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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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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.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, human affairs, Israeli-Palestinan Relations, Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, World War II, Viet-Nam, Anti-Communist Witch Hunts, Army-McCarthy hearings, Islamic Jihadist terrorism, Soviet Union, Red China, politics, the Depression, The Monkey's Paw, Fate, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson,Megabucks,, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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FOREIGN POLICY DISARRAY

George Washington, the first president of the United States, was also the last president to preside over a fairly unified country. Washington ruled for two complete terms during an era of general goodwill, but when he left office fierce bickering and character assassinations began occurring among the rest of our founding fathers, such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, Aaron Burr, and others. The attacks on John Adams, our second president, became so virulent that Adams pushed through Congress a series of anti-sedition laws that were in direct violation of the freedom of speech and press provisions of the Bill of Rights. These laws made criticism of the presidency an act of treason with severe penalties attached. Thomas Jefferson, our third president,  who co-wrote the Declaration of Independence with Adams, became a fierce critic of Adams and his anti-sedition laws, and to Jefferson’s credit, he managed to have them repealed during his term in the White house. He accomplished little else after that, however. But amid all the back-biting going on among our leaders in those early days of the Republic, there was one concept that they apparently all agreed upon. And that was George Washington’s admonition that the U.S. should not become entangled in the affairs of foreign nations. In other words the U.S. should follow a policy of isolationism.

Protected by huge oceans to our east and west, and mostly friendly countries to our north and south, the U.S. with a few exceptions during the 19th and early 20th centuries adhered fairly strictly to to the Washingtonian concept of non-interference with other nations internal affairs. After all, it wasn’t as if foreign countries could launch bomber or missile attacks on U.S. soil. This policy of isolationism received a severe setback however, as the U.S. became militarily involved in WWI shortly after the election of 1916. With U.S. allies including Britain, France and Russia bogged down in a trench warfare stalemate with Germany that neither side seemed capable of breaking, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson deemed that it was necessary for U.S. intervention to break that stand-off. As a side note, more soldiers on both sides died from disease caused by the filthy, disgusting conditions of the trenches they occupied, than from the opposing side’s bullets. In any event, U.S. involvement quickly broke the stalemate, and, of course, the Allies went on to defeat Germany and end the war. To help change the American mindset from isolationism to intervention, composers such as George M. Cohan wrote patriotic songs in support of the war effort. You can still hear theses tunes, such as “Over There” on YouTube.

With WWI, “the war to end all wars” concluded, the U.S. populace believed it was safe, once again, to retreat back into a comfy, cozy state of isolationism. But the 20 year respite between the conclusion of WWI and the outbreak of WWII showed otherwise. The U.S. was so militarily unprepared for war in 1941 because of isolationist policies, that if Japan could had invaded our West Coast right after bombing Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt Administration was prepared to cede all U.S. land west of Chicago before attempting to take a military stand. With the unbelievable horrors, atrocities and just pure evil emanating from WWII, and with new threats to world peace on the horizon from Communist Russia and China, a policy of non-intervention in world affairs seemed unthinkable to the American public. Isolationism appeared to be dead as a doornail, (as Ebenezer Scrooge might have put it.) Of course, a subsequent policy of global interventionism has not turned out to be all that terrific either.

It led to the Korean War in which we only able to save half of the Korean peninsula from tyrannical despotism, and then to that fiasco known as Viet-Nam where nearly 60 thousand American lives perished as well as hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese, in a jungle war we eventually lost anyhow. And then on to the first Gulf War which let tyrant dictator Saddam Hussein remain in power, and then to the second gulf war which removed him from power at considerable cost in lives and treasure, and which also left chaos in its place. Also along the way during the 50 years after WWII, an anti-communist, “better dead than red” mentality sprung up in the U.S which cost us needless trillions of dollars that were spent beefing up our military-industrial complex in preparation for war against the old USSR which then collapsed under the weight of its own despotism.

Hence when Barack Obama moved into the Oval office in January 2009, people were generally fed up with globalism and ready to return back to a more isolationist policy. Obama appeared to comply with these sentiments by proclaiming that “America will lead from behind” when it came to military initiatives on the world stage. In other words, the U.S. would considerably lower its profile in world events. But there were serious consequences to that position. The U.S. is apparently the one indispensable nation in world affairs, and when it retreats, evil despotism seems to move into the vacuum. And so it has, as Islamic-Jihadist barbarianism has taken hold in the Mid-East countries of Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen, as well as launching terror attacks in Europe, and even in the U.S. The token bombing raids that we’ve launched against these terrorists have hardly seemed to make a dent in their operations. And let us not forget the despotic tyrant of Russia, Vladimir Putin, who has launched unprovoked military action against the Ukraine, which has led to the deaths of thousands, while we’ve stood by and again did nothing. As far as foreign policy goes, “leading from behind” seems to be pretty much failure.

To top it all off, neither of our two presidential candidates, one of which will be in the Oval Office next January, seems to be offering up any new initiatives to offset Obama’s mostly failed foreign policy. Maybe the U.S. is just too worn out, too burdened by debt and fatigue, to launch any new meaningful action on the world stage. As I’ve written many times before, perhaps it’s the inevitable destiny of powerful empires like Rome before us, to reach the zenith of its strength, and then watch that strength slowly dissipate  into dust.

 

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A CRUEL TWIST OF FATE

The other day, for no particular reason, I was thinking about “The Monkey’s Paw, a short story by British author W.W.Jacobs, first published in 1902. I had read this when I was in college, perhaps 60 years ago, but it seems so relevant to the human condition as it exists in today’s world. It tells the story of an elderly couple, the Whites, living in England with their grown son who works in a factory. Through a friend, Mr. White comes into possession of a shriveled up monkey’s paw that supposedly grants its possessor 3 wishes. The friend warns, however, that use of the monkey’s paw will likely end with disastrous results. Mr. White takes it home and shows his wife the object and relates the story behind it. But what shall we wish for asks Mrs. White since they are already leading a comfortable life in a reasonably comfortable residence. I know says Mr. White-we have one more mortgage payment of 200 pounds to make and then the house is ours.

So Mr. White grabs the monkey’s paw and wishes for 200 pounds. He can feel the paw suddenly move unnaturally in his hand. At first nothing happens and the couple believes that it’s all a big hoax. But later that afternoon, they spot an unfamiliar man coming up the walkway to their front door and ringing their doorbell. He identifies himself as a representative of the factory where their son works, and tells them that a tragic accident has occurred. It seems their son was butchered in a horrible machinery accident at the plant, and has died as a result of his wounds. He further informs them that, while the factory is under no legal obligation to make a monetary restitution, factory management does feel it has a moral duty to provide some modest benefits as a result of their son’s death. He then hands the Whites a check for 200 pounds.

The couple, and especially the wife, are totally grief stricken. The son’s funeral is held 3 days later, but the grieving goes on, unabated. About a week after the funeral, with the Whites still deep in mourning, it suddenly dawns on Mrs. White that perhaps the damage can be undone. We still have two more wishes on the monkey’s paw, she exclaims to her husband. Wish him back to life she insists. The husband is at first highly dubious and reluctant to do so. But he finally gives in to his wife’s insistence and makes that second wish. A short time later, he sees his son approaching the house, but totally mangled from the factory accident, and from lying 10 days in the grave. The doorbell rings and Mrs. White goes running gleefully to open the front door. Mr.White, in a panic, grabs the monkey’s paw and makes the third wish. The son is restored to his grave as the wife opens the door and to nothingness. Nothing but a cruel twist of fate. Sort of the way I feel about trying to tamper with the will of the universe. For example, I always felt that if I won a giant jackpot such as Powerball, the doctor would inform me the next day that I had an inoperable brain tumor.

Think this is just pessimistic fiction? Then consider the following. All statewide casinos in Nevada have slot machines called Megabucks. The jackpot starts at $10 million, and goes up from there depending on the amount of play and usage these machines get. The bet is $3 a pull if you’re aiming to win it all, and it could be years before the jackpot is hit. Most of the time the winning machines are in Las Vegas, but other locations can be winners too. One time the jackpot was won on a machine in the Reno airport. In any event, some years ago the jackpot had climbed to over $35 million, the highest it ever reached. As the dollar amount climbed, there was a frenzy of betting on these machines, and even great difficulty finding Megabucks slots that weren’t occupied. People were shoveling hundred dollar bills into these slot machines with the same abandon as if they were buying a pack of gum. Of course the $35 million is the amount paid out over 25 years. If you opted for the lump sum payment option, the amount one would receive (after taxes) would be a paltry $15 million or so. Not too shabby. Most of us could probably muddle thru life on that amount.

Finally a local Las Vegas woman won this giant jackpot at one of the Las Vegas casinos. Of course, there were great celebrations, photo-ops, news coverage, TV interviews, etc. as this woman, who had virtually no money, suddenly became a multi-millionaire. But here’s where the tempting fate part kicked in. About 3 weeks after winning this giant Megabucks jackpot, the woman and her sister sitting next to her were driving along the local streets and stopped at a traffic light when they were violently rear-ended by the car behind them. The driver causing the accident claimed that his brakes just gave out. The sister was killed immediately (probably because she wasn’t using her seat belt) and the jackpot winner had her spine broken.  Her fate was to be confined to a wheelchair for the rest of her life. All the millions she had won would now be used to pay for her upkeep as a paraplegic. I’m sure that given the choice, she would have rather been penniless, but with use of her legs and her sister alive.

During the 1980s, there used to be a TV commercial about a margarine that tasted so good that even Mother Nature was fooled into thinking that it was her delicious butter. When informed that it was margarine, Mother Nature would get this wild look in her eyes hurl down thunderbolts upon the planet. “It’s not nice to fool Mother nature”she would exclaim. Kind of like what might be in store for you, should you go against the universe’s implicit intentions regarding the nature of your life.

 

 

 

 

as if they were buying a pack of gum.

 

Categories: The Monkey's Paw, Fate, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson,Megabucks,, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

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