Posts Tagged With: Democrats

THE FREAK SHOW

I had promised myself that I wouldn’t write about Trump at least until it was clear that he would become the Republican nominee. But the latest shenanigans going on in that continuing circus known as the Republican debates made it all too irresistible. The latest kerfuffle occurred when Trump, always seeking to travel the low road, questioned whether his nearest rival in the upcoming Iowa caucus, Ted Cruz, is really a legitimate citizen of the U.S. Seems that good ole Ted was born in Canada, but to an American mother. That Cruz is a U.S. citizen is undeniable. But the Constitution states that to run for president, one must be a “natural born citizen.” Since Ted was born in Canada, Trump claims that the Democrats could “sue” Cruz’s eligibility to sit behind the desk in the oval office, should he be the party’s nominee. Since mudslinging is the name of the game in Trump’s world, these phony allegations reminded me of the 2012 election when Trump based his attempted march to fame on the “birther” allegation that Barack Obama was not a naturally born U.S. citizen, i.e., that he was really born in Kenya. Didn’t work out too well for him back then, and likely won’t this time around too.

First a few observations. Canada practically is the U.S., and would have been if not for the seditious actions of Aaron Burr, back in the days of our founding fathers. Secondly, most legal scholars agree that Cruz meets the definition of a “natural born citizen” and that Trump’s allegations constitute a “red herring.” It also noteworthy that the Iowa “caucus” followed right after by the New Hampshire primary, have an outlandish influence in selecting 2 candidates, one of which will go on to become the most powerful person in the world. Iowa and New Hampshire combined, constitute 1.4% of the total U.S. population. Yet if one candidate sweeps both states, it gives him or her a powerful leg up, and lots of momentum in winning future primaries in the more populous regions of the country. Such is the irrational or insane method this country employs to select its presidential candidates. Any third or fourth world banana republic would be too ashamed to admit to this method of choosing their leaders. 

So Trump goes non-stop on Twitter bashing Ted Cruz, in an effort to tweet his way to the White House. The latest polls show the 2 of them in a dead heat in Iowa. Now, normally I would be the last person to come to Cruz’s defense, since he’s a right-wing whacko extraordinaire. He’s anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, and anti-gun control for openers. He’s also vociferously against government assistance to the poor, the sick, and the elderly. (If you’re poor, sick and old, you’re really up the creek without a paddle, in Cruz’s world.) He was instrumental in shutting down the government for 5 weeks in 2013, because he felt it was spending far too much on assistance for the disadvantaged. But, he’s also open and honest about his beliefs and priorities, such as they are, and doesn’t resort to mud-slinging demagoguery in order to achieve his goals. His views were largely shaped by his father, Rafael Cruz, who escaped from Castro’s Cuba, and equates all governments to the way the Castro brothers have ruled Cuba for the last 65 years. Rafael runs a mega-church in Texas, and has passed on his “all governments are tyrannical and godless” philosophy to son Ted who absorbed this type of thinking like a sponge.

Besides the bombastic, bullying Trump, and the far right, delusional Cruz, there’s a whole slew of Republican candidates eager for a shot at occupying the White House. There were originally 17 clowns on stage, and it’s now down to 13, I believe. But the only other candidate performing in these circus shows, that might have an outside chance at winning the nomination, is Marco Rubio. I’ve written about Rubio before; about his youth, good looks and even a dash of charisma, (unusual for a Republican.) There is no question that the young, handsome Marco would easily trounce the aging and highly damaged Hillary Clinton in a final showdown. The problem is that Rubio has run a rather lackluster campaign that has failed to energize most of the Republican base. He could easily win the election, but likely will not be able to secure the nomination. 

Then there are the also-rans like Jeb Bush. Bush used to be Governor of Florida but that was 8 years ago. Somehow Jeb believed that he could parlay the Bush family name into lining up big time cash donors that would buy the nomination and then the presidency for him. He did get the cash donors, but it’s not translating into potential votes in the upcoming primaries. Seems that the mostly disastrous  administration that brother George ran for 8 years, is still on voters minds. The thought of putting yet a third Bush in the Oval Office actually makes some people nauseous. There are also some of the longest of long-shots up on stage, hoping that lightening will somehow strike in their favor. For example, Chris Christie, Governor of New Jersey, believes he somehow has a chance. But it’s not going to to happen and he should stick to blogging about his favorite restaurants in New Jersey. If anyone knows food, it has to be Gov. Christie. And, of course, these circus performances would not be complete without the one woman in the Republican race, Carly Fiorina. She speaks well, and exhibits great poise and decorum. But many years ago, Carly used to be CEO of Hewlitt-Packard, and nearly ran that company into ground with her decision to acquire the Compaq computer company. She was promptly fired from her job because of that fiasco. Then not too long ago she ran for senator in California and was soundly defeated in that quest, primarily because she was vociferously anti-abortion in a very blue state. Put her odds for the nomination at about a thousand to one. And the beat goes on.

There will be many more circus performances to write about before the eventual outcome, which will likely culminate with a Trump nomination. Then look at all the fun I could have, writing about The Donald’s exploits and ensuing disasters. 

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THE DEMISE OF THE DEMOCRATS

After the 2008 election the Democratic Party seemed to have it all. It had just won the Presidency with the first black ever to occupy the Oval Office, and it had elected overwhelming majorities to both the House and Senate. They had a clear mandate to enact their main policy objectives that had been bottled up for so many years under the Bush Administration. Or so it seemed. What could possibly go wrong. In a word – everything. Now, the Democratic Party is barely hanging on by its fingernails, and faces further electoral disasters come 2016. So let us go back a few years into recent history and examine how the Democrats managed to paint themselves into this unfortunate corner.

In 2008, the Democratic Party made history by nominating a young, inexperienced Barack Obama to be its candidate for president. It was the first time either major party had nominated an Afro-American for the highest elected office in the land. Obama, however, had only been in the Senate for 4 years, and had no real significant accomplishments. Prior to that he was a law professor. The inexperience shone through as he made a number of rookie mistakes during the campaign. The Republicans chose veteran John McCain, whom the polls indicated was reasonably ahead all summer long and into early September, and would likely coast to victory if circumstances remained the same. Of course, as we well know, they did not. The cracks in our economic wall began to grow ever wider, with the wall finally collapsing under a torrent of dismal economical news. The highly inflated housing bubble, along with the derivatives associated with that bubble began disintegrating. Lehman Brothers, a huge Wall Street financial giant, and a holder of much of these types of housing derivatives and other worthless securities was forced to go bankrupt because the Federal Reserve refused to bail them out, as it had with done other Wall Street enterprises. With the collapse of Lehman, financial panic came flooding in as stocks and bonds and other commercial paper plunged in value, almost over night. Companies started going out of business, the unemployment rate skyrocketed, and the housing market collapsed with large numbers of people being “underwater” on their mortgages. Some economists claim that the U.S. economy was just inches away from total disaster which would have included huge bank failures with people not having access to their accounts. Perhaps those that stuffed their life savings into their mattresses might have been immune.

Of course, when the economy goes south, the party in power takes the blame. In this case it was George W. Bush and the Republicans. With a tidal wave of bad economic news spreading over the landscape, the Democrats rode to impressive victories in 2008, and their future as being the dominant force in government seemed impenetrable. But, human nature being as it is, a huge victory often leads to hubris, which, in turn, sows the seeds of inevitable reversal and defeat. The Democrats main policy goal, at that time, was the enactment of universal health care legislation, which no previous president had been able to achieve. So, after much gnashing of teeth, the Democrats finally passed the Affordable Health Care Act, better known as Obamacare, which was neither affordable nor universal. The act was so cumbersome and distasteful to so many Americans, that the Democrats already began sustaining huge losses during the 2010 Congressional elections.

The problem with Obamacare is that it focused on providing health insurance to almost everyone, instead of providing health CARE for all. Once Congress became enmeshed in the insurance markets, it guaranteed there would be unbelievable complexity and dysfunction. Instead of trying to navigate through the details of insurance policies, Congress could have merely extended Medicare to everyone, and paid for that with a modest value-added tax on most products. No applications to process on-line, no forms to fill out. If you got sick, you would go to the doctor of your choice, who in turn would submit his form to the government for reimbursement. Have a toothache, visit your favorite dentist for treatment, who would likewise seek reimbursement from the government. That way, if you liked your doctor, you could really keep your doctor. But that would have been too smart and uncomplicated; virtues not in possession of most politicians.

The albatross of Obamacare continues to weigh heavily on Democrats. Obama did win re-election in 2012, but that was mainly due to Mitt Romney’s incompetence, and his ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. In 2014, however, the Democrats suffered huge losses at the polls, and are now the minority party in both houses of Congress. The Democrats further extended their losing streak to state elections. There are now Republican governors in 32 states, and most state legislatures are in GOP hands as well. Only 18 states have Democratic governors. The mood of the populace, and the election tidal wave seems to be flowing red. So now, a year and a half from the next presidential election in 2016, I’m going to make a flat-out prediction. I’m going to predict that Marco Rubio, Republican senator from Florida will be the next President of the United States.

The Democrats, once again, operating with colossal ineptitude and incompetence, have put all their eggs in Hillary Clinton’s basket. The problem is, that Hillary possesses so much political baggage from dubious schemes from her Arkansas days in the 1980s, to the whole Monica Lewinsky fiasco of the 1990s, to her time as Secretary of State when 4 Americans were murdered in Libya, including our Ambassador, in the 2000s, to the latest flare-up about her using a private server to process government e-mails while Secretary, that I don’t believe she’s electable. Plus the fact that at 69, Mrs. Clinton is showing her age. Not to be unkind, but the way Hillary appears in her later years is no match for the appearance of the youthful, handsome, smiling and friendly Rubio. He may not have a lot of charisma, (what Republican does), but he’s friendly enough to exhibit some degree of charm.

When men age, even if they look like beasts, it’s only to be expected. Everyone knows that down deep, all men are animals. So if they look the part, who cares? But if women begin to lose their beauty as they age, it does become a big deal. It’s the good old double standard, and it will work well to Rubio’s advantage. Unfortunately, the Democrats appear not to have a viable candidate outside of Hillary. If she goes down in flames, the Democratic Party will be on the verge of implosion. Perhaps they can convince New Jersey Governor Chris Christie to convert to being a Democrat and nominate him in 2016. It might save the party from total destruction. I’ll have more to say on this topic next time. Stay tuned.

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TALK RADIO

Most of you are probably unaware that there used to exist in radio and TV land something called the “Fairness Doctrine.” This was a rule established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and applied to all companies seeking licenses to broadcast on radio and TV. The rule required that TV and radio stations holding FCC issued licenses be required to devote some of their broadcast time to controversial issues of public importance. It also required that equal time be devoted to both sides of, say, a political controversy. For example, if a Rush Limbaugh type ranted for an hour on the radio demonizing liberals and Democrats; another hour had to be set aside for some one to talk in favor of the liberal position, and in turn castigate conservatives and Republicans. Broadcasters were required to  actively determine the full spectrum of views on any given issue, and to present those people best suited toward representing both sides being discussed. Additionally the rule required that broadcasters alert any public figure of the fact that they, or their views were being attacked on the air; and allow them equal time to rebut those accusations. The “Fairness Doctrine” originated back in 1927, and was further strengthened in 1949 with the advent of commercial television. It had thus been around for quite some time as we headed into the 1980s; and it seemed to work reasonably well.

Come the Reagan era in the 1980s, the “Fairness Doctrine” was increasingly being challenged in the courts as being an infringement on the first amendment’s constitutional right to freedom of speech. The FCC began to reconsider this rule in the mid-1980s, after Congress passed a resolution expressing its disapproval. The FCC then revoked the rule in 1987, and, thereby, opened the floodgates of what is called “talk radio” in present day vernacular. Democrats were completely clueless as to the havoc that dissolving the “Fairness Doctrine” would wreck on their political fortunes and aspirations. But without the requirement of having to broadcast both sides of all controversial or political issues, the door was open to any looney-tunes, crackpot with a reasonably good speaking voice, and the ability to master the art of demagoguery. The first one on the scene was Rush Limbaugh, who until the late 1980s, was basically a small time radio sports and news broadcaster. But with the “Fairness Doctrine” gone, Rush, ever the opportunist, realized “thar was gold in them thar hills” of bashing and demonizing Democrats and progressives. With demagogic skills approaching that of a Josef Goebbels, (if you don’t know who he is, look it up in your Funk&Wagnalls), Rush developed a loyal audience of millions tuning in every day to get their 3 hours of first Clinton and then Obama demonization. When a Republican became President, such as George W. Bush, Rush’s format would switch to protective coating of each dumb decision they made, such as the Government’s response to Hurricane Katrina, or the whole Iraqi invasion fiasco. But, as I’ve said, millions bought his drivel, which made Rush a very, very wealthy man.

Not long after, other opportunists such as Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, Bill O’Reilly, Ann Coulter and hosts of other Rush wannabes joined the right-wing whacko parade, each seeking to outdo the others in demonizing what they consider to be their political enemies. Using, perhaps 5-10% fact, and 90-95% fiction, each uses the same basic format steeped in demagoguery to make a good living off the gullibility of millions of adherents. One such lunatic deserves special mention, because even the lunatic-fringe considers him too unhinged to be allowed recognition in polite society. His name is Michael Wiener; but he changed it to Michael Savage, and hosts a radio program called the “Savage Nation.” After all, I guess the Wiener Nation wouldn’t sound quite so fearsome. In any event, his bellicose rantings against Obama, the Democrats, liberals, minorities, environmentalists, etc. are so vile and hate-filled that Great Britain has put him on a list banning him from entry into their country. The other names on this British list are known terrorists, serial killers, or recognized criminals. He’s the only one on that list that talks on the radio for a living. Yet, we, in this country, allow him freedom of the airways to spread his filth and poison. Ain’t democracy wonderful.

The most disturbing aspect of all this, is not the fact that there are so many unhinged lunatics freely pounding away on the radio, and TV also, (Fox News.) The most disturbing aspect is that millions of Americans are not only rabid fans of all this right-wing drivel, but apparently can’t get through their days without listening to a steady stream of such demagogic lunacy. One might say, to be fair, that there are also left-wing zealots on the radio and TV airwaves. That may be true; but apparently they can’t perform nearly as well as the right-wingers do, and no prominent name stands out on the left side of the spectrum.

So why does all this matter in current day realtime. Because Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage and all their wannabes are basically shills for the Republican Party. Republican fortunes over the past 25 years have improved vastly, in no large part due to these right-wing broadcasts on talk radio. Tomorrow we have an election coming up, in which all the pundits have predicted that the GOP will win the Senate and increase their majority in the House. To say nothing of electing more Governors and state legislators. We’ll have a total Republican Congress that basically despises President Obama, and Democrats in general. Won’t life be fun then. Look for lots of Government shutdowns, as well as more extreme hyper-partainship, polarization and dysfunction. One might be well advised to examine how we painted ourselves into this corner in the first place.

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AMERICA’S FAUX DEMOCRACY

In 1931, humorist, vaudeville performer, and radio personality, Will Rogers made the following statement: “Congress is so strange; a man gets up to speak and says nothing; nobody listens; and then everybody disagrees.” And he must have been peering into the future when he also made the statement that: “America has the best politicians that money can buy.” I wonder what he would have thought of the dysfunctional, hyper-partisonship that exists in Congress at the present time. We could use someone with the wit and humor of a Will Rogers to cope with our ongoing destructive political system that is virtually non-functioning in the year 2014. I bring this up now because the elections for many Governors, Congressmen and women, Senators, etc. takes place in a mere 2 weeks from tomorrow. For those of you that believe that election time shows that we have a real democracy in this country- all I can say is – how quaint, how deliciously naive that thinking is. An examination of the facts might disabuse you of that notion.

The first thing to realize is that election results in this country are mostly decided by the people that fail to show up at the voting booth, rather than those that take the time to cast their ballots. In a presidential election year, perhaps 55%-60% of eligible voters might show up at the polls. In a non-presidential election year, however, such as 2014, only about 40%-45% bother to vote. The rest are too busy keeping up with the Kardashians. This year all the pollsters are predicting large Republican gains in both the House and Senate. It is universally predicted that the GOP will take control of the Senate so that both houses of Congress will be under Republican domination. The reason- Republicans are much more motivated to vote against anything Barack Obama stands for, and that, of course, includes voting against Democratic candidates. On the other hand, it appears that most minority voters, including blacks, Latinos, and Asians  who turned out in such large numbers in 2008 and 2012 to elect Obama to the presidency twice, will mostly stay home this year. It seems they’re quite disappointed with the way events have turned out under Democratic leadership. Without an especially heavy turnout of blacks and hispanics, Democratic prospects this year are doomed. A classic example of how the non-voting public, which will be a majority of the population this year, determines election outcomes. In Australia, all eligible voters are required by law, to cast their ballots in each election. After all, isn’t that each citizen’s civic duty? A similar law in this country might improve the democratic process we’re supposed to have, but really don’t.

Next up is the considerable role that money plays in the voting process. The hit Broadway show, “Cabaret,” has a song that says “money makes the world go around,” and this is especially true in the political arena. Anyone with political aspirations from dog-catcher on up to president, knows that it will take huge cash infusions to make that goal come true. Multi-millionaires and billionaires continue to pour heavy donations into their favorite political candidate’s coffers, which then buys all those obnoxious and annoying political ads we’re subjected to on television during each election season. Sadly, too many people base their voting decisions on these ads which are at best a collection of half-truths, outright lies, and pure bunk. I wonder if our founding fathers envisioned that the election system, which is supposedly the heart of the democratic process, would turn out in this fashion. Most of these rich donors usually pour their cash into the Republican kitty; but the Democrats have a few rich partisans too. Whichever candidate can out spend his or her opponent usually wins the election. In fact, political cash intakes are often an end-game in itself. Each week, reports come out about which party is ahead in collecting the most donations. The winner usually gets the prize of buying the desired public office. All of this could be obviated if voters ignored all political advertising. and did their own research in deciding who to vote for. But, good luck with that scenario ever taking place.

Another factor in our so-called democratic process is voter suppression. It didn’t take long for those controlling our political system to realize that if they could prevent people who are likely to vote for the opposing party, from voting in the first place, that would be the key to winning elections. In olden days, almost every Southern state had enacted poll tax and written exam legislation, that effectively prevented most blacks and poor whites from casting ballots. That legislation was finally overturned, but the devious will always find alternative methods to achieve their goals. Today voter suppression takes the form of voter ID legislation that has been enacted in almost every state controlled by Republicans-the so-called red states. Since many poor blacks and hispanics, who usually vote Democratic, often lack picture ID, they are denied the right to cast a ballot. Sadly, the Supreme Court has upheld most of these voter ID laws, which have effectively kept the red states redder than ever. So much for democratic principles.

There are, of course, other anti-democratic traditions on-going in this country. The electoral college, which is comprised of 535 men and women, out of a U.S. population of about 312 million, gets to decide who the president will be. Al Gore found this out the hard way in the year 2000, when he was elected president by popular vote, but the electoral college gave the office to George Bush. The fact that elections take place on a Tuesday, when most people have to go to work or school; and in November when there is likely to be rotten weather in most northern states also suppresses voter turnout. I wrote a previous piece on how much saner it would be to hold elections in the good weather of September or early October, and on the weekend when most people are home. Other examples abound but I think you’re getting the picture.

So like a faux handbag, or a faux Rolex timepiece, America’s supposed democratic process looks real- until one examines it up close.

 

 

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A HOUSE DIVIDED

In 1858, in a speech Abe Lincoln gave before a Republican convention that would nominate him for the Illinois Senate race, (an election he would lose, by the way), Lincoln proclaimed the following phrase that would live in history: “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” He was, of course, talking about the issue of slavery which had so polarized the country, that civil war would break out almost immediately after he was elected President 2 years later. A civil war that would claim the lives of over 600,000 Americans, or the equivalent of 6 million with today’s population. The 1858 Senatorial race was between Lincoln and his Democratic opponent Stephen Douglas who would win the election, and it resulted in the famous Lincoln/Douglas debates, which were mostly about the slavery issue. The same 2 squared off for the presidency 2 years later, and as we all know, Lincoln was the victor in that campaign. The relevance to today’s landscape, however, is that this country is more polarized and divided, as well as mired in dysfunction, as it has been at any time since those historical events more than 150 years ago. So let us examine the different ways that the country is split into ever growing fault lines.

Let’s start with the difference between rural and city life in America, today. That’s relevant because voters in small town America tend to vote heavily for Republicans, while metropolitan areas vote Democratic almost as heavily. That Red State-Blue State thingy. It all comes down to a question of values. People living in rural, small town-America tend to be more religious and self-protectionist. It’s a matter of tradition. Bibles and guns are the mainstay of most people living in the country-side. They have been raised to believe in a literal translation of both the old and new testaments, and no force on Earth can shake the foundations of those beliefs. Of course gay marriage should be prohibited since homosexuality is a sin. It says so, loud and clear, in the bible. Likewise, all abortions should be banned, since only God can take a human life. (Although, interestingly, all these anti-abortionists seem to have no trouble with the government executing criminals.) And it’s rather difficult to pinpoint a biblical passage that strictly forbids abortions. Not that any of that matters, since most religious beliefs come from sermons being preached in churches across the nation by priests that apparently have an insider’s pipeline to God’s desires.

As for the guns part of bibles and guns-wasn’t Jesus packing heat when he gave his famous sermon on the mount. Besides, doesn’t everyone know that our immoral, communistic, atheistic government would throw us all into concentration camps without hesitation, if we didn’t maintain our own guns. And not just a handgun, but an entire arsenal of weaponry. So goes the thinking over much of rural America. Such are the beliefs that one in indoctrinated with while growing up in this country environment. Young people being raised in this setting, if they are sharper, more industrious, and more ambitious, will often leave these small towns for metropolitan areas where they have much greater economic, cultural, and entertainment opportunities. Those that stay behind are usually more content to lead the same lives as their parents did, and inherit the same set of doctrines and dogma. Thus, the Republican Party, which goes out of its way to cater to religious evangelicals, or bible thumpers, as I would call them, reaps the lion’s share of the vote in rural America.

Living in big cities almost forces people to become more tolerant. While rural America is almost solidly white, metropolitan areas usually consist of a mix of whites, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Moslems, Jews, etc. Gays are just as likely to be living in the apartment next to yours as are heterosexuals. If one is to live well in big city life, the dogma of demonizing homosexuals, or other religions or races, or women having an abortion, necessarily must become a thing of the past. Hence, city dwellers become less attached the the religious dogma they may have been raised with, and increasingly become more secular and more tolerant. They will then mostly vote for Democrats who are more in tune with their secular beliefs.

One can also look at the great political divide in this country as between white men and the rest of the populace. White men (and often married white women) tend to vote mostly Republican, because they feel their privileged status in American society is being taken away from them. With black, Hispanic and Asian populations seemingly on the increase, older white men and women believe that a time will come in the not too distant future, when they will no longer be able to call the shots. Then all these minorities will become the dominant voting bloc, which, in turn, will greatly increase government handouts and welfare payments to people too lazy and shiftless to fend for themselves. Or so goes their thinking. Thus, the GOP, which is continually trying to significantly cut the food stamp program, housing assistance, or health insurance benefits, is the party for them. Democrats tend to exhibit more empathy for for minorities or those in need of financial help. This doesn’t sit well with the current white majority.

The thing about our current political divide is that it is increasingly hardening. Less and less is there any room for political compromise, or a meeting of the minds. In this November’s election, if the GOP gains control of both the House and the Senate, with a liberal Democrat in the White House, today’s dysfunction and polarization will seem like a minor spat between family members. And all political pundits are predicting that Republicans will win big time. Then we will truly become a house divided against itself, as Lincoln warned 150 years ago. And we all know how well that turned out last time.

 

 

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HOW FAR CAN WE FALL?

The answer to that question is -a lot further than most people realize. I suppose it’s human nature to take the constitutional freedoms we possess,  and the political process that ensures those freedoms, for granted. Most of the under developed nations of the world have no such process and are, therefore, in a constant state of turmoil. Look no further than recent events in Egypt, where a 30 year military dictatorship was replaced by an attempt at constitutional government, resulting in a freely elected president. However, the man elected was attempting to establish an Islamic dictatorship, which would result in the dissolution of all constitutional liberties that had been recently established. When the people rose up in protest, the Islamist president was then overthrown and replaced by a new military dictatorship. Back to square one; but the Egyptian people are probably better off with their new rulers.

In any event, as I’ve said, most people take the political process established in this country for granted. A full 40% or more of eligible voters can’t be bothered to take the time out to vote in a presidential election. That figure rises to near 60% in non-presidential elections. We assume that the political system we have in place will always be there, even if we’re not paying attention. Duly elected future presidents would never dream of suspending all further elections as well as civil liberties, would they? The way Hitler did in Nazi Germany, which had been a functioning constitutional democracy until he became Chancellor. I guess most Germans weren’t pay close attention either, at the time. In fact, we can thank George Washington for the fact that we have a constitutional election process in the first place. Our founding fathers wanted to establish a monarchy with Washington as king, until George nixed that idea.

This is kind of a long preamble to get to the point I really wanted to make, of how low we’ve sunk in our national election system. This past week the Chairman of the Republican Party sent off an angry missive to TV stations NBC and CNN, because both stations were in the early phases of developing documentaries about the life of Hillary Clinton. How dare these stations, said the Chairman, consider programming anything that might be seen as favorable to Hillary’s chances of winning the presidency in 2016. Threatening blackmail and other dastardly deeds, the GOP said the 2 stations must stop these projects dead in their tracks, immediately. Even though they are in the earliest stages of script writing, and no one knows exactly how the documentaries will turn out. To me, this represents a new low in political mudslinging and thuggery.

Now the GOP knows that its fiscal policies of trickle-down-economics, tax cuts for the rich, and slashing Government assistance to the poor, the sick, and the elderly  doesn’t sit that well with large parts of the electorate. Couple that with its social agenda of anti-abortion, anti-gay rights, anti-immigration, and anti-gun control, and one can see how the Republicans have a problem in winning over a majority of the electorate. So to compensate, Republicans engage heavily in the politics of personal destruction and demonization. Democrats try that too; but they’re far more inept and incompetent at it than Republicans. With Democrats it’s like amateur night versus highly professional Republicans when the politics of personal destruction are employed. For example, early in the 2008 primary season, when it appeared Hillary Clinton would easily win the Democratic nomination against an unknown, black Senator from Illinois with the peculiar name of Barack Obama, the GOP mud-slinging machine kicked into hi-gear. It already started printing up bumper-stickers that said: “Monica Lewinski’s Ex-Boyfriend’s Wife For President.” You can expect the same treatment if she’s dumb enough to run for president again. With all the grief she had to endure when Bill was President, and being in her late sixties by 2016, one would think that the Oval Office would be the last place she’d want to spend her remaining years. But, I guess, one never knows.

Being president these days means having to cope with a government mired in dysfunction and polarization. The greatest amount of polarization since the Civil War. Congress is currently on its month-long vacation for all of August. It’s recuperating from the enormous burdens of having to put in 3-day work weeks,  (Tuesday thru Thursday) at least 2 or 3 times a month. Who can cope with such stress? When it returns sometime after Labor Day, Republicans will try mightily to defund Obamacare and further slash social spending. House Republicans are threatening not to pass a fiscal 2014 budget, or raise the debt-ceiling unless those objectives prevail. The President, of course, will refuse to go along with defunding his signature piece of legislation. So look for a government shutdown after September 30, similar to the one that occurred in 1995. That’s when House Republicans led by GOP firebrand Newt Gingrich, refused to fund government operations unless deep spending cuts were made to Medicare. President Bill Clinton refused, and the government was shut down for 3 weeks before Gingrich finally budged. I can foresee a similar scenario occurring this year, perhaps resulting in an even lengthier government closure.

Perhaps it’s the nature of the human condition to see great civilizations rise to the apex, and then slowly crumble. Many social prognosticators have already proclaimed that America’s best days are behind her. There are those that trace the start of America’s downhill decline to the time a dingbat like Sarah Palin became prominent in American politics. But I would go back further to 1960. In the waning days of his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower warned the American people about the undue influence and power accruing to the military-industrial complex. He warned that if left unchecked, such power could destroy America from within. Coming from a 5-star general, it was a warning to be heeded. But America generally ignored what Ike had to say, and the chickens are coming home to roost. Like bloated $700 billion a year Defense budgets, and unwise American entanglements in all kinds of foreign escapades.

As I’ve said, perhaps it’s our destiny to fall after we’ve accumulated such vast power. For those of you interested, you might want to compare America’s history with the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. It’s eerily similar. Those of you that have great fortitude and patience can learn more by reading British author Edward Gibbon’s classic, six volume work called “The Decline and Fall of The Roman Empire.” Because we seem to be trudging along the same path as the ancient Romans. So how far can we fall? All the way to the bottom. In the meantime, it wouldn’t hurt to pay greater attention to the political process.

 

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OVER THE FISCAL CLIFF WE GO

By now you should have all heard about the “fiscal cliff” and how we are about to plunge over it, if Congress does not act by around Christmastime. Lots of luck with that. The fiscal cliff came into being in August 2011. The voters, in their infinite wisdom during the November 2010 elections, elected  a Democratic majority in the Senate, but a Republican majority in the House of Representatives. Most of the newly elected House members were Tea Party stalwarts, with a supposed mandate to sharply reduce Government spending by cutting the budget. Then, in July of 2011, a piece of legislative idiocy known as the debt-ceiling had to be raised in order for the Government to go on functioning. The debt-ceiling, which is not stipulated anywhere in the Constitution, mandates that the Government cannot borrow anymore money above an amount previously designated by Congress, unless Congress passes a new law designating an increased amount of debt. I know that this is utter nonsense that attempts to appeal to voters who otherwise are not paying attention to the machinations of the way things get done in Washington, but this nonsense is codified in statute.

So, if any of you haven’t fallen asleep yet, I’ll plow on with more explanation of how Congress functions on the taxpayers dime. Thus, back in July 2011, if the debt-ceiling wasn’t going to be raised on Government spending, where 40 cents out of every dollar spent had to be borrowed, it would have meant that major components of the Government would have to be shut down, and Federal employes sent home with no paycheck. It would have meant missed social security or medicare payments, as well as failure to pay Defense and other Government contractors. It would have meant that if you had payed for a trip to any of our national parks, such as Yellowstone or Yosemite, (over 300 million people visit our national parks every year) you were out-of-luck since park personnel would have been sent home, and the parks closed. You get the picture. But catastrophic or not, House Republicans vowed they would not go along with raising the debt-ceiling unless the Obama administration agreed to drastic cuts in Federal spending to begin January 2013, as well as renewal of the Bush tax cuts through the end of 2012. Otherwise the Government would be shuttered, starting August 2, 2011. Just before midnight on August 1, Obama caved, and agreed to all the Republican demands, and the Government was allowed to stay in business through the end of 2012.

By now, those of you that haven’t fallen asleep are probably propping open your eyelids with toothpicks, but, hey, I didn’t make the rules whereby the Government functions in all its splendor. So now we are in December 2012 and the “fiscal cliff” which sounds a lot better than “congressional stupidity” is about to befall us in just a few weeks. If the Administration and Congress can’t come to an agreement, the Bush tax cuts expire, and taxes go up for nearly everyone. This will be noticed immediately in reduced paychecks due to increased tax withholding. Automatic budget cuts will take effect, including a $50 billion annual cut in Defense spending. This has a lot of  Republicans all upset, since spending on military hardware and troops is the holy grail for conservatives. As if the Defense budget was funded by the money tree that grows in the Pentagon courtyard. Small Defense contractors, heavily concentrated in the Washington DC suburbs of Northern Virginia and Maryland, are claiming that they will have to close their businesses should these Defense cuts be allowed to take place. Other non-Defense contractors are also claiming they will have to reduce payrolls or shutter their companies, causing more unemployment and further weakening an already tepid economy. And so it goes, on and on.

President Obama is willing to reinstate the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, except the wealthiest 2% of the population. For them, (couples earning over $250,000) the marginal tax rates would go up 4.6% on earnings after $250,000. Which is where they were during the Clinton years. Yet Republicans are absolutely not willing to accept 98% of the loaf. They are insisting that it has to be either the entire 100% of the loaf, or no bread at all. After all, doesn’t everyone know that a small marginal tax increase on the richest 2% of Americans will cause an irreparable breach in the very space-time fabric of the universe. A breach that can never be healed and will eventually cause the universe to crumble into a heap of ashes. That, in effect is the Republican position on income taxes, and they’re not budging from it.

The Republicans also want to overhaul social security and medicare to lower their costs, both of which are unquestionably breaking the budget. In this instance, it’s the Republicans that are facing up to reality, and the Democrats that are being irrationally stubborn in refusing to come forward with reform plans that are clearly necessary for those 2 giant entitlement programs. Raising the eligibility age for both programs to 67, and eventually to 70, would make them solvent overnight. And such action would be completely justified because the life span of Americans has significantly increased since these programs were enacted. So there you have it- the GOP won’t budge on on a tax increase for the rich, and the Democrats are just as stubborn on reforming social security and medicare. If both parties hold to their positions we go over the fiscal cliff come January.

Awhile back I wrote a piece on the failures and dysfunctions of democracy, and democratic forms of government in general. I pointed out that Winston Churchill had said that democracy was the worst form of government, (except for all the others that have ever been tried.) And now with this extreme polarization among the ruling parties in this country, dysfunction has never been more clearly highlighted. I believe that members of both parties become highly agitated just at the thought of having to compromise with the other side. Thus, we appear to be stalemated. My feeling is, that at the last minute, some sort of agreement will be reached preventing our plunge over the fiscal cliff. Or not.

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AFTERTHOUGHTS

The fact that Barack Obama edged out a narrow victory in this election was nothing short of a minor miracle. The last time a president won re-election with an unemployment rate near 8% was in 1936. Then there’s the fact that the country is bleeding red ink with annual trillion plus dollars of budget deficits, and a combined overall red-ink tab exceeding $16 trillion. Let us also not forget that the entire economy is one step away from being on life-support as it barely limps along from one month to the next; and the real estate market, is for the most part, still in the dumpster, with housing prices still well below par, amid a continuing rate of foreclosures. On the international front, the recent fiasco in Libya, where the ambassador and 3 of his aides were murdered by terrorists because of a failure to provide adequate protection, would normally be enough sink any presidential candidate’s hopes. Then there’s Iran on the very cusp of developing nuclear bombs as they defy our puny attempts to shut down their nuclear capabilities, and the risks posed by the growing military strength of China and Russia which we also can’t stop. Although in China’s case, they’re really isn’t much of a risk since they own over a trillion dollars of our debt which would suddenly become worthless should they try any funny staff. To say nothing of the fact that we are such a lucrative market for them to dump their shlock goods on. The clothing aisles in Wal-Mart would be barren if not for cheap Chinese imports.

So how did Obama pull off this miracle. Certainly not by getting the white male vote which went to Romney by 20 points. But Obama achieved a 12 point plurality in receiving the white female vote, mainly because of the Republican’s almost fanatical anti-abortion position. Romney could have significantly cut into Obama’s lead among women had been willing to utter just one sentence such as: “If elected, I will NOT appoint a justice to the Supreme Court that would vote to overturn Roe V. Wade.” With that one statement, Romney would have likely siphoned off enough women’s votes to give him the election. But he couldn’t make himself do it, mainly out fear that his base of white evangelicals (read religious fanatics) would be so turned off by such a statement that he would lose their votes. A false assumption, as it were, since these people would never, under any circumstance, vote for Obama. The rest of the coalition that Democrats were able to stitch together, was comprised of young people under 30, and minority groups such as Latinos, African-Americans and Asians. The GOP, after all these years, has made relatively little effort to secure votes from these groups, and it cost them heavily.

About 95% of the black vote went to Obama, understandably, given the pride blacks felt in seeing one of their own in the Oval Office. But where Romney really lost the election was among Hispanic voters that went for Obama by an incredible 71%. They were the key element in several swing states such as Florida, Colorado, New Mexico, and my own state, Nevada. All of these states went for Obama, albeit by narrow margins provided by the Latino vote. Back in the fun days of the Republican debates, each of those crazy kids up on stage were out to prove their anti-illegal immigration chops by trying to out-do each in how tough they would be on that subject. One of the main goals of the Tea-Party movement, in addition to slashing Government spending, was to stop illegal-immigration in its tracks, and deport as many illegals as possible. In those heady days, it was thought that Republican success at the polls was highly dependent on currying favor with Tea-Partiers, and Romney was no exception. During one of the debates, Romney, again trying to show how tough his anti-illegal stance was, made the curious statement that anyone here illegally should self-deport him or herself back to Mexico. (Like that would ever happen.) It seems that upon hearing that, Hispanics were not in a very forgiving mood, and as I said, 71% voted against the Republican candidate. Asians, because they were experiencing the lowest rate of unemployment among any voting bloc, also went heavily for Obama. Altogether, blacks, hispanics and asians comprised more than 25% of the votes cast, and further illustrated the GOP’s continuing problems with minorities.

There is one more factor I feel is significant, and that is Romney’s inability to connect, on a personal level, with the average man and woman. Almost all of us go through life with feelings of anxiety, inadequacy, weakness, fear, anger issues, depression at times, and even a sense of personal failure, etc., although we may not admit or show these feelings to the rest of the world (except maybe to a psychologist, if you have the money.) Is there anyone out there that has not had some or all of these feelings from time to time. But not Mitt Romney. He was born rich, handsome and smart. He was an honor student in high school and college, which, by the way, was Harvard. After graduating college, he plowed through the world of finance without a setback. He eventually become boss in a huge venture capital operation and earned hundreds of millions of dollars. He has a picture perfect marriage and 5 sons that any parent would die for. And he wears these incredibly successful life experiences like a suit of armor that cannot be penetrated by the slings and arrows of any possible misfortune. No self-doubt or feelings of inadequacy there. If there is any chink in Mitt Romney’s armor, it’s the fact that there are no chinks in his armor.

Who can identify with such a person? The guy behind the counter at your local 7-11?  The truck  driver that has driven hundreds of miles to his destination, and now has to schlep all the heavy boxes he was carrying off the truck? Has anyone, in the history of mankind, ever led a more perfect life? I kind of doubt it. All this abundance has shown thru in the hugely self-confident way that Romney conducts and projects himself. Not that Obama hasn’t also led a privileged life. But Obama goes to great lengths to identify with the average person. He openly roots for the Chicago White Sox. He makes his picks well-known for the NCAA college basketball finals, known as March Madness. He takes his girls to local ice cream stores or hamburger joints in Washington. But Romney’s life has been so perfect that he is just unable to make a personal connection with his fellow citizens. In the end, I believe this went a long way toward crushing his dreams of sitting in the Oval Office.

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THE BETTER SALESMAN

So all the conventions and hoopla are over and the race for President has started in earnest. Watching the rapt attention that convention delegates gave to their leaders’ speeches, one could see the adoration of the true believers that I’ve written about previously, and the blind trust they had that their guy, if elected, will truly transform life on this planet, and make it so much better for all of us. Now the race for the the White House goes into full throttle, and in the end it will likely be the better salesman who also has the most cash, that winds up sitting in the oval office. The one that can more effectively sell his visions and promises for America’s future, most of which, of course, will never come true. And by the way, is everyone enjoying those mean-spirited and nasty TV commercials blasting away at the other side with at least 95% fiction. They’re only going to increase in volume and viciousness over the next 8 weeks. In any event, I thought it would be useful to summarize what each party has politically accomplished over the years to improve our society, so that we don’t have to rely on those fictitious ads in deciding who to vote for. Lets start with the Democrats.

When Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933 the great depression was in full swing, and the unemployment rate topped 25%. Tens of millions of people had just about lost all hope for a better future, or that anyone could help them, least of all, their Government. Roosevelt quickly ushered in the New Deal, which marked the first time in our history that a Government stated objective would be to play an active role regarding the economic welfare of its citizens. The New Deal created the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration which together put millions of unemployed back to work and receiving a paycheck. Also created was Social Security, which for the first time established a federal pension system for the elderly. Other accomplishments of the New Deal were laws establishing the rights of workers to legally form unions and strike if necessary; unemployment insurance so people out-of-work wouldn’t necessarily starve or become homeless; workman’s compensation for employees injured on the job; the creation of the Securities and Exchange Commission to oversee Wall Street stock and bond trading which led to the depression in the first place through excessive speculation, and much more. Perhaps Roosevelt’s greatest accomplishment, however, was the establishment of a decisive federal role in the welfare and economy of our country.

Fast forward now to 1961 when John Kennedy took office. Though Kennedy’s term was tragically cut short by his assassination, he began the long march toward equality for all Americans, and especially black people who were denied basic civil rights, mostly in the South. Segregation laws throughout the South were increasingly being challenged, sometimes violently, as some civil rights protestors lost their lives during demonstrations. Blacks were often denied the right to vote through most of the South, and JFK pushed for a voting rights law which came to fruition in 1964 under Lyndon Johnson, after Kennedy lost his life in November 1963. (Interestingly, southern states justified their racial and voting rights discrimination laws on the basis of “states rights,” i.e., the federal government had no constitutional right to interfere with how individuals states governed their citizens. Not unlike tea party members of today screaming that the federal government has no role in the welfare of the people. Only the states do. As the old adage goes: the more things change, the more they stay the same.) As I mentioned LBJ brought the voting rights bill to success in 1964, and for the first time, blacks were able to vote in large numbers. Once that occurred, formal segregation, or Jim Crow laws began to crumble, and blacks throughout the country, after a hundred years of semi-slavery since the end of the Civil War, began to enjoy the freedom of equality.

LBJ’s accomplishments didn’t end with passage of the voting rights act. Working with a largely Democratic Congress, he was able to enact two major health care laws, Medicare for the elderly, and Medicaid for the poor. Also established were food stamps for the poor, which currently puts food on the table for over 45 million Americans. Even the most rabid anti-government types are fearful of advocating reversal of these acts. Unfortunately, LBJ allowed us to get hopelessly bogged down in the quagmire of the Viet-Nam war, which greatly tarnished his reputation and destroyed his chances for re-election. Jimmy Carter’s presidency has largely been maligned because the economy was in poor shape at the time. But he did manage to get Israel and Egypt to make peace, which has had huge consequences for the Mid-East until this day. Bill Clinton gave us the best 8 years of peace and prosperity in my lifetime. Barack Obama in his first term, has given us universal health care (if it survives the Republican onslaught) and greater financial oversight over the banking business. However the economy remains in poor shape.

Now lets see what the Republicans have given us. Basically it can be summed up thusly- tax cuts for the rich, trickle down economics, anti-abortion, anti-gay-rights, and anti-gun control laws. So why is the GOP commanding at least half, if not more, of the vote, and is within striking distance of taking over the White House and Congress, in a few weeks. I believe the reasons can be summed up in two words: redistribution and evangelicalism. On the financial side the Republicans appeal to people’s basic greed and fear of being taken advantage of. Many Republicans view the Government as a vast redistribution point, where a person’s hard earned income is taken away in taxes and given to those who receive any form of Government assistance. After all, the thinking goes, anyone receiving welfare, food stamps, unemployment checks, etc., has to be either lazy or stupid or both. Ronald Reagan called them “welfare queens” and made huge political profit as a result. Newt Gingrich has called Barack Obama the food stamp President. Never mind that Defense, interest on the debt, Social Security and Medicare take up 85% of the Government’s budget. In the minds of average Republicans, their tax money all goes to those that refuse to take care of themselves, and Republicans are perpetually irate over that.

The other half of Republican successes come from religious fanatics, better known as evangelicals. They interpret both the old and new testaments literally, (regardless of the huge number of contradictions), and hence, their fiercely anti-abortion and anti-gay rights stances. In a country where more than half the population denies the existence of evolution, the GOP has found a rich mine-field of religious fanatics to enlist in their cause. Financial greed and selfishness, coupled with bible thumpers and holy rollers, and the GOP believes it has a winning combination for this year’s election. And why shouldn’t they. It has frequently worked for them in the past. Given that the economy is still in poor shape, it may very well work for them once again.

 

 

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GENETIC PREDISPOSITIONS

I’ve written before about how the FBI estimates, that at any one time, there are about one to two dozen serial killers on the loose hunting for prey. I’ve also written that the FBI has determined that, most often, a serial killer is genetically predisposed to engage in sexual sadism, torture, and eventually murder because of biological malfunctions during the birthing process. It seems for some, that when the fetus is in the womb, too much serotonin is being produced that is constantly bathing the brain. Hence when that baby is born, it is already brain-dead, so to speak, in that it can’t derive pleasure from activities most people consider the norm. That innocent child in the crib will likely grow up to be a psychopath because his brain cannot feel sensations in the same way as the rest of the populace. To derive any type of pleasurable sensation the baby, now an adult, and a psychopath, must resort to the most extreme measures, which usually involves killing innocent and helpless victims. One serial killer that was caught by the FBI put it this way: “When people walk down the street where there are other people walking, they think nothing of it. But when I walk down that street with other people, I have an overwhelming urge to bash in their skulls with a pipe or baseball bat. I can’t imagine not wanting to destroy these other people.”

Which, since this is an election year, brings us to the genetic predispositions behind the voting process. (Serial killing, politics, they’re practically the same thing anyhow.) I believe it can be demonstrated that most people’s political inclinations are genetically derived. Yes, upbringing, especially where parents set out to brainwash their children in political or religious beliefs, can have a major influence. But I think that, at the end of the day, most parents are too worn out from trying to make a living, or fighting rush hour traffic, or just keeping their heads above water, to be so inclined. That’s when genetics take over in determining whether an individual will become a Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, or just not give a “fig” (as the British might say.) We should point out that about half the voting age population couldn’t care less who gets elected to any office. Many of them couldn’t name one of the two Senators from their state, their Congressional representative, or their Governor. I mean, isn’t there a rumor that another Kardashian may be headed for divorce. And what about the health issues facing the latest American Idol. And lets not forget the shock waves emanating from the Tom Cruise-Katy Holmes divorce. After-all, it’s essential that we get our priorities straight.

For the other half of the population that does take at least the time and interest to vote, their choices will be predicated on how they view the world, which I maintain, is in turn predicated on the genes they inherited. For example, the differences concerning fiscal issues between the 2 major parties, and between liberals and conservatives, can often be boiled down to one word, redistribution. Liberals and Democrats take the position that the Government has a moral obligation to come to the aid of those that can’t fend for themselves, such as the sick, the elderly, the poor who cannot afford health care, the hungry, and those otherwise disadvantaged. Conservatives and Republicans see it differently, however. They see it as Government handouts of their tax money to those that are too lazy to work, or too stupid to know how to live their lives properly, or both. In the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was President, women receiving Government assistance were referred to as “welfare queens” which was also a racist code name. After all, weren’t most most welfare recipients black? (As it later turned out, most were white.) That type of mentality exists to this day, and explains why those on the right fight tooth and nail against any possible tax increase on the rich. After all, the thinking goes, any tax increase will just be taking money from the most productive members of society, and redistributing it to people who are nothing but leeches on society. Since voters are often genetically programmed to be greedy and self-centered, the Republican appeal to people’s basest instincts has, and will, translate into a ton of votes and election victories.

Of course, fiscal considerations, although paramount, are not the only issues that motivate people’s voting decisions. There is always the religious focus. Democrats tend to favor a more secular society, with religious issues best left to churches and and temples of what ever religion someone believes in. Republicans, however, have made religious fanaticism a corner stone of their platform. A big chunk of the GOP base is comprised of evangelicals or religious fanatics who DO NOT believe the political arena should be primarily secular. Quite the opposite. Their desire is to establish something akin to a religious theocracy, first by banning all abortion rights, and then banning gay rights. They will often talk about shrinking the size of Government and reducing expenditures, except when it comes to private matters best left to decisions between a women and her doctor, or what consenting adults do in the privacy of their bedrooms. Then, by all means, lets get the Government involved no matter what the cost. And while we’re at it, damn the costs, and put a few thousand more border patrol agents down in Texas and Arizona to make sure none of those illegal Mexicans sneak into the country.

There are of course, a slew of other issues that divide the country, and I could go on and on. But I believe it’s really futile to debate these issues with someone that has strong opposing views, because people’s genetic predisposition toward the positions they hold will outweigh any cogent arguments. It’s been said that the country is more polarized now than at any time since the Civil War. Should this be a close election in November, even those that spend most of their time keeping up with the Kardasians will have to get involved in the chaos and turmoil that will almost certainly ensue.

 

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