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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 the 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.

 

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EXTREMELY EXTREME EXTREMISTS

When the horrors of WWII finally ended 72 years ago, Americans looked forward, hopefully, for an ensuing era of peace on the world stage and prosperity at home. Those dreams were to be short-lived, however. By the late 1940s the world was again in virulent turmoil. Russia, our ally during WWII, started gobbling up countries in Eastern Europe and turning them into Communist dictatorships, much to the consternation of the U.S. and its allies. In Asia, Communist forces overthrew the established government in China and turned that country into another dictatorship. Communist China then abetted the establishment of a Communist revolt in northern Korea which then led to the infamous Korean War and the division of the Korean peninsula into democratic rule in the South, and dictatorship in the North. The same dictatorship that now threatens us with a nuclear holocaust in today’s world. The icing on the cake, however, occurred when Russia developed a hydrogen bomb in 1949 to match our own nuclear weaponry.

Communist forces seemed to be relentless in advancing their cause on the world stage. Of course, this led to enormous fear and dismay among the American populace that the U.S. and its European allies would be next in line to fall under the spell of Communism. Where there is fear, there is, of course, great opportunity for fear-mongers to use that world situation to further their own interests as far as acquiring power and dominance. The cry went up-“better dead than red”-among other such brainless cliches. One of the earliest scare mongers was a Senator from Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy who sought to become an “anti-communist dictator” through exploitation of the fear of a Communist takeover in the U.S. I’ve previously written extensively about the rise and fall of Tailgunner Joe, (his nickname from WWII.) He was finally exposed for the fraud he was in 1956, through that new-fangled contraption called television, and eventually drank himself to death. But there were others on the scene in those tumultuous times who also sought to exploit the Communist hysteria for their own personal gain.

One of them was a man named Robert Welch who founded a fear-mongering organization called the John Birch Society. Not that it mattered, but John Birch was a Christian missionary in China that was killed in 1945 by Communist forces in the process of taking over that country. To Welch, he was the first casualty of the coming of WWIII that would pit the U.S. against Russia and China. The John Birch Society, under Welch’s leadership, would become the epitome a conspiracy-mongering, anti-communist, anti-United Nations, anti-civil rights, and anti-anything resembling decency and progressivism, type organization. Welch himself denounced WWII hero and then president Dwight Eisenhower as a “dedicated conscious agent of the communist conspiracy.” There was no limit to his fanaticism. Thanks to people like Welch, and other rabid extremists on the right, the U.S. and Russia entered into what was called the “Cold War” that lasted from about 1948 to around 1990. Trillions were spent as each side tried out-arm and out-militarize the other.

Which brings to our current gaggle of right-wing extremists that have taken over the U.S. government. As in days of yore when Communism was the designated enemy, with today’s fanatics it’s the Muslim world, with perhaps Mexicans and, indeed, all Latinos thrown into the mix. Not just Muslim terror organizations like Al Qaida and ISIS, but virtually any believer in the Muslim religion. And, as previously, in today’s world of right-wing fanaticism, all government expenditures are bad and should be abolished, except those spent on the military and to procure armaments. And, of course, as previously, white supremacy must dominate our culture, while anything resembling civil rights is moved to to the trash heap. Just ask white supremacist Steve Bannon who used to be Trump’s campaign manager and then his chief strategist in the White House. He was eventually bounced from his White House job but still advises Trump from his cozy nest as head of far right Breitbart News.

While no longer on the government payroll, Bannon’s white supremacist philosophy still inflicts great damage on U.S. society and culture. A prime example is a Republican Senate primary election that was recently held in Alabama. One of the candidates was a twice disgraced former judge named Roy Moore. Among Moore’s more quaint beliefs is that 9/11 was divine retribution from God for the sin of allowing homosexuality to flourish in this country. He’s a proud anti-Muslim bigot and wouldn’t rule out advocating the death penalty gay people. Even Trump, as far right as he is, made a visit to Alabama to campaign for Moore’s opponent. But Alabamians, in their devotion to far-right extremism gave Moore the victory, which is tantamount to putting him in the U.S. Senate since Democrats are too inept and pathetic to win elections in the South. Oh, I should also mention that Steve Bannon campaigned heavily in Alabama for Roy Moore, and was justly rewarded for his efforts.

So there you have it. The rise once again extremely extreme right-wing politics as it casts its dark shadows over the American landscape. The first time around, during the Cold War, the damage done was held to destroying the reputations of some innocent Americans, and the needless expenditure of a few trillion dollars. This time, with the extremists now in control of all the levers of government operations, the damage will likely be considerably worse.

 

 

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THE FLOWER CHILDREN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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THE COST OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH

The American Civil Liberties Union has been taking a lot of heat recently for defending the free speech rights of Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other low-life scum in places and events such as the recently concluded uproar and demonstrations in Charlottesville VA. As far as the ACLU is concerned, the principle of every American having the right to freedom of speech, as embodied in the first amendment to the Constitution, is sacred and never to be “abridged” as the Constitution states, no matter how vile, vulgar or bigoted that speech may be. Of course, free speech rights are “abridged” virtually every day in common sense ways that the framers of the Constitution never envisioned. For example, try verbally threatening someones life, and see how fast you wind up in the clink should the cops overhear that threat. Or try crying out “fire” in a crowded theater when there isn’t one, and you will also accrue that same jail house experience. To say nothing of all the civil libel actions that could brought against you should you wrongfully defame someone’s character. Because of all the backlash received from the Charlottesville experience, even the ACLU may now be reconsidering its long-standing position regarding the sacredness of the first amendment. So let’s go back a century and see the consequences, end results and havoc that unbridled freedom of speech can lead to.

The year is 1919, and WWI has recently ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender in 1918. The Allies have inflicted harsh punishment on Germany, through the Treaty of Versailles, for instigating the war in the first place. One of the provisions of that treaty was that Germany would not be allowed to militarily re-arm without permission of the Allied countries. The German economy is a disaster as a result of that war, with a combination of rampant inflation and high unemployment. The Allies refuse to provide any economic aid to help Germany recover. A young German corporeal, (originally from Austria) who was wounded toward the end of the war, finds himself with little money and no job prospects upon being released from the hospital. Although he fought for four years, he could only achieve the rank of Corporeal whereas almost all other recruits in similar circumstances rose to at least the rank of Sergeant. In his younger days he fancied himself as an artist; but his paintings were mediocre at best and certainly not salable.

With no particular job skills, and virtually out of money, the ex-Corporeal, in desperation, visits an office of the German government’s bureaucracy in Berlin and practically begs for some type of work whereby he could earn a paycheck. At first he’s denied, but finally the head bureaucrat agrees to give him some work. He tells the ex-Corporeal that a fringe element of rabble-rousing morons, calling themselves the German Workers Party, is trying stir up unrest against the government because of the existing deplorable economic conditions. While the bureaucrat believes the movement is really too small for the government to be concerned, just to make sure, he would pay the ex-Corporeal to attend one of their meetings and report back his findings.

So ex-Corporeal Adolf Hitler agrees to sit in on the next gathering of the German Workers Party. There are less than 20 people in attendance. Various attendees give speeches about Germany’s dismal current state of affairs, but they all revolve around the same themes. Germany’s predicament was due to two major factors-the harsh treatment at the hands of the Allies through the Treaty of Versailles, and, of course, because of the Jews. The same Jews that constituted about 3% of the German population, and were almost all peaceful shopkeepers or teachers. The demonization of Jews throughout, not only Germany, but virtually all of Europe, had been a universal imperative almost since the crucifixion of Jesus, or for nearly 2000 years. While the speech-givers at that get-together were amateurs, Hitler liked what he heard. They jibed almost exactly with his own prejudices and deep-seated hatred of all Jews.

Hitler never did report his findings back to the bureaucrat that hired him. Instead he continued to attend meetings of the German Workers Party, and began making impassioned speeches of his own, castigating both the Allies and the Jews. Hitler found that he had a natural talent for speechifying and demagoguery. Soon, as word spread, hundreds of people and then thousands, began attending these meetings, to hear Hitler demonize the Jews and Allied powers. Hitler quickly rose to top party leadership, and renamed the German Workers Party as the National Socialist, or Nazi Party. And in a particularly brilliant public relations move, he found an ancient tribal symbol, and adopted as the insignia of his newly formed Nazi Party. It came to be known as the Swastika, and it began popping up everywhere-on armbands, flags, shirts, etc. Since Germany had a rich cultural history, especially in music, philosophy, literature, and education, most Germans considered Hitler a fringe crackpot during the 1920s. But as Swastika armbands and flags began showing up more and more in the public square, greater numbers of Germans began paying more attention to Hitler’s impassioned vitriol and demagoguery, and Nazi power and popularity exploded throughout German cities. For those that were unbelievers, Hitler had formed gangs of Nazi goon squads, called the brownshirts, that roamed throughout Germany beating up or other wise terrorizing any and all opponents.

By 1933, due to unbridled German political machinations, the former ex-Corporeal from WWI, ascended to the German Chancellory and within months used his power to become absolute dictator. And as the saying goes, the rest is history. Hitler broke every provision of the Treaty of Versailles, especially when it came to vastly re-arming Germany. The Allies, by comparison, stood by and did nothing. By 1939, Hitler felt he was powerful enough to initiate WWII which eventually would kill 60 million people on the European continent alone. About 6 million Jews died in German concentration camps during the Hitler-initiated Holocaust. Millions of American and other Allied forces were slaughtered on European battlefields. And it all began with the demagogic power of freedom of speech.

So the next time you hear someone defend the unbridled and unconstrained ideal of free speech, you might want to point out how that ideal led to the greatest slaughter, tragedy and misery in the history mankind. Germany, today, 70 years after the end of WWII, is a thriving democracy; but its constitution forbids the advocacy of Nazism in any way, shape or form. And yet, it seems to perform quite well, even with this constitutional prohibition.

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TRUMP’S MORAL EQUIVALENCE

Picture the following scenario, if you will. It’s 1940, and Hitler’s Nazi troops have just overrun France. There’s been a formal declaration of surrender by the French government. The Nazi’s begin rounding up Jews and other perceived opponents of the regime and shipping them off to concentration camps. In response, young Frenchmen, at great risk to their lives, form an underground of partisans designed to attack and kill as many Germans as the opportunity presents itself. Suddenly, President Roosevelt goes on the airwaves and states that he deplores the ongoing violence in France that’s being perpetrated by “many sides.” He calls for the killing and general mayhem to cease, and for all parties to come together and unite in peace and brotherly love. “Ludicrous,” might be your response. Well, it’s not all that different than the initial reaction of our current president regarding the violence and deaths occurring in Charlottesville, VA this past Friday.

Friday in Charlottesville saw a planned demonstration called “Unite the Right”by the far right-wing lunatic-fringe of assorted Neo-Nazis, skinheads, the KKK, and other white supremacist looney-tuners become violent when counter-demonstraters got into the act.    Fights broke out between the two factions, and as the violence increased, one demonstrator took matters into his own hands. He got in his car and deliberately ran down the crowd of opposition protestors, killing one woman and injuring about 20 others. The police fortunately apprehended the killer and have him in custody. But what was the initial reaction of our current president who’s vacationing at his golf club while they renovate the White House? Nothing but pure moral equivalency. He deplored the violence emanating from “many sides” and said we must all come together and love one-another, with perhaps everyone singing Kum-Ba-Yah. Okay, that last part I threw in gratuitously. But that was the general tenor of his remarks.

There was an immediate outcry, even from several Republican senators, that Trump hadn’t specifically identified and condemned the assorted fascists, racists and overall bigots as being the primary instigators of the violence that ensued from the events in Charlottesville. When far right-wing Senator Ted Cruz criticizes you for a lack of moral clarity, you know you’re in hot water. So, with criticism coming from all directions,  Trump was essentially forced to go on the air today and specifically denounce the KKK, and all the other fascist groups that that took part in the Charlottesville mayhem, but, who, nonetheless, still form the basic core of his support. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow for Trump’s “Chief Strategist” Steve Bannon, former head of the Alt-Right news outlet known as Brietbart News, to watch Trump trash the base core of his true believers. It was as if the few adults inside the Trump Administration had finally prevailed in the common sense department.

But I’m sure that Trump’s solid base of white supremacists will give Trump a pass on today’s pronouncements. One should remember that during the presidential campaign last year, David Duke, former “Grand Dragon” of the KKK formally endorsed Trump for president, saying that The Donald was his kind of guy. That the KKK would finally have someone in sync with their beliefs sitting in the White House. Duke, by the way, ran for the Senate in in the state of Louisiana on the Republican ticket about a decade ago, and lost by only an eyelash. The “Bikers of America,” another white supremacist organization, also formally endorsed Trump for president and sent its members to Cleveland during the Republican Convention, to assure that Trump was not, in any sense, put in harm’s way by political opponents. In other words, they were spoiling for a fight with anyone protesting Trump’s ascendency to the throne.

During the campaign, Trump said many times that he was sick and tired of “political correctness.” That line usually drew a standing ovation from the mob-filled arenas where he gave his speeches. Trouble is, that phrase was code for being able to use the N-word out in public without being vilified. Another reason why a Neo-Nazi, Alt-Right individual like Richard Spencer, who publishes a daily paper in Montana that viciously attacks Jews, blacks, Hispanics and other minorities, still claims to be among Trump’s strongest supporters.

Trump won the election because his strategy of appealing to white supremacists narrowly paid off. He lost big among minorities and college-educated women. But not enough of them turned out to vote. If they had had turned out in the same numbers they did twice for Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton would have been the one sitting in the Oval Office today. But it was basically the vote of the blue-collar, non-college educated white male that put Trump over the top. These voters believed they had been marginalized during the eight Obama years. That too much emphasis had been placed on minority benefits and assistance, to white people’s detriment. They believed that Trump was the guy that would rectify this situation and restore white people back to the front of the line-where they should be. A classic belief in white supremacy.

Meanwhile, the neo-fascists in our society are becoming more bold as they come out into the open. They feel that with Trump in the White House, they can emerge from the shadows out into the glaring sun light. Look for more openly fascist events and riots like the one in Charlottesville to take place in the ensuing months.

 

 

 

 

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

EVOLUTION OR DEVOLUTION

One of my less guilty pleasures in life is occasionally watching old movies run in their entirety on the Turner Movie Channel. No commercials or interruptions; it’s almost like having HBO without the user fee. So the other night I watched a film produced in 1960 called “Inherit The Wind” about an actual trial in Tennessee in 1925 concerning the teaching of “evolution” in the Tennessee public school system. At that time it was actually illegal to to teach such heresy as Darwin’s theory of evolution to impressionable, young school children. Why they might have actually learn something that wasn’t sanctioned by the “New Testament.” They might even question where all those people on the outside came from when Adam, Eve and Cain were evicted from the Garden of Eden because their mortgage went under water. But I digress.

The movie, shot in black and white, contained big name Hollywood stars, such as Spencer Tracy, Fredric March, and Gene Kelly, all of whom acquired word-wide acting fame during the 1930s, often considered the golden age of Hollywood. Movies were ultra popular during that period because people could lose themselves in a darkened theater and forget their heartache and pain caused by the Great Depression for maybe 5-6 hours. For the price of a nickel or dime, one received two feature films, a cartoon, a serial, newsreels, coming attractions, and more. What’s not to like. I remember spending hours in air-conditioned local movie theaters in my misspent youth during the 1940s in order to escape the ugly poverty of my surroundings and the smothering heat in an un-airconditioned apartment during humid New York summers. Of course, by the late 1940s the price of all this entertainment had risen to the shocking level of a quarter.

But back to “Inherit the Wind.” As I said, it was actually against the law in Tennessee in the 1920s to teach evolution in the public school system, and breaking that law was punishable by fine or imprisonment or both. One brave teacher in a small town decided to challenge that law and openly taught Darwinism in his classes. Predictably, he was was arrested and put on trial. The whole affair might have been ignored by the press or what was considered the media back then, had it not been for the fame of the attorney’s who became involved in the case. Representing the defendant free of charge was world renowned  lawyer Clarence Darrow, who in his later years, often fought for unpopular causes. And representing the prosecution was famed politician William Jennings Bryan, who twice ran unsuccessfully for the presidency on the Democratic ticket, of course. Although Bryan considered himself a populist and champion of the “little guy,” he was also a dyed-in-the-wool religious fundamentalist who believed in the literal interpretation of the New Testament. So it became a clash of these huge legal titans and was thus heavily covered by the press and radio commentators.

Since this was small town Tennessee in the 1920s, the vast majority of its people were also religious fundamentalists, and as depicted by the movie, paraded about town during the trial chanting: “Give me that old time religion, it’s good enough for me.” It became known as the “monkey trial” and the notion that man evolved from apes was considered beyond absurdity by the townspeople. During the trial, Darrow called Bryan to the witness stand to question his dis-belief in evolution. No matter what the question, Bryan stubbornly stuck to his religious fundamentalism. When Darrow held a rock in his hand and stated that scientists believed that rock was millions of years old, Bryan made the now famous exclamation that he “was not interested in the age of rocks, but only in the Rock of Ages.” It was a given that the hapless school teacher would be convicted of the crime of teaching Darwinism, but a reasonably smart judge handed down the mildest of sentences to finally bring that fiasco of a trial to its conclusion.

But the movie got me to thinking whether humankind has evolved to any significant degree in the century since that infamous trial, or wether there has actually been a process of on-going devolution. Fourteen years after the end of the “monkey trial” the world became involved in the most horrific war that had ever been witnessed until that point. Nazi and Imperial Japanese death camps exterminated tens of millions of innocent victims during WWII. In a world history replete with most heinous acts throughout the centuries, the Holocaust, where 6 million Jews and millions of others were gassed to death, will probably stand out as the crown jewel of absolute, unadulterated, pure evil. Nuclear bombs developed by scientists and were used on two Japanese cities, killing hundreds of thousands. Today, nuclear bomb technology has come into the hands of at least two rogue, tyrannical states, North Korea and Iran, who threaten their use against western democracies. Islamic Jihadist terrorism has sprung up out of the desert heat of the Mid-East, and like the barbarism of old, threatens virtually all of civilized societies. Several on-going wars in the cauldron of all that Mid-East turmoil that the United States has become involved in, show no signs of being brought to a successful conclusion. Is this progress? Is man evolving to a higher state, or actually devolving to a state of death, destruction and misery?

And speaking of evolution, a recent poll in the U.S. still shows that a majority of Americans still do not believe in Darwinism. Despite the fact that a visit to any museum of natural history in any major city will show incontrovertible evidence otherwise. But I guess non-believers in evolution are not big on going to museums. Nor on wisdom or advanced thinking that would normally be signs of the evolutionary process. That was undisputedly proven by the results of the 2016 election held in the U.S. and the Brexit vote held in England, also last year. So instead, perhaps we should welcome one and all to the the age of devolution.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Economics, Huey Long, Franklin Roosevelt, Great Depression, The Kingfish,Donald Trump, human affairs, politics, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

THE BIBLE-THUMPER’S CHOICE

According to exit polls taken after the 2016 election, the overwhelming favorite for president among those people describing themselves as Christian “born-again” or “evangelical” or just plain fanatically religious believers, was Donald Trump. According to pollsters, Trump garnered nearly 80% of the evangelical vote. Now one might ask why people who are supposedly so heavily invested in the teachings of Christ, would choose a man who was caught on tape bragging about grabbing a woman’s “pussy,” who bragged about having numerous affairs, who has been married 3 times, and who had made the comment that TV news anchor Megyn Kelly “had blood coming out of her whatever” when she made him upset during a TV presidential debate. At first blush it would appear counter-intuitive that Trump should be such a huge favorite among these religious extremists, if you will. But on second thought, it was perfectly rational that the bible-thumpers supported such a candidate.

The first point to understand is that organized religions have nothing to do with God. They are totally man-made inventions for the acquisition of power by those supposedly assuming the mantle of God’s spokespersons. Whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, or any other current ism, they all have the same tenets in common. The leaders of those religions pretend to speak for God, and thereby issue proclamations as to what is acceptable or unacceptable human behavior in the eyes of “the invisible man” as comedian George Carlin once expressed it. Unacceptable behavior according to one’s religious leaders can lead to big trouble since these clergy often hold the power of life or death over virtually all individuals in the populace. In the Muslim religion, not obeying Allah as Imams dictate, can lead to to hands or arms being chopped off, or whippings, or finally, beheadings. And its not just Islamic terrorist organizations performing such atrocities. Ruling governments in many Moslem countries also sanction such penalties to those considered as being non-believers. Such is the power of organized religion.

In Europe, once Roman Emperor Constantine declared Christianity to be the official religion of the Roman Empire in the fifth century, A.D., the Christian religious hierarchy assumed the same powers and control over peoples lives as had the secular royalty that ruled most countries. Unbelievers were considered heretics to be burned at the stake. Jews that had been driven out of their homeland by Roman legions, and who had thus fled to Europe, were called “Christ killers” by Catholic popes in the Vatican, and subject to enormous persecution throughout the centuries. The Spanish Inquisition in the 16th and 17th centuries burned Jews at the stake for not believing that Jesus was God. But Inquisition leaders claimed it was for their own good. After being thus murdered, these unfortunates could then enter heaven with their disbelief purified from their souls. And it wasn’t just Catholic Jew-hating. Martin Luther, who was the founder of Protestantism, was notoriously anti-semitic, and printed tract after tract that hung on church portals,  denouncing Jews as Christ killers. Thus, through the centuries, virtually all of Europe was infected with the virus of Christian anti-semitism. One could even make a cogent argument that the Holocaust could never have taken place if the disease of anti-semitism was not allowed to spread so virulently throughout all of Europe, century after century. Even today in Europe, it’s emerging from the shadows it retreated to 70 years ago, back into the sunlight.

It’s with that background that it’s understandable as to why the bible thumpers in this country supported Trump so vigorously in 2016. The see him as a man who could bring their long-held dream to fruition of turing the United States into a Christian theocracy. The way many Mid-East countries are Moslem theocracies. The holy grail of the bible thumpers would be the abolition of legalized abortion and gay rights in the U.S. The election of Trump is already paying them dividends since he has put the overturning of Roe V. Wade almost within their grasp. Trump’s nomination of antiabortion Justice Neal Gorsuch to the Supreme Court was approved by the Senate, and, thus, Trump needs to replace only one more Justice before a woman’s right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy becomes history in most states. It shouldn’t take very much longer since Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in her 80s and obviously can’t hang on forever. Along the way the bible thumpers also fervently pray that a Trump remodeled Supreme Court will overturn previous edicts allowing the existence of gay marriage and other gay rights, thereby effectively shoving homosexuals back into the closet. Way back in the closet. If those two scenarios transpire, the U.S. is more that half there toward establishing a Christian theocracy. Fun times ahead for all you no-goodnik non-believers.

So, as you can see, it really didn’t matter to the bible thumpers that Trump has led an unholy, lewd, and profane private life. As long as he could deliver them their long held dream of an American Christian theocracy, he was jake with them. When Trump made a campaign stop at Liberty University, which is a fundamentalist Baptist college in Virginia, and pretended to be a religious extremist like them, the bible thumpers knew they had their man. And, so far, life in the U.S. appears to be unfolding in that context.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Brexit, Donald Trump, Alan Greenspan, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, human affairs, Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism, World War II, Viet-Nam, Anti-Communist Witch Hunts, Army-McCarthy hearings, Islamic Jihadist terrorism, Soviet Union, Red China, politics, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

McCARTHY, TRUMP AND THE ART OF FEAR-MONGERING

I’ve written before about how Donald Trump is doing his best to emulate the methods employed during the 1950s by Joe McCarthy to achieve fame and power. It’s almost as if McCarthy has been re-incarnated into Donald Trumps body. McCarthy, a junior senator from Wisconsin, began a calculated mission to achieve absolute U.S. political power with a speech in Wheeling, West Virginia in February 1950. The method he employed was classical fear-mongering and appeals to mass hysteria. In that now infamous speech, McCarthy blended a mixture of right-wing demagoguery and outright lies as he appealed to people’s fears about the Communist menace about to take over their lives. He claimed that there were hundreds of Communists who owed their allegiance to the old Soviet Union that were burrowed deep into the U.S. government, especially into our State Department. And that Democratic President Harry Truman and his administration were refusing to weed them out.

McCarthy’s speech electrified the small crowd of about 275 people who had ostensibly turned out to hear about how the U.S., and every citizens welfare, was essentially being sold down the river by treasonous Democratic politicians. (Sound familiar?) With a deep baritone voice and an infused sense of calamity, McCarthy had essentially elevated fear-mongering into an art form. McCarthy blamed “elite” Democrats in the Truman Administration who had failed to purge “the enemy within,” that threatened America’s security and way of life. “While I cannot take the time to name all of the men in the State Department who have been named as members of the Communist Party and members of a spy ring, I have here in my hand a list of 205 that were known to the Secretary of State as being members of the Communist Party and who, nevertheless, who are still working and shaping U.S. policy,” he thundered. Of course, no such list of names actually existed and the entire speech was a total scam.

Naturally, this speech was long before the internet or cell phones came into existence, so news that over 200 Communist traitors were still effectively passing on top secret information to the Soviet Union became known slowly but surely, like a massive blob spreading it’s suffocating deadly existence over the entire country. Eventually, McCarthy’s accusation that there was a hidden Communist cabal at the heart of the U.S. government triggered a wave of country-wide paranoia and fear mongering that would forever bear his name-“McCarthyism.” Some saw through the phoniness of this blatant exercise in demagoguery, but tragically, there were too many true believers as McCarthy’s fame as one who was fighting the scourge of Communism rose to breath- taking heights. He was put in charge of a Senate oversight committee committed to rooting out Communist traitors in all walks of American life- from government, to Hollywood to industry and on and on. Hundreds of innocent Americans were falsely accused of treason and saw their lives being destroyed before their very eyes. Some committed suicide. Those that saw through these charades and were willing to say so publicly, were denounced by McCarthy as commies, commie-sympathizers or outright traitors. His rise to ultimate power seemed unstoppable.

And it probably would have been, if it hadn’t been for the advent of that new-fangled electronics contraption known as television that was increasingly winding up in everyones homes. When McCarthy charged that the U.S. Army, like the State Department, was riddled with Communist traitors, the Army, instead of wimping out, decided to challenge him head-on, in front of live, televised audiences. It was the first time television would be used in that manner. When the viewing public could visually watch, for the first time, the phoniness of McCarthy’s demagoguery, his popularity, and, hence, his power, began taking a swan dive. McCarthy, always a heavy drinker, increased his alcohol consumption even further as his power slowly oozed away. He eventually drank himself to death in 1958, while he was in his late forties.

But here’s the real interesting part. When McCarthy headed up his Senate committee, his chief of staff who usually did all the witness questioning, was a fellow named Roy Cohen. By all accounts Cohen was every bit as despicable a human being as McCarthy was. But somewhere along the way, sometime in the 1970s, Roy Cohen hooked up with a young Donald Trump who was just making a name for himself by managing the real estate empire he had inherited from his father. It was Roy Cohen who infused a-new-to-the-game-of-politcs Donald Trump with the McCarthy brand of right-wing demagoguery that’s on display with this current administration. As it turned out, Roy Cohen was homosexual at a time when it was still deeply shocking for any celebrity to be outed as being gay. Cohen would eventually die of AIDS in the mid-1980s, still proclaiming he was not homosexual.

So now we have the ghosts of Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohen on full display in the Trump administration. Trump first rose to political power in 2016 when he began demonizing both Mexicans and Moslems. He would build a wall so Mexico could no longer send us “their rapists and murderers.” He would ban Moslem countries  from sending us their terrorists. He would go on to appoint white supremacists as among his closest aides. His calculation during the election was that there was still enough white xenophobic voters to overcome strong opposition from minority voters, and he was right by an eyelash. Anyone, especially in the media, that tries to expose Trump for his demagogic phoniness is subject to a withering Trump Twitter tantrum and cries of fake news. Sort of like the way Joe McCarthy called his opponents commie sympathizers. The base of diehard Trump supporters still continues to hold firm, even amid all the chaos and outright lies that emanate from this White House on a daily basis.

In the1950s, television exposed Joe McCarthy for the phony demagogue that he was, and for the poisonous effects his antics were having on the U.S. citizenry and their values. However, it doesn’t seem to be working these days as far as exposing Donald Trump for the fraudster he really is. Maybe people were less gullible and a lot smarter back then.

Categories: A malfunctioning psche, Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders, Ted Cruz, John Kasich, presidential polls,, Economics, Health Care, Obamacare, Huey Long, Franklin Roosevelt, Great Depression, The Kingfish,Donald Trump, human affairs, 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, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

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