How Do We Implement Real Change?

This morning, as I was making lunches for my two boys to take to school, I turned on the radio to NPR’s Morning Edition, just in time to hear the host proclaim that with her win in Puerto Rico, Hillary was within thirty pledged delegates of winning the nomination.  I switched the radio off again and made a mental note to never donate to Public Radio or Television again.  Of course, the report is absolutely incorrect and reflects the same stance that the main stream media has taken since the outset of the primary process, where Super Delegates who have not yet voted have been counted in Clinton’s favor and added to her delegate totals.

Like many of us, I used to have a much higher opinion of NPR.  But, after their federal funding was cut, they had to look elsewhere for their operating capital and wound up in bed with the likes of the Koch Brothers and other big money interests.  NPR has joined the establishment, has become main stream media and must now be tossed into the same bucket as CNN, MSNBC and FOX.  When what we think is conditioned by what we have learned, it stands to reason that if what we have learned is wrong, what we will think will be wrong, too.  The report on Clinton’s delegate count was wrong, and has been wrong on every main stream media source.  For those of us who follow the political process closely, it is easy to see the error.  But what other reports, on other issues, have been equally wrong, equally biased?  And how are those reports shaping the way we think about our world?

Yesterday, I had a long conversation with my neighbor on a wide range of topics, one of which was our current political madness.  She is a senior citizen and a Democrat (Clinton’s demographic), and asked me if I knew of anyone who was supporting Clinton.  I do not.  Neither does she.  But she also had no knowledge of the extent of election rigging that has plagued this primary season.  She was unaware of the exit polling which has accurately reflected each and every Republican primary, while being wildly off in the Democratic elections.  She was equally unaware of the lack of ballots, closing of polling places, purging of voter polls and mysterious changes in registration status which have become a hallmark of every Democratic contest, while being unheard of among the Republicans. 

As someone who is not a consumer of the social media powered world of internet journalism, my neighbor remains reliant on the main stream media as the dominant source of her information.  She can change channels, but if they are all pushing the same lie, and it is not something she can verify on her own, what real option does she have but to accept it as the truth?

What this should make us realize is that if we want real change, it is going to be a much harder climb than just electing an anti-establishment candidate.  If any one thing has been made abundantly clear in this election cycle, it is that the overwhelming majority of Americans are fed up with politics as usual.  We do want change.  We want a change in our leadership because it is the only way that we will ever realize a change in our individual lives, our individual chances to make our own world better.  We want a government that comes together to do the bidding of the people who put them there. 

Contrary to the caricatures emanating from the far right, the only Americans who are looking for handouts continue to be the rich, who want to hold on to more of their soft earned money.  Real Americans want to work.  Give us the chance and we are the hardest working people on the planet.  And the reason for that is that philosophically, we still believe that through our own labors, we can make our lives better and make a better life for our children.  But we have witnessed our government sell our jobs overseas through decades of miserable trade agreements.  We have witnessed our status as industrial giant collapse into a service economy where once highly skilled workers now compete for minimum wage jobs stocking shelves.  This was not our doing.  The blame lies squarely with the government and their handlers, and there is equal blame to taint both parties.

So here we are, early in June and with three significant contenders for the presidency, each of whom wants to be perceived as the anti-establishment instrument of change.  Trump shouts, “Look at me!  I have no political baggage, am fabulously wealthy and make great deals because everything I touch, turns to gold.”  Ironically enough, that did not work out too well for King Midas, either.  In Trump, we have someone who is fabulously wealthy, though seemingly in spite of himself.  His record of failed businesses, bankruptcies, shady “deals,” and now lawsuits against Trump U. show him to be far less accomplished than he would have us believe. 

Clinton hangs her anti-establishment banner on her status as a woman and somehow equates becoming the first female president of the country with representing an anti-establishment posture.  Of course, nothing could be further from the truth.  As a hawkish neo-con, her voting record, actions as Secretary of State, and the very positions on foreign policy that she espouses in her stump speeches and interviews, show her to be the poster child for establishment politics.  The reality that she is heavily funded by Wall Street, Big Pharma, and the Health Insurance industry, and does not want anyone to know what she has to say to any of those concerns, should tell us all that we need to know about her establishment allegiances.

The historically high unfavorable ratings for Clinton and Trump demonstrate that while Americans want change, Americans do not want either of those options.  The third candidate is, of course, Bernie Sanders, the only truly anti-establishment figure among the three.  His message of combatting the effects of income inequality, guaranteeing health care for all Americans and of making education attainable for all of our young people, has struck a chord with voters across this country.  And his anti-establishment stance has been well vetted; as the popular meme circulating on social media states, you can name any mistake our government has made in the past thirty years and there is a video on YouTube of Bernie Sanders, trying to stop it.  Sometimes lost in the discourse is his insistence on more and more Americans becoming involved in the political process.  Indeed, that may be the single most effective tool in bringing about meaningful change in this country.

On the one hand, there you have it.  If you want a candidate whose focus will be on bringing about a meaningful change in the direction of this country, Bernie Sanders is the one.  But do not think for a moment that that alone will solve our problems.  Whatever Sanders will accomplish, he will do so by going up against big monied interests.  His foes will be found within the ranks of a government corrupted by lobbyists and the favors big money can buy.  But they will also be found without, in the form of the main stream media and the bias through which it will inform America.

If we want real change in this country, in the end, we will have to be the instruments of that change.  The Revolution will not just be a political one; rather it will necessitate social changes and a rethinking of how we go about the day to day business of being Americans.  It is goingt o push each of us out of our comfort zones.  Just as in the French Revolution, we will have to at least metaphorically separate the snakes in our government and wealthy, ruling class from their heads.  As the saying goes, kill the head and the body dies.  In this case, the head is money.

Once we recognize just who our real enemies are, the course of action becomes clearer.  As Sanders has repeatedly said, we need to get the influence of big money out of politics.  We also need to take the influence of the main stream media, big money’s mouthpiece, out of our lives.  We need to stop the spread of disinformation, so that it does not become what we have learned and thus the basis for all of our future decision making.   In short, we have to develop a deeper understanding and cultivate a greater participation in our political process.  We have work to take money out of the pockets of those institutions that use money to manipulate us, our voices and our votes.  And, we have to make ourselves smarter, so that it is that much harder to fool us.

Want to make a start?  Here are a number of things each of us can do, right now, to start the ball rolling.

Cancel Your Cable – Cable packages, even at their most basic level, come with bundles of stations, and your monthly premium goes in large part toward paying their fees.  If people would cancel their cable subscriptions, it would hit the main stream media where it hurts, right in their wallet.  Today, most of your favorite programming can be had by a significantly lower subscription rate through NetFlix, Hulu, and other providers.

Donate a Portion of Your Cable Savings – Once you have cut the cord with cable, seek out the news and information services which earn your trust through fair, honest, unbiased reporting and support them with a donation.  I have become a big fan of The Young Turks and would invite you to look them up.  But do your own legwork, find your own sources and share what you find with the rest of us.

Stay Connected Through Social Media – When you find a group of like minded souls on your social media pages, stay connected with them, and get to know them well enough that any one from the group can respectfully question another’s assertions.  Before we can hold the establishment’s feet to the fire, we have to be able to take the heat ourselves.

Get Involved With Your PTA – The disconnect from the political process begins early, when young people are not taught about government and its workings.  Just as being fed the wrong information leads you to think in the wrong terms, being fed no information leads you to not think for yourself at all.  It is long overdue for young people to once again  take courses in Civics and Ethics.  Our government should not be unassailable because it is not understandable.  Additionally, Critical Thinking is infinitely more important than Common Core Math.  Insist that your children’s schools focus on Critical Thinking skills.  If we teach our kids how to think, and to think critically, we won’t have to worry so much about others telling them what to think.

Reading Comprehension – There is no more important skill that anyone learns in school or in life than reading comprehension.  If you can read and understand the subtlety of what is written, what lies between the lines, you can teach yourself anything.  Everything that humanity has ever learned is written down.  It is there for all of us.  Remember Trump’s comment on how much he “loves the uneducated?”  Call it a Freudian slip, but what he said in that moment is exactly the basis for how politicians (and other snake oil salesmen) have always worked.  The more we know, the more complex and nuanced our understanding of what they are saying to us is, the more transparent they become.  And while you are at it, read to and with your kids.  Engage them in discussion of what they have heard or read to sharpen their own skills and to introduce them to the world of adult thought.

Buy American – This is easier said than done at a time when a visit to a Home Depot, Wall Mart or Lowe’s will not turn up more than a small handful of items made in this country.  But if we want to put the hurt on those corporations that have sent American jobs overseas, we need to stop buying their products.  One solution, particularly in terms of household goods and furnishings, is to buy second hand.  Thrift shops are everywhere and often present you with the chance to buy a gently used item which was made in America, to higher standards.  Though it is used, it will most likely outlive the new item made somewhere in the third world, and at a fraction of the cost.

Buy Local – A portion of every purchase you make is a cost to offset shipping that item from somewhere else in the world.  Transportation costs ultimately put money in the pocket of big oil, one of the largest lobbyists to Washington.  Buying local means less use of oil, less carbon emissions into the atmosphere and most importantly, it builds community.  In an earlier article, http://johnqsviews.com/universal-health-care-and-renewable-energy-will-save-our-economy, we looked at the personal economy, your individual economy, and viewed it as a pie of assets, against which slices are cut to pay for your expenses.  Here, in the abridged version, as your costs for essential expenses (housing, energy, health care, food and education) rise, those wedges of the pie get larger and of necessity, the wedges of your non-essential expenses must get smaller.  If the balance shifts too far, you no longer have the money for non-essential expenses.  But it is those non-essentials that are often the source of income for someone else’s pie.  This is why the recession moves like a wave through a community.  Make a concerted effort to buy locally sourced goods and you will move your assets into the pie of someone else in the community, who in turn will move it along and to some degree, back to you.  Strengthen the economy of your community from the ground up and your community will have less need of DC politics.

These are just a few examples of things we can do to strengthen our communities, our numbers and our effectiveness as we work to take back our country from our own government and the ruling class.  Have other ideas?  Drop a line with a comment and we will keep this ball rolling.

America, you’ve overslept.  It is time to wake up and get on with your education.  It is time for all of us to open our eyes to what is going on around us, to how we are being manipulated, how we are being taught what to think, so we fall right into line.  As the saying goes, there are no stupid questions, only stupid answers.  It is always right for us to question authority, and any time an individual or an institution which would set itself up as an authority is unwilling or unable to answer our questions, we must consider them to be either deceitful or incompetent.  Neither is fit to lead us. 

For now, I would leave you with the most important question, the one you must ask of any authority figure: Whom does it serve?  If you are presented with information or a rationale on which someone wants you to make a decision or entrust them with doing so, you must ask, “Who benefits from me believing this and acting upon that belief?”  It is akin to following the money and will usually lead you to the truth they would rather you not consider.  Sanders was asking that question when our country was deciding to go to war in Iraq.  Think for a moment where we would be if the rest of us had been doing the same.

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Those Who Do Not Learn From History…

Today, a little perspective.  There is an old adage that those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.  Now, in 2016, the citizens of the United States are locked in the process of of making choices which will have an immediate impact on their future, but need to look to history for illustrations of how those decisions have impacted earlier civilizations.

In the past three thousand years, there have been quite a number of important civilizations distributed across this planet.  For “civilization,” we should think, experiment in societal living.  Civilizations coalesce from groups of people who either choose or are coerced into living by a particular set of rules or within a particular social structure.  If the rules and the structure can serve to hold the group of people together, a civilization is born, and it grows up, matures, ages and, in time, fades away or is forcibly replaced by another.  Coming from a culture whose roots owe more to European history, we tend to focus on five of these great Civilizations: the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, British Empire and the Americans.

Each of these civilizations was replaced, in turn, by another.  In the ancient world, guided by ancient technology and of necessity, the slower spread of global change, the first three of these civilizations overlapped to one degree or another, before the Romans emerged as the dominant civilization of the ancient world.  After the fall of Rome, which most scholars date to about 476 A.D., the European world slipped into the Dark Ages and did not emerge from them until the Renaissance of the 1300’s.  It would be another almost 300 years before the British Empire became the dominant civilization of its time.

For a moment, let’s look at the Roman Empire and its parallels to our own, American Civilization.  The question becomes two-fold.  What did the Romans give us (what did they do best?) and why did their civilization collapse?

Well, what did the Romans give us?  Architecture!  Uh, no, that would be the Greeks.  Mathematics!  No, that would be the Arabs and the Greeks again.  Literature!  Again, we really trace our literary roots to the Greeks and Homer, Sophocles, Plato and Aristotle.  Religion!  Afraid not.  The Romans lifted their mythology directly from the Greeks and replaced it toward the end of their Civilization with Christianity, lifted directly from the Jews.

So, why should we remember the Romans?  What did they do better than anyone else of their era?  The answer, in three little letters, is WAR.  The Romans were the greatest, most sophisticated and technologically advanced war machine of their time.  They spread out across the Mediterranean, the northern tier of Africa, into the Middle East and Turkey, northward through Europe and into the British Isles, overpowering and enslaving everything in their path.  And directly on the heels of that war machine came Roman commerce.  Think of a great civilization like a beating heart.  Raw materials and treasure from the conquered world flowed back to the heart, were transformed into goods and wealth, and a portion of them flowed back out again to the far reaches of the empire.  In short, war made possible the opening of business opportunities for the Romans, and those business opportunities enriched the Roman civilization and made the wealthy aristocracy greedier for more, thus promoting more war. 

It became an all consuming fire which was unsustainable as the resources of the empire were spread increasingly thin.  So, why did the Roman Civilization fall?  Here are seven key reasons:

Crumbling Economy – The Romans reliance on constant war had stretched their internal finances to the breaking point.  When the expansion into Europe and Eurasia ground to a halt, the treasure making its way back to Rome dried up.  As a result, the government levied oppressive and disproportionate taxes on the citizenry, which only served to widen the economic gap between the rich and the poor.  The rich, of course, had the wherewithal to try to escape the tax-man, by moving out of Rome into the further ends of the empire, or through their ability to shape the laws of the land through the Senate which they controlled.

Division of Wealth – Increasingly, there developed a wide gap between the wealthy and the lower echelons of society.  The wealthy families owned the land and controlled the government, while the merchant class and slave laborers were tasked with the responsibility of being the craftsmen of the empire and the people who kept the wheels of commerce rolling.  All of the knowledge of how day to day things were done fell to the merchant class and, when the economy of Rome collapsed, the merchant class disappeared.  With them, that knowledge was lost, so much so that at the start of the Renaissance, some 900 years later, people lived among the ruins of the Roman empire, with no idea how any of it had been built.

Crumbling Infrastructure – The constant expansion of the Roman empire necessitated a tremendous investment in infrastructure.  Initially, the building of this vast network of roads, bridges, buildings and aqueducts fell to the merchant class and the engineers within that group.  In time though, slave laborers from the further reaches of the Empire were brought in as a cheaper maintenance crew.  As the infrastructure aged  and crumbled, the people tasked with maintaining it lacked the real knowledge of how to do so and it became a self-perpetuating downward spiral.  In recent years, archaeologists have come to believe that part of the fall of the Roman Empire could be attributed to poisoning of the people by lead in the drinking water supply, as lead joints were used to hold the aqueducts together.

Division Into Two Partisan Camps – As the Roman empire expanded, Emperor Diocletian effectively divided the Empire into two halves, Western (Europe) and Eastern (the Middle East and Eurasia).  Each half had its own, localized government, and the two found that they were incapable of working together to support the greater Empire.  The eastern half, based in Constantinople, which did not come to the aid of the western half when they were attacked by the Vandals and Goths, actually survived the collapse of the Empire and carried on for almost another 1000 years before being subsumed by the Ottoman Turks in the 1400s.

Military Overspending – A civilization dependent upon war for its growth needs to maintain that war machine.  The Romans directed the greater portion of their treasure toward the outer fringes of the Empire and the maintenance of that machine.  But building walls and fortifications and equipping troops can only go so far in terms of creating a viable internal economy.  At a certain point, a military organization on constant “watch” becomes the end of the line for the civilization’s finances, without a feedback loop to grow the economy at home.

Government Corruption – As the empire grew in size, it became increasingly difficult and ultimately impossible to govern, and the emperors and the Senate became ever more corrupt in their efforts to “get while the getting’s good.”  They robbed the coffers of its treasure and set themselves against each other, resulting in a civil war in which the Empire saw no less than 20 emperors in a span of just 75 years.

Rise of Christianity – Today, we portray the Christian religion as an inherently benevolent institution, but during the time of the Romans, it was the interloper.  It was the new way of thinking which would supplant the old, replacing traditional values which had supported the civilization for so long.  In the case of the Romans, monotheistic Christianity came to replace polytheistic traditional Roman culture, where the emperor was assumed to be, himself, divine.  This shift away from the emperor as the exponent of the divine will, allowed many Romans the opportunity to view their leaders in a new light and to see them for the corrupt institution that they had become.  Christianity, in the case of Rome, became a focusing element for the oppressed and disenfranchised, and the focus of what we would today call a “grassroots” opposition.

I hope that many of you are already seeing the parallels between the ancient Romans and ourselves.  The political discourse in this year’s election cycle is frighteningly on point in describing the United States as a civilization poised to go the way of Rome.  Yes, there was a time when the Unites States provided the world with tremendous advances in science and in art, and exemplified a culture of personal freedom which was the envy of the world, so much so that vast waves of immigration to this country resulted.

Today though, ask anyone around the world what it is that the Americans do best and they will tell you, WAR.  The United States is the most powerful war machine in the history of the world.  In truth, Americans have always been very good at waging war; it seems to be in our DNA.  But it wasn’t until the Second World War that we truly embraced the idea that we could reshape our world, to our advantage, through the use of our military. 

This coming December 7th will mark the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor which committed us to full participation in the Second World War.  In that time, we have changed from a country loathe to enter into war into one quick to seize upon the opportunities war provides.  In recent years, former Secretary of State Clinton has even gone on record to say that the war in Iraq, one based on the coercion of the American people by lies about Saddam Hussein’s ownership of weapons of mass destruction and his harboring of terrorist cells, should now be viewed as a “business opportunity.”  Is this the Pax Americana?   

And at home, what has been the result?

Crumbling Economy – our military involvement in Iraq alone has cost this country more than 1.1 trillion dollars, despite Dick Cheney’s assurances that it would cost about 80 billion.  Saddled with this debt and coupled with a generation of economic expansion which has seen huge numbers of jobs sent overseas to the far-flung reaches of our own influence, our economy has been in a tailspin for some fifteen years. 

Division of Wealth – In the United States, the top 1% of the population controls more money than the bottom 90% of the populace.  The bottom 80% only controls about 7% of the wealth.  The gap in monetary holdings between the top 10% and the middle class is a difference of over 1000% and the top 1% own over 1000% more than the top 10%.  The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.  The middle (merchant) class is gradually disappearing.  And, until the surprising rise of populist political figure Bernie Sanders, the rich have chosen the politicians and the policies on which our government is run.  Also, like Ancient Rome, the wealthy, through their control of governmental legislation, have been able to rig the tax system to their favor, putting a greater onus on the middle classes to foot the bills of the country, and widening the gulf between rich and poor in the process.

Crumbling Infrastructure – One side effect of the crumbling economy has been the loss of jobs or the decline of income of millions of tax-paying Americans.  With less paid in taxes at a federal, state or local level, there is less money in the coffers to maintain the infrastructure of the country.  American cities are crumbling and, like ancient Rome, we are witnessing crises such as the lead water poisoning of Flint, Michigan.  Coincidence?

Division Into Two Partisan Camps – The Obama administration has been characterized by the further divisions between the Republicans and the Democrats, to such an extent that each is capable of blocking the efforts of the other to get anything in Washington done.  As a result, we have a political divide in this country in which neither side is willing to compromise with the other, a state of stasis is created and nothing changes.  Of course, it could be argued that for the individuals in government and the wealthiest Americans who profit under the current system, everything for them is just hunky-dory.  Who needs to change that?

Military Overspending – Like the Romans, our civilization has become one which is dependent upon the use of our military as a mechanism for spreading our business interests around the globe.  As such, that military must be maintained and upgraded at all times, at considerable expense.  Yearly, the United Sates spends some $597.5 billion on the military, four times the amount of the next closest nation (China, at some $145 billion).  Also, like the Romans, it could be argued that this expenditure is unsustainable, or certainly that it redirects money away from other areas where the nation could more widely spend it (health care, infrastructure, poverty, education, etc.).

Government Corruption – Perhaps the single most important issue of this campaign season, has focused on the corruption within our government.  In recent years, all of our politicians have been held up to the same standard, viewed in the same light, and this is because they have essentially been interchangeable parts in a  machine that runs in the same way, no matter who comprises its mechanism.  The wealthy individuals, corporations and institutions, like Wall Street, which have chosen, supported, and bank-rolled our candidates for so long, have seen to that.  This year, we have seen that institutions like Goldman Sachs have backed both Hillary Clinton and Ted Cruz, two very different politicians with different agendas.  Why?  The simple explanation is that Goldman Sachs stands to benefit in the same way from either of them.  They have no care as to who becomes our President, only that their own interests are protected.  Corruption, ultimately is about either power or money, and in America, they are one and the same. In years past, we have had the choice of two candidates who have each belonged to the same establishment, with the net result of their terms that their wealthy supporters have continued to prosper while the rest of us have settled into a steady decline.  This year, a candidate of the people, Bernie Sanders, has emerged as a new paradigm against which the establishment must be viewed.  And to the majority of working Americans, the establishment is not looking too good.

Rise of Christianity – Unlike the Romans, where Christianity was the new model, for us it represents the traditional values.  However, what we have seen in recent years in this country among a subset of the voters, is a shift away from the modern form of our Christianity toward an embracing of a more hard-line, arch conservative Christianity.  In identifying this group, of course, we mean to indicate the far-right wing of the Republican party, and their intention to recalibrate our culture along a much more constrained line of acceptable behavior.  To say that they represent traditional values, one really must look as far back as the Puritans.  Christianity throughout the 18th and 19th centuries was considerably more enlightened.  There is though, a flip side to this coin.  What the rise of Christianity may have meant to the demise of the civilization of ancient Rome, is best expressed in the form of the cultural revolution to which it gave rise.  Today, we are witnessing a large group of people within our own society who have chosen to embrace a new model of belief, a cultural revolution centered in the needs of the middle and working classes, and moving away from the established power structures enforced by the wealthy elite.  It remains to be seen if this cultural revolution is also unstoppable.

I believe that you can see that there are powerful points of comparison between the cultures of Ancient Rome and the American experiment in democracy.  All of us need to be concerned that continuing along the same path that we have been for more than forty years, will result in a better than average chance that our civilization will collapse under the same weight that crushed the Romans.  As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “It is never the wrong time to do the right thing.”  We should all accept that changes are necessary to the continued existence of our culture.  Interestingly, though changes do not require that we put the wealthy aristocrats to the sword (though it may come to that).  The wealthy power brokers just need to understand that they need to protect their long-term interests by fixing their chronic short-sightedness.

At the outset of this article, I referenced the British Empire as another of the major civilizations.  Well, what happened to them?  They took a different path.  Like the Romans, the British were with most powerful military force of their day and, like the Romans, they colonized the known world.  As the saying goes, “The sun never set on the British Empire.”  But, unlike the Romans, they came to see the writing on the wall. 

They saw that continual military expansion was unsustainable and they asked themselves the question of what was really important to their continued growth.  The answer was that it was commerce on a large scale among nations which shared some core common values.  So, the British, unlike the French, Belgians, Spanish or Russians, made plans to work their way out of the job of holding so much territory through military force.  They were noted for bringing local people into government and teaching them a means by which a nation could be sustained.  Money was invested in building trade routes  and solidifying partnerships with other countries. 

Were they incorruptible angels?  Of course not.  But when you look to the geopolitical map of the world and see the places which were colonized by the British, they tend to have the more stable government institutions and the better relationships with global economic partners.  Perhaps there is something to be learned from history here as well.

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I’m Okay, You Have a Screw Loose

It is fashionable these days to try to be accepting of the views of others, even when they are stark raving mad. Ever since “I’m Okay, You’re Okay” was published, our society has taken the position that one person’s reality is just as good, just as valid as another’s.

Enough is enough. I’m okay, you have a screw loose. When are rational people going to wake up and realize that we are not doing the lunatic fringe of this country any good by coddling their dimwitted brand of absolute horse crap? In a socio-evolutionary sense, our society is collapsing into the relative dark ages compared to where we were in the mid-1960’s. Perhaps, if we could create some sort of safe haven for these nut-cases (we’ll call it Texas) and build a friggin’ wall around the place to keep the loonies in (quick, call Donald Trump – I’ve got a job for him), the rest of us could stop the incessant face-palming. Short of that, it is time to take to the streets, with large nets and heavy sticks.

http://www.salon.com/2016/02/17/obama_has_a_soft_spot_for_homosexuals_because_of_the_years_he_spent_as_a_male_prostitute_in_his_twenties_meet_the_looniest_politician_in_texas_and_thats_saying_something/

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Time to Ring Some Changes

Okay, I’ll say it; organized religion has got to go. Can’t we just get past all of it? You’ve had two thousand years to produce some evidence. You haven’t.

Now personally, I don’t give a hoot what you choose to believe. If you wish to profess your faith, go for it. But religion is fundamentally different from faith. Faith is what you believe. Religion is the organizing institutional principle that gathers up folks who share a common belief and then instructs them on what to do with that belief.

On what basis of evidence should we believe our religious leaders or institutions?   If the government tells us that GMOs are safe, should we just accept it or should we say, “Whoa there brother, where is your proof?” Religion tells us that the world was created in six days, because “God said so.” Why is the latter to be held sacred and the former not? At least, with the former, we have the right to question its authority. Ted Cruz and his ilk would have the latter as law and base all government on unprovable conjecture. If that is not dangerous, I don’t know what is.

When it comes to different religions, I don’t distinguish between them. Christianity, Islam, or the Cargo Cult, it is all the same to me. It is mythology. It is a collection of great old stories, but nothing more and no basis for governing a nation.

These days, a lot of mud is being slung against Islam here in the United States, and the actions of ISIS make Islam an easy target.  That being said, I believe it is incumbent on all of us to be critical of our own institutions (religious, governmental, corporate, etc.), from the inside. We all have to take a look at ourselves and our own belief systems, see where the flaws are and where those flaws allow us to be buffaloed into acting in support of the insupportable. Ultimately, Islam will need to police Islam and Christianity needs to police Christianity. If it comes to erecting borders between us, well, that is one price we pay for allowing ages old myths to parade as reality.

http://www.ifyouonlynews.com/religion/west-virginia-republicans-push-for-a-law-making-any-crime-committed-for-jesus-legal/

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And Now, Culture

Sometimes, I marvel at the majesty of the human spirit and its ability to create something as exquisite as a great piece of music, especially when the scale of the effort involves so many people focusing all of their passion together for that one moment’s expression of concentrated spiritual release. If we can create this, dream this, and come together as one to share this, is there anything we can not do?

Procul Harum, A Whiter Shade of Pale

https://www.facebook.com/roberto.zavalasalinas/videos/653369014766491/

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Hard to Watch the Grand Old Party Die

Tonight I realize that to many, I am looking at the world through my own tainted glasses. How could I (or any of us) not? But here is what I see. Until a few months ago, I was always a Republican, politically.   I grew up in Pennsylvania in the 60’s and 70’s. So, the kind of Republican I have always been was a moderate one. I believe in fiscal conservatism, a strong military to protect our country and its people from outside threats, but on social issues I am more centrist, more of a “live and let live” kind of person. I don’t understand what motivates gay folks, but I have no problem with them getting married either. I am not religious, but I figure anyone else is entitled to their religion as long as they don’t try to beat me on the head with it. I believe in science and education and teaching our kids to be as smart as possible, because they are the future.

This was the core of Republican thought, as I grew up with it. But, like Bob Dole and George Bush (the elder), I look at today’s Republican party and don’t see a place for me in it. It has become a party of radical conservatism, protective of ignorance in all forms, which has moved so far to the extreme end of the scale that a fascist (Trump) and reality deniers (Carson and Cruz with their 6000 year old planet) are deemed fit to lead. Did Unions go too far? Sure, but without them you and I would be shopping at the company store, living without any kind of retirement income, and working for slave wages under slave conditions (Trump has repeatedly said that we need to do away with minimum wage altogether, so we can compete with China – there is your return to slave labor, looming on the horizon).

Am I playing favorites here and denying the mega-rich owners of the mill their right to become richer? I probably am. They can stand it. I have to look at the folks who do the sweating and slaving, the living and dying in this land and ask, what is best for them? The whole country rides on the backs of the middle and working classes. Folks like you and me. It always has. And those backs are buckling under the weight. Yet, it is the Republican right which calls for legislation that does not ease that pressure, but instead just lets the rich get richer.

Are there lobbyists influencing politics on behalf of the democrats? Absolutely! Look at Hillary’s biggest donors – they come from Wall Street and big-media, both institutions which pour millions of dollars into lobbyists to sway political legislation in Washington. Both sides are completely corrupt and completely guilty. The system today is absolutely broken.

But things were different in the 1970’s. Republicans and Democrats could still find consensus and work together to pass legislation to help our economy. Those days are gone. There is zero cooperation in Washington so there is nothing being done, even when the issues are cut and dried.

Again, the issue du jour has become who can and can not possess a firearm.  There are many folks in America who want to have guns, some for sport, some for self-defense. Unfortunately, many of those people feel the need to have guns because they have bought into the fear mongering that is coming from that same radical right. That is a separate issue.

We can all agree that some people in this country should not have access to guns, either because they are known, habitual criminals, or because they are mentally unfit to act responsibly with a gun. If we can agree to that notion, we can surely agree that there should be a way to do all that we can to keep guns from those folks, without impinging on the rights of honest, responsible citizens to have them. It can’t get much simpler than that.

Yet, if Obama had tried to get this legislation passed through a bipartisan Congress or Senate, it would fail just because the Republicans are committed to making sure that anything coming from Obama must fail, whether or not it has merit and benefits the population (if Obama was a Republican, the Democrats would undoubtedly do the same). Trump is already campaigning on the notion that he will repeal such legislation, day one. So, if we can see what needs to be done, can agree on what needs to be done, and can put it into action in such a way that it does not harm those citizens who should not be harmed by it, what are we to do when the government, OUR representatives in Washington, refuse to act upon OUR desires?

At some point, sanity and doing what is best to keep Americans safe from criminals and nut cases, must trump partisan politics. I do not see where the President had a hell of a lot of choice. As I have come to see it, part of the problem is that our political system has become a kind of religion. And one of the hallmarks of religion, any religion, is that the leaders have to be able to convince the followers that theirs is the true way. It is an elaborate house of cards. Someone once commented that there have been about 3000 gods so far, but yours is the only one that is real. Every one else’s is just a silly bit of make believe, but yours, yours is the real deal.

You see where I’m coming from. In a country where the cult of personality has taken over politics and political lines between parties are drawn so clearly that each party is driven by a religious fervor, each party knows that if they are ever shown to be full of shit, the whole house will come tumbling down around them. Like any religion, the political parties must not budge, must not admit any flaw, must never acknowledge that perhaps, just perhaps, they were wrong about something. The biggest fear the Republican party has in this particular issue is that the legislation put forward by a Democratic president just might work. And then, everyone will ask, “what was all the fuss about?” And they might just wonder what the real issues are that we need to deal with.

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Teddy Roosevelt had it Right

I have long believed there is a very good reason that Teddy Roosevelt is the most recent president to appear on Mount Rushmore. He may be the last truly great president we have had (for so many reasons, chief among them the protection of the environment). I also believe that in this instance he is absolutely right. Notice that he does not say that we need to be all of one faith. Faith is a private matter; being American is a shared philosophy. The former is aimed at the afterlife, the latter, the here and now. I think about the current refugee situation and realize that many if not most of the people coming to our country do not wish to stay; they are escaping a war for the protection of their families with the intent of one day going home. In that case, we should treat them as guests with all that American hospitality has to offer. But for those who would choose to stay and live here permanently among us, this, not their religious persuasion, should be the litmus test. In every prior wave of immigration to this country, it has been that desire to become American that has revitalized our nation with new blood, new ideas, and a renewed commitment to freedom and all that it represents and demands of us. What are your thoughts on this?

Teddy Roosevelt quote

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Time for “Time” to ‘Fess up

Thank you, Time magazine, for doing the American public a tremendous service! You have demonstrated to us all how the voting process works. When the readers of Time were polled (effectively, given a chance to vote), the overwhelming majority of them chose Bernie Sanders as person of the year. Yet, Time chose to omit him from the shortlist altogether. When institutions of influence can deny reality and name a winner (like CNN naming Hilary winner of the first Democratic debate) who clearly lost, it reveals to us, the voters, just how little say we have. Why even ask us at all? Remember when Saddam Hussein was re-elected with 100% of the Iraqi vote? The difference here is only one of subtlety.

http://news.yahoo.com/angela-merkel-named-times-person-124821986.html?soc_src=mediacontentsharebuttons&soc_trk=fb

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52 Years and We’re Still Waiting for Answers

Well, it’s November, and Thanksgiving is just around the corner. But, for many of us, old enough to remember, so is the anniversary of one of the darkest days in our history. It has now been 52 years since the assassination of JFK and there is more that we don’t know about the killing than that we do.

The film linked below, from 1966, is by Mark Lane, a defense attorney from New York who had been asked by Marguerite Oswald to represent her son’s interests at the Warren Commission Hearings. As Oswald was already dead, the Commission refused to allow Lane to participate as Oswald’s counsel, thereby removing any voice on Oswald’s behalf from the proceedings.

In September, 1964, the Warren Commission released an 889 page report at the end of its investigation, which named Lee Harvey Oswald as the sole assassin in the death of JFK and promoted Arlen Spector’s “single bullet theory.” Many people read the report and found it difficult to believe. So, once again, Mark Lane was engaged, this time by the members of a “Who Killed Kennedy” committee who supplied him with the resources to look deeper into the report. In November, 1964, the Warren Commission published 26 volumes of evidence which they claimed supported the findings of the report. After reading through all of the evidence, Lane and his assistants were able to demonstrate that in many cases, the evidence was in fact, contradictory to the findings.

Out of this came Lane’s first book on the subject, “Rush To Judgement,” an essential read for anyone interested in the assassination and its aftermath. The film serves to point up a number of notable examples of eye witnesses whose testimony was either suppressed, altered or rejected by the Commission, and which would have pointed the investigation of the crime in an entirely different direction, possibly exonerating Oswald.

For my younger (than compulsory retirement!) readers, one of the real points of all this is that by December of 1963, less than a month after the assassination, the majority of Americans believed that their government, through its institutions like the FBI, was not telling us the truth about the assassination of the president. The Commission’s findings only cemented that feeling and the faith (blind, perhaps) that the average American had in his or her government has never been the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0w4sQtwWfBo

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