eastern countries such as Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and others, but are spreading their wings throughout the entire continent of Africa, and have now move on to Europe with impressive numbers. And as shown by the San Bernardino atrocity, have now also begun infiltrating into the United States. Thus, as shown by over ten thousand years of recorded civilization-when confronted by consummate evil-responding forcefully to that evil becomes a matter of life or death.

America’s withdrawal  from center-stage in fighting unspeakable evil can most noticeably be traced back to August 2o13. Hafaz Assad, tyrant dictator of Syria, had already killed tens of thousands of his countrymen in an ongoing civil war being fought to dislodge him from office. But most atrocious of all, he had used chemical warfare against the rebels. That was supposedly a bridge too far for even the laid-back Obama Administration, which has primarily sought to disengage from messy foreign entanglements. President Obama had sternly warned Assad that any further use of chemical warfare would be crossing a “red line in the sand” and would not be tolerated by the U.S. But Assad merely yawned and proceeded to kill more thousands of Syrians through the use of brutal chemicals. I won’t elaborate about how heinous chemical warfare is to the human body; but if you have any doubts, Google it.

Secretary of State John Kerry, and indeed the entire U.S national security and foreign policy apparatus, believed that at that point President Obama would give the green light for launching military strikes against the Assad regime. Instead Obama hemmed and hawed, and then decided to kick the decision about using military force over to Congress. A total recipe for disaster. Congress, as all Americans know, is far too dysfunctional to decide even where to hold their annual softball game, let alone whether to go to war. So, of course, nothing was approved, which was likely Obama’s default position to begin with. As a result of inaction by the U.S. in confronting Assad’s mind-numbing evil, a vacuum was created, into which stepped even more bottomless-pit evil in the form of the ISIS Jihadists. Terrorists all over the globe have been breathing huge sighs of relief ever since, as they’ve watched the U.S. withdraw from center-stage in foreign affairs.

As I’ve written before, it’s all very reminiscent of the way the Roman Empire began its decline and fall when it was at the very peak of its power. Romans became bored and lazy about their luxury living conditions. They would have to attend the Roman Colosseum and watch gladiators being torn to shreds by lions to snap them out of their “ennui” as the French would put it. They, too, were sick of war and hired mercenaries to do the fighting for them. The trouble was that these mercenaries would turn against their Roman benefactors when some other party paid them higher wages. The Roman Army was clearly superior in troop strength and weaponry to the terrorist barbarians of the day such as the Huns, Vandals and Goths. But as I’ve said, the populace no longer had any stomach for armed conflict, and the barbarians kept chipping away at the outer extremes of the Roman Empire. Over a period of a couple of centuries, the strength of the Romans kept being depleted, the barbarians finally broke through the gates, the Roman Empire ceased to exist, and Europe entered the wasteland known as the dark ages. This time when Western civilization falls to the Jihadist barbarians, it will take far less time than it did for Rome to disintegrate.

Interestingly, none of the viable candidates running for President this year are advocating a full frontal military assault against Islamic Jihadism. How unfortunate. Yes, it would require boots on the ground and likely result in American and Western casualties. But the price to be paid would still far less today than say a year from now or longer. Either we confront this existential threat to our western civilization head on, or watch it crumble into a new wasteland of dark ages, from which enlightenment and decency may never recover.

 

Categories: Economics, John Kennedy, John Kennedy, foreign policy,terrorism, lack of U.S. response to terrorism,, politics, Ronald Reagan, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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