Posts Tagged With: social commentary

HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART III)

This is the last one in this series, I promise. We left off last time when Jimmy Carter assumed the Presidency in 1976 after a narrow win over Gerald Ford. Interestingly, Carter is still alive today and pushing near 90, while Ford made it well into his 80s, before saying sayonara. Being president seems to promote longevity. In any event, Carter’s presidency is often deemed a failure by most historians, but like Nixon, he did make some significant accomplishments.

James Earl Carter started off the 1976 race with like a 30 point lead over Ford according to reliable polling data. This was primarily due to how adversely the Watergate scandal had affected the GOP. By election day, however, Carter appeared to be in over over his head and entire lead had evaporated, leaving him to win by the slimmest of margins. He did this by carrying every southern state except Virginia, in a complete role reversal of today’s voting patterns. This occurred because Carter was a southern Governor with evangelical religious beliefs. Now, a Democrat can’t get elected dog catcher in the deep south. His presidency was marred by a poor economy, as evidenced by high rates of inflation and fairly high unemployment. They called it stagflation at the time. Nevertheless, there was considerable achievement.

Carter, using personal diplomacy, managed to pull off a peace treaty with Israel and Egypt, who had been in a virtual continuous state of war since Israel’s founding in 1948. In what came to be known as the Camp David accords, Carter got both sides to not only make peace, but to establish diplomatic relations, which was unthinkable in the Arab world at that time, and even to this day. He also turned over control and ownership of the Panama Canal to Panama where it belonged, despite the howls of protest from the Rush Limbaugh-types, that such action would allow Red China and Russia to invade and conquer the U.S. at will. These accomplishments paled, however, because during Carter’s presidency, the Shah of Iran was overthrown and the country was taken over by the fanatical mullahs that run the government to this day. One of their first actions was to invade the U.S. Embassy in Teheran and take all personal assigned there as hostages. As negotiations for their release dragged on and on, Carter authorized a daring covert rescue attempt. But 2 of the rescuers’ helicopters crashed in the air over Iran during this botched attempt, killing all on-board. It seemed to symbolize all the ineptitude of the Administration, and doomed Carter’s chances for re-election.

In 1980 Carter ran for re-election against a second-rate movie actor, who had managed to become Governor of California, named Ronald Wilson Reagan. Reagan talked as a tough conservative, but had a huge gift of gab, including a lot of self-deprecating humor, and had actually governed California as a moderate. In any event, due to the poor economy, the botched hostage rescue, and Reagan’s highly skilled campaign abilities, Carter lost the election in a landslide. Reagan set out to quickly change the political landscape by sharply increasing Defense spending, cutting social spending, and significantly reducing income taxes, especially for the wealthy. In the end, his cuts in social spending were modest and around the fringes, but his Defense  increases and tax cuts sharply led to huge deficit spending. The accumulated deficit from George Washington through Jimmy Carter was one trillion dollars when Reagan took office, but mushroomed to four trillion in the following 12 years, or a 300% increase. Today Republican candidates for President all hail Reagan as their model, but the truth is that the tea-party dominated GOP would never allow Reagan to be their candidate. He had too much common sense and pragmatism. Reagan eventually succumbed to Alzheimer’s disease which started appearing late in his second term.

Reagan was followed into the presidency by his Vice-President George H. W. Bush, a very decent, honest and down-to-earth individual. The year was 1988, and the Democrats put up the Governor of Mass. named Michael Dukakis to oppose Bush. But like the George McGovern candidacy and the Carter years, the Democrats and Dukakis went into a full incompetency mode, and Bush won the election easily. His 4 years in office were generally unremarkable, but he did agree with Democrats to a small increase in income tax rates, for which his was branded a traitor by right-wing Republicans. He also led us into the first Gulf war against Iraq, when Saddam Hussein tried to take over oil rich Kuwait. Bush was successful in freeing Kuwait, but he let Saddam stay in power, which we paid for dearly soon after.

In 1992 the economy experienced a slight down-turn, and it cost Bush his re-election bid to another southern Democrat Governor named William Jefferson Clinton. Clinton ran on a platform of: “It’s the economy, stupid,” and the country seemed to believe him, as he won easily despite a reputation of sexual affairs outside of marriage. The 8 Clinton years (he won re-election in 1996 against a hapless Bob Dole) were probably the best era of peace and prosperity in my lifetime, and I’ve been around over three-quarters of a century. We had a booming economy, low interest rates, low inflation, and except for a relatively brief scuffle with Serbia, the absence of war.  Of course, in Clinton’s second term, the whole Monica Lewinsky scandal erupted, and Clinton became only the second president to be impeached by the House of Representatives. But Clinton survived the scandal, and because the times were so good, his approval ratings were through the roof when he left office. To this day, there are still those that bemoan the fact that he’s no longer president.

I’ve already written about how the election of 2000 was taken away from Clinton’s Vice-President, Al Gore, despite his winning at the polls, and how this led to the second Gulf war with Iraq and the ensuing huge loss of life and destruction. George W. Bush, son of the former president, George H.W. Bush, assumed the Oval Office, only to be hit with the tragic events of 9/11, eight months later. He is a decent man like his father, but he got us into a highly questionable second war with Iraq which took about eight and a half years to extricate ourselves from. Under his presidency the prescription drug benefit was added to Medicare, another huge accomplishment on the road to try to achieve universal health care. But the economy took a huge hit starting in 2007 and the country soured on the second Bush presidency. This paved the way for the first black president elected to the Oval Office in 2008, Barak Obama. We all pretty much know how it’s turned out since then. In 2013, either Obama will be back in office, or we will have the newly elected Mitt Romney.

In any event let’s drink a toast to those that made it, but , more so to those that tried and failed. How much different would our lives be, or would the nation’s affairs be, if the other guy had won instead. It would be interesting to theorize about it.

 

 

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HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART II)

Just one footnote to the presidential race in 1960 between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon that I discussed in the last entry. I was still living at home in Brooklyn with my parents. (Yes, I put off growing up into a mature adult as long as I could. Some say there are still unresolved issues in that regard.) This would be the first election I was eligible to vote in, since the voting age was still 21 at that time. So imagine my excitement when the Kennedy campaign came to Brooklyn on a cold October day, and there was JFK standing up in a convertible limo with the top down, waving to the crowds as his motorcade rolled through the streets very near to my residence. Up until then, men always wore hats, especially in cold weather. You can see evidence of that if you ever watch movies made before the late 1950s. But JFK went hatless, mainly to show off his great looks and thick shock of hair. That started a new fashion trend almost overnight, where men started giving up wearing their hats, and the male hat industry quickly went out of business.

We left off last time with Richard Nixon winning the 1968 presidency in a close race with Hubert Humphrey. Now everyone knows that Nixon had to resign the presidency in disgrace over the Watergate scandal. But what most people don’t appreciate was that Nixon accomplished huge achievements during the time he was in office. If not for Watergate he could have been considered one of our greatest presidents. First, Nixon finally got us out of Viet-Nam, which was deeply dividing the nation. We had been involved in Viet-Nam since the 1950s, and huge protests against the war continued almost on a weekly basis. The generals in command were calling for another 200 thousand troop increase to go along with the 500 thousand troops already there. Instead Nixon started withdrawing troops and eventually signed a peace treaty with North Viet-Nam that enabled us to extricate ourselves from that horrible mis-adventure. By the time it was over, the war had cost us 58,500 American dead, with hundreds of thousands more wounded, and hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese dead. Nixon being able to finally end that misguided effort was huge. Today we have peaceful relations with Viet-Nam and it is considered a valuable trading partner. In the end, all that loss of life and destruction was really in vain.

Nixon’s next huge achievement was opening up diplomatic relations with Communist China, who along with the old USSR, was considered our implacable enemy. Nixon had a reputation for being a hardline anti-communist, so  that he was able to pull off ending the cold war, at least with China, was almost unthinkable at the time. Today China is one of our largest trading partners, and holds about a trillion dollars of our debt. Nixon also established the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, which consolidated and expanded public social services . The Education part was eventually split off and became a separate department, while the rest of HEW has now become the Department of Health and Human Resources. Nixon even wanted to institute universal health care, but it was the Democrats in Congress that balked because they felt his bill didn’t go far enough. Although he talked as a tough conservative, Nixon presided over an enlargement of social benefits almost to the degree that Lyndon Johnson or even FDR did. As I’ve said, his accomplishments were huge.

Nixon’s Achilles heel, however was that he was deeply paranoid. He felt he was continually besieged by people hostile to his administration, despite all his accomplishments. He kept enemies lists and made secret recordings of conversations he had with visitors to the White House. In 1972, he ran for re-eletion against a largely unknown liberal Senator from South Dakota named George McGovern. McGovern was a decent and sincere man, but the Democrats went into their full incompetency  mode, including not nominating McGovern during their convention until about 2 in the morning when everyone was asleep and could not hear his acceptance speech. As a result, Nixon won in a mammoth landslide, capturing 49 out of 50 states. However, during the election, a curious event occurred that would eventually destroy the Nixon presidency.

Late in the campaign season, a group of third rate Republican hacks one night broke into Democratic campaign headquarters in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington DC. God knows what information they were hoping to learn or steal, especially since it was obvious at the time that Nixon would win by a landslide. If Nixon had come out at the time that the break-in was discovered, and stated that he in no way authorized or condoned the break-in, and the perpetrators would be punished to the full extent of the law, his presidency would have been unscathed. But Nixon’s paranoia would not allow him to do that. Instead he and his closest White House advisors went through elaborate schemes to try to cover-up any higher Republican involvement in this third-rate burglary. The more the story made the news, the more elaborate the cover-up became. Finally, the entire story became public thanks to the diligence of two “Washington Post” reporters, and several Congressional and judicial investigations. Nixon’s involvement, not in the crime, but in the coverup became evident, and he was forced to resign the presidency.

Since Nixon’s Vice President also had to resign his office due to a different scandal, the Republicans chose Gerald Ford, who was their leader in the House, to take over the presidency. Ford was a decent and moderate Republican and his basic honesty helped clean up the mess in Washington and restore the people’s faith in their government. But Ford made one crucial mistake that cost him the Oval Office when he ran for election in 1976. He had given Nixon a pardon from any possible prosecution connected to Watergate for the rest of Nixon’s life. The public was still in an unforgiving mood as it related to Watergate, and thus elected a largely unknown peanut farmer who managed to become Governor of Georgia named Jimmy Carter. The Democrats were so delighted that they had a Southern Governor who not only wasn’t a racist, but had actually championed civil rights, that they practically handed Carter the nomination on a silver platter. Carter’s presidency would also end in failure, but like Nixon, he had several significant achievements which we will pick up with next time. It is interesting to note, however, that two Republican presidents, Nixon and Ford, would likely be drummed out of today’s tea-party, Rush Limbaugh dominated Republican Party.

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HERE’S TO PRESIDENTIAL LOSERS (PART I)

Ever wonder what the destiny of our country would look like if the men that lost recent presidential elections had won instead. For example, if Al Gore had been allowed to assume the presidency in 2000 after an election he had actually won, it’s likely that Saddam Hussein would still be dictator in Iraq. But also, 6000 dead U.S. military and civilians would likely still be alive, and over 30,000 U.S. men and women that suffered life-destroying  injuries like blindness or severe brain trauma would have their lives back. Also, about a trillion dollars we spent over there could have been saved. So let’s look back at some of the near misses in recent presidential elections and perhaps drink a toast to the guys that almost made it but didn’t.

My earliest recollection of presidential politics was in 1948 when I was 12 years old. That year, the contestants were Harry Truman, who had taken over the presidency from Franklin Roosevelt when FDR died in 1945 (after winning an unprecedented 4 terms) and Tom Dewey the Republican governor of New York. Dewey had built his reputation as a crime busting district attorney that had put Murder Inc. out of business. (That was a Mafia-run enterprise where you could hire someone to whack anyone you had a beef against, usually for a hefty price like $50,000.) Dewey was a moderate to progressive Republican, (an extinct species in today’s politics) and all the polls said he would beat Truman by double digits. My father was bemoaning the fact that we would have to live under a GOP presidency, but some intuitive instinct told me otherwise, so, knowing virtually nothing, I proudly declared that Truman would win win the election. My father, looking angrily at me, said I better keep my mouth shut, lest the neighbors discover what an idiot child he had raised. But I wouldn’t budge in my prediction. Dad, don’t worry, Truman will win, I kept saying. The newspapers were so confident of a Dewey win that the Chicago Tribune already published the story before the election results came in. The next day a beaming and victorious Truman held up the Chicago Tribune paper that had the headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

In 1952 the election was between war hero Dwight Eisenhower (Ike) and Illinois governor Adlai Stevenson. Ike, besides being the great war hero that defeated Nazism in Europe during WWII, had that great smile that made him instantly likable to just about everyone. He was considered a moderate and ran against Ohio conservative Robert Taft in the GOP primary which Ike easily won. I consider Adlai Stevenson perhaps the most honorable, honest, and decent candidate to run for office in my lifetime, but he had no chance against Ike. Oh, that smile, and the war-hero thing. It was Stevenson’s misfortune to be nominated again in 1956, and thus be shellacked by Ike twice. Eisenhower had a fairly unremarkable presidency during his 8 years. But he did send in federal troops to protect 9 black children when the segregationist governor of Arkansas tried to block the integration of a white-only public school in Little Rock.

In 1960, it was the famous battle between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon. It was also the first year they had televised debates between the 2 candidates. Nixon was a powerful debater and people who heard the debates on the radio thought he had won them. But on television, Kennedy was so much better-looking , and had so much more charm and charisma, that it lifted him to a narrow victory in 1960, but then, to eventual  tragedy. Kennedy’s short presidency was marred by the Bay of Pigs fiasco in Cuba, when the CIA tried to overthrow Castro but failed. The following year, the Russians tried to install nuclear missiles in Cuba, which led to the great missile crisis that year, which brought the world to the edge of nuclear devastation. Fortunately the Russians backed down and withdrew their missiles and the world was saved.

After Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 Lyndon Johnson became president and ran in in 1964. The Republican nomination looked like it was going to Nelson Rockefeller, the progressive governor of New York. But Rocky made the huge mistake of leaving his wife and seeking a divorce during the primary season, which was apparently too much of a scandal for the country at that time. So instead, Barry Goldwater, who was considered a radical right-wing senator from Arizona came off the winner but was trounced by Johnson in the election. Lyndon Johnson did a lot of great things during his presidency, like getting Medicare and civil rights legislation thru Congress, but he also got us bogged down in Viet-Nam which turned into a disaster. That ruined his presidency and he didn’t run for re-election.

In 1968, Robert Kennedy was running in the Democratic primary against Hubert Humphrey. Both were were excellent candidates, but I thought that RFK would have made a great president because of all the suffering he went thru at time of his brother”s death. It seemed to me that he knew and empathized with others who had also known great sadness in their lives. But 1968 turned out to be one of the most tragic years in American history, with the assassinations of both Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King during that year. That enabled Hubert Humphrey to get the Democratic nomination. On the Republican side, Richard Nixon returned to the fray, after vowing to the press in 1962 that they wouldn’t have Nixon to kick around anymore. Also in the race was third-party candidate George Wallace, a fiercely segregationist governor of Alabama. In a very tight election, Nixon edged out the win for presidency he had so long desired. The burden of Viet-Nam was to heavy for any Democrat to bear.

Some months after the election was over, they had a “roast” for Hubert Humphrey on TV that was run by entertainer Dean Martin. Martin arose before the mic to speak, and said words to the effect that: I want to introduce a person of such high honor, decency, integrity, and honesty that he’s sitting here next to me tonight at this crummy roast, rather than being in the White House. Truer words were never spoken. Even Humphrey couldn’t stop laughing.

We’ll pick up at this point next time around.

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LIFE’S CERTAINTIES

“Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” So wrote Dylan Thomas, the Irish poet, as a memorial to his recently deceased father. Unfortunately Dylan Thomas, himself, would be dead three years later at the much too young age of 38. I don’t suppose it really matters if you rage or go peacefully, you know what’s coming at the end of the road. It’s the one certainty we have in life. A lot of people say there are 2 sure things in life: death and taxes. But a some people have figured out how to avoid paying taxes so we’re left with the one surety. All I know is, that when you’re young and you look down the road of life, it’s usually sunny and clear as a bell with nothing to mar the view. (Unless you’re one of the unfortunate few that has a genetic defect or some other catastrophic event in your young life.) But at my age when you look down that very same road, you see Death flitting among the bushes, or peeking out from behind a tree, to use some Ingamar Bergman imagery. (If you don’t know who Ingamar Bergman is, look it up in your Funk&Wagnells.)

When I was a young teenager, maybe 13 or 14, I remember standing around one day with a group of guys my age, watching the old people in the neighborhood as they shuffled along. Invariably all their teeth had fallen out and they had false teeth, everything hurt them, they walked bent over with a cane, and if they were in a park, they barely had the strength to make it from one bench to  the next. If you never have had the image burnt into your brain of what someone with false teeth looks like after they take them out at night to put into a glass of water, think “Night of The Walking Dead” or other such zombie movies. Suffice to say that getting old in those days was not a pretty picture. So we youngsters unanimously agreed that, ugh, this was no way to live. We all vowed that we would never want to be in that condition, and that we were better off dying by the age 60, or 65 absolute tops, to avoid the horrors of old age. After all, 50 more years down the road of life seemed like forever. I remember saying something to the effect that I just wanted to make it to the year 2000, (which would put me at 62) as if an artificial demarcation on the calendar would bring some magical occurrence. So here I am some 60 years after that conversation, with some of my teeth falling out, but no false teeth yet, and so far, still being able to walk without a cane. I’m assuming the other guys in that conversation are pretty much in the same boat.

However, life after you turn 70, certainly does change, and usually not for the better. You may have what people generously  call “senior moments” where at times, you may forget some basic stuff like the brand of your car. If it doesn’t happen repetitively, you may get the benefit of the doubt that you’re not senile. Also old people generally enter a state of total obliviousness, where they feel that the focus of all the the energy in the universe is entirely on them. Everyone else that exists is totally incidental to their needs. For example, and I see this all the time since I live in a seniors community, they may be driving down a residential street and spot someone they know walking on the sidewalk. They will then stop their car in the middle of the street to strike up a conversation with that friend, totally oblivious to the possibility that another car may be behind them seeking to pass. Perish the thought of having to endure the extreme hardship of pulling off to the side of road.

If you make it to your eighties, you get a free pass on just acting weird or cantankerous. For example, not too long ago, we were in a group of 4 senior couples meeting for dinner at a local restaurant. The last couple who came about 15-20 minutes late was perhaps in their early 80s. Now I’m always hungry and ready to eat, but some seniors apparently abhor the thought of food, and have to be coaxed into eating, or so it seems.  Such was the case of the woman in that late-arriving couple. First she had to relate to us all the exciting things that occurred during her heart-pounding day, before she even recognized there was a menu in front of her. She seemed to have an attitude of: “What, we’re here to have dinner? I thought we were meeting to play dominoes.” With the rest of us waiting, she finally decided that she would now take a side-ward glance at the menu. Doing so she frowned, and the expression on her faced seemed to ask: “Why have they given me a menu written in Portuguese.” Being assured that the menu was indeed in English, she favored us by rummaging through her pocketbook (which couldn’t have taken more than 10 minutes) to find her glasses, so she could read the menu with utter disdain. When the waiter finally came to take our order, there was, of course, nothing on the menu, as presented, that would suit her needs. The poor waiter, after much grilling, had to agree to have the kitchen make various substitutions to particular dishes before she would agree to order. By now, I was so famished, that I contemplated crawling around on my hands and knees under the table, looking for some crumbs or a crust of bread the previous party might have dropped on the floor.

I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture by now, of what you have to look forward to in your senior years. Maybe us young teenagers weren’t so crazy after all.

 

 

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WAR GAMES

The first recorded war in history happened about 4700 years ago between what are parts of Iran and Iraq today. (Some things never change, do they?) There was obviously earlier wars, since’s man’s propensity to slaughter his fellow man seems infinite, but the first time war was actually recorded was about 2600 B.C. I guess weapons of mass destruction in those days were clubs and perhaps a spear or two. Fast forward through history, and an untold number of wars in which millions were killed, to World War I where weapons of mass destruction were bombs being dropped from planes. Bombs had been around for at least 2 centuries, (they’re mentioned in our “Star Spangled Banner”), but WWI was the first time they could be dropped from the air on a hapless population that were unfortunate enough to be on the ground beneath them.

WWI was also famous for its trench warfare. Both the German and French sides drew huge trenches in the eastern part of France where the war bogged down after the German invasion. Besides the constant bombardment between the 2 sides, life in the trenches was a living hell. It continually rained or snowed, so the trenches were always a muddy, rat-infested hellhole, where hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, more due to disease from the miserable living conditions, than to enemy fire. Trench warfare continued for about 3 years as the war degenerated into a stalemate, until the U.S. entered the war, which enabled the allies to push Germany out of France and finally ended with Germany’s defeat. So many lives were lost in the trenches that burial was out of the question. Instead they built a huge structure around all the dead with side glass panels. To this day visitors can look inside this monument to the dead and still see their bones.

Fast forward now to the late 1930s when Nazi Germany was gearing up for the next war. When the Nazi’s were re-arming, in violation of the treaty that ended WWI, France could have easily intervened and put a stop to the re-armament process, and probably could have put an end to Hitler’s rise to power. But France did nothing, primarily because the French military and population were too demoralized by the horrific losses they had suffered in WWI. Everyone knows about how the British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain came to Munich and tried to appease Hitler in 1938 by ceding over parts of Czechoslovakia to Hitler’s demands. Chamberlain apparently believed he had achieved “peace in our time” through appeasement of perhaps the most evil dictator of all time. What many people are not aware of is that the French Prime Minister was also at that meeting in Munich. His name was Edouard Daladier, and unlike Chamberlain, he had no illusions that Hitler could be bought off. He knew full well that Munich was just a prelude to WWII but he was too worn down by French malaise to do anything about it. Getting off the plane when he returned to Paris, and to throngs of people cheering him because they had believed Chamberlain’s proclamation that peace had indeed been achieved, he looked tired and haggard, with large bags under his eyes. Looking at the waving crowd,  he was heard to mutter to one of his aides:”The damned fools.”

Of course, instead of peace, war ensued and about 60 million people lost their lives in Europe, with millions more lost in the Pacific. The good guys (the Allies) finally won, and those Nazi war criminals that hadn’t committed suicide were hung at Nuremberg. But most people are unaware of just how close the Allies came to losing, in which case it would have been Truman and Eisenhower, and Churchill and Montgomery that were hung at Nuremberg, and Nazi rule prevailing throughout the West. Within a matter of weeks after the war begun, Nazi forces rampaged through and took over all of western Europe except for England. Thereafter Hitler invaded Russia in eastern Europe, and his forces marched almost unopposed over a thousand miles to the gates of Moscow. If Moscow had fallen, Russia would have been out of the war, and to try to retake Europe by fighting on just the western front would have been nearly impossible. Stalin, himself no stranger as an evil dictator, ordered the Russian military to defend Moscow at all costs, or to the last dead man, and somehow, although heavily out-gunned and out-manned, Russia held on, and the Nazi army was finally force to retreat back to Germany in the dead of winter. Hitler still had one ace up his sleeve, however. The Nazis were within weeks of developing an atomic bomb as well as rockets that could have reached New York and Washington before the Third Reich was finally forced to surrender. That’s how close we came to total disaster.

In the Pacific, the only thing that saved us, after the fiasco at Pearl Harbor, was that our carrier fleet, with all its hundreds of war planes was out at sea, instead being in port, when Japan struck. As bad as our losses at Pearl Harbor were, we could have never recovered if our carrier fleet had also been destroyed. Indeed after the destruction at Pearl Harbor, the Roosevelt White House fully believed that Japan would invade our west coast. We were so militarily unprepared, that had such an invasion occurred, Roosevelt believed we could not have stopped it. Military planners were prepared to set up a line of defense around the Chicago area, as a last-ditch effort against an invading Japanese army. The only thing that saved us was that Japan never realized how unprepared and vulnerable we were. It’s amazing how often wars are won and lost based on sets of missed opportunities.

Which brings us to the the present and our conflicts in the middle east. With Iran feverishly in the process of developing a nuclear arsenal, the next war could make the casualties suffered in previous wars look small in comparison. With Americans sick and tired of the wars in Iraq (which we are out of now), and Afghanistan where we’ve been bogged down for over 10 years, there is absolutely no desire for another conflict, especially not with Iran. Yet if we don’t take out Iran’s nuclear development now, that window of opportunity will soon be gone. We are at a point where France was with Nazi Germany in the late 1930s. France still had time to take out the Nazi war machine as late as 1938, but was too demoralized to take action. Are we also in the same category?

 

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TEAPOT CRACKPOTS

Most of you have probably never heard of Dick Armey.  He was a Republican Congressman from Texas during the 1990s, and along with his fellow GOP Congressman from TX, Tom Delay, was chiefly responsible for the impeachment of Bill Clinton over that Monica Lewinski  thingy. In any event, after serving several terms in the House of Representatives, Armey felt that just being in Congress did not satisfy his thirst for pyrotechnics. He quit Congress in the early 2000s, and was the guiding light behind forming several ultra-conservative political organizations. Working from the shadows as fit his shadowy and unsavory  persona, his biggest success came from being the primary force in developing the recent tea-party movement. Almost everyone, even those not politically inclined, has some knowledge of the tea party involvement in recent politics,  but almost no one is familiar with the man who energizes the tea party initiative behind the scenes. If you ever caught one of his rare public appearances on TV or elsewhere, you would understand why he prefers to manipulate strategy behind the curtains. Not one of your more pleasant fellow human beings walking the planet.

Anyway we all know about the tea party successes in the the 2010 elections. The tea party movement, which basically seeks to cut Government expenditures and regulations back to 18th century levels, won the House for the Republicans by a wide margin, and sliced the Democratic lead in the Senate. Just for the record, however, tea partiers don’t want to cut all Government budgets. For example, they are quite willing to spend tens of billions to build like a 97 foot wall across the entire length of our border with Mexico, and station a couple of hundred thousand troops there, to make sure that not even one illegal alien slips across the border into the U.S. They are also quite fond of spending billions for military hardware. But as I said, they had much political success in 2010. But they also suffered some notable failures.

For example there was Delaware, where a seasoned seasoned politician named Mike Castle was supposed to win the Republican nomination, and then be a sure winner for the Senate seat election that November. Instead the primary win went to a young, pretty, pert woman with a bubbly personality named Christine O’Donnell, who had heavy tea party support. The only trouble was, that once she started campaigning, she made Sarah Palin look like another Albert Einstein. Apparently, in the 1990s, Christine had dabbled in witchcraft ( a harmless enough pastime) but when running for the Senate, somehow felt the need to apologize for it. She cut a TV commercial saying, “I’m not a witch.” (It was so 17th century of her.) That and other brilliant gems caused her to lose the Senate race in November. Karl Rove, the Republicans chief campaign strategist, nearly had a nervous breakdown on Fox News as he watched his dreams of a Republican majority in the Senate fade into the sunset.

The most notable tea party failure occurred here in Nevada where I currently reside. (And I’m not proud of it.) Harry Reid, the Democratic Senate majority leader was running for re-election with probably the highest negative poll numbers of any candidate since Ben Franklin discovered electricity. His negative ratings were well above 50%, and it was generally agreed that there was no way he could win re-election. Running in the Republican primary to oppose Reid was a very smart, conservative businesswoman named Sue Lowden. Polls showed her leading Reid by  at least 10-12%. Also running in the GOP primary was a man named Danny Tarkanian whose father was a former highly revered basketball coach at UNLV. Polls also showed the Tark with a very comfortable lead over Reid. The tea party, however, in its infinite wisdom, chose to back an obscure state assembly woman named Sharon Angle, who was such a dim bulb, she made Christine O’Donnell shine with brilliance.

Angle’s claim to fame, and the reason for the tea party endorsement, was that she voted against virtually every spending bills in the State legislature, even mundane stuff like road repair and bridges. When reporting this, State newspapers referring to a vote on a particular bill, would say the vote was 42 Yea 1Angle ( in lieu of Nay.) Once out on the campaign trail, it was clear what a disaster she was. About a week and a half before the election, for some strange reason, she gave a speech before a local high school assembly that was mainly populated by Hispanic students, almost all of whom were too young to vote. During the speech she came out with the weird statement that she often has difficulty differentiating between Hispanic and Asian people. The students looked at each other in deep puzzlement, scratching their heads. Even if true, why would she ever say something like that. Still, right up to the end, the polls she her with a small lead. Come election day, however, sanity prevailed, and Reid won re-election, by a narrow margin, still with the highest negative ratings ever.

All this is a prelude to the upcoming presidential election this year. Will the GOP propelled by the tea party movement, do something incredibly stupid again and hand Obama an undeserved win. Right now, as any grade school student could testify, Romney has such a commanding lead in the delegate count that it would be mathematically impossible for any other candidate to wrest the nomination away from him. Romney already has more than half the delegates he needs for the nomination, and the big states like California and New York which haven’t yet reported, are almost sure to go his way. Still wild, whacky Ricky Santorum and fantasy chaser Newt plow on hoping for a miracle. Santorum’s latest walk on the wild side is that as President he will ban internet pornography. That’s what I love about this primary season, the laughs never stop coming.

Forget the fact that internet pornography is a multi-billion dollar business, and far outstrips any other form of commercial activity on the web. While it’s true that porn is watched almost exclusively by men, it’s also true that a lot of men are users. Guys will put up with a lot of stuff they’re not happy with, but try to take their porn away, and you would probably face a lynch mob. In fact I was considering putting dirty pictures on this site as a way of sprucing up viewership. I could even change the name of the site to: Porn and Politics. They’re practically the same anyhow.

I sure will miss the GOP primary process when it’s over. As I’ve said, the laughs never stop coming.

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TWO STATES OF DELUSION

In the 19th century Mark Twain said: “The more I get to know people, the better I like my dog.” In the 20th century the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre said: “Hell is other people.” Sartre also came to the conclusion that man’s belief in God and religion stemmed from an overwhelming fear and sense of abandonment if man believed he was alone in an empty universe without a supreme being. It’s as Christopher Hitchens said in his book, “God is Not Great,” God did not create man. It’s the other way around. Man created God.

People, you can’t live with them but you can’t live without them. Actually you can live without them if you’re willing to become a hermit. But that doesn’t sound like tons of fun either, and it also brings on its own set of unique delusions. All this is the long way around of getting to 2 polls that were taken in Alabama and Mississippi that caught my attention. No, they weren’t polls showing that weird, whacky Ricky Santorum would win those 2 states in the Republican primaries over Mitt the Lionhearted, and Newt the Fantasy Chaser. ( Mitt displayed his fearlessness yet again when he responded to a question from the press about Rush Limbaugh calling a Georgetown Univ. student a slut and prostitute, by saying, “those are not the words I would have used.” How much more of a hard-hitting rebuke can you get than that. As for Newt, about the only place where he wins the Republican nomination is on Fantasy Island.)

The poll that I’m referring to is the one where they asked the citizens of Alabama and Mississippi whether they believed that Barack Obama was a Christian. Only 15% believed that he was. Unbelievably, about 50% were convinced he was a Moslem. After all, what else could he be with a name like Barack Hussein Obama. (The other 35% were too busy keeping up with the Kardashians to give a damn, one way or another.) This despite Obama”s often repeated assertion that he was a Christian, and his often publicized church attendance over several decades. Now, understandably, you can’t get any deeper into the bible belt than those 2 southern states. But the hatred there of Obama, because he is perceived to be a dangerous, radical, socialist bent on destroying America, is such that a majority of people are willing to ignore reality and, once again, slip into that comfy state delusion. One more way in which irrationality becomes most people’s life-style.

After all if we were a rational society, would we conduct the political primary process in the manner that it’s conducted, with a hodgepodge of caucuses and elections starting way too early, and giving way too much influence to small states like Iowa or New Hampshire. In a rational society, there would be a primary election day sometime in June or July, where all 50 states would vote to select each party’s candidate to go forward into the general election. If we were a rational society. And does anyone understand why states have caucuses instead of outright elections. Near as I can make out, its because people have some sentimental belief that political business was conducted in that manner back in colonial days.

Nevada is a caucus state, and in 2008 the wife and I decided to attend the Democratic caucus for the party’s nomination between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama. (Now we are older and wiser and will never make that mistake again.) Anyway we were told to report on a Saturday morning to a local school room where the caucus for our area would be held. Fortunately we arrived early enough to get seats in an enlarged but overcrowded school room where people kept pouring in. Soon the room became overheated and there was standing room only. Finally a moderator appeared (I have no idea how he was selected or who he even was), and announced that everybody who supported Obama go to the right side of the room, and all Clinton supporters to the left side. This would facilitate the counting of votes. I had intended to support Obama, but I was OK with Clinton too, and I happened to be seated on the Clinton side. We agreed that there was no way we were going to give up our seats to go stand in the too hot room, with the rabble on the Obama side. So we remained seated, and thus were counted as votes for Hillary. There you have the democratic process in action.

But the irrationality of the primary process pales in comparison to the way we select the most powerful man or woman in the world. As I’ve written before, every office in the land, from dog catcher to Senator or Governor is decided by a simple majority of votes cast. Not so for the presidency, as Al Gore found out, where the electoral college decides who the winner is. This system was written into the Constitution because of our founding fathers deep distrust of the judgements of the rabble that would be allowed to vote in future elections. Of course, they did have a valid point. On the average, about 50% of people eligible, fail to vote. Of the remaining 50% percent that do vote, maybe about half of that is somewhat conversant with issues at stake. The rest likely base their selections on radio or TV commercials. So perhaps 25% of the eligible population takes enough interest to know what they’re doing when voting for the President or Congress.

A third or fourth world banana republic country might legitimately raise the question: Is the United States ready for democracy?

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IT’S ONLY JUST A GAME

Like a few million other people, I watched HBO’s “Game Change” over the week-end. The made for TV movie was about the campaign for President in 2008, but focused primarily on the inner workings of the McCain campaign staff and the process of selecting and trying to make viable, the Vice-Presidential candidacy of Sarah Palin. It was a well done, superbly acted movie based primarily on on interviews with Steve Schmidt, who was the head of the McCain campaign, as well as the woman who was in charge of the VP effort. Basically the movie showed that Palin was selected because she was considered a game-changer. With her good looks, vibrant personality,  excellent speech making ability, and hard-core right-wing beliefs, it was felt that Palin would ignite the Republican base, as well as independent voters the way the charisma-lacking John McCain could never do. Initially things seemed to be going in that direction, as huge crowds comprised mainly of the Republican base enthusiastically turned out for Palin’s campaign stops. Steve Schmidt and the rest of McCain’s aides were congratulating themselves on what a great selection they had made, and that this would enable the ticket to win the election. And then It all turned to crap.

It suddenly became apparent to them and to the media how incredibly ignorant Sarah Palin was about politics in general and foreign affairs in particular. For example she didn’t know that there was both a North and South Korea (thought it was all one country), thought the Queen of England was the head of government in Great Britain instead of the Prime Minister, thought Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11 instead of Al-qaeda, and so forth. Stuff a grade schooler is supposed to know had somehow escaped her. More upsetting than her ignorance of world affairs was her cluelessness about how much she didn’t know. It was as if people in Alaska were living in a 1950s “Leave It To Beaver” or “Ozzie and Harriet” time-warp.

The movie went on to show how the McCain aides went on a crash course to try to bring Palin up to speed on world affairs, including cue cards and daily lecturing sessions on current events.With all this pressure, and with media criticism and satire piling up on her (think of the huge boost in Tina Fey’s career by impersonating Palin so delightfully) Palin started to shut down and go into a deep funk. Some in McCain’s campaign believed she was deranged or on the verge of a nervous breakdown. One almost began to feel sorry for her. Of course, large crowds of the Republican base still turned out at her campaign stops. Her popularity among the GOP base never wavered as long as she was so strongly anti-abortion and anti-gay rights, and the base had no qualms about putting her within a heartbeat of the Presidency, ignorant or not.

Interestingly, John McCain wanted to pick Joe Lieberman as his VP, who was a Democrat turned Independent, and was supporting the MCain candidacy. This move  in my opinion, would have led him to victory over the highly inexperienced Barack Obama. However, Lieberman was pro-choice, and it it was believed that the Republican base could never support him at the convention. There’s that abortion issue again. We, of course, know how it all turned out, but it hasn’t discouraged Sarah Palin from continuing to maintain a high profile in this election year, and quietly hoping the the Republican convention will somehow be deadlocked, and magically turn to her as their candidate. Ignorant or not, she is unquestionably highly ambitious and strongly covets the the Presidency. And if she doesn’t get the nomination this year, she’s young enough to run in 2016 if Obama does get reelected, or in 2020 if Romney wins the presidency.

As an interesting sidelight, the woman in charge of running the Palin campaign on a daily basis ended up not voting in the election. Being a Republican, she couldn’t vote for Obama. But after witnessing Palin’s incredible shallowness and superficiality, she also couldn’t bring herself to vote to put her within striking distance of being President should something have happened to the aging John McCain. As she put it, Palin was a mile wide but an inch deep.

So here we are in another campaign year. (It comes like a plague of locusts.) As I’ve written before, with the lousy economy, high unemployment, huge deficit spending, and rising gasoline prices, I can’t see how Obama can get re-elected, unless the Republicans do something incredibly stupid again. Not beyond the realm of possibility. But Democrats, and progressives in general, have another albatross around their necks. They assume that people will generally act in a rational manner and in their own self-interest. That is seldom the case, however, as people tend to be highly irrational, and act contrary to their interests, especially if they feel threatened in any way. A good example is Obamacare. Supposedly the public is against the individual mandate (which will require everyone to buy health insurance by 2013) by a margin of about two to one. Yet every time a person without health insurance gets sick or injured all of us that did purchase insurance have to pay for the uninsured sick person. Our rates and the doctor’s fees go up and the insured pay a larger tab to cover the costs of the uninsured. In a rational society almost everyone would be clamoring for the individual mandate since most people do buy health insurance. But whoever said we were a rational society.

Somehow the majority of people feel threatened by this requirement, and thus act against their best interests. And that , in a nutshell, is what politics is all about. Making the opposing candidate and party more scary than you and your party. But take heart, this whole mess will be over with in about 8 months. Until the next invasion of the locusts.

 

 

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LOOKING FOR LOVE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES

One of the small pleasures I enjoy is reading the morning newspaper with my breakfast. I know that it’s been predicted that the printed newspaper will become as extinct as the saber-toothed tiger within a short period of time, thanks to all the electronic gadgetry available, but I hope they hang around for a few more years. As I get older I especially enjoy reading the obituaries every morning. One could say I check the obits to make sure my name is not on the list. (An old joke from vaudeville days.) What really strikes me, though, when I read these obits, is how saintly and benevolent each dead person was during their lifetimes. Every obit recounts how loving and generous and humane  each grandfather/grandmother, husband/wife, father/mother, etc., were when they prowled around this planet above ground. There is never a low-life in the bunch. My question is, however, how come I never seemed to run into any of these saintly figures, who would have undoubtably been more than eager to shower me with their benevolence once they got to know me. I guess it’s like the title of this piece, and the old song says. But reading the paper every morning got me to thinking of the power the printed word, and media in general has on society.

One day when I was in college I was having a political discussion with my father who was a Franklin Roosevelt democrat until the day he died. The topic got around to hate groups, and suddenly my father came out with the strange statement as to how the Ku Klux Klan saved America right after the Civil War by repelling angry mobs of former slaves who were bent on destroying this country out of revenge. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “Dad,” I said, “you do know that the Klan hates Jews as much as they hate blacks.” “Yeah” he replied, “that’s now. But back in Civil War days it was different.” It was different? Where did he get such a cockamamie idea. Well it turned out he got this notion from a movie-maker named D.W. Griffith.

D.W. Griffith was a silent film director and producer and was also a master propagandist. He was the son of a Confederate soldier killed during the Civil War and in 1915 he produced a movie called “Birth of a Nation” which, although it looks primitive by today’s standards, was considered a masterpiece at the time, and was seen by nearly everyone. ( It’s still shown every now and then on the Turner Movie Channel and still worth seeing.) Taken from a book called “The Clansman” it shows the southern confederacy in the most favorable light, and sure enough there are vivid scenes showing former black slaves in a state of manic rage burning down cities until the KKK comes together and rallies to put an end to the rampage. As I said, a masterpiece in bigotry and propaganda. But the point is that if my father believed this tripe, millions of other Americans were probably brain-washed as well. The KKK had a huge increase in membership and activity in the 1920s and early 1930s, existing in large numbers in virtually every state in the union, and I think “Birth of a Nation” had a big part in that activity.

Of course, the evil that media propaganda can wreck reached its zenith during the 1930s in Nazi Germany. Josef Goebbels, who was head of the Ministry of Propaganda was considered the third most evil person in the Nazi regime (after Hitler and Himmler) and yet, to my knowledge, he never personally killed anyone, or even gave the orders to do so. Yet he surely would have swung from the gallows at Nuremberg if he and his wife had not murdered their 6 children and then committed suicide, because they couldn’t bear to live in a world without Hitler. His evil stemmed from the prodigious anti-semitic propaganda his Ministry put out all across Europe, which opened the gates for the ensuing death camps and the murder of 6 million innocent people. It should be noted that the Holocaust could never have succeeded without the labors of tens of thousands of Germans and other Europeans who built the death camps or the railway cars and tracks to the camps, provided the food and other supplies to these camps, built and transported the poison gas systems, and on and on. A prime motivator for the thousands of participants or cogs in this machine of death was Goebbels propaganda.

On a somewhat less virulent scale, propaganda goes on today in the social and political arenas, especially in this political year. As I’ve written before, it’s estimated that about $2 billion will be spent on the Presidential campaigns. Throw in another billion or so for Senatorial, Congressional, and Governorship races and you’ve hit the perfect trifecta. Almost all of this will be spent on radio and TV advertising trying to convince you that the candidate’s opponent is pure scum. It’s called the politics of personal destruction. As obnoxious and demeaning these mudslinging ads are, they apparently wouldn’t exist if people didn’t buy into and use them as the basis of their voting decisions. That’s called brainwashing. The other day I went on YouTube to listen to some recordings, and  all of a sudden, up popped this particularly obnoxious anti-Obama smear job advertisement. And it’s not even spring. Wait until summer and fall. Can’t you just feel the love.

P.S. If you want to hear perhaps the saddest and most tragic song ever written, go on YouTube and click on a recording of “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” (as differentiated from the song “Waltzing Matilda.”) Click on the version that shows the lyrics because the song is sung by Aussies who could be difficult to understand. I can assure you that what ever problems you may feel you have will pale in comparison when you hear this song.

 

 

 

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THE GOD THING

Over the weekend we went to see the Iranian movie that won the Oscar for the best foreign film. It’s called “A Separation,” but unfortunately it turned out to be a highly disappointing 2 hours of constant bickering and fighting with no point to be made and no real ending. (One wonders what the Academy was thinking in giving this film the Oscar.) But there was one scene that appeared relevant to the topic at hand. A pregnant woman working to take care of her employer’s father, (who suffered from dementia,) has a miscarriage, and puts the blame on her employer for shoving her. The case goes to court, but the employer finally agrees to pay the woman a large sum of money if she will swear on the Koran that it was he, the employer, that truly caused the miscarriage. The woman’s husband is deeply in debt (in Iran they throw your ass into jail for that) and begs his wife to accept the offer. But she is not sure it’s the employer’s fault, and she feels that to swear falsely will bring the wrath of God down upon her family, and thus refuses the offer, much to her husband’s dismay. I think psychologically most people feel this way and that this causes many of society’s ills. I call it the God thing.

Even during my own upbringing, if we experienced any bit of good fortune or luck (which wasn’t very often) and I mentioned it out loud, my mother would give me a scornful rebuke, since she was positive that any boastful sounding remark would incur God’s anger. Since religion seems to play a huge role in our society”s actions and politics, I feel it’s useful to understand its psychological underpinnings. For example, many people, and especially tea party members are upset with our large deficit spending and feel this will lead to God’s punishment. After all, the bible says: be neither a borrower or a lender, or words to that effect. ( Actually, I think that phrase got inserted in the bible by figure known at the time, as Manny the Sheepherder, who warned that people would risk everything if they loaned out money. Instead he counseled that the way to accumulate wealth was to put one’s money in cotton futures.) We can joke about it but the psychological fear of incurring God’s anger can have deadly consequences.

The Republican Party is today dominated by so-called born again Christians, or evangelicals, who feel that if we continue going down the road of legal abortion, gay rights, easily obtainable contraception, and various other cultural issues, God will certainly wreck His vengeance on the U.S. Psychologically, people thinking along those lines have been taught this from childhood so that it’s strongly embedded in their mindsets. That, along with a healthy dose of paranoia, also probably taught to them since childhood, and you have the makings of religious fanaticism. If the GOP takes control of the Presidency and Congress in November, you can look forward to this type of agenda taking hold on our society. The God thing.

A lot of this right-wing religious fanaticism is also fostered by what is called Talk Radio. We saw an example of that this past week when right-wing radio commentator Rush Limbaugh got in this kerfuffle (still liking that word) with a 23 year-old Georgetown student because she advocated before a Congressional committee for birth control. I consider Limbaugh probably the most despicable figure in U.S. public life, but after more than 20 years of spewing out hate and venom against Bill Clinton and now Barak Obama, as well as Democrats in general, he finally got in trouble for calling a college student a slut and prostitute. Some advertisers on his show finally showed a little moral conviction and cancelled their business causing him to issue some half-assed apology. In the meantime he’s become a billionaire over the years because millions of listeners tune in to his show every day. And he certainly isn’t the only right-wing lunatic on the radio.

There is another right-wing fanatic on the air who was born Michael Wiener, but calls himself Michael Savage and his program the Savage Nation. (After all, how would the Wiener Nation sound.) If anything he spews forth even more vicious hate and bile than Rush Limbaugh. It’s so despicable that England has banned him from entering Great Britain. England considers his hate-mongering so vile that he is on a list of of banned individuals that includes known terrorists, serial killers and other assorted scum. Yet we accept it in this country without any qualms. And this type of right-wing filth isn’t limited to men. A person named Laura Ingraham has her own radio show and constantly rails about the evils of abortion, contraception, or acceptance of a gay life-style. And of course, there are many other Rush and Laura wannabes scattered in individual cities throughout the U.S.

Now there are some interesting aspects to all of this from a psychological perspective. The first is that there are apparently millions of people out there (Limbaugh claims a listenership of 20 million) that apparently can’t get thru the day without hearing 3 hours of Obama or liberal bashing. You have to wonder who these people are and what kind of of lives they have, if they have to listen to hours of pure, distilled hate and venom directed against their supposed political enemies, in order  to get themselves thru the day. I would presume that most of these listeners consider themselves the God- fearing evangelical type. You also have to ask these people how it personally affects them, if for example, Jack and John, or Jill and Jane decide to marry, or if some woman that they don’t know, decides to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. How could it possibly have any effect on their personal lives. The answer, of course, is that it doesn’t, except psychologically, they believe that God will vent his wrath on our country if such practices are allowed to continue. The God thing again.

Meanwhile right-wing radio and TV commentators have for the large part become extremely wealthy. Hate and paranoia sell big time, and purveyors of such, including advertisers and corporate execs have no reason not to go on peddling this type of obscenity.

 

 

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