THE HEALTH CARE DEBACLE

So, a professional sky-diver is in the plane, thousands of feet in the air, and is told by the crew that it’s time for his jump. Wait a minute, he replies, where is my parachute. Oh, we’ll design that for you after you exit the plane, says the crewman. Think he would be inclined to  make that jump? But that’s been pretty much the GOP position on getting rid of the despised Obamacare health insurance plan and replacing it with a Republican brand on the label. For 7 years, since passage of the Affordable Health Care legislation in Congress in 2010, Republicans have been desperately trying to repeal and supposedly “replace” it with something better. Except that for these past 7 years the GOP hasn’t been able to put forth a feasible and rational plan for replacement. Until this week, when House Speaker Paul Ryan issued something resembling replacement in his proposed legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, that no one is happy with, including a large segment of his own Republican Party.

Just to be clear, I was never a big fan of Obamacare. The legislation was way too long, detailed and cumbersome. It consumed over 2000 pages in written length from the start, which can never be a good thing.While the intent of the Affordable Care Act was admirable, i.e., to provide universal health care so that even the poor could receive quality medical treatment when sick, the methods devised under Obamacare were just too bureaucratic and crushing to function smoothly. Too many hoops had to be jumped through to make it work. The most rational method of providing medical treatment to all Americans regardless of their financial circumstances, would have been to establish what’s called a single payer system, run by the government. A system that every first world country on the planet already employs. Except us, of course.

Under single-payer, if you get sick, you visit the doctor or hospital of your choice. Same thing if you need a medical check-up. If you have a toothache or need a cleaning you make an appointment with your dentist. No insurance to buy, no forms to fill out. The hospital, doctor or dentist would then submit the bill to the government for services rendered. The government would then turn those bills over to designated insurance organizations who would reimburse the health professionals performing the services in question. No fuss, no muss. A system, as I’ve said, used in Canada, and throughout almost all of Europe and Asia. But how would we pay for all of this without levying harsh new tax burdens, you might ask. Again, not a problem.

The way its done in those countries embracing universal health care is to establish about a 5-10% value-added tax, which is like a sales tax on manufactured goods, usually at each step of the manufacturing process. Won’t this add significantly to the cost of purchasing such products? No, not really. While the actual cost of manufacture may increase, these costs would be more than off-set by U.S. companies not being required to offer health insurance for their employees. The savings to companies in no longer providing health coverage for their workers would be dramatic and probably exceed the increased costs of manufacture. That’s why, for example, Japanese auto companies such as Toyota and Nissan can often out-compete their American counterparts such as G.M., Ford and Chrysler. They incur no health insurance costs.Today about 190 million Americans receive their health insurance from the companies they work for. That huge burden on U.S. commerce would be lifted under a single-payer system.

But, of course, legislating such a simple health care system would be far too rational for the U.S. political arena to cope with. Instead, the Ryan plan’s replace part of “repeal and replace” mumbles something about providing “tax credits” to those too poor to afford health insurance premiums. Never mind that nearly half the country pays no income tax. I suppose that some sort of negative tax system would have to be established, similar to the Earned Income Tax benefits that now go to low income wage earners. And even these would phase out in about 2 or 3 years. The very heart of Obamacare that has had the Republican establishment so upset all these years, is that it provides the poor with cash subsidies that enable them to purchase health insurance. As flawed as the law is, about 20 million people who previously had no health plan,  have signed on to Obamacare since its enactment, many through Medicaid. But a large part of the GOP establishment is dead set against health care subsidies and enhanced Medicaid enrollments. A group of about 50 GOP hardcore right-wingers in the House are calling the Ryan plan “Obamacare Lite” and  are refusing to support it, because it provides some minimal subsidies. Some Republicans in the Senate are also unhappy. After all, they reason, the poor are used to getting the short end of the stick anyhow. What harm would there be with another poke in the eye. The fun just never ends.

One other thing. Our esteemed President Trump, (that phrase still claws at the very fabric of the universe) made some comment the other day that he didn’t know that health care could be so complicated. Who knew? Who knew that water insists on running downhill instead of uphill? Who knew that the sky was blue instead of orange. Who knew that standing in the rain without an umbrella will get you wet? Who could know such things?

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WATERGATE REDUX

Over this past weekend, Trump went on Twitter and accused the the Obama Administration of wire-tapping his phones during the 2016 election campaign. Of course, Trump didn’t offer a scintilla of fact or evidence to support this ludicrous accusation. It was obviously a ploy to deflect from the serious actuality of Russia interfering in the U.S. election on behalf of getting Trump elected to the Oval Office. Nevertheless, I’m sure that all the loyal Trumpenistas out there will take his Twitter comments at face value despite the lack of any proof. As Trump himself said during the recent campaign-he could shoot someone dead in the middle of Fifth Avenue, and there would still be no loss of support among his following. As part of his Twitter rant, Trump also likened Obama’s supposed wire-tapping to the infamous Watergate scandal of the early 1970s, and to Richard Nixon’s discredited behavior during those tumultuous times. So, since there are so many similarities between Nixon and the current White House occupant, I thought it relevant to review those dark times in American history.

In 1972, President Richard Nixon was running for re-election, and would go on to win in a massive landslide, carrying 49 states. Nevertheless, in June 1972, some criminal hacks, hired by the Committee to Re-Elect the President, (which would sardonically be referred to as CREEP) broke into Democratic Headquarters to obtain info on Democratic plans and strategy concerning the on-going presidential campaign. These Headquarters were located in the newly built and very posh Watergate Hotel and Apartment complex located on the banks of the Potomac in Washington D.C. The clumsiness of the burglars became evident as they were caught in the process of breaking and entering, and arrested by a very alert security guard for the complex. If not for this guard, the Watergate Scandal would likely never have materialized. Afterward, if Nixon had merely come forth and announced that he had no knowledge of the break-in, and that if anyone in his administration or re-election committee did sanction those criminal tactics, they would be immediately fired, there would also not have been a scandal. But Nixon suffered from a large degree of paranoia and a mis-guided sense of loyalty, which eventually led to his downfall.

Investigations into the Watergate events began to gather steam when 2 reporters for the “Washington Post” named Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, began digging deeper into what seemed like no more than a two-bit burglary gone bad. They cultivated an informant from CREEP whom they called “Deep Throat” (after a famous porno star of that era.) Political investigations of Watergate also began in February 1973, when a special committee was formed and chaired by a Democratic Senator. At that time, Democratic majorities prevailed in both houses of Congress. Today, with both houses controlled by Republican majorities, a similar investigation would likely not transpire. Between the Washington Post, and Congressional investigations, new facts related to Watergate began to dribble out on an almost daily basis. The nation collectively held its breath as each day seemingly brought forth more evidence concerning the Nixon Administration’s complicity in the break-in and the resulting cover-up.

It was the cover-up that, in the end, did the most damage. The on-going investigations revealed that Nixon’s closest aides, Bob Halderman, John Ehrilchman, and John Dean were all implicated in trying to cover-up the fact that the Committee to Re-Elect had hired these ham-fisted burglars in the first place. Nixon, much to his chagrin, was then forced to fire these men from his staff. Then it came to light that Nixon had secretly taped virtually all discussions held in the Oval Office, including conversations concerning the Watergate cover-up. On one of those tapes, where Watergate was explicitly being discussed, there existed an 18 minute gap in the conversation. It was theorized that this infamous 18 minute gap had contained conversation that would directly link Nixon to the cover-up, and that portion of the tape had, therefore, been deliberately erased. The 18 minute gap became known as the “smoking gun” that eventually would doom the Nixon presidency. The country continued to hold its breath, as if transfixed by each day’s new disclosures.

Based on this”smoking gun,” the House, in 1974, began to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president. While there were enough Republicans in the Senate to block conviction if they voted in unity, it soon became apparent that unity would not be the case. It became Sen. Barry Goldwater’s hapless task to trudge over to the White House and inform Nixon that very few Republicans in the Senate would support him if they had to vote on impeachment. Nixon no longer had a chance. His choices came down to either resignation or impeachment. On August 9, 1974, Richard Nixon became the first individual to resign the presidency. Vice-President Gerald Ford then ascended to the Oval Office, and one of his  first actions was to pardon Nixon from any criminal prosecutions. It probably cost Ford the election when he ran against Jimmy Carter in 1976.

So now we have our current president accusing our just departed president of illegal wire-tapping, based on nothing but the current president’s delusional paranoia and to deflect away from a growing scandal concerning Russia’s unauthorized interference in our recently concluded election. Another Watergate in the making, perhaps? To say nothing of Trump’s increasing similarity to Nixon’s behavior. During the campaign, Trump used the phrase-“the silent majority” when referring to his supporters. Nothing new here. Nixon’s the one who came up with that slogan when he ran for president in 1968. Trump’s other famous cliche-“Make America Great Again” also lacks any originality. Ronald Reagan was the one espousing that gem of triteness when he ran in 1980.

So, will Russian involvement in 2016 result in another Watergate. It could, if we had some young reporters out there with the diligence and feistiness of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Stay tuned.

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THE NEVER-ENDING CAMPAIGN TRAIL

So, did you hear the one about how Sweden suffered this violent terrorist attack this past Friday. No? Well that could possibly be because such an attack never took place, despite our president’s proclamation to the contrary. Not only did a bloody terrorist assault occur, according to Trump, but it was Sweden’s own fault for acting humanely, by allowing so many refugees fleeing for their lives, to enter Sweden in the first place. It’s alternative facts, baby, as Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway would have put it. I’ve said in the past that politics usually comes down to a matter of salesmanship, which is the one thing that Trump excels in. It’s a matter of telling people what they want to believe in, whether the described events exist in reality or not. And so with the president’s approval ratings headed in a downward spiral, Trump figured it was time to return to the campaign trail, and offer his loyal base of primarily white-supremist followers, the red-meat they hungered for. And sure enough, a crowd of supposedly 20 thousand die-hard Trumpanistas gathered in Florida to hear the latest in Trump demagoguery.

At this early stage of the game, previous presidents from Reagan thru Obama, enjoyed approval numbers from the electorate that ranged from the high 50-60 percentiles, according to polls taken during their administrations. But according to the latest Gallop poll, Trump’s approval rating is currently only about 40 percent. Could the reason be that all the blustering, bullying, belligerent, and angry Twitter offerings issued on virtually a daily basis really don’t sell all that well outside of Trump’s hardcore base.  Or the fact that, despite all the threats, promises, and grand designs offered up by the president and his Republican Congress, very little has been accomplished in actuality thus far. Trump did roll back some of Obama’s executive orders, including one that barred coal companies from dumping mining refuse and waste into local rivers and streams. I’m sure that the residents that receive their drinking water from such canals will be more than delighted.

The one notable action the Trump administration did proclaim was an executive order barring people from seven Muslim countries from entering the U.S. on the pretext that this would make America safer. But the rollout might as well have been orchestrated by the Marx Brothers (Groucho and Harpo, not Karl.) With no advanced warning, it caught people who were already in flight, in its ridiculous net. When their planes landed in the U.S. people from these seven countries were informed that they couldn’t leave the airport; but instead had to book a flight that returned them to their countries of origin. One victim of this badly managed edict was a three-year-old Iranian girl that had a serious heart defect and was booked for a life-saving operation that could only be performed in the U.S. The parents of this “highly dangerous potential terrorist” were told that the operation would now have to be called off because Iran was one of the seven banned countries. Fortunately, the courts intervened and blocked this ill-advised executive order from being enforced, and the little Iranian girl was permitted to have her operation. But the Administration is threatening to roll-out a new edict that does essentially the same thing as the old, but is worded differently. And the beat goes on.

We now have a better understanding of how the Trump calculous works. During the campaign, the appeal was to white xenophobic, or out-right bigoted voters, primarily throughout the South and Mid-West. Yes, while the black, Hispanic, Asian, and other minority voting blocs were increasing in the U.S., there was still enough of a white majority to nudge Trump and his angry, anti-foreigner message over the finish line. Just barely, but a win nonetheless. His strategy was and currently is formulated by Steve Bannon, who if he were any further right-wing, would be wearing a Swastika arm-band. Bannon headed up the white-supremist Breitbart  News site before he became Trump’s campaign manager, and now is in the White House daily as a top presidential advisor. And Trump continues to draw heavy support from all the far right fringe hate groups, that include an entire range of bigots from the KKK  to the Bikers of America. He’s their kind of guy. And the message of banning Muslims from entering the U.S. to building a hideous wall to keep the Mexicans out, still resonates powerfully  in those circles.

Thus, to counter media and political opposition criticism of his white supremacist agenda, Trump has devised the strategy of the perpetual campaign. When his daily Twitter thrusts that rant against perceived enemies don’t seem to be accomplishing the job, go back out on the campaign trail where he can attract thousands, or tens of thousands of hardcore followers, so as to give the appearance of massive voter support. As well as giving his ego and morale a major boost. And with the Democratic party virtually in ruins, there really is no serious political opposition to his daily shenanigans.

The moral of all this is how curious the human mind functions at our current state of evolution. A leader, or would be dictator, doesn’t actually have to accomplish anything. All  he has to do is sell people on the notion that major events are moving in their direction. Create a parallel universe of delusion that satisfies and soothes the electorate’s fears, anxieties and bigotry, and all is well with the world once again. After-all, reality is often such an ugly thing, isn’t it? While delusion can cover one like a warm comforter on a cold winter’s night.

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PHILOSOPHICAL DIFFERENCES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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IN THE TRUMP ERA, BIG BROTHER MAY BE WATCHING YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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WHEN CHARACTER NO LONGER COUNTS

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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FROM CIVIL RIGHTS TO THE ALT-RIGHT: A NATION’S MORAL DECLINE

It took less than 60 years, 56 to be precise, for the United States to go from electing a president that would champion the cause of civil rights for blacks and other minorities, to electing a president that intends to further the cause of white supremacy and privilege. In 1960, a young John F. Kennedy would squeak out a narrow win for the presidency over Richard Nixon. With brother Bobby as attorney-general, JFK set out to tear down the walls of Jim Crow segregation that had permeated throughout the entire South. A system whereby blacks had to attend separate schools from whites, drink from separate water fountains, sit at separate lunch counters, sit in segregated sections when attending sports events or movies, and on and on. Of course, blacks were strictly forbidden from living or buying property in white neighborhoods. And black people usually found it all but impossible to vote in public elections in virtually every district throughout the South. But the early 1960s were also a time when a young black minister named Martin Luther King Jr., with the backing of the president and the attorney-general, began organizing huge protest marches and civil-disobedience throughout the South to attack this system of second-class citizenry. A system of semi-slavery that had lasted 100 years after Lincoln had ended the existing system of formal slavery.

The peaceful protests and civil-rights marches of those days eventually achieved their desired results as the walls of Jim Crow semi-slavery began to crumble into dust. But not before a slew of both black and white civil-rights workers were murdered along the way by the Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacists. And tragically, by 1968, both Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King were all dead at the hands of different assassins. And to be clear, racial hatred and discrimination didn’t exist only in the South. There was plenty of that in the North as well, minus a formalized legal system of Jim Crow segregation. But when Lyndon Johnson took over the presidency after JFK’s murder, and signed the civil rights act of 1964, black people were at least free to participate in U.S. elections without fear of reprisal. The tumultuous 1960s were also a time of massive protests and civil disobedience against America’s ill-fated entry into the Viet-Nam war. When that debacle ended in the early 1970s, and with the successes of the civil-rights movement, it seemed as if America’s worst days were behind it. Sadly, this was not to be.

Now fast-forward to 2016 where the winning presidential candidate, also by the narrowest of margins, is definitely not a civil-rights proponent. Instead he is praised by the KKK and other white-supremist groups as being their kind of guy. One of these hate groups is oddly referred to as the Alt-Right, presumably meaning alternative right wing. A rather benign sounding term to cover up its underlying racist intentions. A former leader of the Alt-Right, a man named Stephen Bannon, eventually became Donald Trump’s campaign manager, and will now sit in the White House on a daily basis as Trump’s co-chief of staff. A rather comforting vision to start off the new year of 2017, wouldn’t you say? So who, or what is the Alt-Right. Well, according to one of its current leaders named Jeff Schoep, their decision to dispense with using the swastika as its symbol was “an attempt to become more integrated and more mainstream.” An attempt to make racial hatred seem more like the norm. Their central belief is that white identity has become endangered by what they deride as this era of dangerous diversity and political correctness. But though they may no longer use the Nazi swastika as their symbol, the name of their game is still white supremacy over blacks and virulent anti-semitism.

When Trump, early in the campaign, promised to build a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants, whom he described as murderers and rapists, the Alt-Right raised its collective head to listen. One movement leader, a retired school teacher from Dallas, who grew up in a family opposed to desegregation, stated: “I’ve been waiting to hear those words from a mainstream political leader all my life. We don’t have any power, – but now we’re suddenly close enough to smell it.” After Trump’s victory, the Alt-Right held a conference in Washington under the leadership of its president, a 38 year-old man named Richard Spencer, who fashions himself as the coming American Il Duce. He wears his hair in an undercut style called a “fashy” as in fascist. “Race is real” he said “Race matters. Race is the foundation of identity.” Of course, this Alt-Right movement is supposedly distinct from old-line white supremacist fascists, bigots, race-haters and Jew-haters such as the KKK. But early in the election campaign, when David Duke, former grand dragon of the KKK enthusiastically endorsed the Trump candidacy, it took The Donald two days to eventually choke out an-“okay, I disavow the endorsement,” after repeated grilling by the media.

So, welcome to the world, circa 2017. The year 1961 stared off with a new president in the White House committed to achieving racial equality for minorities that were afflicted by Jim Crow prejudice, bigotry and segregation. The new president in 2017, about to enter the Oval Office, is a man seemingly adored by those very same bigots and haters. But that’s not even the most disturbing part about all of this.  Even more upsetting is the fact that candidate Trump figured out that there there was all this bigotry still in existence among the white population. Enough so that he could win by achieving such an overwhelming portion of the white vote, that it was more than sufficient enough to offset the minority voters opposition to him. And he was right. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

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THE POWER OF NEGATIVE THINKING

Two shopkeepers, each across the street from the other, are discussing how poorly the sales markets have been recently and how their stores have been suffering accordingly. After the first store owner goes through a whole litany of his problems and financial losses, he asks the second store owner: “And how’s your business doing?” “The worst its been in the last 30 years” replies the second man. “Its been that good?” exclaims the first store owner in startled disbelief. Welcome to the world of how negative thinking powers a sense of peacefulness and adds serenity if not huge accomplishments to people’s lives. We’ve all been indoctrinated, or brain-washed if you will, to focus on positive thinking  as the ultimate method of achieving success and happiness. But positive thinking can be the ultimate betrayer of one’s hopes and dreams, should they fail to be achieved. Its far more positive to focus on all the negatives that lay in one’s path as a means of anticipating, preparing for, and coping with all the obstacles one will almost certainly face during a lifetime.

The power of negative thinking begins with the belief that the worst possible out-come will occur in any of life’s situations. Your boss will hate your output and you’ll likely get fired; your teen-age daughter who just got her driver’s license and is out driving her car at night for the first time will almost certainly smash into a telephone poll and get herself killed; all your investments will ultimately turn to shit and you’ll be financially ruined, etc. When in almost all cases the worst fails to materialize, the ensuing feelings of relief will be absolutely euphoric. And in those very few cases where the worst does actually occur, at least you will be mentally prepared for the outcome. Which, of course, will likely be of small comfort. As I’m writing this, I’m remembering an event that occurred in my development many years ago. A senior-aged couple had emigrated from South Africa and bought a house in our community. The husband had all their money tied up in investments back in his old country. For some unfortunate political reason, everyone of these investments went belly-up at the same time, and the couple was left virtually penniless. The husband was at home when the bad news came. He called his wife who was out shopping to tell her what had happened, and that he could not live with the shame and grief of losing everything, and was going to kill himself. His wife pleaded and begged him not to do this…. until she heard the gun shot go off. Sometimes no type of thinking can fix an ugly situation.

The contrast between the benefits derived from the power of negative versus positive thinking is no better illustrated than in the just concluded presidential election. Trump employed negative thinking in his march to the White House versus Clinton’s positive thinking in her march to defeat.  First, almost all pollsters and political pundits predicted that Clinton would coast to an easy victory while Trump was certain to lose. This led the Clinton camp to run a lackadaisical campaign, believing success was a foregone  conclusion. She would barely make one campaign stop a day, if that, and made no stops in  some states such as Wisconsin which she lost by a whisker. Positive thinking would lead to over-confidence and ultimately to defeat. Trump, on the other hand, was in a panic of negative thinking since everyone was saying how he would lose. This drove him into a frenzy of campaigning making at least 5 or 6 stops day-in and day-out. The potential shame of coming all this way only to lose at the end was more than his ego could bear. On the Monday night before the election, he made an appearance at one A.M. in Michigan to an estimated crowd of 20 thousand people, while Clinton was home safely in bed. The power of his negative thinking eventually turned the tide of the election in his favor.

A recent movie out, which is sure to be an Academy Award nominee, if not winner, called “Manchester By The Sea” points to an excellent illustration of the tragedy that can occur when the worst scenario is not anticipated. It’s a deeply sad movie about the loss that can result from even the smallest of unanticipated careless acts. A loss from which there is no recovery. A man who is happily married with 2 small children that he lovingly adores, is sitting in front of his fireplace one Saturday night drinking beer, while his wife and children are upstairs asleep. He runs out of beer and decides to walk to a nearby convince store to buy more. Half-way there he can’t remember if he put the fireplace screen back in front of the open fire. He plows on anyhow, but when he returns he finds his house being consumed by a blazing fire. His wife has escaped, but his 2 children are trapped inside and burnt to death. Apparently he had not put the screen back in its place and a flaming log had rolled out onto the floor and caused the fire. It’s a tragic sequence of events that he can never forgive himself for. When his now ex-wife meets him one day, and tearfully tells him she’s willing to forgive and take him back, he runs away saying “there’s nothing left” inside of him. He goes through the rest of his life doing odd-jobs as a handyman, in a zombie-like state. All from the simple failure to foresee the worst possible out-come.

One can hope for the best but should always anticipate the worst. At least that’s my take on what the universe has to offer as as we plow through our time on this planet. Steve Jobs once proclaimed that all our worries can be minimized when we know that death awaits us in the end. That’s generally true-except when the event is the loss of one’s child.

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G-MEN IN YOUR BEDROOM

Ever wonder why so many evangelicals voted for President-Elect Trump. It’s estimated that as many as 80% of those considered bible thumpers voted for Donald Trump. For a self-professed serial philanderer; for someone who was openly sleeping with his mistress while still-married to his first wife; for a person who over the years has made the most vulgar, disparaging and lewd remarks concerning women and then chalked it up to “locker-room talk;” for someone who has never displayed the slightest sign of compassion or empathy toward anyone or anything besides his own ego; and on and on. Yet those supposedly immersed in religiousness, by huge margins, chose him to be leader of the country. I believe the reason lies in 2 primarily contentious issues- abortion and gay marriage.

In the 45 years since Roe V. Wade become the law of the land thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court, and women were allowed to legally terminate unwanted pregnancies in safe medical facilities, there have been an estimated 60 million abortions performed in those facilities. But holier-than-thou bible thumpers, primarily throughout the South and most of the Mid-West have never relented in their opposition to abortion on demand. They have managed to have state legislatures slowly but surely chip away at these freedoms to the point that in some states, such as Texas, women seeking a legal abortion are having increasingly difficult time. Almost to the point of impossibility. But that’s still not enough. The holy grail of the bible-thumpers would be to have the Supreme Court overturn Roe V. Wade so that these states could flat-out criminalize the option of any woman to abort her fetus. Supposedly, a woman that elects to have an abortion, and any doctor that performs this procedure, plus the nurse assisting that doctor, could all be sent to jail for felony murder. Think of almost 60 million women over the last 45 years that could be charged. They couldn’t build jails fast enough to house this growing felonious population.

Now with Trump some 40 odd days away from entering the Oval Office, this evangelical dream-of-dreams is about to become reality. Trump has already posted a list of potential anti-abortion judges, one of whom he will appoint to the currently open seat on the Supreme Court. After that Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who is in her mid-eighties, and a pancreatic cancer survivor, will likely retire from the Court giving Trump the ability to appoint another judge that would be willing to overturn the Court’s historic abortion ruling. The anti-abortion forces on the Court will then have sufficient numbers to reverse the evangelical despised Roe V. Wade decision. The dark forces of the middle ages will then be able to descend upon the land to snuff out any glimmer of enlightenment.

Of course, overturning RoeV.Wade won’t, in itself, criminalize a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. It will be left up to state legislatures to enact laws in their states that result in such action. It’s a virtual certainty, however, that such anti-abortion laws will quickly be legislated throughout the entire South and most of the Mid-West. You might think that this is not that big a deal since a woman in say Kansas, which has just outlawed abortion, can always fly to New York or California  to have the procedure performed. And this is true for a woman of means. But for a poor woman, who can’t afford the air fare and other travel expenses, this is not an option. And most abortions are performed on women too poor or too broken to be able to raise a child. Welcome to post-Trump America; better known as the new dark ages.

After abortion, the item most on evangelical minds is gay rights and especially gay marriage. If the bible-thumpers had their way, homosexuals would forced to return way back into the closet. There is still a lingering hope among “God’s people” that overtly gay behavior will no longer be tolerated in American society; and that, especially, gay marriage will be banned outright. And who knows? If Trump gets to appoint enough judges to the Supreme Court, that scenario could also materialize. You could then have the anti-abortion and anti-gay rights Feds and local police entering everyone’s bedrooms to assure that no disapproved social behavior or discussion is taking place. It would go hand-in-glove with the generally white supremacist thrust of the entire Trump campaign. The “alt-right” movement as it’s so benignly called, in lieu of fascism American-style. But I think that’s a whole other topic for another blog.

Some time during the recently concluded election contest, Trump made a campaign visit to Liberty University, the evangelical college run by Jerry Falwell Jr. During his speech to students and faculty, Trump, the great biblical scholar, referred to a section of the New Testament, as “Two Corinthians.” The proper heading for that sub-section, however, is “Second Corinthians.” Soon after, social media, and especially Twitter, lit up like a Christmas tree. One person wrote-“Two Corinthians go into a bar….” To me, that short post perfectly summed up the complete mendacity and phoniness of the entire Trump campaign. And remember, you better not be discussing with your mate the possibility of having an abortion, while lying in bed at night. Or engaging in any type of homosexual behavior. Because chances are, the Feds will be peeking in, once the age of Trump pervades over the land.

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DRINKING FROM THE POISONED WELL

One of the acknowledged foreign policy failures of the out-going Obama Administration was its inability bring peace between the Israelis and Palestinians, and with it, an independent, self-governing Palestinian homeland. It wasn’t for lack of trying, however. Early-on, Obama designated former senator and foreign-policy mediator George Mitchell to negotiate with both parties toward achieving that goal. But after nearly 8 years of fruitless negotiations, both sides are as far apart as they ever were. Which is primarily due to the continued unquenched thirst and resultant gulping of liquid from the poisoned well of bitterness, hatred, and acrimony by both Arab and Jew. And with virtually no prospects of any improvement in the foreseeable future. Thus, one of the hottest zones of instability and chaos on the surface of what we call Planet Earth, continues unabated.

One could go back thousands of years to the early biblical times of Abraham, who supposedly sired the beginners of both the Jewish and Arab nations, to search for the root causes of all this vitriol. Or, perhaps, a better starting point would be at the time when a Hebrew rabbi named Jesus walked the Earth, and Israel existed as a Jewish homeland, about 2000 years ago. That was also a time when Rome had conquered and occupied most of the western world, including Israel and the Mid-East. Which, in short order, caused the Israelites to become highly rebellious of living under the tyranny of a Roman dictatorship. Which, further caused the Roman Army to drive most of these rebellious Israelis out of their homeland, with the preponderance of Jews resettling in Europe. This, in turn, led to thousands of years of anti-semitic hatred and discrimination against European Jews, culminating with the Holocaust of the 20th century. It also resulted in the collapse of the State of Israel as a homeland for Jews. The void was filled by Arab Moslems who moved onto land formerly occupied by displaced Israelites.

After the horrors of WWII, including the slaughter of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust, the United Nations, with the United States and Russia, who were still allies, leading the way, agreed that Jews world-wide, deserved to be given back their homeland, as a refuge from further atrocities. The U.N. voted to recreate the State of Israel on its historic lands where world-wide Jews could migrate to if they so desired. Most European Jews, who, somehow, miraculously survived the Holocaust, did immigrate to the new State of Israel. The problem was, however, that over centuries of the Jewish Diaspora, Arab Moslems had moved onto lands previously occupied by displaced Jews. Creating a homeland for the Jews meant displacing most Arabs that had lived on Israeli land for centuries. Most went to neighboring Arab states such as Lebanon where they were forced to live in poverty-stricken camps, mostly in tents, with the barest essentials of food and water provided to them. It seemed that most Arab countries, for all their outrage over Palestinian displacement, were not eager to allow these same Palestinians to assimilate into their general populations.

Anger and outrage ran rampant among surrounding Arab nations to the point that they decided to immediately go to war with the new infant state of Israel. Crush the baby in its cradle before it could grow. But again, another miracle. The infant survived and defeated its Arab neighbors. The hostility among Arab countries only continued to become more virulent, however. A second war broke out in the 1960s, and again Israel defeated its opponents which consisted of Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. This time, however, Israel had captured the Arab occupied West Bank, which in the 1960s belonged to Jordan, and which had been discussed by world powers as becoming a separate Palestinian state, existing side-by-side with Israel. Yet a third Israeli-Arab war war was initiated in the 1970s, and for a third time the Arabs failed to crush the Jewish state. Finally, the Egyptian president at the time, Anwar Sadat, realized that enough was enough. Courageously, he made an historic trip to Israel, signed a peace treaty, and established diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. For his courageous peace initiative, however, he was soon assassinated by Islamic terrorists. Jordan, some time later, also made peace with Israel.

But peace within Israel was not to be. Palestinians sadly turned to terrorism in an attempt to drive the Jews out of Israel. The large number of serious attacks by Islamic terrorists against Israel and the resultant Israeli retaliations that have killed thousands and thousands of Jews and Arabs alike, are too numerous to mention here. They could fill an encyclopedia. Some of the more shocking ones were the murder of 11 Israeli athletes attending the Olympics being held in Germany in the 1970s, the murder of more than 30 school children in Northern Israel, the shelling of Israeli civilian population centers by the Hamas terror organization that controls the Palestinian Gaza strip, and quite recently, the murder of a 13 year-old Israeli girl by a young Palestinian that sneaked into her bedroom at night, and slit her throat while she was sleeping. The list goes on and on.

The Obama Administration’s diplomatic thrust for these 2 warring parties, has come to be known as the two-state solution. Establish an independent Palestinian state on the Israeli-occupied West Bank that would supposedly live in peace with Israel. But the reasons that just wouldn’t work could also fill an encyclopedia. First, Israel has established numerous settlements on the West Bank that house hundreds of thousands of Jews. They are protected by the Israeli Army. The Palestinians are never going to tolerate the existence of these Jewish encampments in their midst, and the Israeli government is disinclined to remove these settlers. Next, the Palestinians are insisting on the so-called right of return-the right of those Palestinians or their heirs, that were displaced in 1948 to return to their lands in Israel. That, of course, is also never going to happen. And so the beat goes on, as the stalemate based on out-right hate continues to dominate.

There is only one sane answer: a one-state solution combining Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza into one united country comprised of Moslems, Jews, and Christians. But, of course, that would require all parties to stop quenching their thirsts by drinking from the poisoned well of vitriol. To stop hating one another and start respecting the dignity of each others religious choices. A willingness to live in peace and harmony, instead of hate,  fear, and violence. Not likely to happen in the next succeeding generations. But perhaps through a process of evolution, it could occur over the next several hundred years. Or not.

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