Thursday, April 7, 2016

How Did We Get Here?

How Did We Get Here?

It’s a bit baffling, and more than a bit annoying. We seem to have a legislative branch of government that is now completely dysfunctional.  And our Judicial branch is less than fully functional, because it is now divided 4-4 due to the death of the Court’s most corrupt justice—Mr. Scalia.  How relatively functional is the Executive Branch is at least arguable. That branch seems to be the only fully functional arm of our government. At the least, folks show up to work each day, unlike the legislative folks.

I wonder, suppose this was 1940, and we had the Nazi’s knocking at one door, while the Empire of Japan was thinking of knocking at the other door.  Wouldn’t we simply collapse in a heap of confusion, of mal-attention, because we were too busy decrying one another?

In 1979, when I was at the time, working for a non-profit research center in Washington, DC, I was asked to join the Carter Administration to run a small office within the Office of the Secretary, carrying out program evaluations of legislative programs. That was the work in which I had been engaged in the non-profit, and so it seemed like a good opportunity. But that was 1979. In 1980, Ronald Reagan came knocking at the door, and burst through like a hurricane.  I never quite understood Ronald Reagan. His main claim was that “Government was not the solution to any of our problems; government was the problem.” Now, think about that. A man claims that government is the central problem in our nation, and then he says that he wishes to run that government.  Anyone else see a problem there?  Oh, I know, you’re thinking that he came to Washington to swap out that bad old government with a brand new one, one that was all sparkling clean, a well-oiled machine that would replace that cranky old thing that had been operating under folks like JF Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Jimmy Carter, and those nasty old Democrats.  He would bring to the Nation’s capital the same forces he brought to California, ignoring for a moment his devastating effects on the California public education system, and the California economy.

One author[1] characterized Mr. Reagan’s tenure in California thusly:
Once elected, Mr. Reagan set the educational tone for his administration by:
a. calling for an end to free tuition for state college and university students,
b. annually demanding 20% across-the-board cuts in higher education funding,[2]
c. repeatedly slashing construction funds for state campuses
d. engineering the firing of Clark Kerr, the popular President of the University of California, and
e. declaring that the state "should not subsidize intellectual curiosity,[3]"

And he certainly did not let up on the criticisms of campus protestors that had aided his election. Mr. Reagan's denunciations of student protesters were both frequent and particularly venomous. He called protesting students "brats," "freaks," and "cowardly fascists." And when it came to "restoring order" on unruly campuses he observed, "If it takes a bloodbath, let's get it over with. No more appeasement!"
Several days later four Kent State students were shot to death. In the aftermath of this tragedy Mr. Reagan declared his remark was only a "figure of speech." He added that anyone who was upset by it was "neurotic."[4] One wonders if this reveals him as a demagogue or merely unfeeling.

Governor Reagan not only slashed spending on higher education. Throughout his tenure as governor Mr. Reagan consistently and effectively opposed additional funding for basic education. This led to painful increases in local taxes and the deterioration of California's public schools. Los Angeles voters got so fed up picking up the slack that on five separate occasions they refused to support any further increases in local school taxes. The consequent under-funding resulted in overcrowded classrooms, ancient worn-out textbooks, crumbling buildings and badly demoralized teachers. Ultimately half of the Los Angeles Unified School District's teachers walked off the job to protest conditions in their schools.[5] Mr. Reagan was unmoved.
Ronald Reagan left California public education worse than he found it. A system that had been the envy of the nation when he was elected was in decline when he left. Nevertheless, Mr. Reagan's actions had political appeal, particularly to his core conservative constituency, many of whom had no time for public education.

And so, when Mr. Reagan came into power via the US Presidency, on a campaign wherein “government was the problem, not the solution”, he began his 8-year reign of denigrating the government.  So, perhaps it comes as no surprise that republicans, who sanctify Mr. Reagan, have also adopted as a central theme of their campaigns that government must simply get out of the way. Government is an evil force that must be neutered.

And, as an aside, while I was working in the Department of Health & Human Services, running an evaluation office, Mr. Reagan brought in as a political appointee to run the office, a man who, a) knew nothing about program evaluation, and b) turned out to be the stupidest person I ever worked with or for, in my then 25 year career.  He really seemed to know little about almost any subject.  Finally, when I feared becoming brain dead working under Reagan, I quit government and began a new life working on my own as a management consultant.

And that began the republican mantra, Government is Evil.  Now, with republican politicians beating that drum, ably assisted by a right wing media, it seems at least a strong possibility that able folks—thinking Americans possessed of some skill set—would begin to think about alternate career paths.  I imagine, over the past 30+ years that many potentially thoughtful people who might otherwise have chosen a career in government, especially in political government, have opted for a different path altogether.  Instead, we got a bunch of Gomer Pyle’s, with nasty dispositions.  The kind of dude who, brings a snow ball into the halls of Congress and tosses it out for all to see, as evidence that there is no global warming. 

The central question here is, how can we reverse this trend and begin to attract thinking creatures back into the Halls of Congress?  First, I think, is for the voters of America to decide this coming November that they do not want idiots running government. Mainly, I would suggest that voters seriously consider eliminating republicans in office. Only, it seems, if the republican party suffers a catastrophic defeat this fall, might the party begin to reassess its priorities and its mantra. If we really wish to make America great again, perhaps we might begin by attempting to make American Government great again. One way to do that, perhaps the only way, is to recruit intelligence into its ranks—get thinking adults to seek office, and adopt rational policies likely to enhance our Nation.  
I will close with some thoughts from an earlier posting.  The thoughts seem to need repeating.

 In economic matters, extremes do not work. Under Bush, we shifted dangerously in the direction of a fascist state—that is, a state in which private owners of businesses dictate government policies. The inevitable result is Enron, et al, as well as the collapsed financial system. We have been drifting in that direction for quite some time now, even under Clinton. Everyone has been so concerned with government regulation that they failed to notice that unregulated business is as dangerous as unchecked government. One gives you fascism; the other socialism. Private business interests must always be checked to assure that the public is protected. So too must government overseers. Balance in everything is the answer. But balance requires mental agility. The public has little patience—they want the world to operate on autopilot. They need to be convinced that a world in which competing interests are balanced is both an efficient world, and a world that is worthy. 

We need to pay for what we need. The Republican Party has been, almost as a matter of policy, fiscally irresponsible. They practice “charge and spend” politics. We will now have to pay for their profligacy. The public—the thinking public—needs to understand that we cannot continue on the course they charted and followed. Mainly the rest of the world will not allow us to continue on this course. They will simply stop buying our debt and then it will end, badly. Taxes are the way we pay for our policies.  Taxes are neither good nor bad, in the abstract. They represent the price of operating our country, or, perhaps, the glue of a civilized society.

We must pursue policies that are aimed at preserving the Earth. We need to conserve. We need to pursue alternative energy policies. We need to use economic forces to create a demand for energy-efficiency and energy independence. Under Bush and Cheney, we have pursued policies promoting wasteful energy consumption, mainly because he and his advisers represent the extractive industries. We need to tax wasteful energy consumption, so as to encourage wiser use of Earth’s limited resources. 

We must pursue a policy of economic independence for all our citizens. During my career, I worked for seven organizations over a 45 year career. For 20 of those years, I worked for several large and small companies that contributed nothing beyond Social Security for my retirement. Bush and his republican allies have attempted on numerous occasions to threaten that reserve. If indeed we wish to get rid of Social Security, we do not need to “privatize” it. We need to pass legislation that forces every economic entity in the country to pay into a portable retirement system. TIAA-CREF comes to mind—the system used by most universities and non-profits. If the private sector would begin to live up to its responsibilities by a mandatory contribution system, we would not need Social Security. Take the system used by universities and non-profits and replicate it throughout the whole of the private sector. Do not allow companies to wriggle out by use of part-time workers. If they employ part-time workers, they still pay full retirement benefits. Otherwise, leave Social Security alone. 

Republicans, continue in their zeal to scuttle public education. We need to begin working with the states to repair the currently deplorable state of public education. In our area of North Carolina, they seem comfortable with a dropout rate of 35%.  Think of that. We can do better. Indeed, we are losing ground to the rest of the world, and we are at risk of becoming a country of stupid people. Charter schools, especially for-profit charter schools, and worse, fake private schools that are on-line, are not an answer. 

We must examine carefully the structure of government. The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was an absurd idea—a solution in search of a problem. Think of it. The CIA and the FBI wouldn’t communicate and were demonstrably inept, so we forced the Coast Guard, FEMA, and the rest to become one entity. An idea only a truly stupid person could embrace.  Structure is not the answer when the problem is an absence of thoughtful consideration of available evidence. 

There were a few other points that need not be repeated here. What we continue to need is watchful citizens—citizens who are willing to question both private commercial interests and public government interests. Corruption is a problem that will always be with us, so long as we have serious economic imbalances and so long as we have citizens who are basically dishonest—remember both the corrupters and the corruptees are dishonest.  Both need to be exposed and punished. It is why, by the way, that we continue to need whistle-blowers.  Say what you will of the Assange-Manning-Snowden groups, but they have informed us of some very unpleasant things about ourselves. Transparency is key here, and we definitely do not have transparent systems in either the public or private realms (thanks again Supremes).

We all need to stand up and be counted. And that means we need to vote, regardless of the efforts by the GOP to prevent folks from voting.  If you don’t vote, you will get the government you deserve.

[1] ©2004 Gary K. Clabaugh

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Way It Is

"Waaaa . . . waaaa . . . the world is mean to me".  
"And it’s all the fault of those bad people in Congress, especially that Mr. Obama, who wasn’t even born here, and who’s a Muslim. That nice man Mr. Trump says he is going to make everything all better for me. And if I feel like killing somebody because I’m feeling angry, or just bad, then I can, and he will defend me in court. And he says that he is going to make everything all better for the country . . . and we will be great again. So, I’m going to vote for Mr. Trump . . . waaaa . . . waaaa."

I wonder whether that isn’t the same thing Mr. Hitler said to his countrymen after WW I.  Then, it was all the fault of those Jews. And I assume that clown Benito told his Italian countrymen the same tragic tale, so that he too would be elected by his people.
And those lovely ISIS recruiters say much the same thing to their recruits, except that they promise that things will be ever so much better in the next life. Yeah, the guys will get their 72 virgins there, but whatever do they promise the girls?

And so the games begin here, built around the same model as was used in those earlier models. Mr. Trump is even suggesting to his followers that, if he fails to get nominated, they have a “second amendment” remedy, which of course means, "break out the guns guys, we are going to War."
There really isn’t much in the way of information being communicated between Mr. Trump and his followers. Mainly, Mr. Trump keeps assuring his followers that everything is total crap right now, but America will be great again after he gets elected.  But, to be fair, there really isn’t much information being communicated among any of the various political groups. What seems to be happening is something like, “The Great Unraveling”.  Our country used to be divided into a fairly large middle-left political grouping, a middle-right political grouping, a much smaller far left political group, and a far right political group, with the latter two groups being relatively inconsequential in terms of political clout.  The Middle Left and the Middle Right collaborated whenever the future of the country was actually at risk. The far righties and lefties just yelled a lot, but rarely contributed anything useful. Over the past couple of decades, since Mr. Reagan actually, the two power groups have been pulling farther and farther apart, and those groups have been themselves splintering into subgroups. The big bloc of righties has subdivided into a Christian Taliban, an NRA- gun lobby, an anti-LGBT group (sometimes the Christian Taliban), an anti-government group—mainly this group is anti-regulation, and is the primary purpose behind the Koch brothers’ attempt to buy the US government. The anti-regulation group is also opposed to climate change initiatives, either regulatory in nature or developmental in terms of non-fossil fuel systems of energy development/consumption.  Again, the Koch’s are in this group, since they are fossil fuel producers, when they are not acting as Nazi supporters.

The power structure has also changed considerably. Especially since Citizens United, which unleashed massive funding from the right wing, the right wing has been busily buying government, by buying politicians.   Picture this . . . Mitch McConnell just announced that the NRA must approve the next Supreme Court nominee.  I assume then that, instead of a conventional panel of US Senators, Mitch intends to convene, before the conventional Senate Judiciary Committee meets, a panel consisting of the NRA, the Christian Taliban, the Climate Deniers, the Faux News Network, and . . . oh but you get the idea. That group will first puts its stamp of approval on the nominee, and then that person will go before the official committee to gain their (automatic) stamp of approval. I can picture this kind of process being used for most pieces of legislation, including the regular US Government budget. What is not clear to me is the extent to which the Koch’s and others of their ilk will formalize this process into a kind of shadow government that will henceforth dictate the operating rules for the formal government. Maybe the shadow government will meet somewhere in Utah and then send their dictates to the sordid little town of Washington, DC to be put into practice.
And so, communications will change formally again.

It’s interesting on this point of non-communications. Carol and I were watching a Bill Mahrer show the other night. On it, he had invited his usual panel, including someone from the Huffington Post, Irving';s little boy Billy Krystol from the Weekly Standard, and a woman manager of some financial group.  This panel construct is an increasingly common form adopted in today’s world of television.  Many of the comedians employ this structure, the Faux News and other news networks employ it, all in an attempt to make believe that these disparate political groups can still communicate. But all Mr. Mahrer demonstrated was that the panel idea is an abysmal failure. In fact, no communication takes place at all. Mr. Mahrer contributes his snarky commentary on some event or political personage, and his panel then contributes their “through clenched teeth” comments, resulting in zero intelligent speech.  Just to watch Krystol listening to and trying to respond to Bill Mahrer, with his fake smile and clenched teeth, mouthing some equally snarky comment is to reveal the emptiness of this panel process.  In fact, these people are so far apart that they are virtually alien creatures from different planets making believe they could actually communicate.

But, what do I make of all this disintegrative picture of America crumbling before our very eyes?  I guess I have no useful suggestions. Were I 30, I actually think I would be planning an outmigration, probably to Canada, but we can’t all move to Canada can we? Canada would then simply turn into America and we would have lost a refuge.

No, outmigration is not a terribly useful solution. I guess, voting is the last refuge. But the Koch’s and others of their ilk may eventually shut down this process—republicans have been very active in their zeal to eliminate the ability of democrats to vote via their Voter ID laws, and their gerrymandering.  It will be interesting to see how successful they have been in this regard when we have the final election 2016.  So, if you can, kindly vote this November.  

Perhaps, “Vote . . . while you still can” might be added to that old adage, “Think . . . while you still can”.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A House Divided

This morning I heard a report on NPR concerning the constitutional crisis beginning to arise in France. Apparently, the French government has begun using a variety of quasi-legal tactics against the immigrant community aimed at deterring terrorist attacks.  One approach now being considered is to amend the constitution to allow the government to strip citizenship from dual-nationals if they are convicted of some terrorist activities.  It is being pointed out vigorously that the last time the French considered enacting such a provision was when the Vichy government stripped French citizenship from Jews, as they actively collaborated with the Nazis during World War II.  Any comparison between a current French government and Vichy assumes major proportions. 

And then I read of government actions in Britain aimed at “clarifying” the British role in the EU, which range from what is being called the BREXIT, a complete exit, to various changes of a minor character, and I observe the rise of leftist politicians (see Jeremy Corbyn) beginning to challenge the Tories. In a recent story, about British government cuts to local councils, which are resulting in closing children’s centers, there is a rising discontent, partly because some proposed restoration appears to benefit Tory councils more than Labor Councils.  One commenter notes, The stupidity continues! Being Canadian I wonder when the British people are going to rebel, much like the Scots have done. Armed rebellion is not on the table, but major marches should be. If you take a look at what is happening around the world you will see that there is a great deal of dissatisfaction with the right wing governments such as Cameron leads, which are for the benefit of the upper 10%.

And then we arrive at the US election season.  I have characterized the GOP primary race as a virtual clown car, except that the clowns seem unfunny, more tragic, some pathetic, and a few potentially dangerous.  Amplifying the message coming from the clowns is the Fox News –the so-called Faux News network that specializes in mockumentary news shows.  One result of this particular “silly season” seems to me the fracturing of the American public, perhaps not seen since the pre-Civil War era. The commentary coming from the left and the right, but mainly from the right, seems aimed at creating hate for “the other”. In this case, though, “the other” is not foreigners, but Americans who are not of the same ideological persuasion.  Our nation now seems composed not of Americans who may hold different political, or economic, or social viewpoints, but of potentially warring tribes—see The Middle East.

We have The Tea Party, the Evangelical Party, the KKK Party (really just a subgroup of the Tea Party), the NRA party, and then finally, I will call them, The Owners Party—the Kochs and others of their ilk who basically have purchased the GOP and now wish to purchase the entire US government.  On the left, there are disparate groups that protest specific issues—Black Lives Matter, for example, but the left is neither as well organized, nor as well amplified as the right.

But it is not really the relative organization but the content of the messages being cast out among the faithful. The various messages seem intent on spurring on the body faithful by creating actual hate of “the other”—anyone not them.  Thus, the gunners of the land are being told that the government is after their guns, as well as their money, their land, etc.  So, the gunners should fear the government, and fear eventually creates hate.  Evangelicals are being told that the Godless are seeking to destroy the body faithful, turning everyone into godless heathens. Planned Parenthood is perhaps the prime example here, wherein the body faithful has been willing to create an entirely false narrative about Planned Parenthood  (see Carly Fiorina and Mike Dingleberry, aka Huckabee). And folks on the right are willing to shoot up clinics in order to get their message across that Planned Parenthood and those who support them are essentially evil people who perhaps do not deserve to live.

And so, the political Silly Season has been corrupted into a Season of Hate. I have begun to doubt whether the aftermath, i.e., the vote and any resulting new government, can survive this hateful preliminary period.  Are we in fact rushing toward a completely and permanently fractured nation, in which politics and their media partners have destroyed the essential comity that characterized our nation? I have begun to wonder whether we are any longer capable of deterring any new existential threats, in view of our internal hatreds.  Climate change seems a perfect example, wherein we are no longer capable of acting rationally to deter the worst effects that climate change will create eventually.  Are we so torn apart that we are now also incapable of deterring threats from emerging military foes?  Could we ever again act in unity as we saw during WW II?

I wish I could see some potential solution here, but I cannot find any bright spots. Perhaps my age has now petrified my mind into a new and final mindset that itself deflects brightness from entering. Would that it were true, for I really do fear for my grandchildren’s future.  Are we heading into a new dark age, similar to that world of 1000 years ago, when we had the very (few) rich and mighty controlling the serfs? That is surely the world sought by the Koch’s and Murdoch’s of the world.  I fear too that even a victory for rational forces might still not produce the result we need, because Fox would continue to create and stir its corrupt waters around us, the Evangelicals will become even more fearful, angrier, and more hate-filled, the gunners will continue to shoot first and ask questions later, and the very rich will continue to spread their message of hate.

It is not even as simple as that which presented itself to President Lincoln when he said:
A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe this government cannot endure, permanently, half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other. Either the opponents of slavery will arrest the further spread of it, and place it where the public mind shall rest in the belief that it is in the course of ultimate extinction; or its advocates will push it forward, till it shall become lawful in all the States, old as well as new — North as well as South.

Who or what will push us as a nation to revisit those thoughts?

But in some respects, our condition is more complex. We have become a nation of tribes, as distinct from two warring sides. We now have a dozen warring sides. Can anyone bring us back together as one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all? 

One can only hope.

Fond hope perhaps springs eternal.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Film Making and Reality

Looking at the upcoming academy awards, two films stand out as emblematic of the world in which we live: Short, and Spotlight. Short details the ways in which the global financial industry routinely gambles with the world’s finances, and sometimes crashes that system, then whines until the world’s governments bail them out. Spotlight discusses how the Catholic Church is fundamentally corrupt . . . really at its core.

These two issues perhaps define the two central problems plaguing the world—organized greed, and organized religion.  

Organized religion exists so as to manage a global system of organizations and individuals who make believe they understand what happens after you die. They are, if you will, the middle men or interpreters between ordinary folks and the fake gods that were invented by early man to explain death and its presumed aftermath.  These organizations and individuals pretend to be able to manage your earthly life so as to guarantee you eventual access to a desirable afterlife.  Life is really about achieving a great deathlife.  In exchange for both money (many billions) and your agreement to cede to them control over your life, they agree to chat on your behalf with their pretend gods, so that you will be treated kindly once your time on earth is done. 

It turns out that this transaction is pretty rewarding to at least many, if not most of these paid interpreters.  They get free housing, transport, servants to prepare their meals, a nice, if boring clothing collection, and little to do, except to act informed. A few, see the Pope, live like kings/emperors of bygone eras.

Some of these interpreters get to act like absolute rulers, i.e., they can order folks to be beheaded, or otherwise killed in fairly gruesome fashion (see stonings). It is important to note that none of them have actual authority via any legal system, except when they manage to declare (like absolute monarchs always do) that their religious authority is the only legal authority in the land—see all lands occupied by Arabs, Persians, and Afghans.

So, the movie, Spotlight, sheds a small light on one of these organized religious systems—the Holy Roman Catholic Church.  It turns out that its priests have been raping the children of parishioners for centuries.  Not only that, but the entire religious order, from local parishes all the way to Rome, have been aware and covering it up for centuries. Even beyond the raping of hundreds, perhaps thousands of little boys, priests also have routinely raped and impregnated their housemaids, whose resulting children refer to the priests as “uncle”.  Thus, the entire system can be viewed as morally bankrupt. Perhaps it is time to sell all of the holdings, including that neat Sistine Chapel and turn over the proceeds to charitable causes everywhere. Perhaps the unemployed priests could get jobs as Mary Kay salesmen.

It is very unclear to me just why ordinary folks grant priests of any religious order the type of authority now granted. In the Middle East, the fundamentalists, if not the priests, seem to think it’s ok to cut peoples’ heads off, a pretty far remove from priests who merely rape their altar boys.  Nonetheless, it occurs to me that it is way past time to call this whole religious thing off.  I don’t know what would then occur. As I have noted in my writings about religion, I have no idea whether people would revert to savages, and begin killing anyone they don’t like, or whether instead they would just go back to watching reruns of I Love Lucy. But I fail to see how much worse it could get than what we now have.

And then there’s the greed thing. Seems dominant even over religion as a source of the world’s troubles. And it is never more evident than in the world’s financial systems. Banking has become totally corrupted by greed. Used to be that local banks accepted your cash deposits and, in return arranged to lend your money to others for a fee, part of which they passed on to you. They also charged you small fees for handling things like checking accounts.

But then Wall Street began getting “innovative” (super greedy). They began thinking that bigger really was better (we know it almost never is). So, the more successful banks began buying the smaller banks, until now there are hardly any actual community banks still in existence. Remember the days when banks could only operate within one state???

So, now all businesses have joined the banks in their zeal to take over other smaller but similar businesses. WalMart exists actually to put out of business all small local businesses. It is their business model. Airlines keep “merging” such that soon there will be only one airline, one bank, and perhaps one store.  And conservatives worry about “big government”. Hahahahaha. Big government will never be as dangerous to the world as Big Bidness.

At some stage, Wall Street decided that gambling was good, and that actual “investing”—you know buying stocks in operating companies and hoping they would be successful enough to return some of the proceeds to the folks who buy the stocks—was “quaint”.  Instead, we began building things called hedge funds. And, even worse, we began “selling short”. Now what actually is selling short? It is a Wall Street practice in which the insiders decide they expect or want a particular stock to fall in price. So, they sell the stock, even though they don’t own any shares. Then when they succeed in depressing the stock price, they actually buy the stock at the deflated price, and keep the difference.  It’s an amazing creation of Wall Street insiders.  We know it as a form of insider trading.  Or, even gambling.

And I am always amused when state government fuss about gambling, thinking that gambling is a bad thing and needs to be carefully regulated, or even eliminated—bad form don’t you know. But no one seems even remotely concerned about the fact that our global banks gamble for a living, almost all of Wall Street is in the organized gambling business (some might think of Wall Street is a form of legalized organized crime).

And then, when their gambling bets fail to pay off, we the public taxpayer is expected to bail out these gambling institutions, so that the owners and head honchos can still get their bonuses (instead of going to prison). Yeah, it’s a great system. And much like organized religion, we the sucker public play right along.

So, I am anxiously awaiting to see what either organized religion or organized crime (oops, I mean the financial system) has in store for us this year.  Will they figure out even better ways to screw the public, while still avoiding their share of taxes, and while buying all the valuable real estate in the country via hidden trusts, so that we the public have no idea who owns what. We are really dumb creatures, aren’t we??

I have written about my own views of religion and God (two entirely separate subjects I think). Someday I may decide to share those views so that my vast readership (all three of you) are able to understand from whence springs this total antipathy towards religion. On greed and banking, well, I imagine that I am not alone in my views.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Armed Insurrection

So, what must we make of this armed militia in Oregon and the Texas Gubernator challenging the President to take his guns at his peril?  I suppose the Texan is simply doing what we have come to expect of Texas politicians—acting terminally stupidly. Although, he must surely be close to that red line, beyond which the Marshals must be dispatched to bring him into custody. Do ordinary Texans actually support this idiot?  Seems hard to believe.

But in Oregon, we really are way over that red line. I see no ambiguity there. An armed group of citizens has moved in and taken over a Federal installation.  It is immaterial to me whether that Federal institution is a wildlife refuge or the US Treasury.  They simply cannot be allowed to do that. I believe the act is called an armed insurrection, and such acts need to be countered, by force if necessary, including by deadly force.

I think we can safely conclude that, were the armed citizens a group of Muslim-Americans, or a group of Black-Americans, they would now be either dead or in jail.  I understand, though, that our President is trying to be more cautious than, say, the Ferguson, or Chicago police departments. But really, enough is enough. The Oregon insurrectionists have declared that they are peaceful at the moment, but that they would rather be killed than give up their position. And if we follow one of their leaders, Mr. Bundy, it seems that this group is classic—they do not recognize the legal authority of the US Government.  I believe that Mr. Bundy is correct when he claims that he won his standoff with the government. He is, after all, not in prison, and he still owes over a million dollars to the government. His “win” doubtless provided the fuel for the Oregon insurrectionists.  So, if we do not act and act quickly, we are creating a new basis for challenging the authority of the government on any issue of our choosing. Don’t like taxes? Buy some guns, get a group, and go take over the Treasury Department in Washington.  Don’t like the government meddling in our ability to pollute the environment (hello Koch brothers)? Get a group, buy some weapons and go take over the EPA building in Washington.

I simply do not understand why the Federal Marshall's are not already in Oregon, backed by the full armamentarium of the US Military, demanding that this bunch of thugs give up . . . or be killed.  Cutting off their power supply is cute, but hardly the stuff of powerful nations. If we are the mightiest nation on earth, perhaps we need to begin acting like it.  Either that, or withdraw our military everywhere, and slink into our respective closets and start sucking our thumbs.

And a thoughtful reader of my perhaps incautious remarks notes:

"I think the feds are going to wait them out. It's the oldest tactic of siege warfare. Block off roads and supply routes , cut power, and wait while the brutal winter sets in and then ask them to negotiate when they’re desperate . . . why go in blazing? They can fly in an Apache I, at any time. Gas the place and move in and people will get shot. It makes sense to me. If they were in a city it would be a public danger but out there they will get desperate.

It is a perfect location to wait them out. There are only so many roads to get there. If a perimeter is set up and access denied to power and provisions , eventually they will lose communications to the outside world and when they resort to survivalist mode of hunting for food, etc.,  they will find that the perimeter will keep out game, they are ill prepared and poorly coordinated for being in such a remote area . UPS and FedEx are not going to be allowed to deliver the goods that they requested. These guys have kids and families and eventually they will get weakened by the situation.

Their purpose is to incite. If not given the confrontation and martyrdom they want, they will lose steam. Isis in Syria is similar. They want a holy war with the west, only we are not rushing in with ground troops to rescue an already oppressed Syrian regime. Those who look at this as weakness do not understand military strategy."

Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Draws to a Close

I’ve been struggling lately to figure out how to say goodbye to 2015. I cannot say the year has been without interest. I mean, think Donald Trump, Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson—a guy who started life as a millionaire on daddy’s money and continues to fool folks into thinking he is anything more than a reality show clown; an earnest woman who pretended to be a high-tech executive, failed so badly that she was fired by the board (no mean feat that) and then pretends to a higher calling; and a brain surgeon who has us all thoroughly confused—I mean, how could a brain surgeon be so dumb . . . but my preferred answer is that Doc Ben pulled a one-off by operating on himself, during which he accidentally removed the left side of his own brain.  Not that the rest of the curious crowd is to be preferred. Cruz, a man whose picture makes you want to punch him . . . a man nobody seems to like, except for the pissed-off who hate everyone and everything and imagine maybe he will carpet-bomb some other folks they really don’t like. What a crew.

And then there’s the shootings and blowing people up stuff. Yeah, there’s always a terrorist group of folks who are so pissed at us, or the French, or the Brits that they are willing to shoot up a cartoon shop, or blow up a building, or shoot up a black church, or kill people waiting in a clinic, or just shoot up people, just cuz. Just cuz the NRA says that everyone should be armed, and, if you’re armed, well, eventually someone is going to start shooting.  Yeah, I now have cast the NRA as our very own American-ISIS. So don’t go thinking that terrorists are all Muslim, cuz it just ain’t so.

On the bright side, political leaders from some 150 nations finished meeting in Europe and reached a decision that they would cooperate in at least trying to minimize the future effects of human global warming. That’s significant, because at least they all seem to agree that human global warming seems to be a reality. Now to be fair, the republicans who now rule our Congress plan to repudiate the agreement, and have high hopes that in 2016 one of their own—the Donald perhaps—will act as one of his first duties to kill our agreement, thereby allowing their owners (the Kochs, et al) to continue polluting the globe. Republicans wish to continue pretending that climate change is what happens between June and January each year.   But when I got really enthused about the climate change conference and the resulting agreements, I came across and read an article in the Guardian by James Lovelock, no merry prankster he. Lovelock has been forecasting ecological disaster for a long time now. In the article, he is quoted as saying,

Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more.
Interviewers often remark upon the discrepancy between Lovelock's predictions of doom, and his good humour. "Well I'm cheerful!" he says, smiling. "I'm an optimist. It's going to happen."
Humanity is in a period exactly like 1938-9, he explains, when "we all knew something terrible was going to happen, but didn't know what to do about it". But once the second world war was under way, "everyone got excited, they loved the things they could do, it was one long holiday ... so when I think of the impending crisis now, I think in those terms. A sense of purpose - that's what people want."
"There have been seven disasters since humans came on the earth, very similar to the one that's just about to happen. I think these events keep separating the wheat from the chaff. And eventually we'll have a human on the planet that really does understand it and can live with it properly. That's the source of my optimism."
What would Lovelock do now, I ask, if he were me? He smiles and says: "Enjoy life while you can. Because if you're lucky it's going to be 20 years before it hits the fan."

Wow, what a fun time to contemplate. We can, of course, join the republicans and play “Let’s make believe”, or we could at least try to act beginning now to plan for the coming climate changes.  First things first of course . . . 2016 is the Year of The Vote. So, everyone might consider how best to support your very own candidate, preferably someone with more than half a brain (Carson fans kindly take note). If you want politicos to pay attention and do serious stuff to ward off the worst that our planet now has in store for us, then kindly vote for those not on the payroll of the Kochs and others of their ilk.  

And remember, it’s nice to always think positive, but it’s more effective to also act in effective ways.

And then, as the New Year approaches, pop open a nice bottle of bubbly, pour it into some pretty glasses with perhaps your loved one, and bid the New Year a welcome entry.  Look your loved one in the eyes, and say, “To us my love, to us”.

And finally as the day’s curtain is about to fall, imagine yourself as Bogie, walking off into the night . . .  and announcing to the world at large,

World, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship . . .

Friday, December 11, 2015

Open Letter of Apology

An Open Letter of Apology
To Our Friends Around the World

I am sitting at my desk, reading one awful tale after another describing the Decline and Fall of the American Empire. Tony Scalia, one of our lesser Supreme Court Justices, in open court, declares that our African-American population is largely too stupid to attend the more rigorous colleges and universities and should be content with attending schools of less demanding programs.  Donald Trump, the leading Republican candidate for the presidency, declares that we should ban anyone and everyone of the Muslim religious belief from entering our country. Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, and Tony Jindal--three lesser Republican lights— share a platform with a pastor who believes we should kill Gays. Carly Fiorina, who appears not to understand the difference between truth and lies, openly supports a viciously negative and entirely false video about Planned Parenthood, and then becomes upset when people think she should share the blame for the terrorist killer who shot up one of their clinics and killed three people. 

And it goes on and on, with each republican rant worse than the last.

Many believe that the official ISIS strategy includes the carrying out of outrageous acts of terrorism with the explicit aim of outraging their opposition such that their opponents will carry out equally stupid and outrageous acts. They wish to both provoke a war between Islam and the West and to use their outrageous program to attract more young people willing to commit suicide for the imbecilic cause of the pseudo-Caliphate of ISIS.  And, because they seem to be succeeding, our Republican Party seems to have adopted this strategy for their presidential campaign.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, everyone is yelling that the regular Muslim people, and even the normal Muslim preacher/mullahs should openly decry the outrages being committed routinely by ISIS/Daesh, Qaeda, and the Taliban.  And yes, it would be nice if the Mullahs et al would begin publically preaching against these crazed creatures who almost daily despoil the name of Islam—and many do preach against these idiots.

But, hold on here, folks.  We can observe daily killings by both “normal” and crazy Christian Americans in our own nation.  I believe the number of folks killed by guns within our fair country exceeds 30,000 per year.  Yet, while the stupid people think it’s just fine and dandy for the Trump to propose banning all Muslims from entering our country, it is apparently not ok to propose new forms of gun control. We have greater controls over folks driving cars, buying drugs, and gaining access to certain forms of medical care than we have on gun sales.

So, I am here to apologize to the people of the world, especially to our friends in Australia, Britain, Canada, Germany and India for our failure as a formerly great nation to adopt civilized standards of international behavior.  We used to be better than this, although we have a chequered past (think Japanese internment camps, think slavery). We attacked Fascist states who were attempting to impose their savage will on the civilized world, and we succeeded in beating back their attack.

But we have grown complacent and sloppy in our approach to the world. Despite being the most heavily armed nation on the globe, we are acting like a bunch of terrified stupid children.  Apparently that old thing about:

Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

has now vanished from our consciousness.  Now we only want white, Christian bankers and tekkies to join us.  The fact that the republican clown show, headed by the chief clown, The Trump, can openly espouse lies and outrageous demands, and we sit quietly while pastors preach violence is a sign that we are headed downhill and rapidly. We risk becoming a mighty pariah state.

So, I apologize for what we seem to be. But really, we are not all imbecilic fascists, even if the Faux News Network makes us seem that way (thank you Rupert Murdoch). I am hoping that any responsible, intelligent republicans still alive will begin to do what we have been advocating for responsible Muslims—speak out folks. I imagine Lincoln, Eisenhower, et al, spinning madly in their graves. It is up to you, the living republicans, to tell us once again that Trump, Cruz, Fiorina, et al, do not represent what your party stands for. Nor do they represent what America stands for. I thought we were better than this.

Perhaps I am wrong.