Posts Tagged With: President Obama

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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UNCIVIL DISCOURSE

The Friday after the mid-term elections two weeks ago, Republican and Democratic Congressional leaders, i.e. the guys who will be running the show when the new Congress convenes in January, met in the White House with President Obama to hammer out an agenda that both sides could agree to, that would actually benefit the American people. It was supposedly a show of good will that both Democrats and Republicans could work together for the two remaining years of the Obama Administration, to produce needed legislation to better the lives of most Americans. After all, isn’t that what they were sent there to accomplish in the first place. Well, obviously not, as evidenced by the fact that both parties were at each others throats, about 30 seconds after this new “era of goodwill” began. So much for legislative productivity.

It all started over the issue of “amnesty” for illegal aliens. There are an estimated 11-12 million undocumented people who have supposedly entered the U.S. through illegal means. Almost all are from Latin America. Of course, I don’t understand how this figure was arrived, since almost all illegals maintain a very low profile, and go to great lengths to avoid being counted in the first place. Nevertheless, this is this figure that’s usually bandied about. Many have been in the U.S. for 20 or 30 or even 40 years or longer, generally living in the shadows. They usually don’t pay taxes, vote, or have a drivers license; and most live in constant fear of being rounded up and deported back to whence they came from. To address this rather deplorable state of affairs for both U.S. citizen and non-citizen alike, the Senate in 2013, passed legislation that would strengthen border security, but would also provide a pathway to legality and eventual citizenship for most illegals that didn’t have a criminal record. This legislation was sponsored by Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida whose parents had immigrated here legally from Cuba. One would have thought that with Republican sponsorship of this act in the Senate, it would have been a slam-dunk for passage in the GOP controlled House. Instead just the opposite was true. Where would the fun be if the House just went along with the Senate. Why, there might even be a slight dissipation in the hyper-partisanship, dysfunction and polarization that so engulfs Washington these days. Couldn’t have that.

The right-wing lunatic fringe of the GOP began bellowing that this act was nothing more than amnesty for illegals; and besides, if they received such amnesty, they would most likely vote Democratic. Perish the thought. House Speaker John Boehner didn’t have the courage to override the protests from the Tea-Party crackpots in his own party, and, thus, didn’t allow the Senate bill to come to the House floor for a vote. If he had, the votes were there  to secure passage. Rush Limbaugh, and all the other right-wing whackos on talk radio (that I wrote about last time) kept screaming about amnesty as if this was an awful thing. As we all know, the connotations surrounding the word “amnesty” used to be that of generosity of spirit, forgiveness, providing shelter for the persecuted, being a benefactor, and establishing a safe harbor for those most in need, etc. However, in right-wing looney-tunesville, amnesty became something ugly, to be despised and feared. Thus, nothing has been achieved in the past 2 years concerning the plight of illegal aliens in the U.S.

Hence, after that supposedly goodwill meeting between Republicans and Democrats that I discussed at the outset, President Obama declared that if Congress failed to act on the immigration issue, as apparently it will, he was going to issue an executive order that would, in effect, provide “amnesty” for several million illegals. Oh noooo, not “amnesty.” It was like waving a red flag in front of a charging bull. Or in this case, an elephant. Speaker Boehner quickly mounted the dais to announce that Obama could expect a rather unpleasant visit from 2 GOP enforcers named Tiny and Knuckles, if he did undertake such unilateral action. Tiny got his name because he’s 6ft.9 and weighs 380 pounds. Knuckles got his name because he likes to use brass knuckles when whaling on his victims. If they showed up at the White House, things would definitely not go well for Obama. Okay, so maybe Boehner did not use that exact verbiage, but the sentiment was clearly evident. With an executive order from the President due out almost within the hour, Republicans are furiously plotting counter-strategies. Some are talking about impeaching Obama, while others are focusing on shutting down the Government.

Now, it should be noted that Obama gets down on his knees every night before bedtime, and prays to God that the Republican Congress will initiate impeachment actions against him. Nothing would rescue his dismal approval ratings faster than having the Republican Party initiate impeachment against the first African-American president of the U.S. One only has to go back to the late 1990s, when a Republican Congress tried to impeach Bill Clinton, who also had low approval ratings at the time because of the Monica Lewinsky fiasco; to see how well that strategy worked out for the GOP. Once impeachment proceedings got underway, the public recognized them for the ultimate in bullying tactics; and Clinton’s low approval ratings suddenly began to soar. The formerly disgraced President became a conquering hero; especially at the 2008 and 2012 Democratic conventions, where he played a major role in getting Obama elected President.

Assuming that the GOP is not stupid enough to make the same glaring mistake twice; the next best thing for Obama would be if they shut down the Government. The Republicans would be sure to feel the heat for such action. After all, they have been publicly advocating for such a shutdown. The trouble is, that even people that have great antipathy toward a variety of Government actions, (or non-actions as the case may be) usually are opposed, nonetheless, to Government shutdowns. So after all the sound and fury of Obama granting amnesty to illegals starts to wear thin, a shutdown might not occur either. However, I wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Obama receiving a very unpleasant visit from Tiny and Knuckles.

 

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FROM D-DAY TO ETERNITY

A few days ago, June 6th, marked the 70th anniversary of D-Day, and the beginning of the end of Adolph Hitler’s evil Nazi empire. About 160 thousand Allied troops consisting of mostly U.S. forces, but with some British and Canadian troops, stormed the beaches in Normandy, France, and endured unbelievably horrific and withering German artillery fire, as they endeavored to gain a foothold on French soil. Thousands lost their lives that day on those bloody beaches with thousands more severely wounded. But by the end of the day, the Allies did achieve a foothold, although just barely, and began their long trek towards Berlin. Heads of state, including President Obama, and other dignitaries attended the 70th anniversary celebrations in Normandy, especially paying tribute to those that were killed that day on the Normandy beaches as the ocean turned from blue to red. Also in attendance were some remaining veterans of that conflict, now in their late eighties or nineties. Their numbers, of course, dwindle with each passing year.

Within 11 months after D-Day, the Nazi Empire had crumbled and Hitler had committed suicide. But first the Allies had to contend with more horrific German firepower and ferocity in the towns and villages surrounding the Normandy beaches. Slowly grinding on, and again experiencing terrible casualties, Allied troops finally reached the outskirts of Paris. When the Allies finally broke through the German line, and American tanks rolled down the Champs-Elysees, Parisians by the tens of thousands, lined the streets, dancing in joy and tossing flowers and blowing kisses at the Allied troops. The U.S. was at its zenith back then, loved, admired, and respected by virtually every country in the world. Even by Germany and Japan, once they had rid themselves of the evil regimes that had taken over the reigns of their governments. Does anyone believe that U.S. troops would be greeted in a similar fashion if U.S. tanks made a similar entrance today. If U.S. tanks streamed down the Champs-Elysees today, or the streets of any other foreign city,  local citizens would be cursing, spitting, or shaking their fists at the U.S. presence. Just an indication of how far U.S. prestige has fallen in the eyes of the rest of the countries on this planet today.

But back in the 1940s and even the 1950s, America was looked upon as a savior from all the evil and nefarious forces lurking everywhere on this planet. The American economy began booming after the war’s end. There was a huge, pent-up demand for consumer goods, since U.S. factories during the war had shifted almost exclusively to the manufacture of military hardware. People were now buying everything from cars to kitchen appliances faster than they could be produced. It was an era of prosperity and good will; but dark clouds were already looming on the horizon. By the late 1940s Americans began to develop an inordinate fear regarding the spread of communism. This fear was not totally unjustified since China, the largest country on Earth fell to the communists in 1948. In Europe, Stalin’s Russia had spread its communist-style of governance through a slew of East European nations. Hence, the American fear concerning the spread of communism led to  epidemic proportions of paranoia.  It led us to go to war again in Korea; and to an eventual stalemate which freed only half of that peninsula. And, as usual under such circumstances, there were seedy politicians willing to take advantage of irrational fear mongering.

A senator out of Wisconsin named Joe McCarthy realized that there was much gain to be made out of anti-communist hysteria and political witch hunts, and began launching them with unbridled fanaticism. Hundreds, if not thousands of innocent lives and reputations were ruined or destroyed by McCarthyism, which actually became a new word in the dictionary. But the Senator’s very successes led him to overreach, which in turn led to his destruction. McCarthy finally drank himself to death in the late 1950s. With the end of that decade most Americans felt that the excesses of McCarthyism had been put behind them, and a new era of Camelot was about to begin with the election of John Kennedy in 1960.

It was thought that with movie star good looks, and exuding an excess of charm and charisma, JFK, of the Boston Irish Kennedy clan, would put America back on the ascendancy. Along with his glamourous wife Jackie, John Kennedy would surely re-establish the America dream to its full potency, and Camelot would reign throughout the land. Unfortunately, such hopes soon turned out to be bitter fruit. Kennedy allowed himself to fall into the previous decade’s anti-communist quagmire, and upped the ante on his predecessor’s involvement on conflict in a jungle hell-hole known as Viet-Nam. It was the most disastrous war the U.S. had ever engaged in, and the first war we lost out-right. It put us back on a downward slope. And if this weren’t enough, tragedy then struck. A deranged killer’s bullet laid Kennedy in his grave, in November 1963.  The country went into a deep period of mourning, from which it has never fully recovered, especially, the person closest to the slain President.

Jack’s younger brother, Bobby, had been his campaign manager during the 1960 election, and was then appointed Attorney-General, when Jack was sworn in as President. It was the tumultuous ’60s with great civil rights demonstrations against the segregated South, as well as huge demonstrations against the war in Viet-Nam. Both the President and the Attorney-General were deeply involved with the civil rights causes of that era, and with their leader, a young black minister named Martin Luther King Jr. If the Kennedy Administration became too involved in Viet-Nam, it at least succeeded in breaking down racial segregation barriers throughout the deep South. As I said, Bobby took Jack’s death especially hard; but the grief made him a deeper and more empathetic figure.

Bobby ran for the Senate in New York in 1964 and won. In 1968 he was determined to run for the presidency on a platform of extracting us from the Viet-Nam war, removing the last vestiges of racial segregation and bigotry in our country, and having the Government become more involved in the plight of the poor, sick and hungry. Alas, all this was not too be.

Earlier in 1968, Martin Luther King had been gunned down by another deranged individual, and the civil rights movement lost their greatest leader. Then on June 5, 1968, just after he won the California primary in his race for the presidency, Bobby Kennedy was also shot by another sicko with a gun. He died the next day, June 6, the 24th anniversary of D-Day. I guess, as the song says, you don’t lose such quality and beloved leadership as John, Martin and Bobby, without serious consequences. Replacements for men of such caliber have been sadly lacking, and thus increasing the American Empire’s downward spiral. Today, we have dingbats such as Sarah Palin or Ted Cruz being mentioned for the presidency in 2016. A sign of the times of, indeed, how far we have fallen.

 

 

 

 

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ADVOCATING FOR THE POOR

I’ve written before about how Lyndon Johnson initiated the war on poverty in the U.S. 50 years ago. Now, 50 years later and trillions spent, about the same number of people, percentage-wise, in this country are still mired in poverty. To say nothing of the billions of people on this planet also living in the most desperate squalor. Especially in Africa, Asia and South America. The thing about poverty is that one is not only forced to live under the most inhumane conditions; but it deflates one’s spirit and self-worth the way a pin prick would allow the helium to come oozing out, thus deflating a hot-air ballon. So, is there anyone out there of major importance who is speaking out on behalf of the plight of the poor. Certainly no one in this country, including President Obama. But there is one figure on the world stage that has now became a major advocate for the world’s impoverished; and that figure is newly inaugurated Pope Francis.

The new Pope, who had previously worked closely with those down-and-out in Argentina, has made some recent declarations that have had U.S. right-wingers and those who believe in laissez-faire capitalism, quite upset. First he indicated that trickle-down economics was a bad thing thing that especially victimized the poor. A BAD THING? Why, trickle-down economics, where a few people who are highly proficient in manipulating our capitalist system become so rich that they’re willing to let a few shekels trickle down to the rest of the peasants, is the heart and soul of the Republican Party’s platform. How can that be a bad thing? The Pope’s proclamation had a number rich, Catholic donors to the GOP, almost apoplectic. Catholic, right-wing demagogues on Fox News like Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity were near having total meltdowns.

Next, Pope Francis had the temerity to state that there there should be a justifiable re-distribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. OH MY GOD. Now he’s really gone too far. The Koch Brothers and their ilk began labeling the Pope as a Marxist, if not an out-right Communist. Asking the rich to part with some of their wealth to enable the poor, why that was just plain, out-right subversive. How could the Pope even call himself Catholic. Everyone knows that if people are poor, it means they’re just too lazy or too unambitious or too stupid, or perhaps all three, to make something of themselves. As a result of the Pope’s heresy when it came to statements regarding capitalism, Francis was forced to, at least partially, walk back some of these “jarring” proclamations on wealth re-distribution. Otherwise, how could rich, catholic, right-wing capitalists the world over, live with themselves.

In any event, I thought it might be worthwhile to examine what poverty looks like here in the U.S. since few topics have more myths, misconceptions, stereotypes and distortions surrounding them. The notions that poverty affects a relatively small number of people, is primarily confined to minorities living in the inner-cities, and results because people don’t work hard enough, are flat-out wrong. Research has indicated that nearly 40% of Americans between the ages of 25-60 will live at least one year below the officially designated poverty level. The number rises to 54% if you include those that are just at, or slightly above the poverty line. Also, nearly half of all American children will, at some point, live in households that require food stamps to be able to put food on the table. And, contrary to myth, only 10% of those in poverty live in extremely poor inner cities. The rest can be found throughout a variety of urban and suburban landscapes, and especially in small towns across rural America. Also, instead of mainly minorities, two-thirds of those below the poverty line are identified as being white, a number that has been consistent over several decades.

Well, you might say, especially if you’re a Republican, what about the huge benefits the Government supposedly lavishes on the poor. Again, a myth. Contrary to political rhetoric, the American social safety net is extremely weak and filled with gaping holes. It has become even weaker over the past 40 years because of continuing budget cutting measures. The U.S. stands alone among first-world industrialized nations in failing to provide universal health care, (even under ObamaCare), affordable child care, free or low-cost college tuition, or reasonably priced and decent low-income housing. That’s why, Europe, for example, has a far lower poverty rate than the U.S. Those who are mired in poverty, are often shocked to find how little Government assistance is available to ease their dire circumstances.

Finally, the myth that the poor are too indolent to improve their living standards should also be put to rest. The vast majority of the poor have worked or are currently working. The problem is that they usually lack the job skills and/or education to find employment that pays decent wages. And because we have a generally lousy economy, it’s extremely difficult those that lost their jobs in the latest downturn to find new offers. Couple that with the millions of jobs U.S. companies have shipped overseas so they can pay even lower wages, and the plight of the working poor, becomes even more dire.

Now one must recognize that the definition of poor in this country is a lot different than what it means to be poor in a place such as Africa, for example. In this country, the poor may live in the most squalid of quarters, but they do have a roof over their heads. Most will likely have color TVs, cell phones, computers and perhaps even a car. In Africa, vast chunks of the population don’t even have electricity, let alone all the assorted gadgetry. Many in Africa experience such abominable sanitary and living conditions that their average life expectancy is about half what it is in this country. But the one thing that unites all the world’s poor, is the way poverty drains the human soul of any feelings of self-worth. So,  since no other world figure seems to be up for the job, it would appear that Pope Francis needs to continue to be a strong advocate for the world’s impoverished.

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THE WAR ON THE POOR

The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer, and the middle class …is getting poorer too. Long-time trends since the early 1980s show that middle class income has been steadily declining while the top 10% has seen a steady rise in their share of annual income and overall wealth. Today the top one percent has annual income of over $400,000, while the top 5 percent comes in at just under 200,000. It’s really not that much-especially if you live in a high-priced metropolitan area. But the overall wealth of families in the top 5% averages out at about $16 million, which is not too shabby. While families in the bottom 25% often barely make it from paycheck to paycheck, even with some government assistance.

On the other side of the ledger, the average family income in this country is now about $50,500, declining by over 5% over the last half-dozen years. Now $50,000 a year may afford you a half-way decent, no-frills, middle class life-style in places like Ames, Iowa, or Athens Georgia, but it doesn’t go very far if one lives in cities like San Francisco, Chicago, Houston or New York. As far as the poverty rate in the U.S. these days, it stands at around 15%, with those families earnings being in the neighborhood of $20,000 per year. So we have the top one percent earning over $400,000 a year, while the bottom 15% earn about $20,000 or less. Does that sound like income inequality to you? A subject that President Obama will likely dwell upon at some length in his state of the union address tonight. Or more precisely, how to remedy the continual growing economic inequality that is oozing over this country like a giant blob.

Of course, economic conditions in this country used to be worse. This prompted President Lyndon Johnson, exactly 50 years ago, to declare his famous “War on Poverty.” In 1964, the official poverty rate in this country was over 20%, and Johnson, after taking over the presidency from an assassinated John Kennedy, declared that this was unacceptable. There was, in effect 2 Americas. While some of the citizenry lived in opulent luxury, a vast number endured hardscrabble lives in the most deplorable squalor. So Johnson, with the help of Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress began his war on poverty which resulted in the enactment of major pieces of legislation such as Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, college loan programs and housing assistance. As a result, poverty rates, especially for seniors dropped significantly to about the 15% level. Under LBJ, the civil rights voting law, which enabled black minorities to freely vote in the South for the first time, also became a reality. Indeed, with such huge accomplishments under his belt, Lyndon Johnson could have been recognized as one of our greatest presidents, except for one thing. The war in Viet-Nam. While the rest of the country finally began to recognize this war as the hopeless fiasco it turned out to be, LBJ continued to pour more  and more troops and money into a lost cause. The country turned on him, as a result, and his presidency was destroyed. Richard Nixon, who followed Johnson, and who extracted us from Viet-Nam, also achieved major accomplishments, only to see his presidency destroyed by his paranoia over the Watergate scandal. I guess the seeds of one’s personal destruction lie buried within everyone’s soul, only to sprout forth under the most opportune and fertile circumstances.

In any event, government intervention to provide assistance to the most unfortunate members of our society, the poor, the sick and the elderly, became the accepted norm, at least until 1980 when Ronald Reagan was elected president. Reagan ran under the mantra of the government, instead of being the solution, was actually the problem. It was government interference in the free-market system that was causing all the economic hardships we were experiencing. Upon taking office, Reagan, therefore, set out to significantly slash social welfare and assistance programs, while also substantially cutting income tax rates, especially for the rich. So, instead of a war on poverty that Lyndon Johnson had undertaken, Reagan and the Republicans set out to make it a war on the poor. It was the 1980s, when “welfare queens” were blamed for draining the public coffers. Of course, everyone knew who the welfare queens were, since it was used as a racist subterfuge for black unwed mothers. One would think, however, that by slashing welfare programs, government spending would substantially decrease. Instead, Reagan increased government debt by over 300% during his 8 years in office, primarily through huge increases in Defense spending. You know, to defend against that Russian “evil empire” thingy. It turned out that Reagan and the Republicans weren’t against government spending per se. They were just against spending it on the most vulnerable of our people. When it came to spending on military hardware and troops, the sky was the limit. This combination of huge Defense spending coupled with sharp tax reductions for the wealthiest among us has mushroomed our public debt now to about $17 trillion. Republican policies regarding these spending and tax priorities have also pretty much stayed the same to this day, as when Reagan first enumerated them in the 1980s.

To be fair, the very nature of our capitalistic economic system will mandate a society where some individuals will possess the necessary talents and abilities to take full advantage and become very wealthy and powerful. Others will have extreme difficulty coping with competitive nature and meritocracy that capitalism demands, and they will usually wind up at the bottom of the totem pole. Most will fall somewhere in the middle. To paraphrase what Winston Churchill said about democracy-Capitalism is the worst form of economics, except for any other system that’s ever been tried.

In any event, no matter what President Obama proposes tonight regarding income inequality, don’t look for our piece of crap Congress to take any meaningful action on any proposal. Politicians these days are bought and paid for by billionaires who have their own agendas, and they hardly include helping to raise the lower classes out of poverty. Once elected, a politician’s primary objective is to get re-elected; and to do that, he or she has to make  the billionaires who put him or her in office happy so these billionaires will keep pouring money into their campaigns. That’s what our so-called democratic system has devolved to, why no meaningful legislation is ever enacted, and why the entire system has pretty much become a farce.

 

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TAKING INVENTORY

As 2013 winds down to its dreary conclusion, a look back over the year would seem to be in order. Both internationally and here in the U.S., events generally did not go well. From the hysterics surrounding the rollout of ObamaCare and the general dysfunction and demonization of political opponents in our so-called government, to to the triumphs of tyrants and murderers abroad, 2013 will not make the hit parade of winners over the years, decades or centuries, past or future. So lets us start with the “unpleasantness” occurring overseas before we swing back to what has taken place in this country.

Take Greece. Please. (Still attached to that old Hennie Youngman joke.) Greece, as we all know, has long been considered the cradle of democracy, if not civilization itself. Between Plato, Socrates, Homer and others, Greece has profoundly enriched western civilization and culture with literature, art, philosophy, etc. But modern day Greece, as we further know, has been an economic basket case. The country has been in a virtual state of bankruptcy for at least the last 6 years, and its economy would have been driven down to the very depths of depression if it hadn’t received continual cash infusions from wealthier European countries such as Germany. So, as what usually happens in societies that are suffering hard economic times, extremism on a broad scale has raised its ugly head.

A political movement in Greece called “Golden Dawn” which espouses a neo-Nazi philosophy, has been steadily gaining political muscle and influence. Much like the race riots caused by Nazi brownshirts in 1920s Germany, the Greek police have generally stood on the sidelines while Golden Dawn’s para-military squads have rolled into action, spewing forth hate and violent demonstrations against anyone deemed genetically inferior. And much like Hitler and the Nazis in the 1920s, Golden Dawn, once considered a fringe group known for its stiff-arm salutes and Holocaust denials, has now achieved at least 15% support and growing, among the Greek populace. They also have 18 seats now in the Greek parliament. Emboldened by their rising popularity and parliamentary successes, Golden Dawn has embarked on an ever-increasing level of racial violence and street demonstrations which have resulted in scores of deaths. And why not? This was the same route so successfully taken by Adolph Hitler and the Nazis on their road to political domination. So, in addition to the economic misery the average Greek citizen is expected to suffer through, they now have to combat the rising tide of right-wing fanaticism. And I would submit that all this is all going on under most Americans radar screens.

I’ve written before about the other on-going, long-term,  festering foreign policy  problems that the U.S. tends more and more to walk away from. In 2013, the rising tide of U.S. isolationism gathered increased momentum. Both the political left and right in this country have entered into an unholy alliance to disengage from foreign affairs. For example, the one thing that Ted Cruz, on the far-far right, complimented President Obama for, was not taking military action in Syria. Even though bloody dictator Basher Assad has now slaughtered about 130,000 of his on people in a never-ending civil war. Even though Assad crossed Obama’s red line in the sand by using chemical warfare in killing hundreds of Syrians. Even though Assad orders bombings of Syrian cities, killing hundreds on a daily basis. But who are we to intervene? Certainly not the leader of the free world. Not anymore.

I’ve also written before about how Iran, the leading world sponsor of terrorism, is first-down and goal to go on the one yard line, as far as acquiring nuclear weaponry. About how, in 2013, we’ve eased up on the economic sanctions placed on Iran in attempting dissuade the ruling mullahs from crossing that goal line. In return for relaxed sanctions we’ve gotten supposed negotiations which appear to be going no-where. About how absent any direct military action by this country in bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities, they will almost certainly come into possession of dirty bombs. And, about how, given the growing isolationist tendencies in the U.S., the chances of such military action are about….less than zero. Because we all know how well isolationism worked out in the past; say just before WWII. The one thing I’ve learned in life is that there’s always a price to pay for every action, or inaction, as the case may be. That free lunch everyone’s always looking for-it just ain’t there.

Moving back to our shores, 2013 saw an increasing amount of dysfunction and polarization among the American public and its representatives. We saw the Government shut down for weeks in October, as both parties created one phony crises after another to further their political agendas. Any thought of actually enacting something beneficial for the American public evaporated like the morning mist. As a result, the decades-long decline of the American middle-class continued unabated. Average annual income for middle-class families declined from about $56,000 before the recession to about an inflation-adjusted $51,000 currently. Meanwhile, the richest one or two percent saw their wealth grow considerably higher. We are becoming more and more like a third-world banana republic, where the one percent richest elite will rule the rest of us peasants. Republicans, smelling blood in the water, are attacking the highly Democratic ineptitude in rolling out ObamaCare. The GOP figures that the ObamaCare failures in 2013 will give them an absolute lock on winning both the House and the Senate in 2014, and perhaps they’re right. Won’t life in America be fun then. So to my thinking, 2013 has recorded a pretty dismal record when it comes to the betterment of mankind’s future.

Meanwhile, dysfunction will still be the order of the day, come 2014. Starting early next year, another Government shutdown is looming over the debt-ceiling debacle. And I haven’t even discussed the enormous progress made in  the ecological degradation of our planet during 2013, and sure to continue as 2014 unfurls. (I’ve written about that previously, if anyone is interested.) So raise a glass of good cheer come New Year’s Eve. After all, the fun just never stops coming.

 

 

 

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IN GOD’S IMAGE

A few years back, the late author and intellectual, Christopher Hitchens, wrote a book entitled-“God Is Not Great,” which, in my opinion, contained a very provocative concept. Hitchens stated that-“God did not create man. It’s the other way around. Man created God.” His theory was that because of man’s fear of the unknown, and of death, man had to create a being greater than himself, to provide comfort from the stresses of living, and an after-life to alleviate the fear of death. Over the millions of years these belief systems  evolved, first into pagan religions that worshipped idols, and then into the formal religions that we have today such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, etc. But all these religions have one thing in common; they are all man-made. The Hebrew old testament, the Christen new testament, the Moslem Koran, etc. were all written by men. Not a single word was scripted by God. This, of course, left man, or at least the men that were writing these bibles, which went on to serve as the underpinnings of their religions, a free hand to create God in whatever image they desired. So let’s examine how man created at least one of these major religions, Christianity, since it’s the primary belief system in the U.S. And, of course, the time of year when Christianity is most celebrated.

While the new testament supposedly convey’s a message of love, compassion, empathy and respect for your fellow human beings, many conservative Christian pastors don’t quite see it that way. For example, North Carolina pastor Charles Worley (who has a huge following) recently sermonized about creating a gay concentration camp. “Have the fence electrified so the homosexuals can’t get out. In a few years they’ll die out… because they can’t reproduce.”

Or how about Kansas pastor Curtis Knapp, who, during a recent sermon about homosexuality, stated-“Oh, so you’re saying that we should go out and start killing them? No, I’m saying the Government should. They won’t, but they should.” Or maybe the colorful language expressed by Indiana pastor Paul Brewster might be considered more vivid when he said-“A decision to allow same-sex marriages today lays the foundation for the definition of marriage to become silly putty tomorrow…which is a recipe for children to be made victims of all sorts of abuse, and the welfare of our society to receive a fatal blow.” I would also be remiss if I left out Maryland’s pastor Dennis Letterman’s shouts from the pulpit, when referring to homosexuals-“Kill them all. Right? My flesh kind of likes that idea.”

Perhaps we should put pastor Steven Anderson of Arizona at the top of the homophobic and Obama hate list. A few of his recent quotes will show why. “Let me tell you something: Barack Obama has wrought lewdness in America. America has become lewd…. Obscene. Dirty Filthy. Homosexuality. Promiscuity… We don’t even know what lewdness means anymore. We’re just surrounded by it. Inundated with it.” Or how about, when referring to President Obama, stating-…you’re going to tell me that I’m supposed to pray for the socialist devil, murderer, infanticide, who wants to see young children or babies killed through abortion….No, I’m not gonna pray for his good. I’m gonna pray that he dies and goes to hell….When I go to bed tonight, that’s what I’m going to pray.”

Well, you might say. These are just small time hate-mongers preaching to like minded rubes in the hinterlands. Okay, then let’s hit the big time. One such prime-time pastor is Mark Driscoll who preaches every Sunday to over 7000 congregants at the Mars Hill mega church in Seattle, WA. Besides his attendees, hundreds of thousands more people are estimated to watch his sermons on YouTube every week. He’s been preaching for over 15 years and he doesn’t view Jesus, or Christianity as being all that empathetic. Recently he stated that-“Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist. He has a long wick, but the anger of his wrath is burning. Once the wick is burned up, he’s saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter his enemies and usher in his kingdom. Blood will flow.”

Can’t you just feel the love. In 2007 Driscoll sneered at Christians who “recast Jesus as a limp-wrist hippie in a dress with a lot of product in his hair.” Instead he said that”Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in his hand and the commitment to make somebody bleed.” Of course, preaching a violent rather than peaceful or loving form of Christianity has a long history in the U.S. In the early part of the 20th century the Reverend Billy Sunday developed an immense following by sermonizing about the fires of hell and damnation that await all sinners, which included just about everybody older than nine. In the 1930s, Father Coughlin had a huge radio audience as he spewed forth a particularly virulent form of anti-semitism.

Not that other religions don’t spew forth hate and violence as well, all in the name of God. A prime example being the mullahs in various mosques around the world ranting on about Islamic Jihadism. But I don’t put the blame on any of these sermonizers. They’re just giving their audiences what they want to hear. As long as so many people in this world possess such huge quantities of hate and vitriol, you can bet that preachers in all religions will arise to give them what they’re asking for. If the demand is there opportunists will come forth to provide the supply. If, as Christopher Hitchens said, man created God, then man also has the option of defining or redefining God in any manner that’s suitable to his whims.

 

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