politics

A SOLITARY LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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BEFORE THE CANCER CAME ….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

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A SHOOTING IN MANHATTAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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TRUMP DERANGEMENT FAILS TO DISSUADE TRUMP SUPPORTERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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GUN FETISH RESULTS IN GUN VIOLENCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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THE REAL MEANING OF LIFE

Throughout the ages people have struggled to find if there is deeper meaning to life other than just merely existing. Is there, or not, a higher purpose for being alive on Planet Earth for a few decades before we disintegrate into dust? The short answer is probably not. After all, it’s none other than a personage such as Shakespeare who declared that life-“Is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” William Faulkner, the great American novelist of the 20th century was so impressed by Shakespeare’s utterance that he called his most important work- “The Sound and The Fury.” So let us explore if there is a higher purpose to existing other than reluctantly struggling to get out of bed every morning and going through the motions of what society expects or demands from us.

The logical starting point in this examination would be with the basic elements of time and space. Scientists place the age of the universe at approximately 14 billion years, give or take. That’s when they say that matter first appeared into the total emptiness. Actually time and space are infinite with no beginning or ending- admittedly a difficult concept to wrap one’s head around. But when matter first did appear, it begs the question of how it arrived. Religionists would tell you that God created this matter and then the ensuing “big bang” that dispersed particles of this matter throughout space. But that begs the question of where did God come from, or who created God. Again, religionists would say that God always was and always will be, which always seemed like a royal copout to me. In any event, the greatest minds of all time have no cogent answer as to how matter first appeared. So I guess it’s up to me to solve this puzzle.

Okay, let’s go with the theory that the existence of matter is 14 billion years old, for convenience sake. Yet human life on planet Earth is normally only between 80-90 years before it’s bucket-kicking time. Some die well short of that time frame, while a few hearty souls might kvetch themselves on to about 100 or even older. Of course, by that time centurions are far too debilitated to participate in or enjoy any of life’s so-called pleasures. But only 80 to 90 years of life when the universe is at least 14 billion years old- give me a break. One would think that forces calling the shots could spare at least 1000 years of human living. What a parsimonious universe we live in.

First of all, for most people it takes about 40-50 years of their existences just to figure out what direction their headed for. By that time their lives are more than half over and they’re beginning to experience the aches and pains that come with advancing age. Next subtract out the approximately one-third of our existences we spend sleeping and the time left to whoop it up is further diminished. Further subtractions include the time we’re stuck in rush hour or other traffic jams, the time we spend going to doctors and dentists, the time spent cleaning the house or apartment, doing laundry, mowing the lawn or other maintenance chores, so that the span left for so-called fun and pleasure becomes miniscule. And to make matters worse, the lifetimes allotted for our favorite pets such as dogs and cats are only about 10-18 years before they’re ripped from us. Whoever decided on these allotted time frames for existence on Earth needs to be brought up on charges.

The next factor to consider is that the type of life one will likely lead has already been decided while you’re still in womb. Thats right, the genes one inherits and the environment one is raised in are usually the determining factors of the success or failure of one’s existence. When I was growing up Brooklyn as a youth, I was heavily into sports. My greatest desire in life was to play center-field for the New York Yankees like my heroes Joe DiMaggio and Mickey Mantle. But it didn’t take me very long to realize that I had neither the talent or ability to make such dreams come true. It just wasn’t there and I had to look elsewhere to make my way in the world. But it’s not only genes. Some people who are born with great abilities nevertheless find their lives are ruined at an early age because of being raised in abusive households. Even if one is naturally talented, he or she often cannot mentally overcome such abuse and usually die broken at a young age. Statistically speaking, about 10% of the population usually possess great talent that enables them to lead sumptuous life-styes, while about 80% have varying degrees of ability enabling an upper to lower middle-class life-style. The remaining 10% have such wretched genes or upbringings that they often wind up living in cardboard boxes under a bridge somewhere.

So there you have it. A ridiculously few years allotted to play out ones so-called life which is largely determined before-hand by the genes one is born with, and the environment one is raised in. One other thing. Plato famously said that the unexamined life is one that is not worth living. But it seems to me that the examined life isn’t too hotzy totzy either. Who’s ready to sign a petition to the universe asking at least for more years with better health and opportunity. Give us a break and stop being so stingy.

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THE FREE LUNCH COUNTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

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HOLIER-THAN-THOU

In October 1994, 23 years ago, a woman in South Carolina became infamous due to inflicting one of the more significant atrocities of  that decade on the American landscape. Her name was Susan Smith and the heinous act she committed was driving her car into a nearby lake until it was submerged. Oh, did I fail to mention that her two baby sons, aged three and one, were strapped into the back seat of the car and obviously drowned in very short order. Susan, however, escaped the sinking car, uninjured. Imagine the devastated father coming home from work only to be confronted with this horror. It was a living nightmare that he could never escape from. This criminal atrocity made headlines across the country as the enormity of such a tragedy caught the public’s deep fascination for weeks, during which Susan was brought to trial, convicted of first degree murder, and sentenced to 30 years in prison. As of today, she’s still a guest of the South Carolina penal system.

But what was most interesting was Susan Smith’s motive for committing such an inhumane act. That she was deranged went without saying. It took awhile, but the source of this derangement was finally brought out into the open. It seems that her father, a pillar of the community, had raped her when she was a child. Her father, who was a church deacon, and who was prominent in Republican politics in S.C., turned out to be a rapist of the worst kind. Short of murder, a man couldn’t commit a more evil act than to rape one’s daughter, especially when she was a defenseless child. To make matters worse, the statute of limitations had long since expired on those heinous acts, and the rapist pillar of the community got off scot free. Hence, the ramifications of of what Susan Smith’s father did to her as a child, played out a decade or two later with the murder of two innocent babies. During which time, of course, her father maintained his religious virtuosity to its fullest extent.

Which brings us to the current political fiasco on-going in the state of Alabama. As I wrote last time, Roy Moore, who is the epitome of a right-wing, holier-than-thou, bible thumper, won the Republican primary for the open Senate seat in that state. Since it’s virtually automatic that the Republican nominee always wins the general election, (given the dismal state of the Democratic Party throughout the South), Moore was already buying his plane ticket for his swearing-in ceremony in Washington. Now, however, a glitch has suddenly arose. Two women have come forward to contend that Moore sexually molested them when they were teenagers, almost 20 years ago. Moore, it seems, who is still debating within himself whether homosexuals should be hung for their affront to God, got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Of course, Moore and his wife adamantly deny the accusations, as do virtually every prominent right-wing whacko throughout the country. From Rush Limbaugh to Sean Hannity to Jerry Falwell Jr., they’re all unanimous that such a fine specimen of “conservatism” could never have indulged himself in the manner that he’s being accused of. But one religious nut case put forth the best spin I’ve heard yet, regarding these accusations. He stated that that if Moore did have sex with those young women, it would be the same as when the “Holy Ghost” had sex with a teen-aged Mary in order to produce Jesus. Who knew that the “Holy Ghost,” one-third of the “Trinity,” could be put on trial for sex crimes. Although, since it happened 2000 years ago, I guess the statute of limitations has run out on that act too.

In any event it will be fascinating to see whether the wholesome bible-thumpers of Alabama will still elect Moore to the U.S. Senate. Even Mitch McConnell, Republican Senate Majority Leader and not exactly a paragon of virtue, has come out in defense of the women that Moore molested, stating that he believes their accusations are true. But while some sexual preditors such as Harvey Weinstein are ruined when the truth sees the light of day, others such as our illustrious president seem to thrive on accusations of sexual depravity. The best example of all is, of course, Donald Trump bragging on an open mic about grabbing women’s pussies, and his sense of entitlement when it comes to having his way with women. All that episode did was improve his poll numbers, and smoothen his road to the White House, especially with the evangelical, bible-thumping crowd. Hypocrisy is apparently limitless.

Many years ago, their was an off-Broadway musical farce called “Nunsense.” It featured a group of “Nuns” singing and dancing about their lives within the church. The closing number was called-“Holier-Than-Thou”- whereby each Nun, in song and dance, would explain certain acts she performed that made her more holy than her counterparts. Very amusing when it comes as part of a Broadway musical. Not so amusing when it’s ingrained into the very fabric of life in our society by our political and social leaders.

And by the way, if Roy Moore is elected, will we have a national debate about whether to hang gays? Stay tuned.

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, Huey Long, Franklin Roosevelt, Great Depression, The Kingfish,Donald Trump, human affairs, Isis terrorist attack in Paris,, Israeli-Palestinan Relations, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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