Posts Tagged With: politics

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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ANOTHER WIN FOR DYSFUNCTION

Last time I wrote about the deal emerging in negotiations to limit Iran’s capability to achieve nuclear weaponry. I pointed out that in its efforts to reach some sort of nuclear arrangement with Iran, the Obama administration is very likely to reach some terribly wrong agreement. Like allowing Iran to continue enriching uranium which is at the very core of a nuclear bomb. Or like setting a term-limit on the agreement reached to only 10 years. Which means that at the start of the 11th year, Iran could very easily start to assemble nuclear weapons on their assembly lines. In the meantime, Iran gets the benefit of a relaxation of all economic sanctions that most of the world has placed on it. Oil production would dramatically increase, and the Iranian economy would boom. But even worse than this deeply flawed treaty is the action of 47 Republican senators in sending a letter to the mullahs that exercise iron-clad control over that country. The letter, in effect, stated that any agreement reached between the Obama administration and the Iranian government will be short lived because when the Republicans take power in less than 2 years, they will likely chuck it into the garbage can. For mind-boggling recklessness and sheer outright stupidity, this action is almost beyond comprehension.

Let’s start with the premise that has supposedly been woven into the American landscape since the end of WWII. That premise states that the political divide in this country stops “at the waters edge.” This means that we can bicker internally about all sorts of political issues; but when it comes to dealing in foreign relations and with foreign governments, we speak with one united voice. How else can we successfully achieve our foreign policy objectives? As an analogy, lets turn back the clock to early 1940, when the Nazi military was on the march throughout Europe. The Roosevelt administration had established a “lend-lease” program to supply England with the vital weaponry it needed to fight Hitler’s troops as they threatened to invade the British Isles. If isolationist Republican senators who were opposed to this program had sent Hitler a letter at the time, saying “don’t worry about lend-lease. When we win the election slated for later this year, we’ll just toss that whole lend-lease operation into the trash bin.” One can only imagine the tragedy that would have ensued. Fortunately for us, and the rest of the free world, no such letter was ever sent. But that hasn’t stopped modern day Republicans, whose antipathy, or outright hatred of everything Obama, from going deeply beyond the waters edge.

The GOP excuse for writing that letter was that they wanted to explain to those crazy kids, the ayatollahs, that so-ruthlessly run Iran, about the intricate points of the U.S. constitutional form of government.  Right. If you believe that one, I’ve got a bridge that connects Brooklyn with Manhattan that I’ll sell you real cheap. First of all, by writing to the ayatollahs, the most fanatical and hate-mongering segment of Iranian society, and telling them that any pact reached with the current administration isn’t worth the paper its printed on, only reinforces the ayatollahs doctrine that the U.S. can never be trusted. That the U.S. is the great satan that must be destroyed, along with Israel, of course. That it’s an absolute moral imperative for every Moslem to seek the total destruction of the U.S. and Israel. So, any effort on the part of our current administration to reach some form of reasonable accommodation with Iran is now pretty much out the window.

At the heart of such recklessness is the GOP’s undying antipathy toward Obama and his administration. It explains the daily gushing river of vitriol and venom directed against not only Obama, but his Attorney-General Eric Holder, as well. The first black President and the first black Attorney-General of the United States. Day after day, this vitriol pours forth from Fox News and right-wing-whacko talk radio. But who could possibly infer that there’s anything racial going on here. A Rush Limbaugh or any of his wannabes would, of course, never admit to that.

The Republican mantra of hating everything Obama is further illustrated by the Attorney-General situation. Toward the end of 2014, AG Eric Holder announced that he was resigning and would leave office as soon as a new AG has been approved by the Senate. President Obama thereafter announced that he was nominating a New York prosecutor named Loretta Lynch to be the replacement AG. She would be the first black woman to occupy that office. The Senate panel overseeing such nominations declared that she was well-qualified and approved her nomination for a full Senate vote. The problem is that Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, refuses to schedule such a vote. On the one hand, confirming Lynch’s nomination would be the quickest way to be rid of the despised Eric Holder.  On the other hand, Loretta Lynch would just be another Afro-American carrying out Obama administration policies. A female Eric Holder. What a conundrum. To vote her down would allow the racial disease within the Republican Party to become too obvious, even for voters that hardly pay any attention to such matters. So, at this point, it appears that the GOP has no end-game strategy, other than endless delaying tactics, until, they hope, time runs out on the Obama presidency.

Such is the state of of American politics in the year 2015. Every time one might think that we’ve hit a new low in political dysfunction, polarization, and hyper-partisanship, the political class seems to sink us even deeper into the quagmire of mud and slime. And it’s only going to get worse in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

 

 

 

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CAPITOL FISCAL FOLLIES

In 1907, a young man in Chicago named Florenz Ziegfeld decided that his career path would be that of a show business producer. He started with a light and inexpensive song and dance revue, for the summer season in Chicago, with emphasis on holding costs down, since he had little capital to begin with. But not even Ziegfeld could have imagined the the momentous impact his creation would experience. It was a huge hit from the beginning, and soon Ziegfeld would attach his name to what became as the “Ziegfeld Follies.” As he acquired more money the show became a more lavish and opulent spectacle. By the 1920s, this extravaganza was the smash hit of Broadway. But what really made the “Ziegfeld Follies” such a mammoth event were its showgirls, a collection of eager dancers and chorus-line singers all wearing dazzling costumes. Ziegfeld advertised them as the most beautiful girls in the world. Many huge show biz stars, such as Barbara Stanwyck, Paulette Goddard, Gypsy Rose Lee, Josephine Baker, and Marilyn Miller got their career-starts in the “Ziegfeld Follies.” The show finally had to shut down in 1931 as the icy tentacles of the Great Depression were beginning to wrap themselves around the American economy and start plunging it into the deep freeze.

This is sort of a long way around to observing that the fiscal follies currently going on in our nation’s capitol, far exceed the extravaganzas put on by Flo Ziegfeld. Especially as it pertains to the theater of the absurd. As good a showman as Ziegfeld was, he couldn’t match the looney-tunes, dysfunctional antics currently underway in the U.S. Congress, even as we speak, (or write, as the case may be.) Two events explain this fascinating kerfuffle. The first is that the Government’s fiscal year ends September 30, a week from now. The Constitution has words to the effect that the Government cannot spend a farthing (or a nickel if you prefer) unless the funds are appropriated by an act of Congress. So far, Congress has appropriated nothing for the new fiscal year, about to start on October 1. The primary hold-up is in the House, where Republicans have a majority and are refusing to pass fiscal 2014 appropriations  unless all funding for Obamacare, (the President’s signature universal healthcare legislation) is stripped from the appropriations bill. Of course, it’s pure fantasy that the Democratic majority in the Senate, or the President, will agree to such shenanigans and extortion. But House Republicans are adamant that no new funding will occur unless resources for Obamacare are deleted. Even if it means shutting down the Government with all its ensuing consequences. Like military and civilian Government personnel, contractors and debt-holders not getting paid. Like no new food stamps, or housing assistance or other benefits to the sick or poor being issued. You know, fun stuff like that.

Senate Republicans also refuse to miss out on these entertaining follies. Senators, led by the four horse of the tea-party apocalypse, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul, whom I’ve written about before, are also threatening to filibuster any appropriations bill that contains funding for Obamacare. Please do not disturb the ivory tower of self-delusion these four choose to dwell in. So here we are, one-week away from a total Government shutdown, with all its disastrous consequences, that could very well send our fragile economy into a devastating tailspin. But as these follies gather momentum, they do make for excellent theater of the absurd. It should be pointed out, however, that we are the only country in the world, from first to fourth rate, that is willing to shut their Government down over budgetary battles. Not even the weakest or poorest banana republic would entertain such thoughts.

If, by some miracle we can avoid a a Government-shutdown through lack of appropriations legislation; shortly thereafter comes the debt-ceiling fiasco, as Congress lurches from one phony crises to another. The debt-ceiling, unlike the appropriations process, is nowhere mentioned in the Constitution. Instead, in a fit of self-imposed masochism, Congress enacted legislation saying the Government cannot exceed an arbitrary debt-ceiling without Congressional approval. We are estimated to bump up against the current debt-ceiling around mid-October. Since we are borrowing about 40 cents out of every dollar we spend, it would seem rather imperative that Congress raise the debt-ceiling. If not, the Government once again shuts down. And once again, Congressional Republicans are holding the Government hostage, by refusing to raise the debt-ceiling unless all funding for Obamacare is erased. Since the Mafia has made blackmail and extortion so profitable, Republicans, I assume, figure, why not employ these same tactics.

Now we all know that Republican vitriol and hatred directed against Barack Obama, is almost legendary. To deprive the GOP out of 2 presidential election victories is unforgivable in most tea-party and Republican circles. To say nothing of the race issue that I won’t get into at this time. So what better way to seek revenge than depriving Obama of his signature legislated achievement. Plus they know that if Obamacare, flawed though it may be, is allowed to function for 2-3 years, it will become as popular as Medicare or Social Security. Then even the tea-party lunatics will not be able to advocate for its dissolution.

One other factor is in play. There is a whole group of far-far right-wing looney-tuners that would really like to see the Government shut down. The Rush Limbaugh/ Glen Beck/ Sean Hannity types with their millions of followers are practically frothing at the mouth, or drooling all over themselves, in anticipation of a Government shutdown. Instead of visions of sugar plums, such anarchists thrill at visions of such an event. Even Flo Ziegfeld, as good a showman as he was, would have hard time producing theater follies to match the current ongoing antics in our nation’s capitol.

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OF PATRIOTS AND SCOUNDRELS

Most or all of you probably never hear of Major General Edwin Walker. He fought in WWII and then in the Korean war, and as I indicated, rose to the rank of major-general. But he was heavily invested into deep right wing politics, which at the time, (late 1950s to mid-1960s) meant being virulently anti-communist, and preserving Jim Crow racist segregation laws that existed throughout the South, and to a lesser extent in the North. In September, 1957, the courts decreed that segregation in the Little Rock Ark. public school system was unconstitutional, and ordered the schools to be immediately integrated. The man that was Governor of Arkansas at the time, a delightful chap named Orval Faubus, was thoroughly racist and a firm believer in segregation. So when 9 black school children tried to enter what was then an all-white high school, Faubus ordered out the Arkansas national guard to block their entry into that school. After trying for 18 days, unsuccessfully, to persuade Faubus to reverse course, President Eisenhower ordered federal troops into Little Rock to escort the 9 black children into an all-white school. Leading those federal troops was General Walker. Although, as I’ve said, he was a staunch believer in segregation, he was, nevertheless, forced to obey his commander-in-chief’s orders. With that, a major hole in the wall of segregation that the South had erected, was blown open. Of course, the white population of Little Rock were beside themselves in fury at the forced school integration; and Faubus described the federal troops as an army of occupation.

Although being forced to command the troops that led the way to successfully integrating Little Rock Central High, Walker never changed his segregationist views. He became prominent in the John Birch Society, which was not only a virulently anti-communist organization;  but also a strong advocate of racial segregation. They believed that segregation was God’s will, so that anyone opposing segregation was obviously a godless communist or communist-sympathizer. In the early 1960s, after being accused of trying to indoctrinate his troops with John Birch Society propaganda,  Walker left the Army and began making political speeches around the country. He called Eleanor Roosevelt and former President Harry Truman communist sympathizers. He flew the American flag upside at his Texas home to demonstrate that the U.S. had been taken over by commies and pinkos with the election of John F. Kennedy in 1960. Then in 1961, the courts ordered that a black man named James Meredith be allowed to enroll at the all-white University of Mississippi, (Ole Miss.) The Governor of Mississippi at the time was Ross Barnett, who made Orval Faubus seem like a mild-mannered pussy cat.

Barnett went on a fiery, speechmaking tour throughout the state, with Edwin Walker at his side, denouncing the evils of integration, and the big, bad federal government that imposed such evils. After all, the Feds actions were clearly unconstitutional; a violation of states rights enumerated in the tenth amendment. States rights became the rallying cry for allowing the South to maintain its segregationist laws. Sound familiar? Aren’t states rights kind of what the tea party looney-tunes, and far right politicians like Sarah Palin and Rick Santorum are speechifying these days. In any event, there was a drumbeat of how states rights and the constitution were being violated because the walls of Jim Crowism seemed to be crumbling. Edwin Walker went throughout the country giving speeches about how godless communism was taking over the country with advent of integration. The sad thing was that he drew crowds numbering in the tens of thousands or more, all wildly cheering virtually everything he said. He ran for Governor of Texas, but even that deep Southern state rejected his craziness. He died in 1993, declaring to the end that godless communism was destroying America. Oh, and James Meredith was eventually admitted to Ole Miss, which further led to the destruction of Jim Crowism in the South.

This is sort of a long-way around of coming to the point, which is the National Rifle Association convention held in Houston, TX last week. The same sort of right-wing whackoism that was on display around 50 years ago regarding violation of the 10th Amendment’s states rights, was similarly on display at the NRA convention regarding the Feds violation of the 2nd Amendment regarding the right to bear arms. The parallels are remarkably eerie. Over 70 thousand people purportedly attended this convention to hear speaker-after-speaker denounce the Federal government for trying to pass some mild legislation that would prevent people with serious mental problems from obtaining firearms. Why this legislation was just a ruse to confiscate guns from honest, god-fearing gun-owners. Everyone there knew that Barack Obama would personally give the order for the military to roll their tanks down every street in the nation; and go door-to-door confiscating everyone’s firearms. That would leave all the honest folk defenseless against all the bad guys out there who apparently had no trouble at all obtaining guns. But the NRA, which is now supposedly 5 million strong, vowed that they would never allow this type of unconstitutional heresy to occur. Any politician supporting any type of gun control would be made to pay dearly, come election time. And, of course, chief among the speakers denouncing these supposed 2nd Amendment rights violations, were Rick Santorum and Sarah Palin. What’s that old saying-the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In 1775, British poet, philosopher, and essayist Samuel Johnson, issued the famous statement that-“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” Watching the antics going on at the NRA convention, one couldn’t help but think that did he ever hit the nail on the head.

 

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THE GREAT DIVIDE

Last week’s tragic events at the Boston marathon was a perfect example of what happens when religious fundamentalism converges with one’s sense of delusional victimization. Two young brothers, with virtually their entire lives ahead of them, decided to destroy those lives as well as the lives of as many innocent victims as they could kill. They were immigrants from Chechnya; but had been in this country for about 10 years and seemed to be melding into the the mores and activities of our society. The younger brother had even become a naturalized citizen. But somewhere along the way, the older brother allowed himself to be deluded by Islamic jihadist religious fundamentalists. The only true objective of these jihadist imams is the destruction of western society. To accomplish that, they preach the vilest hatred toward anything western, and by the force of their “religious” preachings, are able to convince scores of young, vulnerable minds to destroy themselves while committing acts of terrorism. Chechnya has been fighting decades-old wars with Russia to gain independence; so it would appear that the older brother’s beef would have been with Russian domination and suppression of Chechnya’s quest for for freedom. But young, vulnerable minds can be so easily manipulated, apparently, to the point of where the U.S. instead of Russia become the evil villain in the older brother’s delusional thinking process. He then, obviously, brainwashed the younger brother into also destroying his life through some holy grail act of terrorism.

There is a great divide in values between western society and those of mid-eastern Moslem nations. Osama Bin-Laden said it best when he stated that western societies value life, while mid-eastern Islam values death above all else. Thus, the highest honor for a jihadist is to become a martyr by killing others and himself in an act of terrorism. (Notice I made the distinction between mid-eastern jihadism and the beliefs of other Moslem societies. For example, Indonesia, which is the largest Moslem nation in the world, seldom indulges in such jihadist fantasies.) The delusions that fuel jihadist terrorism probably go back a thousand years to the time of the crusades; when Christian knights from Europe set off on a “religious” mission to rescue the “holy” land of Jerusalem from the Moslem “infidels.” Grievances can be nursed a long, long, time, and the human tendency to play the victim is woven into the very fabric of the human condition. But what the jihadists really despise, is how much more advanced western society is, when compared to most Moslem societies, in every aspect: scientific, technological, economic, cultural, living standards, and so on. So instead of working to bring Moslem nations up to levels achieved by western societies, jihadists act to do just the opposite. Destroy western societies through acts of terrorism so they descend down to Moslem-nations standards. Which is generally where the west was about 700-800 A.D. Although this will never happen, that bit of reality will never be allowed to enter the jihadist’s planet of delusion.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Russia brutally invaded Afghanistan and took over control of that country. When Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, he decided that the U.S. should provide military aid to Afghan freedom fighters fighting a guerilla war against the Russian invasion. In particular his administration provided Stinger surface-to-air missiles to the Afghans which was especially effective in bringing down Russian fighter planes. Eventually, Russia found it too costly to continue the occupation, and withdrew their troops back inside Russian borders. One of the Afghan freedom fighters was a tall, lanky guy named Osama bin-Laden. The Reagan Administration never considered what the follow-on consequences would be once the Afghans obtained their freedom. It never considered that once the Afghans, and the Islamists that came from other Moslem countries to join the battle, gained their freedom, they would then turn their wrath on the west and the U.S. in particular. It took less than a decade for the Islamists in Afghanistan to reset their focus away from Russia and toward the United States. By the mid-1990s various terrorist activities began cropping up in different parts of the world, including in this country, often as the result of a group no one had heard about before. They called themselves Al-qiada, but who cared about some obviously deranged individuals who were killing innocent victims just for the pleasure of it. Until 9/11/2001. Then the whole world took notice.

The terrorist mindset is always one of victimization seeking revenge. We, of course, know that in this country we have have our own breed of murderous nut cases. Less than a decade-and-a half ago, our own home-grown Timothy McVeigh, because of some imagined, delusional grievances against the Federal Government, managed to slaughter 168 people going peacefully about their business, by blowing-up a Federal office building in Oklahoma City. Scores of these victims were very young children attending a day-care center. On a slightly smaller scale, we’ve experienced a series of recent heinous murders in Connecticut, Colorado and Arizona because of deranged “victims” that were out for revenge.

We all know that delusional nut jobs exist in our very midst. Some of us may even know some one like that. Law enforcement can only provide so much protection. Since law-enforcement officials are still just human beings, people with murder on their minds will fall through the cracks. As the 2 brothers did in Boston. Eventually terrorism, either home grown or imported, will strike despite our best efforts at prevention. Yes, the FBI was provided certain information that might have prevented the Boston tragedy. But since FBI agents are also human, mistakes were made.With the enormous proliferation of hand guns, rifles, bomb-making materials and other weapons so readily available in our society, terrorist acts become ever more easy to pull off. So welcome to life in the early 21st century. Where terrorism, serial killings, revenge killings, or just plain, good old-fasioned acts of murder become the new norm; to live with on a day-today basis.

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WAR AND PEACE

No, this is not about Leo Tolstoy’s timeless masterpiece, which was required reading when I went to school, although that, in itself, would be worthy of serious commentary. (The book was so long, that the word going around school was that students were reading just every other page.) Instead this piece will be about war as being the ultimate failure of the human condition, and yet extremely necessary at times. Americans, as a rule, like to revel in peaceful pursuits such as making a living and trying to have fun whenever possible. We carry on about the Super Bowl (just completed in a very exciting game,) or other sporting events; go to shows, movies, or nightclubs; dine out frequently; or just have neighborhood parties where the booze flows like the River Ganges. We keep up with the Kardashians or the exploits of such tabloid stars as Brittany Spears and Lindsay Lohan. All extremely superficial but harmless, peaceful pursuits. But while we’re pursuing fun or otherwise going about our daily routines, something like 9/11 01 comes crashing down on our heads, as 3000 Americans are murdered without the slightest forewarning. Suddenly life isn’t so much about having fun anymore. Suddenly we shift from being a nation at peace to one going on a war footing. Suddenly, we’re a nation in mourning, soon to be followed by a real shooting war in some hellhole part of the world called Afghanistan, that many people barely knew existed or heard of, as we seek justice for the events of 9/11. Sometimes, war just comes wether we want it or not.

While war is an abomination for those involved, not going to war can lead to even worse consequences. I’ve written before about how the French and British were asleep at the switch as Hitler built his military machine in Nazi Germany during the 1930s. The French could have gone in as late as 1937 or 1938 and destroyed Hitler’s army and the Nazi regime, with little effort. Instead they did nothing. Instead, Britain’s Neville Chamberlain met with Hitler in Munich in1938, and attempted a policy of appeasement. Hitler, of course, saw this as a sign of weakness, which it was, and plowed ahead with his plans to conquer all of Europe by force. And the French and British, who tried to avoid war at all costs, soon were involved in the greatest war the world had ever seen. Over 60 million people died in Europe alone, as a consequence of the Allied policy of appeasement. In a human history filled with evil acts by evil tyrants, the Nazi’s were able to pull off the most evil event of all time, the Holocaust. Over 6 million Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, and people opposing Hitler’s policies, were slaughtered in the gas chambers. The magnitude and extent of such evil is still more than the mind can comprehend for many people.

On the other hand, an example of where force was unwisely used was the fiasco known as the Viet-Nam war. It was a direct result of our paranoia and fear of world communism. Although none of our vital interests were even remotely threatened, the John Kennedy administration decided to consign hundreds of thousands of troops to another planetary hellhole-the jungles of Viet-Nam. The Eisenhower administration had initially got us involved in what was an essentially a civil war against a corrupt regime. But Eisenhower had sent over only a few hundred men to assist the corrupt government in office in its fight against the Communist rebels. However, when Kennedy, and then Lyndon Johnson became presidents, somehow, vital interests were manufactured, and up to half a million American troops were sent over to fight in Viet-Nam’s civil war. And unlike now, a draft existed in those days. So young men, often against their will, were drafted into the military and sent to die in the rat-infested, hellhole jungles of Viet-Nam. In the end it took Republican Richard Nixon to extract us from this folly created by Democratic presidents. Today we have peaceful relations with Viet-Nam and extensive commercial ties. Which is of little consolation to the near 60 thousand  Americans that perished in those jungles, or the tens of thousands of American lives ruined because of severe injuries. To say nothing of the hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese that were killed.

After 9/11, war and peace were again major issues as the newly installed George W. Bush presidency took office. As I said earlier, we went to war in Afghanistan against the Taliban, ostensibly to seek justice for the slaughter of 3000 Americans on 9/11. It was, however, really a quest for vengeance, because the Taliban had fully supported Osama bin-Laden and his band of lunatic terrorists and the havoc they wrecked on American soil. What at first appeared to be an easy and quick victory over the Taliban has now turned into an on-going war almost 12 years in the making. It has been like death by a thousand cuts, as the Taliban have proved to be far more resilient than first contemplated. President Obama has stated his intent to pull our troops out of the war zones by next year, so that the Afghan army will supposedly be doing all the fighting. But will this lead to a resurgent Taliban taken back the country, so that all our sacrifice will be for naught? In any event, the American public is sick of the Afghan war, and by large majorities wants us out of there.

The Bush administration also went to war against Saddam Hussein in Iraq, on the pretext that Saddam was harboring chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction. Now there’s no question that Saddam was a very evil guy, and would have no compunctions about using WMDs;  but imagine everyone’s surprise when no WMDs were found after Saddam was driven from office. Overwhelming support for the war quickly crumbled, especially as it dragged on and on for years. President Obama finally extracted us from that one, but again not before the loss of about 6,000 American military and civilian lives; and the expenditure of almost a trillion dollars. Today a very fragile “peace” exists but widespread terrorist acts are committed almost on a daily basis. Will this country also descend into terrorist hell, making all our sacrifices be in vain?

Now the main evil threatening civilization on this planet is Iran’s rush to develop nuclear weapons. Iran’s fundamentalist Islamic regime has repeatedly threatened to wipe Israel off the map. Their fundamentalism and hatred of Israel are like bottomless pits. Nuclear weapons in the hands of the Mullahs running the country, creates the very real possibility of using those weapons against U.S or Israel. This would result in nuclear retaliation by Israel and the entire planet would descend into a nuclear conflagration. Even the roaches would not be exempt from extinction. So do we go in and take military action by bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities before they develop the bomb. The way the French should have gone in and wiped out Hitler’s army in 1938. Or, as is most likely the case, do we do as the French did, which is nothing; because neither the American public nor the present administration has the stomach for another war. Then we would have to live with a nuclear-armed Iran.

Like marriage, war and peace go together like a horse and carriage, don’t they.

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CRUMBLING OF THE ARAB SPRING

What came to be known as the “Arab Spring” can be traced back to December 17, 2010. On that day, a young man living in Tunisia, named Mohamed Bouaziz,  came to the conclusion that Tunisian politics were so corrupt, and his economic and other life prospects were so hopeless, that all he could do was go into the streets and protest the sheer bankruptcy of Tunisian living conditions. Being possessed of such total hopelessness and despair, he felt that his only option of protest was self-immolation. Yes, he set himself on fire and burned to death, so the world could see the absolute depths of despair that people living in much of the Arab world had to undergo on a daily basis. And the world did take notice.

Tunisia, as with almost all of the Arab nations in the Mid-East, had been ruled by a dictatorship for decades, which maintained power by paying off the military and other elites, in a corrupt relationship that benefited the few at the top, and caused the masses to live in squalor with no hope of a better life. Some dictators were more corrupt than others; some were more brutal and ruthless, while others were slightly more benign. However, the common thread running through all these Arab states was how horrible their economies were, and the vast extent of poverty and squalor that the masses of people had to live with, throughout their entire lives. But as I’ve said , the world finally did take notice, and the self-immolation of that one person started a wave of protests, demonstrations, revolutions, and civil wars that are on going to this day.

In Tunisia, people took to the streets by the thousands, and then tens and hundreds of thousands, protesting the despotic rule and brutal poverty that existed in their country.  Finally the dictator that had ruled them for decades was forced to leave, and free elections were held in 2011, for the first time since 1956. This was soon followed by more mass demonstrations and new heads of states in Algeria, Lebanon, Oman, Yemen, Syria, Morocco and Jordan, as protests spread throughout the Mid-East. Most protests did lead to new, but not necessarily, improved governments. But, perhaps the largest upheavals occurred in Egypt and Libya. Egypt had been ruled for over 30 years by its President, Hosni Mubarak, who, as dictators go, was probably more on the benevolent side. But the dire poverty and lack of civil rights in Egypt was just as extensive as any other Arab nation. Massive protest began taking place in Tahrir Square in Cairo, and Mubarak, now in his 80s, and sick with cancer, was forced to resign in February 2011, with the military taking over the reins of power, and promising free elections. Today, Mubarak is still alive, but too sick to be tried for war crimes, as is the current government’s desire.

Libya had been ruled since the 1970s by one of the more brutal and ruthless tyrants, Muammar Gaddafi. As in the other countries, massive demonstrations took place in Tripoli and throughout Libya, but Gaddafi refused to leave. As a result, civil war broke out between the poorly armed rebels, and Gaddafi’s forces who were militarily superior. When it appeared that Gaddafi’s military would crush the rebels, President Obama vowed that such an outcome would shock the conscience of the world. The U.S. provided military support to the rebels, who were then able to turn the tide in their civil war and defeat the dictator’s army. Gaddafi, to the bitter end, refused to leave Libya, and was eventually killed by rebel army. Elections were held soon after, but today there is now a very weak central government in Tripoli. Most of the country is currently being controlled by rival tribal leaders, with Islamic extremists and terrorists gaining more and more influence and power. Sometimes, a revolution doesn’t turn out well, and can leave a country and its people in even worse shape.

Of course, a discussion of the Arab Spring cannot leave out Syria’s role. Syria has been ruled by a very despotic dictator, Bashar al-Assad for avery long time. His father had despotically governed Syria for decades, and when the old man died, Bashar took over the reins of power. As in Libya, peaceful protests were of no use, so those in rebellion took up arms. Bashar’s response to the rebellion was to start slaughtering unarmed civilians who he felt had colluded with the rebels. His favorite tactic was to drop bombs on apartment houses he believed these people lived in, killing hundreds at a time. Women, children, unarmed men, it really didn’t matter. If Assad believed that you were on the rebel”s side, you became fair game for murder. To date, it’s been estimated that between 60,000-100,000 thousand people have been slaughtered in Syria’s on going civil war. To make matters even worse, Assad’s government has stockpiles of chemical and biological warfare weapons, and threatens to use them on the civilian population. Instead of killing hundreds at a time, chemical or biological weapons can kill tens of thousands or more with one shot. Unlike Libya, however, President Obama has (unwisely in my estimation) refused to provide an form of military assistance to the rebels, so the deadlocked civil war and daily slaughter goes on, uninterrupted.

In the meantime, events have been unfolding in Egypt, but not in a good way. The people eventually forced the military to provide free elections, after Mubarak’s fall. But then, in what was considered a reasonably honest election process, the people chose as their president, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood; a man named Mohammed Morsi. Those of you unfamiliar with the Muslim Brotherhood should know that at best, it’s considered a highly Islamic fundamentalist organization, and at worst, an Islamic jihadist party. The candidate that Morsi defeated was of secular beliefs. It never ceases to amaze me that entire populations will, in effect, voluntarily enslave themselves by allowing religious fundamentalists to take control of their lives. Now, as Morsi seeks to extend his power and spread the Brotherhood’s fundamentalist Muslim beliefs throughout Egypt, massive protests have begun once again. It’s gotten so bad that the military chief has stated that Egypt is descending into chaos and anarchy; and their economy, which was barely functioning on life support, is now in a full-force crash. So the people, who voted for a man that promised to enslave them in religious fundamentalism, are deeply upset that he’s actually making good on that promise. Such are the foibles, dysfunctions and irrationalities, that comprise the human condition in this day and age.

Things aren’t so hot in Tunisia, either, where it all began. Massive protests are starting to take place because there’s been no real economic improvement. In Libya, while it was great getting rid of Gaddafi, the resultant government has been almost completely ineffectual. That lack of functioning partly led to the killing of our Ambassador and three of his aides last September, by murderous Islamic terrorists. The war also goes on without missing a beat, in Syria. In Mali, the French are fighting al-Quida terrorists that threaten to take over the country. So the Arab Spring, which started out with such promise, especially after old despotic tyrants were thrown out of office, is basically crumbling before our eyes, as new tyrants, or ineffectual governments take their place. The only country in the Mid-East that has a democratic, free society, with a first world economy is Israel. But outside of the United States, who doesn’t hate Israel?

 

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GUNS AND BIBLES

Barbra Streisand, when she used to sing for a living instead of making crappy movies, had a hit record whose lyrics went something as follows: “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage; you can’t have one without the other.” Well, it seems to me that what also goes together like a horse and carriage, are guns and bibles. (Leave aside, for the moment, that one will rarely, if ever, come into contact with a horse and carriage in this day and age.) I have always puzzled over the fact that a huge portion of the religiously fundamental populace also has an overwhelming affinity to arm themselves to the teeth, usually with racks of handguns and rifles. I guess it all stems from that passage in the New Testament which describes how Jesus carried an AK-47 with him when he went to deliver the sermon on the mount. Just in case some unruly ruffians in the crowd had got out of hand. But I suspect that the religiously pious among us, arm themselves for much the same reason that they pray to God. They fear if they didn’t pray, and show due homage, God would crush them like a bug. And in the case of guns, they also let the full spectrum of delusion and paranoia take firm hold. After all, if they weren’t armed, criminals are just waiting out there in the streets to break into their houses and rob them blind, and then shoot them for good measure. Or worse, the big, bad Government can hardly wait to disarm them, and then ship them off to concentration camps for being troublemakers. Thus, when so much discourse is spilling forth these days on gun control and second amendment rights, I thought it would be useful to look at the facts, and reality as it actually exists.

The rate of homicides by guns in this country, according to the latest statistics, is 3.6 people per one hundred-thousand population. (And maybe, if that six-tenths of a person fully grew up, he or she could have also avoided homicide.) Do the math. That’s an incredibly low percentage, especially in a country where guns flow like the River Ganges. In countries that have strict gun control laws, like Britain or Australia, the rate of homicide is less than one person per one-hundred thousand population. Also keep in mind that certain types of human behavior increase or decrease the risk of being gunned down. If you decide that criminal enterprise will be your field of endeavor, of course, you will likely increase the risk of untimely death. So will borrowing money from the Mafia and not being able to pay it back, or frequently interacting with drug cartels. On the other hand, if you’re like most middle-class or affluent Americans, and live in mostly safe neighborhoods, your risk of homicide probably drops to less than one in a hundred-thousand. In fact, the rate of suicide by gun, is almost double the rate of homicides. Obviously, the easy availability of guns makes it so much easier to succeed if one is harboring suicidal thoughts.

Of course, none of these statistics are of any comfort to grieving loved ones, when random lunatics go on a shooting spree and murder scores of people. As they did in Columbine, and Arizona (the Gabby Giffords shooting), and Colorado, and most recently in Connecticut. And, of course, it’s these incidents that have resulted in calls for greater gun control, and correspondingly, for vociferous opposition from the National Rifle Association and other like-minded gun advocates to any form of gun restriction. They cite the second amendment as giving everyone the right to bear arms. But no rights are absolute. The first amendment gives us the right of free speech. But as Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendall Holmes noted decades ago, this doesn’t include the right to cry “fire” in a crowded movie theater, when, in fact, there is no fire. Also try verbally plotting to kill your annoying next door neighbor and see how fast that will land you in the clink when the plot is discovered. The right to bear arms doesn’t mean I can acquire and roll down the street in a Sherman tank, or put surface-to-air missiles on my front lawn. Ted Nugent, a so-called rock singer who was washed up by the late 1980s, likes to publish pieces saying that the Government “will have to pry my gun from my cold, dead fingers” if it tries to dis-arm him. He likes to show how macho he is by blowing the heads off defenseless animals when he’s out hunting. Kind of reminds me of the images in the 2008 campaign, of Sarah Palin shooting defenseless animals from a helicopter in Alaska. So between the fierce opposition from millions of hunters and gun rights advocates, and organizations like the NRA, don’t hold your breath waiting for meaningful gun control laws to be enacted anytime soon. The GOP, realizing that “thars gold in them thar hills” in the form of millions of supporters and voters opposing any type of gun control, has always taken an anti-control stance. Since Republicans control the House, I can’t see needed-legislation being enacted.

My own point of view is that no one should posses firearms except the military and the police. Anyone else having a gun should be subject to a mandatory 10 year prison sentence. Being a realist, however, I know that’s never going to happen in my life-time. Some countries like Australia have come close to that, and have seen dramatic plunges in the rates of both homicides and suicides. But it’s way too rational for it to become a reality in the U.S. As I’ve written before- violence is as American as cherry pie. (Not my wording, but a concept I agree with.) We have a long history of having a gun mentality which has grown into a gun fetish. It has coarsened our society, and who we are as a people. And as long as anyone, even a lunatic, can walk into Wal-Mart and buy all the guns and ammo he needs to carry out a murderous rampage, we can probably expect more tragedies like the one we all just experienced in Connecticut.

 

 

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DELUSION AND DYSFUNCTION

The thing to realize about the American psyche, as we begin 2013, is that once a benefit has been delivered to the populace, it’s extremely difficult to retract that benefit. Perhaps this is true for all the world’s populations, but it seems especially true in the U.S. And the fear of losing that delivered benefit, will cause the masses to react in great anger and frustration, which then will result in highly dysfunctional and injurious behavior. It’s a provable fact that actions taken out of fear, anger, or paranoia will inevitably result in some very bad decisions. And so it is with the never ending, and forever ongoing charade known as the fiscal cliff. As it stands at the time I’m writing this piece, the Senate has passed the legislation to get us off the fiscal cliff; but now the House is posturing about how bad a deal it is, and many members have threatened to vote no on the Senate bill, which means we will go over the cliff. My guess is that the House will screw around with this today and tomorrow, and then, protesting the entire time, will wind up passing the Senate bill just as the clock is running out.

The main feature of the fiscal cliff that has so many people anxious, is the expiration of the Bush tax cuts, which will cause all tax payers to fork over more of their income to the government. This is the part now, where taking away a benefit, once delivered, becomes nearly impossible. If the Bush tax cuts are allowed to expire, tax rates would revert back to where during the 8 Clinton years in the 1990s. At that point in time, tax rates had been significantly reduced during the Reagan years in the 1980s. It’s true that after Bill Clinton became President in 1993, he did managed to squeeze through a small increase in the rates Ronald Reagan managed to get Congress to lower. But even with that increase, tax rates were considerably lower than they had been in all the time since World War II. At one point during and after the war, the top marginal tax rate was 91%, versus the 35% that exists today. Also, if Al Gore had been allowed to take the Presidency that he won in 2000 (don’t get me started on that one), there never would have been the Bush tax cuts, and all of us would still be paying the same amount of taxes that were in force since early in Bill Clinton’s presidency. Rates that everybody became used to, and were generally not a big deal. But people did get the benefit for about the last 10 years of keeping more of their income; and I’ve said, a benefit once given, is nearly impossible to retract.

Now here’s where the fun part, i.e., delusion and dysfunction kicks in. Everyone knows that we, as a country, are producing mind-boggling budget deficits every year, well north of a trillion dollars annually. Nearly everyone agrees that those deficits are unsustainable, and they need to significantly shrink. The common sense approach toward reducing deficits would seem to be in cutting spending and increasing revenue.  On increasing the revenue side, Obama and the Democrats have a modest proposal to increase the marginal tax rate by 4.6% on couples earning more than $250,000 a year, which constitute about 2% of the richest people out of our 310 million population. (You can do the math as to how many people would be affected.) However, tea party Republicans acted as if they were stricken with rabies, by frothing at the mouth at the thought of raising anybody’s taxes, including the rich and super-rich. The bill just passed by the Senate supposedly represents a compromise whereby the 4.6% marginal increase would apply to couples making $450,000 annually, maybe 1-1.5% of the super fortunate among us. House Republicans, in full delusional mode, are saying even that’s too much and are threatening to scuttle the whole deal.

On the expenditure side, it’s the Congressional Democrats that have hijacked the cloak of delusion from Republicans, by pretending that fixes aren’t needed to reign in Social Security and Medicare costs. Those 2 benefits for seniors are literally bankrupting the country, and pretending that nothing should be done to reform those programs reaches new heights in the arena of delusion. Especially since the fixes needed are relatively simple. All it takes is increasing the eligibility age of those programs from 65 to 67, and then eventually to 70. Applying the Social Security and Medicare taxes on all income would also help. Raising the eligibility ages on both programs would be entirely justified since longevity ages have significantly increased since the passage of their legislation. Social Security was enacted in the 1930s, when living to the age of 65 was a big deal. Today the longevity rate for most Americans is approaching 80.

In the end, it’s not so much the dysfunctional behavior of government representatives, as it is the incredibly dysfunctional action of the populace that voted for such a highly partisan and divided government in the first place. Even if, by some miracle, we avoid going over the fiscal cliff, more trauma will ensue as the year unfolds. The debt ceiling will have to be raised shortly, and most Republicans are opposed to raising it unless substantial spending cuts are made, cuts that are opposed by most Democrats. If the debt ceiling is not raised, then large chunks of the government will have to be shut down and shuttered. We are the only country in the world that voluntarily shuts down its government due to partisan bickering. Appropriations bills will have to be passed, again with vigorous partisan divide on on both sides of the aisle. And the President and Congress will constantly be at each other’s throats due to the extreme polarization and poisoned political atmosphere that currently exists.

As I said at the outset, fear, anger and paranoia will almost invariably lead to bad decision-making, and that’s exactly what has happened in both the political and social arenas. And now we have to live with the consequences of that bad decision-making for at least the next 2 years. Happy new-year everyone.

 

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GERALD ON THE FISCAL CLIFF

I ran into my friend Gerald again, and this time he was sort of ranting about the fiscal cliff.  When he found out that his taxes would go up significantly in January because of Congressional inability to renew the Bush tax cuts, he became even more visibly upset than when he lost his money betting on Romney to win the election. Once again he asked if I could write a blog letting the world know what he thought of this Congressional inaction. Once again I reminded him of how easy it would be to obtain his own blog and write whatever he wanted. Gerald still wasn’t in the mood to do this. I then told him I would not write another entry trying to capture the way he thought about things. Finally, Gerald asked if I would “lend” him my blog, just this one time, and he would do the writing. Despite deep misgivings, and against my better judgement, I reluctantly agreed, this one time. Besides, I had actually gotten some favorable comments on his previous posting. So from this point on, the keyboard is in Gerald’s hands. You may find the verbiage a little “earthier” than I would normally use.

To All The Morons Currently Running Congress:

What the fuck is the matter with you people. You can’t bring yourselves to slightly upping the tax rate on really rich guys, so I’m going to have to cough up several grand more out of my pension. Are you really that imbecilic? What, the rich don’t have enough mansions, or yachts, or private jets? The guy with the 12 car garage still needs a couple of Rolls Royces to fill in 2 empty parking spaces? Not only is your inability to get your act together going to cost me several thousand bucks, but more money will also be  taken out of the Missus social security check. When she heard that she nearly exploded. She threatened to go to Washington and have out with all you imbeciles. Believe me, you don’t want a confrontation with the Missus when she’s angry. I guarantee it wouldn’t be pretty.

Normally, I don’t give a fuck that you do virtually nothing on Capitol Hill except fight with each other. I’m usually too busy making my weekly contributions at the craps tables or the sports books at the Strip casinos to give a damn. I know that a productive week for you people is to declare May 14 as National Walnut Day, or some piece of shit “legislation” like that. A normal work week for you people is usually Tuesday – Thursday, anyhow. Then you leave town Thursday night or Friday morning, and don’t come back until Monday night. And that’s if there’s no holiday at the time. If there is a holiday, then it’s an automatic 2-3 weeks off from your “arduous” labors. My cousin Stan, who works down at the auto shop is more productive than you guys. True, he comes in most mornings with a bad hangover, and needs a few gulps from his silver flask to get himself through the day. But at least he shows up for work most mornings, and unlike you morons, actually fixes cars now and then. What do you guys ever accomplish for the couple of hundred thousand they’re paying you?

And you Republicans especially take the cake. First you blow the presidential election by pissing off women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities. Women were especially pissed off when those 2 idiots you put up for the Senate in the mid-west came out with their crazy anti-abortion rhetoric, allowing the public to see that your party was swimming out there in looney-tuneville. At least, one would expect that if they did harbor such crazy ideas, they would be smart enough to keep them to themselves. But no, they had to blab them for the whole world to hear. As the Missus would say- they have shit for brains. So who’s left that’s still on your side. Us white guys?  When we go over the fiscal cliff and we start bringing home smaller paychecks, who do you think we’ll blame- Obama or the Republicans. I’ll give you a clue. It won’t be Obama. So the only ones still left in the Republican Party will be the bible-thumpers and the billionaires. Good luck winning elections with that as your base. Shit for brains.

If  I get a smaller pension check, I won’t be able to go down to the Strip and keep the casino workers so gainfully employed taking my money. Plus less people will come to Las Vegas to gamble away their kids college funds, or their retirement savings. This will raise the unemployment rate here in Nevada, which is already the worst in the country. Huge chunks of Las Vegas away from the Strip are already abandoned and look like ghost towns. When the fiscal cliff comes in January, it will only get worse. So here we are on Christmas eve looking at a bleak future. Between the tragic shootings in Connecticut that killed so many innocent, precious  children, and the looming fiscal cliff, there isn’t a lot of merriment going around. Ho, ho, ho.

Well I don’t want to seem to be too judgmental. I am judgmental, of course, but I try to fake not being so. Maybe, at the last moment, you esteemed Congressmen and women will pull a rabbit out of the hat and actually fix the tax situation. That will only leave the mind-boggling deficit, the high unemployment rate, the weak economy and Iran getting a nuclear bomb to worry about. I don’t have high hopes for fixing those things either. But I guess, what will be, will be. In the meantime, stay well, have a happy holiday season, and at least pretend you’re doing something meaningful for the country. As always, I remain:

Your humble servant, Gerald P.

 

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