Ugly American

In 1958 one of the most politically influential novels, The Ugly American, was published.  Of the books’ core revelations the one that was most renowned was that of a foreign journalist who had lived in the US and said, “For some reason, the people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States.  A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They are loud and ostentatious.”

Well, folks…times have changed…or not?  The “Ugly American” is no longer limited to the loud and ostentatious living pretentiously (although Mr. Trump certainly fits nicely into that description).  No…today’s Ugly Americans are the people who gather to yell at Hispanic and Asian school children, “Go back to your country!” and scratch swastikas on cars they deem might be owned by non-Christians.  They’re the people who hated Obama because he was black but complain if their disability check is a day late as they had planned to go 4-wheeling that weekend and need the money for beer and cartridges for their AK-47s.  They’re the ones who prefer “Christian home schooling” for their kids who never learn enough to fill out an application at McDonalds.  They’re the folks who wouldn’t stoop so low as to picking fruit or working farm fields for wages but blame those who are doing it as their reason for their inability to find a “decent” job.   They’re to ones who want to get rid of “Obamacare” but claim they’d definitely support an Affordable Care Act.  They’re the ones who believe the “American Dream” is something to be handed to you for free on your 21st birthday and after that you just lay back and life is a breeze.

Yep…ugly is as ugly does!

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Has Our Constitution Failed Us?

The Constitution of the United States is unequivocally considered the epitome of the political foundation of a free people.  The principal tenant of this document is government of the people, by the people and for the people…democracy.  Yet I have growing concerns that expectations of this document’s infallibility have resulted in our apathy toward these freedoms (Remember, only 54% of eligible voters cast ballots in the last election.)

Arising issues bring to question as to whether this revered document is truly fail-safe in protecting the individual freedoms of our citizens and ensuring against domination by radical political and religious minorities.

Let’s consider these issues:

  • Three of the last seven Presidential elections resulted in the winning candidate garnering less than the majority of the electorate. This manifested itself in the last election with a nearly 3 million vote advantage to the losing candidate.
  • The increasing preponderance of a growing plutocracy where the nation’s oligarchs are allowed to dictate election results through their monetary contributions and, in turn, receive favorable benefits from the administration.
  • The ability of action (and inaction) by a political majority of the legislative branch to thwart actions in the other two branches.
  • The application of insidious gerrymandering to ensure uneven political dominance in populated areas in the nation.
  • The judicially undisputed voter suppression laws throughout the union directed towards lower income and non-white citizens.
  • Increasing partisanship in our nation’s judicial systems.
  • Isolationism as a means of political control.

One can only wonder if the Founding Fathers were simply too naïve in their vision of the nature of future affluent societies and actually set in place a system which, once political control was achieved, prevents any valid future opposition.

For the sake of my grandchildren I hope I am over-reacting.  But, my observations tell me maybe not.

Oops

My neighbor’s recent admission to “having made a gross error” in voting for Trump brought to mind Thomas Hobbes’ quote, Hell is truth seen too late,” (although Hobbes would have likely supported a Trump administration following his beliefs in Leviathan where he argues in favor of a social contract and rule by an absolute sovereign.)  Yet my neighbor’s admission was hollow and I asked myself how someone could have believed that Trump would make a good, competent, and just leader of this country after having listened to his campaign rants; his early morning Tweets; his out-and-out lies; his misogynic utterances?  How could anyone trust him when he refused to show his tax returns and openly thumbed his nose at our Constitution?  How could he have accepted someone who gets his advice from Steve Bannon?  And that was BEFORE Russia was implicated as his co-sponsor.

It appears this change of heart is based more on self-serving as opposed to philanthropic issues:  ‘Oops…II may not be able to afford my healthcare anymore!’  ‘Uh oh…what about my federal disability check?’  ‘Hey, wait a minute…you’re going to close the waste water treatment plant where my daughter works?’   ‘Okay…I agree you need to eliminate immigrants taking our jobs…but, Golly…will that raise the price of tomatoes?  Will my grocery bill go up?’  ‘And I’m just not too keen on a nuclear war, even a “limited” one and it never occurred to me you were REALLY going to do all those things.’  ‘And BTW, does it really cost taxpayers 3 million every time you go to Mar Lago (5 times in the past 6 weeks)?’  ‘And to keep Melania and Barron in New York costs us $300 million a year?  That’d sure help fix a lot of infrastructure.’  ‘Wow!  I guess I just wasn’t listening close enough.’

Our New Oligarchy

“My country tis’ of thee; sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father’s died; land of the Pilgrim’s pride; from every mountainside, let freedom ring.” 

Great lyrics we’ve all been brought up to believe.  Sadly, in our new oligarchy freedom only rings for a handful of our population, those elite individuals we can identify as the ‘plutocrats.  Plutocrats are “an elite or ruling class of people whose power derives from their wealth.”  Some estimates of Trump’s cabinet’s wealth round out at $35 billion (yes, BILLION!!!) while their admitted admissions exceed $13 billion.  In Iowa, Trump told his supporters, “I want people that made a fortune.”  Was HOW they made their fortunes of concern?  Obviously not!

Let’s take Jeff Sessions, Attorney General  nominee.  Jeff entered the employ of the U.S. Government two years out of law school and has remained a public servant ever since.  Now I also entered the government right out of college so it’s amazing to me that a career government employee could amass a net worth of $6 million (unless, of course, he had some really lucrative part-time night jobs).  The same goes for General James Kelly who Bankrate magazine indicates is worth $4 million and that “A government pension is responsible for most of his wealth, according to Forbes.”  (Wow!  How did I miss out on that?)

Then there’s Betsy DeVos who hasn’t really earned anything but inherited her wealth and married into money.  Then…OMG…the several Wall Street gurus who made their fortunes putting the screws to many thousand home-owners (most now FORMER home owners) in the last decade.  But, there’s no question these people have more money than you or me.  Unfortunately, most haven’t a clue as to the role they are supposed to play (except as ‘yes men’ (and women) to Trump and Brandon.  I doubt most could describe what the agencies under their responsibility really do (we know Perry couldn’t) and even name the people they were replacing.

But, as my Trump acquaintances keep telling me, “Get used to it.”  I wonder when they’ll discover it’s not something they really want to get used to.

Inauguration Day

9:00 am, January 20, 2017

I sit here in the semi-darkness, wind and rain falling outside.  I have just completed reading a book on Theodore Roosevelt, a man who embodied everything I believed America was about; honesty, integrity, bravery and compassion.  I am suddenly struck with the fact that beginning today Donald Trump will be my county’s leader and I cannot hold back the sense of despair and the rush of tears that follow.

You can’t fix stupid!

“You can’t fix stupid!”  This saying, earlier popularized by comedian, Ron White, seemed to make sense.  Back then I thought it a funny remark, but believed you actually COULD fix stupid and that was through education.  Then we got the 212th to 214th Congresses that culminated with the (sort of)) election of Donald Trump.

Previously I had considered “stupid” to be synonymous with “uneducated.”  Obviously that was a poorly examined and unfounded belief and if I had taken the time to go back through history I could’ve noted that many of the pillars of science, society and politics were, in fact, “uneducated” in the sense they had no formal schooling.  In contrast, the education level in Congress is relatively high where only 5% have less than a Bachelor’s Degree.  So, I must also concede that “smart” and “educated” are two cats of a different color.

Therefore I must fall back on “Common Sense”, being  the “basic ability to perceive, understand, and judge things that is shared by nearly all people and can reasonably be expected of nearly everyone without need for debate.” (Wikipedia)  Like knowing enough not to put a sharp stick in your eye.  The key here is “perceive, understand and judge”, three elements that sadly I find many elected officials and almost all Trump supporters sorely lack.

The problem is that the leadership of our country is moving rapidly towards an educated cadre of people with no common sense and a total unwillingness to even consider facts.  Many of them are under the opinion that global warming is not occurring because “it’s raining,” believing that Anchorage gets more rain than Maui “because it’s colder.”   They trust in opinion over fact and that, at least in their perspective, opinion is always the winner.

Welcome to a new era…as long as it lasts.

Confusion? Here, there and everywhere..

Someone recently said to me, “You were born in a Christian Nation so you need to accept it.”  In fact, I didn’t ask to be born into a “Christian Nation,” it was simply a happenstance that both my parents, neither of them serious church-goers,  were citizens and lived here at the time.  There was really no requirement for me to accept the Christian faith other than having not been asked whether or not I wanted to be circumcised at birth and baptized at the age of 3 months.  Sure, I was sent to Sunday school and required to say my prayers at night but I never recall ever saying a blessing at mealtime and there were a lot of “Goddamns” from my father when the mower quit working or I spilled a glass of milk.  Thankfully genetics gave me an inquisitive mind and an IQ high enough to detect bullshit when I heard it, thus at a fairly early age I quit believing in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny and an omnipotent god who watched me like a hawk, knew my every thought, and was ready to punish me for all eternity for my sins.

But what always bothered me was that almost everyone I was exposed to–family friends, classmates, teachers, scout masters—all claimed to be Christians.  So if everybody was a Christian and believed in the life and lessons of Jesus Christ, why were there Catholics, Protestants, Mormons, Evangelicals, Jehovah Witnesses, Christian Scientists, and on ad infinitum.  How come Mother Teresa, Pope Paul, Billy Graham, Jim LaHaye, David Duke, Jim Jones and Slobodan Milošević  all claimed Christianity as their religion yet each came up with vastly different concepts of what being a Christian was?   I mean if Christianity is simply following Christ’s teachings, how can the relatively simple and supposedly historical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John be bent, twisted, altered, interpreted, misinterpreted, re-written, INVENTED, to come to the wildly differing teachings of the churches.   Sure, these four guys didn’t agree with one another either but their differences were minor compared to those of the many Christian sects.

Well, I find most of the real crap the variety of “Christians” spew out to make them “different” comes from “interpretations” of the so-called Old Testament, the Torah.   And while there is ample reason to believe that none of the gospel-writers had any contact with Jesus or even lived during his purported ministry, it’s sure a lot more likely to believe them than the random collection of folk tales regarding God’s dictates to Job, Moses, Abraham, etc., etc., that are littered with magic, sorcery, punishment and death…lots of death. (A burning bush????  Give me a break!)

But… let’s say I’ve decided I should become a Christian…a true American.  I would certainly need to know just what being a Christian entails and what rules I would have to follow.  Who can provide me with valid information?  Which one of the aforementioned individuals or sects should I go to me the REAL honest-to-goodness true and no bullshit facts on the rules of being a Christian?   Should I go to the Catholic Church and confide in Father Gilbert Gauthe ?  (Oh, no…he’s incarcerated for molesting young boys).  Well, then I’ll go a step higher to Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, Archbishop of Boston (No good.  He resigned for covering up child molestations by priests).  Okay, how about Reverend Jim Jones?   (Oops, he’s dead…drank poison Kool-Aid).  Well, then maybe it should be Jim and Tammy Bakker (Ahh, they got caught scamming their parishioners and imprisoned.  Tammy’s dead but Jim now has another ministry).    ‎Timothy McVeigh ?  (No…executed for blowing up 168 people including small children).  Hey, I can go talk to Ted Haggard!  Isn’t he president of the National Association of Evangelicals? (No, not now…he had to quit because he consorted with male prostitutes and got high on crystal meth).  Of course Joseph Smith, Martin Luther and Mary Baker Eddy are all in their graves and L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology won’t talk unless I bring lots of money with me.  But someone MUST have the straight skinny…I just don’t know who?  I mean these people all follow the same Jesus Christ, don’t they?

Therefore I will remain complacent in my having no factual knowledge of where or how we came to be; in observing nature and its unarguable rules; and if, how and when the universe began or if it was just always here.  I sleep better that way.