The Message Versus The Messenger

A gentleman provided a letter to Monday’s (10/01) Orlando Sentinel that read in part, “If it’s God’s word . . . there needs to be no discussion – end of story.” He closes with, “God’s word is final and supreme in the United States of America.”

This is “red meat” rhetoric of a Bible literalist. I sometimes fanaticize about publically debating such an individual (Possible topic: “Is a belief in a personal god necessary for living an ethical life?), but then realize what would be the point? I’d stand-up and give what I believe in and why (something along the lines of the Crash Davis, “I Believe In. . .” speech from the movie Bull Durham). The opposition would stand and say, in essence, “Cuz the Bible says it’s so.” I’d offer some facts (science/logic/history). He’d respond with dogma/scripture/faith. And, as is said, “never the twain shall meet.”

He’d leave the debate thinking me a “damned” apostate and I considering him little better than the village simpleton.

One of the real joys in living in 21st century America (the West) is we can experience our individual lives (generally speaking) without fear of censorship or repression by the state. Believe what you will but mind your own business – that’s the ticket to a free society. Unfortunately, my conviction of “Believe what you will and MYOB” bumps into the prescriptive dogma of the religiously certain. You see this when it comes to such issues as stem cell research, abortion rights, birth control, Gay rights, Gay marriage, women’s rights, censorship, climate change, population control, stewardship of the Earth, etc. And, unbelievably, facts are irrelevant.

Facts are irrelevant? If I were to characterize one of the most troubling changes in America during my lifetime it would be the diminution of fact as the basis of discussion and public discourse. I believe as Daniel Patrick Moynihan observed, “You’re entitled to your own opinions. You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Here’s the crux of the challenge facing America. We’ve substantive problems needing to be addressed. We know what they are. Poverty. Opportunity. Racism. Education. Economic viability. Sustainability. Infrastructure. Environment. Imperialism. Healthcare. And on and on. The polarization we see in America has a number of explanations but one of the primary reasons is, again, as Senator Moynihan pointed out, “You’re not entitled to your own facts.”

Oh, I can hear the objections now, “Jepson, who died and made you Pope? Such that “YOU” get to determine what is fact?” I don’t. But I will rely on learned, scholarly minds, scientifically-based research and reason to make a decision or formulate public policy. And here’s the rub, whether you are conservative or liberal in perspective, who “gives” you the facts is often as important (sadly so) as the facts themselves.

In other words, the messenger is as important as the message. Imagine if Billy Graham’s last words to the faithful were, “God wants you to cherish Mother Earth as fervently as you love God Himself. The environmental desecration of the planet must stop today. It is sinful not to.”

Or, if Bill Clinton said, “We need to means-test Medicare.”

Opinions—even ones we don’t like—should stand on their own merits (Just the facts, Ma’am.). Sometimes, however, they are more palatable when they “stand” on the shoulders of those we already believe.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be . . .

Sometime during the spring of 1966 my family and my father’s best friend’s family were on a picnic in Stone Park, just outside my hometown of Sioux City, Iowa. The war in Vietnam was raging and the topic was always on people’s minds. The two fathers got into it over whether or not they would recommend that their sons volunteer to fight in that war.

My father’s position was that under no circumstances would he recommend that I, or my brother, “serve” in Vietnam. He reasoned that Vietnam was an unjustifiable war that America had no business waging and that his sons would be fools to enlist.

My father’s friend offered the “My country right or wrong” cliché, popular at the time and that his four boys should serve. They went at it, hot and heavy, the remainder of the picnic. Their friendship was never quite the same after this heated exchange. It, too, became a casualty of Vietnam.

I was recently listening to a TV interview with a woman who was discussing the economy and the “quality” of her life, all the while straightening up her garage with her young daughter. Abruptly the conversation shifted to her son enlisting in the Army. Eyes welling, her voice cracked as she said she was unsuccessful in dissuading her son from enlisting, that she had had a prolonged year-long conversation with him during his last year in high school. He would enlist against her misgivings.

What should a parent, in this case a mother, do to protect her child? I am immensely grateful for the sanity of my father regarding Vietnam. There was no family expectation that I go to Vietnam, actually just the opposite, that I lucidly avoid the potential death, disfigurement and violence of that ill-conceived tragedy. Survive. Thrive.

Here are the latest figures regarding military service in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to a recent AP report, 45% of the 1.6 million veterans of those wars are filing for disability benefits for injuries that are service related. That is nearly one out every two returning war veterans are requesting injury compensation.

As a mother, what do you say to a child for them to grasp the idea that warfare is not a lark, that “To be all that you can be” means that, today, there is nearly a 50% chance that you will, my son, come back “less” than what you were. Physically, mentally or emotionally.

At this point, the conversation quite reasonably shifts to the legitimacy of the state’s argument for war (and any claims for our children to fight them). Arguably, America had one justifiable war the entire 20th century, that being WWII. We wrongly, immorally invaded Iraq and why occupy Afghanistan when it was Osama Bin Laden needing taken out?

Democrats and Republicans alike are militaristic fools and jingoistic blowhards. Our military is tragically and repeatedly used for fool’s errands and rather than strengthening—making the nation more secure—we are more fearful, more of a garrison state than we’ve been since the American Civil War.

The trajectory of the West (since Ancient Greece) has been a focus on the individual and his/her ability to reason. The state tells you it needs your child as cannon fodder. Think. What do you logically, reasonably conclude regarding that request? Act.

Mamas, don’t let your babies grow up to be . . .

Twenty-Two Second Lobotomies

I recommend the hour-long Moyers and Company TV program, which airs Sunday mornings on PBS. Bill Moyers has been around for years. Most of us were introduced to him as President Lyndon B. Johnson’s White House press secretary. His show presents “important” issues with knowledgeable people in an attempt to add fact and intelligence (reason) to our national discourse on politics and governance. Moyers is the only such show on politics that I am currently watching.

I’ve quit watching the network news or any of the cable programs devoted to politics. I was never able to bring myself to watch (other than for a laugh) the FOX programming of Dreck, Inanity and O’Really. Glenn Beck drank the Kool Aid. Inanity is as his name suggests and O’Reilly’s “No Spin Zone” is a loopy contradiction of terms and should be more aptly named “No Facts Zone.”

The MSNBC stable of show hosts has become dreary, too. Matthews, Sharpton, Maddow and O’Donnell continue to shill the company line provided by Democrats. They see “victims” everywhere and what is government going to do about it? Oh, I’ll start watching again this fall but what are summers for, but vacations? Relief.

Most Americans get information on their communities from their local TV stations. What passes for news is presented in 30-minute evening segments that are so insulting to the intelligence as to be comical. In 30 minutes, how much airtime, on average, is devoted to substantive news on our communities? I’m not talking about sports or weather but information on our local or state governments, transportation or essential school news. Research indicates twenty-two seconds. That’s right, folks, 22 seconds.

Instead we get a TV talking head describing how Abraham Oliver poured gasoline on his girlfriend, all accompanied by off-camera moans. Then, a “Live at Five” segment announces an elderly sexual assault in Titusville. And, yes, of course, a video of thieves conducting a nighttime pawnshop heist in Ocala. OCALA! And how about a closing 12-second segment on Casey Anthony being sued for defamation? I’d rather have a colonoscopy. What’s that? They are one and the same. No, watching local TV news is a lobotomy.

On his June 3, 2012 program Bill Moyers interviewed psychologist Jonathan Haidt, author of The Righteous Mind. Haidt discusses moral psychology and its implications for our political system. He acknowledges personally moving from a liberal perspective to a more conservative one as a result of his lifelong research and writing. Haidt asserts that politics is really religion from the perspective of sacredness. (What it aspires to accomplish.) And that tragically for the nation we’ve moved to a Manichean confrontation where each side (conservative/liberal) believes “we’re living in reality and the other resides in Lala Land.” I’m fighting for good. You’re fighting for evil. And of course, you don’t ever compromise with evil.

I have never thought Republicans evil, they’ve just sold out. Much like their Democratic brethren. Our political system is corrupt, our politicians corrupt (I am sure your congressman is “quite” the exception). Our Supreme Court is on retainer for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the number one job for the president is fundraiser (and all that that implies and money buys).

Jonathan Haidt offers two solutions. No demonization of the “other” side and clean-up congressional corruption. Good luck with either.

Oh, a “Live at Five” exclusive! Lindsay Lohan to play Casey Anthony. Details at 11. Lobotomy anyone?

The Brand Tattooed On Our Backside Is “$ucker!”

The system was rotten. This had been said over and over; yet the old hulk was immovable. When people accept futility and the absurd as normal, the culture is decadent.
Historian Jacques Barzun on the state of the Catholic Church in the 15th century.

“Yet the old hulk was immovable.” That about sums-up America’s political infrastructure today.
Republicans and Democrats alike self-righteously bemoan the condition of America’s highways, bridges, rails and mass transit. Our electrical grid is inefficient and our nuclear plants ancient. America’s coal plants liberally spew carcinogens and our public water systems criminally leak billions of gallons. Our antiquated waste treatment facilities are inadequate and America’s groundwater is becoming undeniably undrinkable. As William Bendix often said in The Life of Riley, “What a revolting development.” As bad as our increasing third-world infrastructure is, our democratic infrastructure is in worse condition.

As a fiscally conservative liberal—Yes, ye simplistic Rushian Ditto-Heads, we do exist—I have become increasingly despondent over the prospects of America turning around the ship-of-state. I ask my more affluent readers, what good First Class deck chairs when you’re booked on the Titanic?

Is America the 21st century “Ship of Fools?” Our future denied to us as we straightjacket (hang) ourselves with idiotic conservative platitudes and ineffectual liberal pieties?

Our Supreme Court has become just another “bought & sold” branch of government. Our system of checks & balances, a joke. Common good? Common future? No more, gentle reader. We’ve been bought and sold. And cheaply, I might add. And the brand tattooed on our backside is “$UCKER!”

Rather than “fix” our public schools, we auction them off to Jeb Bush inspired, for-profit consortiums of capitalistic leeches, corporations that prosper off the “common good.” Everything is on the auction block, folks. Our roads, our water, our schools, our government, our souls.

Might America’s future be some dystopian combo of a “Mad Max Matrix” where vast numbers of our populace invest their hours lulled by the mind-numbing Huxley “soma” of the internet –“there is always soma, delicious soma.” While others of our agitated citizenry gun-up and dumb-down awaiting “some” Rapture, a scene of such pointlessness that it is right out of “Waiting for Godot?”

Our options are few. Our choices, negligible. The 2012 presidential election is a perfect example of both. Elect Obama and it’s a government of small choices and limited change. Or, elect Romney and America gets “Norquistian No-tax” tax cuts for the wealthy (A redux of Bush 43’s polarizing and impoverishing economic policy). Yes, and a return to the Neo-con foreign policy of costly wars supporting American imperialism. Either option is poor but I much prefer Obama to Romney. Yet either man’s election solidifies an already polarized electorate, guaranteeing more divided government. And our ship of state lists even more. Oh, lucky us, oh, fortunate America.

One of my favorite pieces of literature is “Candide” by Voltaire. In it Voltaire explores a time such as America now experiences. The light of reason and progress has dimmed. Corrupt. Despotic. Superstitious. Unparalleled greed and fraud.

A man once confident in “The Enlightenment,” Voltaire offered that the only course for the sane man is to retreat, and “cultivate our garden.”

With absurdity our new norm, withdrawing to one’s garden may, indeed, be the wisest choice.

Music To Fiddle While Rome Burns.

It’s merely a number. And how many of us, really, paid that much attention to it prior to America’s recent congressionally-induced financial imbroglio. Besides, as Les McCann sings on his quintessential 1969 album (Swiss Movement), “Make it real compared to what?” I speak of the recent S&P downgrade of the U.S. credit rating.

I’m not one to get all enamored with the hyped-prospects of the emerging markets of China, India or Brazil. No doubt those economies, today, have a vitality and energy not found in America but those nations have challenges of unimaginable proportions. Even if their respective middle classes experience phenomenal growth, there will be hundreds of millions of Chinese left in crushing poverty. Say that 700 million Chinese do indeed achieve the American dream of a suburban split-level, two cars and the deluxe stereo system, those left behind will number more than all Americans now residing in North America. What of them?

What is of particular interest to me is something that may not have occurred historically in quite the same way it will happen to America. Our nation is an imperialist power and has been so, unequivocally, since the Mexican-American war of 1848. We will experience inevitable decline. The “nut,” as they say, is unsustainable. What is dawning on Americans is their awareness that the ship of state (our nation) is taking on water, is listing starboard (tragically). We’ve lost track, as a people, of what is honorable, sustainable and democratic.

It is said of Nero, “That he fiddled while Rome burned.” It sums-up well the quality of American leadership today. The ship is sinking and our leaders, rather than correct course or bail water, point fingers and wax forever idiotic.

Obama is not the agent of change for which I hoped. He doubled-down in Afghanistan, hired as administrators the agents of our 2008 economic debacle, turned a blind eye to the corrupt greed perpetuated by America’s banks and Wall Street and lacks the spine to pursue his convictions. Perhaps that is the nut of the problem. That Obama simply does not share the values (convictions) I think necessary for a “healthy” America.

Worse, America’s Republicans are moronic. Both Michelle Bachman and Rick Perry do not believe in evolution. They may as well say that The Scientific Revolution of the 16th & 17th centuries as well as The Enlightenment simply did not occur. The other Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, believes Jesus Christ pole-vaulted across America. He and Rick Perry are the business candidates. Romney’s company purchased corporations, dismantled them, eliminating thousands of jobs and sold the remaining detritus for a profit. Yea, Baby! That’s some record of rebuilding America. Perry’s Texas miracle is an economic fraud. How stupid are we? If another ignorant Texas Governor gets the Republican nomination, we deserve our future good and hard.

Mitt Romney says a corporation is the same as you or me. Same rights? Really? One reason for a corporation is to escape liability. Well, Republicans sure do that well. Everything is Obama’s fault! Yea.

Democrats and Republicans alike are worthless as teats on a boar. One lacks the courage of their professed convictions and the other, well, they’re little more than simplistic, shameless bagmen for corporate interests.

Well, folks, put on J.S. Bach’s “Chaconne from Partita in d minor.”

Nero may have had it right, “Party-On, Garth!”

This Ain’t No Knife Fight.

It’s become a cliché but bears repeating, “Don’t show up at gun fight with a knife.” This appears to be how the Democrats approach governance with their Republican counterparts. It’s a metaphor, folks.

I could have conducted better negotiations with the Republicans than President Obama. I don’t say this lightly because politics is a knuckle-ball, grab their scrotum, take no prisoners process. But if the first chip you toss on the negotiating table is “the store,” what’s left to dicker over?

I kept waiting for the Democrat’s “end game” to become readily apparent. Alas, I am still attempting to understand how the language of the debate became so focused on Republican priorities. Oh, it is argued that is because of the 2010 elections and the Republicans becoming the majority party in the U.S. House of Representatives. So what? It’s as if all the insightful, politically astute, get-your-game-on Democratic strategists are on vacation. Who exactly is advising Obama? Hello! Time to send in the “ringers.”

If I had it to do over—know what I know today—I’d support Hillary Clinton. Granted she badly bungled her Iraq war vote (no inconsequential issue for me) but I’d much rather that Clinton be negotiating, on the nation’s behalf, our domestic policy.

Facts, for many, are irrelevant today, from how we got into debt to whether economic history supports cutting government spending during such an acute recession to whether a return to Clinton level tax rates on higher income Americans would “crush” whatever recovery we are experiencing. I have my understanding of these “fiscal” considerations but many Americans think otherwise. As is their right. That said, “box of rocks” comes immediately to mind, as in, they must be dumber than a box of rocks.

It is argued that Obama thinks that liberal Democrats have no choice but to support him in 2012. That for Obama to be re-elected he must secure “sufficient” independent voters and that fact alone explains his actions and policies. For the life of me, what has Obama achieved that particularly appeals to independents?

Anyone, with half a brain on knows that Obama was handed a horrible economy and two wars. Ballooning deficits, a collapsing economy, record job losses, war. Hell, add drought and his problems are nearly Biblical in scale. It is hard to make lemonade out of any of that. It is.

But Obama’s alleged card-up-his-sleeve was his ability to be “the” great communicator. To communicate. I’m a scorekeeper and Obama has been a dismal failure in this regard. I want the debate clearly framed by putting all the cards on the table as to what exactly America confronts. Frame the message and drive it home. Day in/day out. According to Republicans “We no longer are all in this boat (America) together.” This “Gilded Age” truism needs to be tattooed on Republican foreheads.

I knew we were “had” when Obama pursued no malefactors from the 2008 economic meltdown. Too many of America’s “premier” corporations, banks and financial institutions unequivocally and criminally harmed the nation. Yet, no one swings from the yardarm. No accountability. Bonuses, ironically enough. Business as usual.

Obama, sadly, wasn’t the change we need.

We require a Burt Lancaster as Wyatt Earp in the Gunfight at the O.K. Corral. No more showing up, under-gunned, for battle with the Clanton-like Republicans. This ain’t no knife fight.

Et tu, John Mica?

Do you wake-up one day and decide to sell out? Is that how it works? Or, is it a gradual descent into equivocations and half-truths? We’re all born unvarnished, so to speak. We come into the world clean and real life either works its magic or casts its spell. Arguably, life is one accommodation after another. It is. We accept (we must) in ourselves and others that we are not perfect but that acknowledgment is leavened with/by some sort of internal “line” that will not be crossed; that short of doing whatever it takes, for example, to “save” one’s child, no pressures or enticements could ever get you to cross that “line.” That said . . .

Crooks, grifters, shysters, frauds, Ponzi scheme operators as well as corporate malefactors, vultures, hacks and lobbyists are entitled, by law, to congressional representation. Both angels and sinners alike, soccer moms and environmental desecrators have, theoretically speaking, equal access to their congressman’s door. But we intuitively understand that is not reality.

What makes a congressman due the bidding of a corporation? Corporations have legitimate concerns that government regulations/oversight will adversely affect their profitability. I get that. But when does corporate profitability trump public interest? Rather, when does corporate profitability not trump pubic interest? Time and time again we witness the public interest, our welfare compromised by congressional quislings. A congressman by any other name.

I address this question to Republican John Mica and Democrat Nick Rahall of West Virginia. Congressmen Mica and Rahall recently introduced H.R. Bill 2018 - Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, whose goal is “To amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to preserve the authority of each State to make determinations relating to the State’s water quality standards, and for other purposes.”

This bill is little more than a gutting of the 1972 Clean Water Act. Rahall represents the interests of coal companies who want a “blank check” in order to continue mountaintop mining that poisons West Virginia’s rivers and environment. The Federal Environmental Protection Agency wants to check this ecological tragedy. Mica’s bill would, for all intents and purposes, prevent that.

Congressman Mica, according to a July 15, New York Times’ editorial wrote that Mica is “angry at the E.P.A.’s recent crackdown on the agricultural pollutants that are destroying the Everglades.” Mica, in other words, wants to gut the E.P.A.’s ability to protect Florida’s Everglades? Why? Whose interests are being promoted? Florida agricultural corporations should be allowed an unfettered license to continue destroying our water, our environment? That is your values, Congressman Mica? He’ll argue the trampling of state’s rights.

I called and talked with Justin Harclerode, Communications director for Mica’s House committee overseeing this bill. I asked him point blank the morality of such actions. He clearly and patiently (and politely) explained his boss’s position. This is not about gutting the E.P.A. It’s about returning to the states power over their water resources. The reality? Poisoned water, land and air.

This isn’t about states rights. That’s a cop. This is a sellout to corporate paymasters.

Chris, you’re too idealistic. Governing is compromise. But are there not lines not to be crossed? I am reminded of the famous question from the 1954 McCarthy hearings, “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

Et tu, John Mica?

Riding With The Horseman.

Is the expression “lobotomized Republican” redundant? Or, merely synonymous? If you hear of an individual claiming to be a Republican, is it polite etiquette to inquire how the surgery went? Or, do you ask of an individual who recently had a lobotomy, “Was that a requirement to vote in Florida’s Republican state primary?” Do you see my problem? I’m leaning to redundant.

I’ve been thinking about “unintended consequences” of late. I’m preparing for an April 12th speech at the Winter Park University Club. And Republicans come to mind.

So too, why is America always at war? I was going to put “seemingly” between America and war as in “Why is America, seemingly, always at war?” But there’s no seemingly about it. America is always at war. At least since the end of WWII. No country on the planet has been in as many conflicts as America since 1848. Why?

There are any number of explanations. And some of them are noble and good. Killing Nazis was a necessary act. Many Nazis needed to die for that horror to end. America’s intervention in the Balkans in 1995 was a good thing. But Europe—I mean, really!—should have shouldered that one entirely (militarily) on its own.

We’re a warlike people, all protestations to the contrary duly noted. Part of the problem is the size of the American military itself. It dwarfs the rest of world’s war-making capability. Why?
As recently as two weeks ago Secretary of Defense Gates while speaking at West Point said, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should have his head examined.”

Yes, remarkable as that was (calling for restraint), even the military at times says, “Uncle.” Yet . . .

You then have the civilians (Once Bush, now Obama and his militant Valkyries!) who grab America’s war machine (the U.S. Military)—and with the encouragement of all the suppliers (vendors, consultants, procurement officials, research labs, government bureaucrats, military contractors, congressmen, the entire military-industrial complex)—they deploy our boys willy-nilly, helter-skelter into this or that conflict. Why? Because we can. Brazil isn’t bombing Libya. Japan isn’t bombing Libya, nor China or New Zealand.

The nations of the world—combined—do not have the capacity to war like Uncle Sam. We are the Gold Standard when it comes to waging war on the world.

Three wars in oily Muslimland!! Hells-Bells, the first Crusade in 1096 wasn’t that ambitious. Three of the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse now ride for America! They are on constant retainer, always saddled, always ready. America whips the pale horse.

Oh, it’s a cruel world, Chris. But for Uncle Sam’s power (Meddling. Is that part of the American “exceptionalism” argument?) the world would be a far worse place than it already is.

I might buy that argument but for the mayhem and sorrow America’s aggression has repeatedly inflicted from the end of a barrel or from 40,000 feet. From Latin America to the Philippines, from Vietnam to Iraq.

We war with such ease (with no sacrifice on the homefront) and now our nation finds itself broke, both monetarily and in spirit. Cut the military in half over 36 months—invest the difference rebuilding America.

Turn guns into plowshares.

America’s Drug Pushers.

Number of American civilians who died worldwide in terrorist attacks last year : 8
Minimum number who died after being struck by lightning : 29
Estimated percentage change since 2000 in the U.S. defense budget, not including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan : +80

Figures cited are from Harpers Index

America has been an imperialist nation since our 1848 war with Mexico. That’s 163 years we’ve been occupying, threatening, undermining or intimidating nations (people) around the world. We’ve killed, terrorized, tortured, maimed, slaughtered, kidnapped, “renditioned” every race and ethnic group imaginable. From the Chinese during the 1898 Boxer Rebellion, to the U.S. massacre of the Philippine Moros in 1906, to the Vietnamese at My Lai in 1968. We’ve occupied Latin American nations (almost beyond count), we’ve sent “strike” forces into African nations, intervened in Middle Eastern countries, taken over Iraq, Afghanistan, warred in Asia, Latin America, Central America and the Caribbean. We’re equal-opportunity imperialists. No race or ethnic group is immune (safe) from an American military intervention.

In the 20th century, America’s only “just” war was WWII. We didn’t need to invade Afghanistan to secure retribution. The rest were wars of choice: unwarranted, unjustified and unnecessary; but, you know what? They certainly weren’t un-American. What we do better than any other people on the planet and have for 100 years is war. No one maims, kills or destroys better than Americans. We’ve done it to benefit banana corporations in Central America. We do it for defense contractors in Florida, Texas and California. We’ll plan, prepare and prosecute wars and occupations in the name of democracy, capitalism, freedom, national security, of defeating terrorism—dare I mention JOBS—any ol’ euphemism that gets the ships built, the satellites launched, the cruise missiles updated and the troops armed, trained and deployed.

American aggression has become so part of our national DNA, so ingrained in who we are as a people that we can wage two wars simultaneously and it’s just, ho-hum, business as usual. Another day at the office, so to speak, for America. That’s what we do. We war.

How did this “siege state mentality” overcome America? How did America come to have over 700 military bases abroad? Station hundreds of thousands of troops in nearly every time zone on the planet? Waste trillions on national security, yet never feel quite secure? How can it be that you and I have stood by while our politicians (Republicans & Democrats alike), defense contractors, lobbyists, quacks and quislings appropriate our future through cynicism, fear and duplicity?

“She saw things at the window, she heard things at the door,” are lyrics from a Canned Heat classic titled, “Amphetamine Annie.” That’s America, folks. America sees things (terrorists) at the window. America hears things (enemies) at the door.

It’s over. The emperor has no clothes. We do not need (haven’t since 1945) the military our “special interest” militarists would bankrupt us to support. No imperial power in history has sustained itself indefinitely. None. The weight of wars, of maintaining the American empire will take our nation, take us all down.

An American had three times the chance in 2010 of dying from lightning as terrorism.
“She saw things at the window, America heard things at the door.”

We must kick the drug of militarism. America’s health depends on it.

Paper or Casket?

Clowns to the left of me,
Jokers to the right, here I am,
Stuck in the middle with you.

From the 1974 Stealers Wheel song, “Stuck In The Middle With You.”

Was I the only one who thought it perverse (ironic, too) that six people died and 18 were wounded at their local Tucson “Safeway?” Shopping the safe way? “Paper or casket?” Indeed.

These are morose times in America. I’m trying to put my finger on what it is that is off. I am, by nature, an optimistic skeptic. I don’t know if there is a single word for such a man as I. Fool, perhaps.

I often think of the song lyrics from, “Stuck In The Middle With You.” The chorus goes, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.” That about sums America today. We’re caught between the clowns on the left and the jokers on the right. And where are we?

Historian Thomas Cahill observed that, “We are what we have been.” That suggests a mixed bag of attributes. If you had to sum-up what it means to be human, what would be your first qualities? Curious? Yes. Inventive? Unequivocally. Creative? See our “arts!” Aggressive? A timeless attribute. Warlike? Forever. Cruel? We try to be otherwise. We do. Mostly. Compassionate? At times. Loyal? Helps immeasurably to be blood. Superstitious? Cross my fingers and hope to die. Religious? Tragically so. Spiritual? Not enough. Loving? Not to Mother Earth. Short-term, pleasure seeking hedonists? Only when we can. “Shall we dance? But first, another flute of champagne!”

But I’ve been aware, for a long time, of what disappointing little monkeys we can be. Maybe it’s my advancing age that has me questioning the past and doubting the future. But it is the present in which I reside and it is only the “now” that I have any semblance of control. Mistaken even though that small illusion may be. And, bingo, I hear the refrain, “Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you.”

I speak, actually I think as an American first. There is something, historically speaking, to the idea of an “American” perspective. Actually, it’s a western (as in culture/ Western Europe/those canny Greeks!) perspective. The future? Imagine it. A problem? Fix it. An hypothesis? Test it. A solution? Why not the “best” of many considered? Options? Rationally determined. Failure? Rethink the question/rethink the options/rethink the solutions.

But America no longer thinks or operates that way (perhaps we never did). We confront national challenge after challenge and if we are unsuccessful in actually postponing a decision (Congressional preference), we make either poor judgments or bad choices. That is what has me questioning our nation’s future. That is what has me thinking, well, I’ll just tend my garden and hope that America is somehow immune to the cards history has dealt every aging empire.

The rich are cashing in, the middle class are holdin’ (barely) and the poor, well, they’ve no chips, let alone cards.

And the fools on the left and the jokers on the right forever dicker over who’s in steerage and who has the cushioned deck chair. On the Titanic.

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