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Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Miscalculation

Even though the Republicans have gone full fascist, and will lie and cheat with no reservations, we are living, miraculously, under a Democratic President again. And we are moving past the COVID pandemic, despite the bonkers efforts of the conservatives at sabotage.

Many of them, by the way, still talk about jailing or executing Anthony Fauci.

But just when I had hopes that better times are possible, Vladimir Putin, the villainous, murderous dictator, started a war.

And yet, the villain miscalculated.

Unexpectedly — to me, anyway — Ukraine is holding its own. Putin believed his forces would declare victory within days, but they couldn’t. While the Russian forces seem curiously hapless, the Ukrainian people and armed forces have shined.

Putin miscalculated so badly, in fact, that more countries than ever are united behind Ukraine, NATO, the European Union, and the US. And more are imposing sanctions on Russia.

My reaction to Putin’s War was alarm and outrage, followed by puzzlement. Why did he do it?

The world is too small today, with too many complex interconnections and alliances, to send a ground army into another country and not expect major blowback. Putin underestimated the strength of the Ukrainian forces and the resolve of Ukraine’s allies, and overestimated that of his own. But why?

I think he is becoming more aware of his own mortality. The guy is 69 years old. Time is running out to resurrect the former USSR under his glorious leadership.

It’s possible, too, that he has health issues. An illness would speed up the timetable. Or cloud his judgment.

As you would expect, he threatens nuclear destruction if his enemies go too far and force his hand. It’s a dictator thing.

Everyone hopes Putin is not insane enough to start firing off tactical nukes, but we don’t know for sure.

Everyone hopes he will find a way to declare partial victory and go home, but we see no easy way out.

In whatever manner Putin meets his end, I hope it is sudden, unpleasant, and soon.

I have been genuinely impressed by the courage and fortitude of the Ukrainian people, and especially by the example of President Zelenskyy. I haven’t been this inspired and heartened in quite some time. It’s a good feeling.

It even distracts my thoughts, albeit briefly, from this maniac.

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Birds of a Feather

Spring is here, and, like the pine pollen, politics is in the air. Primary elections are approaching, and the candidates are going all out to inflame the voters.

Sometimes, I feel like I’m living in Nazi Germany. Most of the locals voted for Trump in 2016 and would again. They are lifelong, closed-minded conservatives, most of whom see outsiders, non-whites, and Democrats as menacing in a manner they can’t quite explain.

As you know, back in 2020, the Democrats won Georgia’s two US Senate seats, which stunned and enraged the MAGA crowd. Worse, a handful of GOP elected officials here, including the Governor and the Secretary of State, unexpectedly found the integrity to declare Biden the winner in Georgia.

To this day, cries of “RINOs!” ring out. The offending officeholders, now anathema to Trump and his minions, are being vigorously primaried.

In Georgia, Trump has endorsed candidates for Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Attorney General, and the one Senate seat on the ballot this year. Trump’s choices, I assure you, are deplorable.

One of them, hoping to challenge Democratic Senator Raphael Warnock, is even mentally ill. Literally. Certifiably and admittedly.

Herschel Walker, the former football player, is a typical, fanatical, space-cadet Trump supporter. Walker claims — get this — that the January 6 insurrection in Washington was a false flag operation orchestrated by the Democrats.

More to the point, Walker has for years suffered from “multiple personality disorder.” The condition has a new name now, but the original is nicely descriptive. Walker wrote a book about his struggles with it.

Supposedly residing in his head are half a dozen personalities, ranging from benign to violent. Apparently, any of the personalities can emerge and recede unbidden. I assume he is being medicated to keep the various Herschels in check.

Some years ago, one of the more violent Herschels pointed a pistol at his wife’s head, threatened her with a knife, and held a straight razor to her throat. After she wisely divorced him, he threatened to kill her and her new boyfriend, whereupon a court banned him from owning guns.

There’s more. For years, Walker publicly claimed he was the valedictorian of his high school graduating class. His high school said they had no valedictorian during the years Walker attended.

He also claimed he graduated from the University of Georgia in the top one percent of his class; the University points out that Walker dropped out of UGA in his junior year to sign with the New Jersey Generals, never graduated, and had a B average while at UGA.

Walker later amended the story to say that, years later, he re-enrolled at UGA and then graduated in the top one percent of his class. The University says no, he never re-enrolled and never graduated.

So, this is the person today’s Republicans support for the US Senate — a lying, mentally ill conspiracy theorist.

Well, of course it is. Birds of a feather, right?

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Corruption

Corruption in government — all forms of government at every level — is inevitable. The reason: human nature.

Consider how the world’s major political/economic systems function, in theory.

Communism

Under the doctrine of communism, private ownership is forbidden. Rich big shots do not run things, and the concept of “I’m for me first” is off the table.

Instead, the economy is owned jointly by the people. Government is tasked with overseeing the distribution of resources and making sure everyone is treated fairly and equally.

There is a fatal flaw, however, in that last part about the role of government. No government ever, anywhere, has managed to handle the oversight as intended. For that reason, communism simply never works except in theory.

Nothing says it can’t work. Nothing says government officials can’t do the job. In truth, plenty of people — in all kinds of economic systems — want to do the right thing. But they cannot succeed because too many of their fellow officials use their positions for personal gain or other nefarious reasons. Inevitably, corruption wins.

Socialism

The doctrine of socialism is a sort of communism lite. It is a less fire-breathing, more civilized approach to achieving economic and social equality. Some variations of socialism even tolerate a smidgen of capitalism.

When Marx and Engels wrote the Communist Manifesto in 1848, they described communism as a working-class movement designed to dismantle the power structure. As for socialism, Engels dismissed it completely.

He called socialism a middle-class movement touted by “social quacks who, by all manner of tinkering, professed to redress, without any danger to capital and profit, all sorts of social grievances.” Socialists just weren’t bloodthirsty enough for Engels.

Capitalism

Capitalism is equally flawed, and maybe more susceptible to corruption than other political-economic systems. Under American capitalism, the ruling elite have become obscenely rich, and the non-rich fight over the scraps.

Today in the United States, virtually every level of government, local, state, and national, is owned by special interests. Most people who run for public office know perfectly well how the system works, and they intend to use it for personal or political advantage.

Even good people with good intentions know the system is rotten. Maybe they should be admired for their tenacity, but they can’t win. In time, the American form of capitalism will implode and be replaced by… something nasty and authoritarian, most likely.

Every form of governance since the Stone Age, I suspect, eventually succumbed to corruption and was replaced by whatever evolved next.

The Rise of Autocracy

On paper, five nations formally are communist-controlled: China, Cuba, North Korea, Laos, and Vietnam. Russia is by no means a communist country. It’s an ordinary dictatorship that created a toothless, phony opposition and thereby claims to be democratic.

In the six countries aforementioned, de facto dictatorships arose because of the totalitarian power of the governments. All six have flipped from the left wing to the right and are, in fact, more fascistic than communistic.

Which helps explain why conservatives in the US, who for decades have bellowed about the evils of communism, have decided that Putin is a savvy, admirable guy.

You’ve probably heard them say, Well, if Putin wants Ukraine, why should we care? After all, Ukraine was part of Russia once.

It’s true that both countries once were part of the USSR, but things change. Empires rise and fall, and actually, Ukraine was here first. It emerged in the Middle Ages, and at one time, all of Russia was part of it.

But, facts and conservatives, like oil and water, do not mix readily.

Nothing is a bigger turn-on to the average Republican than an autocrat flexing his muscles, The soul of every right-winger craves a dominating father figure.

A corrupt one will do.

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A question that has long bedeviled theologians and philosophers is the “problem of evil.”

Namely, how does the concept of an omnipotent, benevolent God square with the existence of a world awash in pain and suffering. If God is good and all-powerful, why are people saddled with sickness, crime, war, suffering, and pain?

It doesn’t pay to pursue the issue very far, because it’s a philosophical rabbit hole. The question is unanswerable.

But deep thinkers throughout history have tried their best. One popular solution is to blame mankind itself. In other words, bad things happen because of our assorted misdeeds, which usually include the sin of impiety. The deity? Blameless and absolved.

Typically, myths, fables, and allegories have been used to sell the “it’s your own fault” message to the common folk. One example is the story of Pandora from Greek mythology. Pandora was the first mortal woman, created by order of Zeus, the king of the gods.

According to the mythology, humanity back then was a society of immortal males enjoying a Golden Age. Life was good. The guys worked hard and, of course, showed the gods appropriate reverence.

But things fell apart when Prometheus, one of the senior gods, gave the gift of fire to the mortals, an act that was strictly forbidden. For this transgression, Zeus had Prometheus strapped to a rock, and an eagle was dispatched to eat his liver. Every day, the liver grew back, only to be eaten again, ad infinitum.

As for the humans, Zeus punished them by creating Pandora, who, according to authority figures over the centuries, not only was hauntingly beautiful, but also was endowed with feminine wiles designed to make life miserable for the men.

The myth said she had a “shameless mind,” a “deceitful nature,” and the ability to wield “lies and crafty words.” She was “sheer guile, not to be withstood by men.” Take that, females.

In addition, Pandora possessed a mysterious jar given to her by the gods with a warning not to open it. Naturally, curiosity led her to take a peek, thus releasing into the world a host of evils and diseases from which humans previously had been spared.

(FYI, the popular term Pandora’s Box is a misnomer. It surfaced around the time of Homer when the poet Hesiod mistranslated an old manuscript. The container was not a box, but an urn or jar.)

So anyway, the Pandora myth is how the ancient Greeks explained away the “problem of evil.” They simply claimed that we deserve to suffer because we defied the gods. Vindicate the deity, blame the mortals.

That, and the mythmakers apparently couldn’t resist a chance to take cheap shots at women.

Pandora About to Open her Box” (her urn) by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1881.

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Rock Bottom

For years, a guns and ammo store here in Jefferson displayed an American flag out front. Recently, a “Let’s Go Brandon” flag replaced it.

It’s a gun store, so the sentiment isn’t surprising. But it underscores a sobering aspect of life in the Trump era: knowing how many truly awful, deplorable people are out there. They’ve been there all along, of course, but under Trump and today’s GOP, they are emboldened.

The Neo-Nazis, conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, and others of that ilk are a toxic bunch that I manage to avoid in my daily life. It’s just depressing to know they exist in such numbers.

Most are insecure white men, and they try their best to come across as manly and menacing. But frankly, some of the ideas they espouse are silly. Downright laughable. It’s almost as if these knuckleheads are being trolled.

For example, the idea that horse dewormer protects you from COVID sounds like something liberals would float as a gag.

I realize the libs are not pranking them. The right-wingers are coming up with this stuff themselves. And, wow, some of it is at the extreme end of the crazy scale.

There’s a QAnon claim that Donald Trump is secretly working to bring down a worldwide cabal of child-sex-slavers.

Another conspiracy theory says Hollywood is controlled by pedophile cannibals, Tom Hanks among them.

Another is that COVID vaccines can cause female infertility. According to the science, the vaccines do no such thing, but COVID itself does.

Another, one of my favorites, is that the wildfires in California were set by a Jewish space laser.

Another is that JFK, Jr. didn’t die in a plane crash in 1999 and is still alive.

Another is that JFK himself was not assassinated and is still alive at age 105.

And the latest knee-slapper: drinking urine protects you from COVID.

If you’ve read a few of the Opinion posts on this blog, you know that I’m a liberal, and I have no patience for the conservatives, their Neanderthal beliefs, and their stupid behavior.

Half the population votes Republican because they are damaged people — frightened, selfish, mean-spirited, and easily duped — due to some combination of how their brains are wired, ordinary stupidity, and probably a messed-up childhood.

You may think my assessment is exaggerated. Are the Republicans really that bad?

Yes, they are. Their malicious, wacko beliefs are irrational and abnormal — the fever dreams of the malicious and the mentally unwell. At this moment in our history, conservatives contribute nothing positive to society. They are virtually 100 percent detrimental.

But let me go back to that urine thing.

Peeing is how the body eliminates waste substances that the kidneys have removed from the blood, plus excess water and salt. Urine contains stuff your body is anxious to get rid of. Ingesting it is a remarkably bad idea.

I’ll concede that urine probably is less dangerous than a dose of horse dewormer or bleach. But go ahead — ask your doctor if drinking urine is right for you.

Frankly, if I set out to peddle some outlandish proposal, I would at least try to make it sound plausible. Horse dewormer and urine? Too ridiculous to be believable.

But somehow, embraced by the moron community nonetheless.

Once, I asked a friend the rhetorical question, “Have we hit rock bottom?”

“Bottom?” he replied. “There is no bottom.”

Apparently not. Just look around at all the awful, deplorable people and their nutso beliefs.

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The United Nations has a thing called the Human Development Index, which ranks the nations of the world according to the well-being of their people. Primarily, the index considers income, life expectancy, and education level.

The 2020 HDI, the most recent, said the leading countries are, in descending order:

1. Norway
2. Ireland
3. Switzerland
4. Hong Kong
5. Iceland
6. Germany
7. Sweden
8. Australia
9. Netherlands
10. Denmark
11. Finland
12. Singapore
13. United Kingdom
14. Belgium
15. New Zealand
16. Canada
17. United States —Aha! There we are, in 17th place on the well-being of the citizenry chart.

Frankly, that stinker of a rating is no surprise to me. In spite of our huge wealth and abundance of potential, we rank poorly in most categories that genuinely matter to actual people. The US is:

— 13th in standard of living
— 20th in quality of life
— 24th in science education
— 29th in personal freedom
— 31st in delivering decent healthcare
— 34th in the actual health of the population
— 38th in math education
— 46th in life expectancy

But, by God, we do have some Number Ones to our credit. We lead the world in:

— Military spending
— Cost of healthcare per capita
— Incarceration rate per capita
— Number of guns owned by civilians

Is this a great country or what?

That’s a rhetorical question.

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Misplaced Power

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961

———

Once again, it’s a Merry Christmas for the defense industry.

The US House and Senate have approved the 2022 National Defense Authorization Act, and, as always, the extent of our military spending is obscene. For the military-industrial complex, it means riches beyond the dreams of avarice.

For 2022, the Biden Administration had asked for the breath-taking sum of $753 billion in military spending, the same as our 2021 spending. The House bumped it up to $768 billion, the Senate concurred, and that was that.

Those billions will go toward our spectacularly costly and largely unnecessary military machine; will buy still more jets and tanks and bombs; and will further fatten the defense industry contractors that have been leeching on the taxpayers for lo, these many years.

The US has spent insane sums on the military for decades. Consider our spending for the last 10 years:

The last time the US authorized less than $500 billion in military spending was 2004.

It’s true that the rest of the world lavishes billions on its military, too. But no country comes close to matching us. Here are the world’s 10 leading countries in 2021 military spending:

Our spending was more than that of the other nine countries combined.

Among rational people, one school of thought is not to spend those billions at all. Another is to use it in more worthwhile ways. Considering our many chronic problems, the latter seems a reasonable choice.

Some version of Medicare for All would be a godsend. But that would cost trillions, not billions, and is another conversation. Instead, consider a few other options I’ve read about recently for the best use of our wealth:

For $36 billion a year, we could expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing coverage.

For $80 billion a year, we could make all of our public universities tuition-free.

For $15 billion a year, we could have free, nationwide, publicly-owned broadband.

For $55 billion a year, we could give every working adult in the country 12 weeks of paid family or medical leave annually.

For $150 billion a year, we could create a system of free Pre-K and free childcare for working parents, nationwide.

All pipe dreams, I know. As always, the politicians will continue to serve the military-industrial complex.

In 2022, the Air Force plans to buy 12 more F-15EX jet fighters from Boeing for $1.4 billion. The jets are needed, they say, because the fleet of F-15C fighters is aging.

Only a few scattered politicians in Washington — Democrats, of course — will say no to that.

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A case can be made that democracy is in trouble today because of — I’ll just tell it like it is — widespread stupidity and ignorance.

In general, people are not very bright. That’s reality. And nowadays, the dumbness of the population is amplified and inflamed by social media, Fox News, and that ilk.

As for ignorance, the story is just as bad. The Department of Education reported in 2019 that literacy in the U.S. stood at 79 percent. Which means 21 percent of the population is functionally, if not fully, illiterate. One in five.

Further, DOE said the literacy of 54 percent of American adults is below the sixth-grade level. Half the population. Below sixth-grade level. Stunning. We are demonstrably stupid and ignorant.

But an equally strong case can be made that democracy is reeling because of the rise of hatred. Toxic stuff, hatred.

A recent psychological study in Canada suggests that hatred, especially hatred of particular groups or institutions (immigrants, black and brown people, those evil socialists, etc.) is a powerful motivating force that gives haters the sense that their lives have purpose.

Does this imply that the haters’ lives lack purpose otherwise? Or that they experience feelings of inadequacy? Hey, I’m just a journalism major. What do I know?

The study was conducted at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and involved extensive interviews with over 800 participants. The researchers found that hatred of individuals was motivating, but far less so than hatred of groups.

Hating specific individuals, they said, indeed gives the hater feelings of heightened purpose. But the fact that the hated person is real gets into all sorts of uncomfortable complications and negatives.

Conversely, hating on groups allows the hater to focus on a simple enemy more easily portrayed as a generic evil. It presents an “us vs. them” scenario and an enemy that needs to be stopped.

In other words, according to the study, flawed people are drawn toward hate because it makes them feel better about themselves. That’s both pathetic and perverted.

Honestly, I don’t hate a single group or institution. I don’t even hate the haters. They certainly anger, aggravate, and exasperate me. But I feel sorry for them. And I’m amazed at how people can end up so psychologically damaged.

The truth is, a vast sea of haters is out there, a combination of mental midgets and the mentally screwed-up, and they represent a genuine, alarming threat to democracy as we know it.

And let me point out that damn near 100 percent of those haters are conservatives. Republicans. Right-wingers.

Let’s tell it like it is.

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Backsliding

Last week, a prestigious think tank in Sweden issued its annual list of “democracies in decline.” For the first time, the United States is on the list.

Let that sink in.

The think tank, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), said the U.S. is backsliding as a democracy because it is yielding to “authoritarian tendencies.”

Specifically, the Institute cited the issue of Trump’s lie that the 2020 presidential election was rigged and stolen. That fabrication has been accepted, naturally, by the Republicans — in fact, by an overwhelming majority of them.

IDEA also cited the shocking wave of restrictive state voting laws passed by the same nefarious Republicans.

The Institute did applaud the U.S. for passing a new monthly child tax credit. It said the credit likely will cut the U.S. poverty rate in half and in 2021 will lift four million children out of poverty.

The child tax credit, mind you, was 100 percent courtesy of Biden and the Democrats. As for the Republicans — who voted against the tax credit, and who are the direct cause of our backsliding — I offer this photo in lieu of words.

For this photo, words fail me.

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Coming Attractions

It’s truly fascinating how, in just a few decades, the political center has evaporated, and the country has divided itself into two polar opposite camps.

The left and the right. Liberals and conservatives. Or, to be more specific, those who possess a sense of empathy and compassion, and those who don’t. Those who want to use our resources for the common good, and those who don’t. Those who believe we’re all created equal, and those who don’t.

It’s as if we entered some magic portal and were examined, categorized, and separated. In one corner, the Democrats, who in large part are normal and rational. In the other corner, the Republicans, who are mean, selfish, and wrong-headed.

Although I do consider virtually all Republicans to be deplorable, I don’t see all Democrats as admirable. Democratic politicians tend to be weenies — weak, cautious, and hesitant. But, my God, compared to the conservatives of today, the lefties are angels.

The conservatives have abandoned integrity, honesty, and American democracy. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be claiming that Trump won the 2020 election, or trying to rig elections.

On every issue, conservatives invariably come down on the wrong side.

Hold that thought about villainous Republicans while I turn to another subject.

One popular category of Hollywood movies is historical films — stories based on real people and actual events. Some such films portray events accurately, while others apply a Hollywood flourish. It depends on the filmmakers, the event in question, and the available historical record.

Think of movies such as Gandhi, All the President’s Men, Schindler’s List, Apollo 13, Patton, Glory, and The Alamo.

(Re The Alamo: I’m referring to the version from 2004, not the one with John Wayne. One historian commented that Wayne’s movie didn’t have “a single scene which corresponds to a historically verifiable incident.”)

I bring up this subject to note that, sooner or later, Hollywood will begin to make movies about our time.

Films will be made depicting Donald Trump and the MAGA crowd. The Republican voter suppression tactics. The stacking of the federal courts by the GOP. The politicization of the Supreme Court by the right wing.

These movies are inevitable, people.

It’s true that a few documentaries already have been made. In 2020, Frontline took a look at the records of Biden and Trump for a PBS special. But those aren’t full-blown Hollywood historical movies.

Someday, films will document and dramatize Trump’s life as a rich, insufferable New York brat. They will follow him through his nightmare of a presidency, the 700,000+ COVID deaths, and the storming of the Capitol by white supremacist goons. The films will end with however the sorry saga of Donald Trump ultimately ends.

Some movies, I expect, will focus on Trump’s presidency, his collusion with the Russians, and his criminal mishandling of the COVID pandemic. Featured will be the MAGA morons, the anti-mask morons, the anti-vax morons, and nutjob groups such as QAnon, the Proud Boys, etc.

Plenty of screen time will go to Republican politicians who either stood with Trump or said nothing. Nor will Hollywood be able to resist bringing up Trump’s icy relationship with Melania.

A movie of two will reenact the assault of the Capitol in great detail. (Doing so won’t be difficult. Most of what happened is thoroughly documented.) The story will depict the role of Trump and many Republican politicians in planning the attack, and it will follow the actions of rioters, the police, and members of Congress.

Obligatory scenes: surging crowds of insurrectionists screaming and fighting police; members of Congress cowering inside the building; the demise of domestic terrorist Ashli Babbitt.

Trump will be presented, accurately, as an Adolph Hitler type demagogue. His followers and enablers will be likened to the Nazis of Germany in the 1930s and 40s.

One interesting feature will be the casting of actors to portray Trump, Pence, McConnell, Cruz, Bannon, etc.

How long before Hollywood starts making these movies is hard to predict. But you can be sure that not a single film will portray any conservative in a positive light.

That would be fiction.

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