Monday, October 8, 2007

"Where Have All Our Heroes Gone?"

I vividly recall my grandparents, my parents, my brother, my sister and I all gathered around the Philco console radio in order to listen to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declare war on the “Empire of Japan,” for the dastardly surprise attach on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Although I was too young to grasp the gravity of that event, I knew it had to be a momentous occasion in order to command the presence of so many important people in my life.

I remember the young men going off to a war that I could not comprehend. There were the ration coupons that limited so many of our choices and were traded between homemakers in order to balance the needs and wants of their families with those of others. I can still hear the adults in my life complaining because they had to smoke Wings when their prized Lucky Strikes and Chesterfields were not available. Scarcity and conservation became the hallmarks of a new way of life.

As the war progressed, there was the pall cast over our small town whenever a new pennant was hung in the living room window of some family’s home that created an aura of reverence I had not seen before. Then there was the home that had a pennant with not one but two stars, both of which were gold rather than the customary blue. That home became a symbol of service and sacrifice unmatched by any other.

The most popular radio program was the Hit Parade with a whole host of favorite singers and sentimental songs that seemed to nourish and sustain the hearts of adults of every age. They were the stuff of movies, so many of which were fantasies that helped to take the edge off of the fear and loneliness etched in the hearts of those waiting and hoping for good news of a loved one on some far distant shore. Each word of the lyrics struck a chord and conjured up memories of a special love and time, or a hoped for reunion at a future time yet to be realized.

As I watched Ken Burns’ THE WAR on PBS, all those random bits and pieces stored in my bank of memories have gradually coalesced into a collage of complete images of so much I had forgotten or simply could no longer accurately recall. A brilliant piece of work has touched me deeply. Seeing the horror, death, human cruelty and suffering from an adult’s perspective is a humbling experience.

World War II was spawned by the most heinous evil the world has ever known. Nazi Germany and its systematic approach to death and destruction were as nothing the world had seen, coupled with the unbelievable brutality of the Japanese throughout the Pacific and Southeast Asia. The United States of America and its allies knew it rested with their collective will to stem the onslaught of the scourge and to stop the perpetrators in their tracks. And they did it simply because it was the right thing to do. No ulterior motives or political agendas; just because it had to be done.

I believe the mettle of a nation and of a person is tempered by the fires of adversity. Those who fought in World War II were the product of the Great Depression and already knew what sacrifice meant and the courage it would require to face what was before them. They were witness to things and events no human being should have to face, particularly the young so full of hope and dreams for a future yet to be realized. They were scared and knew full well the odds were stacked against them that they would ever return. But they did what they did because it had to be done.

Those on the home front also knew what was before them as a nation. They joined hands and put their shoulders to the wheel of the war effort so the full might of this nation would be brought to bear against their common enemy. They willingly gave up so many of the creature comforts of their day but, more than that, they willingly gave up their sons and daughters. The Japanese whose families had been consigned to government internment camps answered the call. The African Americans answered the call, ignoring the symbols of segregation that persisted in the face of their courage. Why? Because it was the right thing to do.
There were no options. They were and remain our finest generation.

World War II was soon to be followed by the Korean Conflict, better known to those who fought as a “police action.” The agony and the face of war were essentially no different. But I have never quite figured out what the distinction was between a war and a police action. Perhaps it was because the result of the latter was containment rather than victory. Perhaps it was the growing specter of nuclear power. Nevertheless, an evil adversary had to be stopped with force and military might. Political considerations seem to have weighed more heavily on the outcome. We still live with the vestigial remnants of that conflict. It remains a truce that has yet to be brought to full closure by a peace treaty.

Those who took up arms and fought in Korea had the full support of the home front. When their tour was over, they came home to a grateful nation. Those who didn’t were and are remembered for the price they paid on our behalf.

The war in Vietnam had a far different complexion. It occurred against the backdrop of the Cold War. The threat of communism to the free world was forever present and our vigilance could never be relaxed. In this case, however, Vietnam posed no direct threat to the United States. Rather, any threat to us was a perceived possibility by the political establishment in Washington. The stage was set by the Kennedy Administration, coming to full bloom by the megalomania of Lyndon B. Johnson and ending in defeat under Richard M. Nixon. It was a war that had its genesis in the political ambitions of those in power in the White House. It was a war fraught with lies, misinformation, exaggeration and manipulation of the facts by the politicians and military elite in Washington. Those who fought that war did so because their “Commander in Chief” sent them to war. It was not because those who took up arms necessarily agreed with the mission, but those in uniform have no choice but to follow the orders of their superiors. What I find so appalling is that it was those consigned to combat who were scorned by the public when they returned from service. They were treated like common criminals by celebrities and a broad base of the population at large, with little or no gratitude for having served as they were ordered to do. As if they had any choice in the matter! The impact of the daily television news coverage of the casualties and body counts was to figure prominently in a future “war on terror“ and the manipulation of the images of war.

The culmination of the major milestones of war has to rest with the current war in Iraq and the “war on terror.” We went to war based on a pack of lies peddled by the investiture of the President by the Supreme Court, also known as the “Commander in Chief,” plus a bunch of co-conspirators in the Cabinet, the Pentagon and those among us known as “neocons.” To my knowledge, not one of them has sent a son or daughter off to this war in order to “protect our freedoms.” Please! Enough of that crap. The greatest threat to our freedoms has evolved from our having come as close to an absolute dictatorship in our history as ever, aided and abetted by the power of the military-industrial complex about which we were so aptly forewarned by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Our news media have been intimidated and manipulated by the political establishment in Washington, including the Executive and the Legislative branches. Corporations, politicians, financiers, contractors, etc., all feeding from the same troughs of largesse and corruption provided by those who control the message and funnel untold billions into their coffers.

Our government scoffed at the Geneva Conventions and that fine thread of civility that is supposed to govern the conduct of adversaries in war. Citizens’ privacy was violated and our civil liberties were summarily trampled by those drunk with their newfound power.
The war is planned by the privileged ensconced in the corridors of power in our nation’s capitol. The war is fought by the underprivileged from across this great land, and who have few if any alternatives in order to survive in our rapidly disintegrating economic and social environment.

The coffins coming home with the remains of the vanquished have been barred from public view as they return home, almost as if their deaths are a mark of shame, rather than honor. Those who are permanently disabled through their service are shortchanged by what should be a grateful nation, both in terms of access to good medical and rehabilitative care, plus the means necessary for a decent standard of living. The Governor of Oregon has attended virtually every funeral of a fallen Oregonian brought home for burial. How many funerals have been attended by our illustrious "Coward in Chief" in Washington? None, I suspect. Too much of a reminder of what he should have been rather than what he has proven himself to be.

Regardless of who gets elected to the presidency, from either party, I seriously doubt that it will make one modicum of difference. They are all beholden to the same power structure and that is certainly not the voters! It will be business as usual, just peddled in different packaging. Until there are some fundamental changes in our system of government and the way we do our nation’s business, we will continue our meteoric descent into a two-class society.

So, where have all the heroes gone? To the arms of their loved ones at home eagerly awaiting their return. To their graves, each marked by the badge of honor that goes with having made the ultimate sacrifice. To lives of quiet dignity as they struggle to cope with the disabilities of armed conflict. To a life they left to fight a war that should never have been. They are all heroes. They did what the uniform they wore required of them. They fought for the badge of courage each of them proudly wears, pure and untarnished.

I pray that Divine Justice will descend on the heads of all of those who have exploited our heroes and who have fanned the fires of war for their own personal gain. May they forever hang their heads in shame before the same God from whom they will surely beg for eternal mercy and forgiveness.

Cowboy Bob

Friday, September 14, 2007

"Tis the Season"

I recently heard on television news that the “official” season for the start of the primaries occured the first part of September. What has been going on for the past seven months? Most of us are already worn out. What will we be like come January 2008?

Looking at the political landscape and how the voters stack up in all this, I have a few thoughts and observations of my own.

First, I happen to buy into the notion that our Founding Fathers had far more wisdom than has been attributed to them during the course of the last two plus centuries. They were careful and judicious in creating a balance of power between the legislative, the executive and the judicial branches of government, plus guaranteeing oversight of their actions by a free and open press. There is not a shred of doubt in my mind that they clearly intended that each be balanced and mutually exclusive. Clearly, it was their intent that powers granted to the individual states was to limit domination by a centralized government. I regard the 17th Amendment to the Constitution as the single most crippling blow to that balance of power, which effectively reduced the power of the states to a secondary position relative to that of the federal monolith in Washington, D.C. We are no longer “a government of the people, by the people and for the people.” We now have an insulated bubble of power and influence inside the Beltway that has given way to their own vested self-interests at the expense of the people they were supposed to serve. There exists within that sphere a perception of power rather akin to that of the divine right of kings.

We Americans take great pride in thinking of ourselves as a democracy. After all, we are the ones who elect those we send to Washington on our behalf. Let’s be realistic about what actually exists. Congressional representatives, the President and Senators go back to their so-called constituencies every two, four and six years, respectively, and pander to us for our votes. We are seduced into believing they are actually real and have a sincere desire to look out for our welfare. Instead, as soon as they are elected they return to the “bubble within the Beltway” to serve the interests of their “real” constituents; the lobbyists, big business, international corporations, and the rich and famous.” The rest of us can suck the hindmost until they next need our votes in order to continue indulging their voracious appetites at the public buffet set before them with our tax dollars. Yet, we have an almost ingrained need to convince ourselves that we really do hold sway over what they do. In reality, what exists is little more than an illusion.

The second most grievous assault on the individual citizens of the United States was granting the same rights to corporations as those belonging to the people. They seized that opening and have steadfastly held to the notion that what was created on a piece of paper was indeed equal in all respects to what was created by God as the temple of our immortal souls. Since then, corporations have acted out of their own self-interests and insatiable greed at the expense of those of us who depend on them to protect and maintain an economy for the health and welfare of the citizens of this country. Instead of trying to look at what they have done for us, it is ever so much easier to look at what they have done to us! It is time corporations were stripped of that perverted notion of equality with human beings. That action could and should be done with all due haste. They exist to serve us, not the other way around. Only people should be treated like and have the same rights as human beings.

The third most perilous change was that of what was supposed to be a free and unfettered press evolving into corporate ownership of the news media, making it the mouthpiece of big business and a servant of government’s quest for greater power and secrecy. That was not the intent of the First Amendment. The press is there to serve as the watchdog over government in order to protect the rights of citizens. The only way to ensure the integrity of that intent is to pass legislation prohibiting anything other than complete independence in the ownership of the news media.

When Carl Rove & Co. set out on their quest to make the coward of the Texas Air National Guard into a national hero, they brought with them the template for a propaganda machine that is eerily similar to that of the Nazi Party’s German Minister of Information and Propaganda, Josepf Gobbels. That should never have happened and safeguards should be put in place to ensure it never happens again. Were it not for a few courageous and dedicated professional journalists, God only knows what would have happened to this country. The independence of a free press must be re-established for the sake of preserving our free and democratic way of life.

This all brings me to the current race for the White House. Keep in mind that the public persona of the candidates is the product of professional image-makers and the best minds on Madison Avenue. Almost everything they say and do is highly scripted for our consumption. The mere fact that the single most important indicator of success from the eyes of the political pundits is how much campaign money the candidate is capable of raising speaks volumes. Who said that our elected officials are not up for sale to the highest bidder? Of course, they buy the office for which they are running. As the old saying goes, “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Those campaign contributions from the heavy hitters will have to ultimately be paid back from the bounty in the trough of “public service” at the expense of the common man.

Personally, I think the distinctions between the two major political parties are blurred. More often than not it is hard to discern one from the other on major issues and the real constituencies they serve. So, Because of time and space, I will limit my comments in this epistle to those running for president on the Democratic Ticket.

Hillary Clinton is reputed to be the undisputed front-runner for the Democratic Party and is generally regarded as having an almost divine right to the nomination because of (a) being the first woman to run for president, and (b) being the most “experienced” for the job. I have no problem with a woman serving as the President of the United States. That simply should not be an issue. However, for Hillary to boast that she has the most experience begs the question. What is so remarkable about her background as to set her above and apart from 99 other capable and qualified senators? I don’t see that her service and experience in the Senate has been so remarkable as to make her unusually well qualified to be president. Admittedly, her role as First Lady may well have made her privy to presidential decisions, but not in an official capacity. I have no doubts that she and Bill strategized over most major issues facing the presidency. After all, it was in many respects, a strategic alliance masquerading as a marriage. Given her reputation for using rather salty language, plus demeaning the White House Staff and the Secret Service, to apply the term “lady” to Hillary may be stretching it a bit.

I vividly recall an incident in 1996 when Bill was running for re-election. The Clintons and the Gores made a bus run through western Washington and happened to stop in a small farming community. The park where the rally was held consisted of little more than a patch of grass and a few Alder trees. I happened to be there with my daughter and I can still recall the mounting excitement of the crowd as they anticipated the arrival of the presidential campaign bus. When they finally pulled into the park, Bill and Al did their dog and pony show in splendid style. During the entire stop, Hillary sat by the windows in full view, with her back to the crowd and never turned around once. That incident spoke volumes about who and what she really is. Despite that air of superiority, Hillary wouldn’t have made a pimple on the ass of any one of those humble folks trying to get a glimpse of her.

I think Hillary and Bill have had a long-standing agreement to support the ambitions of each other and they will do almost anything to realize those aspirations. That, I believe, is the foundation for their relationship. There is an old saying to the effect that we are known by the company we keep. An examination of that parable as it applies to the Clintons clearly shows there has been a lot of sleaze in their life together. It is peppered with those who have operated on the fringe or outside the law. No small number of campaign contributors have had a checkered past, the most recent being Mr. Hsu.

It was Bill Clinton who signed the NAFTA Treaty and gave CAFTA his whole-hearted support. By his actions, he unleashed the scourge of globalization and the unfettered greed that was sure to follow. He did nothing for the middle class or working men and women in this country, other than to put them on a downhill trajectory leading to a two-class society and consigning them to a life of living on the edge or outright poverty. He and Hillary are heavily invested in companies in India that are major beneficiaries of the largesse created by outsourcing jobs from the United States. They have both pandered to corporations and lobbyists for financial support in their eternal quest for political immortality. They continue to do so.

Hillary Clinton is nothing more than a hard, tough, ruthless, self-serving politician who covets the highest office in the land for her own personal aggrandizement; a place in history as the first woman president. Frankly, I think we can afford to wait for a more genuine and deserving role model to grace the pages of history on that score, and one of whom we can be justly proud. We should be able to do better than Hillary Clinton.

Barack Obama. Now there is a man just oozing charisma from every pore. He is handsome, intelligent and articulate. I want to believe the best about him. However, the more public exposure I see causes me pause. There are times I sense a faint manifestation of arrogance. Perhaps that is the legacy of Harvard. What lies beneath that veneer? Does he have that touch of greatness we so desperately need or is he just another politician with his own personal agenda? He bears watching but I wouldn’t commit at this point. As far as I am concerned, the jury is still out on this one.

John Edwards has done a superlative job of staking his claim as the advocate for the working men and women of this country. When he recounts the struggles of his father and the humble home in which he grew up, that is touching stuff. He talks a good story but I find it more than a bit hypocritical against the backdrop of a 28,000 square foot mansion and a 400-dollar haircut. Who is he beholden to and what are his real motives for seeking the highest office in the land? Too many unanswered questions to garner any serious consideration from me.

Dennis Kucinich is probably the most on message in terms of where this country is and what we need to do in order to begin a serious effort to fix it. He is intelligent, articulate and knowledgeable, and appears to be an honest man. Unfortunately, in a country where appearance is more important than substance, he just does not have the charisma to be taken seriously by the majority he needs. No matter how good he may be, he doesn’t stand a ghost of a chance of getting the nomination.

Joe Biden has demonstrated his mettle throughout his career in the Senate. He seems to be well informed, intelligent, articulate and a straight shooter. He has immersed himself in the quest to better understand the cross currents in Iraq and to define a rational course of action in order to cut our losses. His net worth, alone, suggests he is the most honest among the bunch. If I were to vote for a Democrat, he would get my vote hands down.

As for the rest, they impress me as being little more than politicians, each with a slightly different bent. I don’t think any of them will command serious consideration in the forthcoming primaries.

The time has come to give serious consideration to a viable third political party for those of like mind and who feel disenfranchised from their current party affiliation. If Chuck Hagel were running for the Presidency, he would command an impressive following. He is made of the stuff this nation needs. His decision not to seek re-election or to run for the presidency is a real loss to all of us. We can only wish him well in his future endeavors.

September 14, 2007

Monday, September 3, 2007

"What About Me?"

Having worked overseas for several years, when I returned home to the “real” world I experienced a certain amount of reverse culture shock. This is not at all uncommon, particularly for those who have lived and worked in a closed society. Upon setting foot back on the good old terra firma of the U.S., the most obvious and available source of information is, of course, television.

I could not quite believe the changes that had occurred in that medium. Instead of commercial breaks during regular programming, it had become programming breaks during regular commercial messages. I quickly lost count of the number of commercials with which I was bombarded during a 30-minute program segment. I was immediately awestruck by the fact that sex sells everything. The amount of time dedicated to a few specific subjects caused me to rethink what our national priorities really are, and where the real dangers lurk for our way of life. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the war on terror, etc. pale in comparison to the endless bombardment of what must surely be the more paramount issues we tend to minimize but which have real consequences for all of us.

Without doubt, erectile dysfunction is reaching epic proportions among the poor hapless American males. There are no less than four major products aggressively trying to address the problem. They all promise a life of what could only be regarded as an endless series of utopian experiences. However, like all good things, the audience is cautioned to be aware of some serious consequences. The worst must surely be an erection that lasts for 4 hours or more! Should that occur the user is advised to see their doctor immediately. That seems to be awfully self-serving. Penetrating deeper into the issue, and given the need to be more ecologically conscious, I should think the first priority would be to capitalize on the opportunity, have the clothes dryer disconnected and hang the laundry out to dry.

The next threat to the social foundations of our society would appear to be rather pathetic middle aged women yearning for the same “smoking hot body” of her college years. What is touted to be the crowing achievement of such an endeavor is the woman who brags that her husband now refers to her as his “trophy wife.” Now, I ask you, what self-respecting, reasonably intelligent and well-grounded female would boast of such an endearing label? Rather, should any husband dare to make such a boast, I would think she would be far more inclined to forcefully insert the television remote where the sun doesn’t shine!

I have also been struck by what appears to be an almost pathological fear of looking our age. Some faceless and elusive authority has ordained that vanity is the pre-eminent measure of our individual and collective worth. Have you noticed the number of young men on television who are dying their hair lest the slightest appearance of gray doom them and their career to the dust bin? Between the repeated commercial messages about the joys of indulging our appetites on the buffet of life, the examples of what really counts seems to be a physical countenance that borders on anorexia. Do any of these rather sad examples of humanity really believe that is all there is to life? Moderation in all things is good advice for all of us to follow during this trip through life. Good health just makes good sense, but so does taking the time to enjoy the trip.

Making the journey from birth to death is an inescapable fact for all of us. Wouldn’t we all be a whole lot healthier if we accepted who and what we are at any given point in time? Wouldn’t we all be more well-adjusted if we had the courage and the conviction to truly love and accept ourselves for who and what we are? In the end we just might discover there is ever so much more to “me” than the empty image endlessly thrown at us by Madison Avenue and what the economic behemoth has forced upon us , resulting in a progressively more empty and meaningless life’s journey?

The quote, “God doesn’t make junk,” should remind all of us that “me” is very special and a rare gem to be shared with all the world. Treasure that reality.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

"Which is worse?"

September 1, 2007

Now I ask you, which is the most egregious? A silly old fart trying to hit on a young man in a public restroom or a psychopath that lied an entire nation into an illegitimate war? Seems the latter should be the one to resign.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007


The issue of illegal aliens in the United States is yet another example of what has become a “designer issue.” Political correctness, like so many salient issues of the day, has been unleashed in all its fury to cloud and attempt to legitimate what should be rather obvious.
They are foreign nationals who are in this country illegally. That being the case, it boggles my mind to think anyone would remotely construe that fact and declare that they have any “rights” guaranteed for the legitimate citizens of the United States. If they are “illegal,” they have no “rights.” They are criminals and should be treated accordingly.

Who are they to come into this country by illegal means and lay claim to the economic, cultural and political heritage of legal, legitimate citizens of the United States? By what authority do they have the right to sap the vitality of our economic and social legacy without having contributed one cent? Further, by what twist of reason do they expect us to simply ignore the horrendous cost of their presence in this country that is to be borne by, again, those who are here legally? The cost to the taxpayers to support illegal aliens is estimated to be in the trillions of dollars. To the extent we cave into that rather perverse notion, those who have a right to lay claim to those assets are expected to do with less and accept yet another reduction in what for many is already a marginal standard of living. I am sure that was never the intent of our forefathers and those who built that legacy for all legitimate citizens.

There is not the slightest doubt in the mind of anyone even casually cognizant of what has been done to this country by the Bush - Cheney axis. They have engineered the greatest transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich in the history of this country. They have plundered the treasury and sapped the lifeblood from our national infrastructure, leaving us incapable of dealing with the legitimate needs and expectations of the citizenry. So, who is behind robbing us of the public services that are the very bedrock of all that makes this country work? Illegal aliens? Hardly. Rather, it is championed by big business, agribusiness, and the corporate mindset that is totally devoid of any semblance of conscience. The illegal aliens enable them to maintain a double standard of labor laws, not the least of which is the right to a living wage.

The darker side to this issue is in the realm of international politics. To the extent Mexico and other impoverished nations can shift the burden of caring for the teeming masses of poor in their countries to the United States, they can continue to rule over a nation of the “haves” and the “have-nots” while they and the elites of their respective countries live in opulent splendor, making them respectable guests at the Carlisle Group or the Bush compound at Kennebunkport.

We are a nation of laws and no one is above the law. Any breaking of the laws of this country should result in the arrest and trial of the criminals they are, be they aliens, business interests or affluent households looking for cheap domestic help.

Citizens doing the same job should receive the same pay. If that means the rest of us have to pay more for a head of lettuce, so be it. We owe it to those among us who do the back-breaking work of bringing the bounty of the fields to our dinner tables. Further, you cannot have a healthy and effective infrastructure without paying taxes. It is time we re-visited that issue, accept the fact that not everyone has an equal shot at the American Dream and take proper care of those who live on the edge. The vulgar indulgence of wealth and privilege is not American. It is the Old World notion of aristocratic superiority that went out with the storming of the Bastille. The time has come to face reality and do what is right for everyone; not just a few living in gated communities, reveling in their superiority and the divine right to exploit the poor.

All this leads to the endless mental masturbation of what to do about the problem of illegal aliens. Firstly, anyone breaking the law should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. That goes for government officials who declare their jurisdictions “safe havens” from the very laws they have taken an oath to uphold. Church leaders who practice that same contempt for the laws of the land should be held to the same standards of conduct and the attendant consequences for failing to do so. Businesses that foster the use and exploitation of illegal workers should be punished to the full extent of the law, even if it means going out of business.

The endless lament about “securing our borders” has been beaten to death with little or no progress. I don’t give a damn about what the political leadership of Mexico may think of us or how loud the hue and cries may be from the bleeding hearts on this side of the border. They are simply wrong and we are under no obligation to accommodate or even humor them. Enough is enough.

I don’t accept that we lack the means to stop the inflow of illegal immigrants or to deal with those already in our midst. We have the technological means to do whatever we need to do. What we lack is the integrity and iron will to call our so-called Mexican allies to task for dumping their poor in our country and make them take care of their own. My instincts tell me those in the highest offices of the land on both sides of the border share a common bond of greed and corruption that precludes any meaningful action on behalf of the American workers and taxpayers. If invading a sovereign country based on lies is construed as legitimate action in the name of democracy, perhaps we should underwrite a revolution on behalf of those seeking relief from oppression and corruption that is rooted in the history of our "Neighbor to the South." Milking that as spreading democracy should appeal to the avarice and Napoleonic complexes of individuals such as George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and all the others of like mind. By whatever means we have at our disposal, we need to slow down the bovine scatology, start doing and stop procrastinating.