Wednesday, October 8, 2008

“Seeking Salvation”

Let me preface this treatise by making it clear that I do not believe there is any scientific or empirical evidence that clearly establishes the existence of God. Further, I am not advocating adherence to any particular set of religious beliefs. That is a private matter and, in the final analysis, boils down to what one chooses to believe. I am no different.

I came from a family that, for the most part, did not subscribe to any particular religious doctrine. However, as tenuous as that commitment might have been, I think I can safely say their beliefs were rooted in Christianity.

The only one whose religious convictions were rock-solid was my Grandmother. She came from a long line of devout Baptists, and she made no bones about her beliefs and the strength thereof. She had a well-worn Bible from which she read passages everyday. She could quote scripture with no effort and never doubted that she was literally correct every time. She was singularly responsible for instilling within me a fear of the awesome power of that Divine Being who was poised to rein down all sorts of pain and suffering for the slightest infraction of His myriad rules and proscriptions.

My Grandmother was a staunch supporter of Vacation Bible School. In retrospect, I don’t doubt her commitment one bit. However, given the religious makeup of the rest of the family, I cannot help but wonder if they aided and abetted her fervor just to get the kids out of the house for a few hours. Regardless, I enjoyed getting away and having the opportunity to draw, color, sing and socialize with my peers. What was put forth as education was so alien to me that I gave it little attention.

When I had matured to that of a pre-pubescent boy, my Grandmother decided it was time for me to be exposed to church services, the most important aspect of all that being the revival meeting. She took me by the hand, and I dutifully followed, to a sandstone building with a neon sign that read “JESUS SAVES,” prominently perched atop the structure. There was a lot of smiling, shaking of hands and shouts of approval for the inspired word as preached by Reverend Pulis. The meeting built to a crescendo of excitement when the moment came to “go forward.” I was not just in awe of what was going on around me; I was absolutely terrified. When my Grandmother asked me if I wanted to “go forward,” I hadn’t a clue as to what that was all about. All I knew was that it resulted in making some sort of a verbal commitment from the front while looking out at all those rapturous people, to be followed by a complete immersion in a tank of water by Reverend Pulis. That was not my idea of a good time. I refused my Grandmother’s offer and was relieved when we exited that exercise in fear, and back into the cool air of the autumn’s evening. I never went back to the Baptist Church.

I aligned myself with the rather lukewarm religious convictions of my parental home and was quite content to forego any further ventures into the world of religion.

After I graduated from high school and joined the United States Navy, there was a growing desire within me to seek a religious foundation that would sustain me through all that my adult life was to throw at me. One could ask, and rightfully so, why did I find it necessary to engage in such a pursuit? As I matured, I became increasingly aware of the demons within me, something I shared with all my fellow mortals. There is that constant conflict that goes on within us from the beginning to the end of our lives. Within that conflict is the ease with which we can rationalize the less noble aspects of who and what we are, so often not just to our own detriment but to those of a whole host of others we will meet on the road through life. I felt a growing need to find and subscribe to a moral compass in order to maximize honesty with myself, minimize the propensity towards self-deception and treat others as I would like to be treated in return.

I first tried the Presbyterian Church. That quickly proved to be an uncomfortable fit for me. My next sampling was the Episcopal Church. The ritual and props of it all were a bit overwhelming, so my tenure was rather brief. I was becoming somewhat discouraged by it all, but one thing I did know for sure. I needed a compass to guide me on my mortal journey.

A couple of my shipmates regularly attended a local Methodist Church in Honolulu, and one Sunday they asked me to join them. I accepted the invitation and was pleasantly surprised at what I found. I liked the fact that it was not an emotional religion and that it had an intellectual bent to it. That made it appealing to me and my comfort zone. I stayed with that church for several years. However, when I was a university student, at the end of the academic year I received in the mail one of those “window” envelopes that was, in those days, a clear sign of an overdue bill. When I opened it, I was reminded that I was in arrears by $4.50 on my annual pledge. I was further admonished to remit the unpaid balance within ten days. The completely put me off and I never went back. I thought I had joined a church, not a commercial enterprise. There is a right way and a wrong way to do everything, and the way that issue was handled was, in my opinion, totally inappropriate for a religious institution. It was particularly offensive, given that I was going through college on the $110 per month provided by the G.I. Bill.

Prominent in my quest for religious enlightenment was that offered in the Bible. I tried reading that rather formidable tome several times, only to be discouraged at the thought of having to wade through all that “begetting.” It exhausted me just thinking about it. While I was a university student I signed up for an elective course titled “The Bible as Literature.” I looked forward to being guided through that work by a real pro. However, when the professor introduced the course as “the greatest fictional work ever written,” coupled with the requirement that a term paper had to be written as part of the course, I chucked it in. I didn’t like his rather flippant manner and I sure as hell didn’t want to take on five term papers that semester. So, that ended my flirtation with any notion I may have had at becoming an aspiring biblical scholar.

When I was engaged to be married, I decided I had to fish or cut bait. If we were to be a cohesive family, I decided that our family would be much better off if we all went to the same church together on Sunday. I was somewhat daunted by the mystery and the pageantry of the Church, and I knew I had a lot to learn. Over the years, it has proven to be a good fit. It has provided me with the foundation I was seeking and the privacy I prefer. I have had, and still have, issues with my faith but I am at peace with where I am. That is probably because I have never abdicated what I regard as a fundamental intellectual obligation to question everything, and reject nothing out of hand where the scales are tipped on the side of truth. That is one of the great gifts I took away from the traditions of the university from which I graduated.

I can assure you, however, that nothing has ever been quite as formidable or ecclesiastically terrifying to me as Reverend Pulis and that horse tank full of cold water at the JESUS SAVES Baptist Church.

I will pursue this subject further in a future column.

Cowboy Bob
October 8, 2008

Friday, October 3, 2008

"A Government for Whom?"

As the financial markets come falling down around our heads, the king makers in Washington and the barons of Wall Street have wasted no time in trying to corner complete control of the 700 billion dollar bailout that is now the big bone of contention in our Nation’s Capitol. As of this writing, it looks as if the power of the people may well have been louder than the corrupt influence of those who perpetrated this crisis, and who are seeking to cover their financial asses at the expense of the taxpayers. It remains fluid and the final outcome is yet to be seen. However, it says a hell of a lot more about the wisdom of those who opposed this stampede and their grass-roots movement than any credit due the Founding Fathers in setting up this so-called “democracy.” In the end, though, there is little doubt in my mind that the taxpayers will once again get the big screw without benefit of kiss.

Let’s face it, folks. The notion that we are, or ever have been, a democracy is nothing more than a grand illusion taught to us from the first day of school in the newly formed United States of America. We are, pure and simple, a plutocracy. Money and the power of money control and dictate what our government does, and who benefits from it. To be sure, it ebbs and flows, but the plutocrats always come out on top and the common man is left with the hindmost.

With the passage of time, we have come to believe that those who founded this country were a bunch of egalitarians who believed in the wisdom of the common man, and all authority flowed from them to the political and government leaders of the Republic. Not altogether true. There were those among them who held views to the effect that those of education and privilege were more suited to govern the country. Given the nature of negotiation and compromise, it only stands to reason that some aspects of that mindset carried over into practice with the newfound “democracy.” I happen to believe that same mindset and the effects of their wealth and privilege on our government, as well as the citizenry, still reside with what has often been termed, “Eastern money and power.”

Today, we have what is unquestionably an imperial presidency, more pronounced by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney than any of their predecessors. They have thumbed their noses at the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. They have trampled on the rights of the citizens. They have conducted business in secret, flirting with the very legality of their conduct. They have lied to the American people, leading us into an illegal war. Their deception has been further compounded by the periodic admonitions about threats to our safety and security, leading us to somehow believe that they, alone, were protecting us from the forces of evil and darkness. Much like the monarchs of days gone by, they have effectively gotten off Scot-free with what can only be regarded as criminal behavior, all because we and Congress have allowed them to behave as if they were reigning royalty! The term “Imperial Presidency” seems more apt than ever. They have gotten a free pass on conduct that would have landed Average Joe Blow a reserved accommodation in the slammer. If that were not bad enough, they will retire with a fat pension and a goodly number of the trappings of the offices they held.

That George W. Bush can claim he graduated from Yale and received his MBA from Harvard only underscores the fact that family and wealth play a far greater role in his credentials than does intellect and academic achievement. Also, the very size of the Endowment Fund at Harvard would further underscore its ties to big money.

Of the 43 presidents who have occupied the White House to date, 13 or 30 per cent have one or more degrees from Harvard, Yale or Princeton.

Of the 42 Cabinet positions occupied by Harvard graduates, 8 have served as the Secretary of the Treasury, 7 have served as Secretary of State, 7 have served as the Attorney General, and 8 have served as the Secretary of War or the Secretary of Defense. Of all the Cabinet positions, those would seem to hold the greatest power and influence.

Of all the Justices who have sat on the Supreme Court, 19 have been graduates of the Harvard Law School.

I categorically reject any notion of academic superiority by any and all of the Ivy League Schools. Despite the mystique they have cultivated, which most of us buy into, I am more inclined to believe it is more a factor of the power of wealth and family name than it is to the gene pool from whence they come. That they exert disproportionate influence over our lives by the positions they hold and the resources they control seems rather self-evident.

Let us not lose sight of the fact that, although all massive de-regulation of the financial institutions on Wall Street was fostered by Senator Phil Gramm while he was serving as Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee in a Republican Congress, for it to have become law it had to have been signed by then President William J. Clinton (Yale), with the concurrence of either Robert Rubin as Secretary of the Treasury (Harvard) or Lawrence Summers as his successor (Harvard). I, also, find it rather coincidental that it came out during the primaries that Chelsea Clinton worked for one of the largest hedge funds on Wall Street. Coincidence? I am reasonably certain, if the issue were to be carefully researched, we would find that the same disproportionate amount of influence and control over the financial industries lies is in the hands of the Eastern centers of power, wealth and influence that have always been major players in our national destiny.

Two of the chief proponents of the bail out of Wall Street from the current financial crisis are (1) George W. Bush (Yale, Harvard) and Henry Paulson (Harvard).

I rather imagine most of us would like to believe that our institutions are a cross-section of America. The facts seem to suggest otherwise.

The 17th Amendment to the Constitution effectively created the Federal Monolith that lies within the Beltway of Washington, D.C. Up until the passage of this amendment, members of the United States Senate were directly accountable for their actions to their individual states through the state legislatures. Now, largely because they only have to seek re-election every 6 years, rather than every 2 years (House of Representatives) or every 4 years (Presidency), they are more insulated from the power of the people than any other branch of government except the Supreme Court and, as a consequence, tend to provide more fertile ground for self-serving and corrupt practices, as well. They are much more prone to respond to the influence of lobbyists and special interests, and all the other perks that go with their office. Is it any wonder they so readily dismiss the will of the people in favor of their own omnipotence? At least, because congressmen in the House of Representatives have to go back to the voters every 2 years, they are, generally, more sensitive and beholden to those who put and keep them in office.

There is one more very important element involved in the balance of power between the players in Washington. That is the role played by a free and unfettered news media, a role that has served this country and our democracy extremely well until events of recent history radically changed all that. Historically, they have done an outstanding job of keeping the system honest. Through the political maneuvering exerted on the Federal Communications Commission, the role of the media has been radically changed and drastically reduced by permitting corporate ownership of our newspapers, radio stations and television networks. They are now anything but “free and unfettered.” They operate within the sphere of influence by which public opinion is shaped for the purpose of serving their corporate masters and shareholders. From a former diet of divergent opinion, discourse and debate, we citizens now live on a bill-of-fare prepared by big business interests and doled out to us in the form of corporate Pabulum of mediocrity, sameness, entertainment and advertising. Nothing that would challenge the mediocre mindset of most Americans. We are simply too ignorant, too lazy, too complacent or a combination of all three. We are there to be picked off at will in order to feed the insatiable appetite of avarice so endemic to our culture.

At the end of the day, I do believe that the parliamentary system of government has more going for it than the plutocracy that governs our national affairs under the banner of “democracy.” Why? Because there is more direct accountability to the people and less opportunity for limitless greed and personal power.

We have: (a) a President, (b) the Senate and (c) the House of Representatives.

The British Parliamentary System has: (a) a Constitutional Monarch, (b) the House of Lords and (c) the House of Commons.

Under a parliamentary system, the gargantuan egos and the propensity for corruption by the elite are given expression, but contained, through use of meaningless titles and the other trappings of exclusivity so dear to their need for superiority. At a price to be sure, but far less costly to the taxpayers than what goes on within the Washington Beltway.

It seems to me a palace on the banks of the Potomac, a summer palace in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, a winter palace in Wickenburg, Arizona, a fleet of Cadillac and Lincoln limousines, a few diamonds and duties comprised of frivolous by ceremonies of one sort or another pales in comparison to what is included in our Federal Budget every year.

Though the “duties” of office are likely to be nothing short of burdensome, shall we start the transition by crowing me King Robert I? It does have a rather nice ring to it.

Cowboy Bob
October 3, 2008

Friday, September 19, 2008

“No Time for a Personality Contest”

There is both a science and an art to good leadership. Competence, no matter how one chooses to define it, is the essential quality of good leadership. It takes better than average intelligence. It is the ability to not only recognize one’s own strengths, but one’s limitations, as well. It takes courage, and the ability to recognize and admit mistakes. It takes sound judgment and a willingness to subject that judgment to the scrutiny of others. It requires impeccable honesty and integrity. It is the art the possible through collegial and collaborative relationships. It is the ability to gather the best minds around you into a cohesive and dedicated team. A good leader embodies the collective wisdom of his/her team, not run rough-shod over others because of a gargantuan ego. It is the ability to dignify one voice of dissent as much as those of a legion of supporters. It is the ability to understand that anything is possible so long as no one cares who gets the credit. It is the ability to make an unpopular decision and take full responsibility for it when your instincts tell you that is the wisest course of action. It is the ability to understand that power is most effective when used sparingly; and praise is most effective when used generously. Leadership is situational. It is the essential difference between being boss and playing boss.

I have watched Sarah Palin with fascination and the adoration for her that has emerged in just a few weeks. Her interview with Charlie Gibson on ABC News was most insightful. It is reminiscent of Bert Parks asking the “one burning question” of each contestant for the title of Miss America, with all of the substance and spontaneity associated with the exercise. She is attractive and poised, as one would expect from a former beauty queen. Her knowledge, judgment and experience are not particularly remarkable. I have over 40 years experience in senior management positions in large, complex and some international organizations. I hardly think that would, ipso facto, qualify me to be one heart-beat away from the Presidency. All of the orchestrated praise and fawning over her doesn’t alter the facts. She is what she is; a small-town mayor and a small-time governor. Nothing more. She is a lightweight when it comes to education and experience. I cannot recall that the University of Idaho’s program in journalism is regarded as one of the premier schools in that particular discipline, over which the best in the business compete for admission. She served on the City Council of Wasilla, Alaska for 4 years and 6 as the town’s mayor, the population of which is reputed to be somewhere between 5,500 and 9,000. It hardly qualifies as one of the nation’s major metropolitan areas. Alaska, with a total population of 650,000 could hardly compete with most of our major cities. I don’t regard either as heavy experience on any executive officer’s resume. Her latest ploy is to stonewall an investigation into her conduct while she was Governor of Alaska. Sound a bit like another 4 years of Bush - Cheney?

As for being a rather accomplished liar, I won’t hold that against Sarah. After all, that seems to be a malady that afflicts most politicians to some extent. But, as for being a leader, she doesn’t qualify. Rather, she is a tyrant who misuses the authority of her office to enhance her own personal ambitions. When I see her new-found followers in rapt attention, seizing on every word, almost in a complete state of rapture, the sheer absence of any rationality is sobering. I have only witnessed similar phenomena twice in my life. The first instance was when, out of intellectual curiosity, I went to a meeting of born-again Christians at the local Moose (no pun intended) Lodge. The second instance was at an Amway convention where Rich Devoss, one of the founders of Amway, was the cheerleader. There is something rather frightening about all that. I don’t regard the fundamentalist Christians and social conservatives, who thrust her into a position of prominence on the Republican ticket, as particularly rational human beings. Their religious philosophy seems to be predicated more on what preacher is waving a bible under their noses at any given time than any objective evidence. All I can say to anyone who professes to speak in tongues is that there is a huge market out there looking for a new hallucinogenic agent to try. Might be a good fund-raising ploy for the last few weeks of the campaign.

At the end of the day, Sarah Palin is about as qualified to be Vice-President as any waitress at Hooter’s. Pathetic, really. Her choice as candidate for Vice-President is the most egregious error in judgment by John McCain so far. However, not at all out of character with his record as a political opportunist.

Joe Biden has an education grounded in Catholic schools. Those Catholic schools have a reputation for discipline and academic excellence that is well known. He is a solid family man with decades of experience in the United States Senate, serving on the Foreign Relations Committee and as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee. To be sure, he has stumbled and has made his share of mistakes along the way. However, he is a seasoned veteran in politics and government, and he has served this country with dedication, honor and distinction. He knows and has first-hand experience about the major issues of our day, and how to deal with them. Frankly, we could all sleep better knowing he is the one who is just a heart-beat away from the Presidency.

John McCain is touted as an exceptional and well qualified leader. He is ascribed qualities such as sound judgment and the ability to work by “reaching across the aisle.” Being fifth from the bottom of his class at the U.S. Naval Academy does not impress me as a particularly solid academic foundation for acquiring the knowledge and skills required of leadership. Serving as the squadron commander of a flight wing doesn’t seem like an overwhelmingly heavy challenge in leadership skills either.

John established himself as a playboy and womanizer while he was a midshipman at Annapolis, a reputation he seems to have carried with him into later life. I doubt that his rise up the ranks as a U.S. Naval Officer would have been quite as dramatic were it not for the fact that both his grandfather and his father were full admirals. Political influence carries significant weight in those circles.

Nothing is extolled quite as often, both by others and by himself, as the fact that he is a bona fide war hero. As for his POW experience qualifying him as a hero, I would submit that all of those who were POW’s under similar circumstances are as deserving as John McCain ever was for that same distinction. Without wishing to minimize his suffering, he has no corner on that claim.
One would think his experience in the Hanoi Hilton would have humanized John to some extent, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. He wasted no time in pitching his first wife (who was crippled in a car accident during his time as a POW), in favor of a wealthy heiress whose family could provide him with both the money and the influence to launch his political career. Otherwise, it is doubtful that he could have been elected to anything of greater prominence than that of dog-catcher of Maricopa County, Arizona.

His political acumen in both the House and the Senate seems to have been more a factor of his temper than his mastery of the art of negotiation and persuasion. A pall still hangs over his character because of his involvement as one of the now infamous “Keating Five,“ in the 1980’s Savings and Loan scandal, not to mention his later cozy relationship with Phil Gramm who was largely instrumental in stripping all meaningful safeguards from the financial industries, now tanking in droves.

His friendships appear to be more a factor of his political ambitions than any type of kinship. He did a complete turn-around and readily adopted the agenda of George W. Bush who was once his nemesis in the election of 2000. He has sided up to anyone who could benefit him, politically, despite his own rather fluid convictions to the contrary. Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed and the like are only a few who readily come to mind. No one is a more persuasive liar than John, particularly when he adopts the facial expression and voice of a family therapist - cool, calm and soft-spoken. But, whatever works for the guy at any given moment, I suppose.

During his political career, John seems to have had some difficulty in deciding whether he wanted to remain a Republican or a Democrat. He flirted with changing parties, then flirted with running as Vice-President with John Kerry in 2004, but decided otherwise. It seems he can’t go anywhere, anymore without being attached at the hip to Joe Lieberman on one side and Lindsey Graham on the other. Hardly bulwarks of political acumen and personal statesmanship. Because of these relationships, I am still having difficulty reconciling John’s choice of Sarah Palin as his running-mate over either of these two. Maybe, while Sarah is cramming to become his understudy in affairs of state, he hopes to give each of them a spare bedroom in the White House so they can tuck him in at night and shore up his image as president.

John McCain is clueless when it comes to leadership. He just doesn’t have it nor is he to be trusted with the highest office in the land as his personal learning ground. Time for him to go back to the ranch in Sedona and pitch horseshoes.

Barack Obama is the product of a multi-cultural family who appears to be the product of a pretty normal upbringing. He manifested behavior at times that was typical of an adolescent and a young man, about which he has been forthcoming in both of his books.

He is a graduate of Columbia University, the Harvard Law School and was President of the Harvard Law Review, plus 12 years as a Constitutional Law Professor. No small achievements and testimony to his intelligence and his discipline. He has been married to the same woman for 19 years and is the father of two daughters, all of whom have been, and continue to be, followers of a Protestant Christian Faith.

Barack spent three years as a community organizer on the south side of Chicago among some of the poorest and most disenfranchised. He faced one of the toughest challenges of leadership in that whatever he accomplished was largely the result of persuasion and negotiation. He followed with 8 years as a member of the Illinois Senate, representing a district of 750,000 people in Chicago. As a state senator, he served as Chairman of the Health and Human Services Committee in the Illinois State Legislature. He has served 4 years in the United States Senate representing a state of 13 million people. During that time he has sponsored 113 bills and has served on the Foreign Affairs, Environment and Public Works and Veterans’ Affairs Committees.

Like all of us, he has made his share of mistakes, the most notable of which was his relationship to Tony Resco. The real estate deal involving his purchase of a home through this relationship was certainly an example of poor judgement, but he has been forthcoming about that issue and, in retrospect, he acknowledges that was not wise or prudent on his part.

Barack is commonly referred to as “young” at 47 years of age. From my vantage point, I would classify him as middle-aged. That presupposes a certain amount of wisdom that goes with it. I believe he has done a rather good job of demonstrating that attribute. He has shown his leadership abilities, and I am satisfied that he will do the nation proud as its 45th President. I have no doubt that he will manifest the finest qualities of leadership, if for no other reason than the fact that he already knows that real leadership is analogous to the conductor of a symphony orchestra, not in mastering every musical instrument. I have every confidence that he will surround himself with the best minds and experience he can bring to bear on the challenges and the burdens he will inherit, should he be elected.

Given what has befallen this country during the course of the last 7 plus years, not to mention the last few days, I just don’t see how we can afford to take a chance on one who seems to be a true believer when it comes to the policies of George W. Bush & Company. What has come down around us all is just too ominous and foreboding to entrust to John McCain and Sarah Palin, their hollow rhetoric and adoring fans not withstanding.

We aren’t focusing on the issues, we are fixating on personalities. This is not the time to cast our precious votes on a cult of personality or political opportunism. The tenor of our times cries out for real leadership. All things considered, I believe Barack Obama has clearly shown that he has what it takes, not only because of his education and experience, but because of the leadership acumen he embodies, and his choice of the man standing in wings.

Cowboy Bob
September 19, 2008

Sunday, September 14, 2008

“It Only Gets Worse”

I should not be surprised by anything, but everyday seems to bring a new and more ominous revelation. However, in order to set the stage for the topic of this column, we need to go back to Kansas when Dorothy embarked on her journey to the Land of Oz.

Bill Clinton swept into the White House as the great champion of the average American, hell-bent on improving his lot in life. However, it did not take long for the label of “Slick Willy” to gain some traction among his skeptics, which only intensified with his tenure as President of the United States.

We soon learned that he was a great advocate of globalization and free trade. When he signed the NAFTA treaty, it should not have been difficult for any reasoned mind to conclude that, with the shipping of American jobs to cheap labor markets such as Mexico and China, there would be an immediate impact on the American working class. It hasn’t taken long for them to lose their good paying jobs and benefits, lose the safeguards of Taft-Hartley, shift to low-paying service jobs and accept a progressively lower standard of living as they move closer to their counterparts in third world countries.

As more and more of our industrial base was shipped overseas to pools of cheap labor and our working men and women joined the ranks of the working poor, the stock market soared. Fortunes were made by big corporations and those investing in their enterprises. But, those who were made to sacrifice their standards of living and job security had nothing to invest in this new found cornucopia of wealth. The new boom was beyond their grasp. Bottom line? They were snookered by the insatiable greed of big business and the politicians who facilitated their exploitation of those among us who have the least to sacrifice.

While Monica Lewinsky was demonstrating her undying love for Bill under the presidential desk in the Oval Office, he was demonstrating his ability to multi-task by taking phone calls during his romantic interludes. The world expressed its moral outrage but, nevertheless, was duly impressed by the prowess he demonstrated in a variety of ways.

Meanwhile, Phil Gramm was dismantling the safeguards by which our financial institutions were governed in order to ensure public confidence. For it to have become a fait accompli, the President had to have signed everything advocated by Gramm & Co. into law. At that point, it became open season on our financial health. The Secretary of the Treasury either chose to remain silent or he did not have a clue as to what was going on. The effects of all this would take some time to be felt by John Q. Public.

Billy Boy left office leaving the highest budget surplus in the history of the Republic. Everything was in place for the picking by his successor and his merry band of thieves. On his last day in office, Bill Clinton nullified his Executive Order forbidding members of his administration from serving as lobbyists for a period of five years. It was now open season on an unsuspecting American public. All of this may have provided us with some insights into why he and George H.W. Bush are such good golfing buddies. It doesn’t take a Rhodes scholar to put 2 and 2 together and come up with 4 on that one!

Georgy Porgie, Sinister Dick and their happy band of neocons soon set themselves to the task of fleecing the country of everything that wasn’t nailed down. They dismantled all they could of the safeguards that were in place to protect the consumer and working people. Our infrastructure took a hit that will require untold billions of tax dollars to recover. Big money and big business suddenly found themselves in the land of milk and honey. Executive compensation and severance packages ballooned. Seems no one could lose except, of course, the poor blokes at the bottom of the food chain. Huge tax cuts followed and every conceivable concession to big business and vast wealth was the order of the day.

Not only was the working class disenfranchised, the unholy alliance of business interests (most typified by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce) and a bevy of naive, wide-eyed do-gooders, politicians and church leaders have joined forces to open our southern borders to hordes of illegals --- a further assault on the wages and benefits for working Americans. They have the whole-hearted support of our national representatives in both political parties. Who is looking out for those who have suffered the most by what Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have brought down on their heads? No one that I can see.

The Bush Administration soon gave us the infamous “War on Terror,” with a contrived war against a country that had done nothing to us. But the propaganda machine was turned up to full force and an unsuspecting nation was duped into believing that it would be a short-lived war, that we would be greeted as liberators and the cost of the folly would be chiefly borne by Iraqis from revenue generated by their vast oil reserves.

Halliburton, KBR, and Blackwater are only a few of those who have raked in obscene amounts of money through no-bid contracts, supported by politicians who have had carte blanche to do whatever they wanted with little or no accountability. I am, also, highly suspect of the military-industrial complex and the transparency of their business relationships. A budget appears to be nothing more than a petty annoyance and cost-overruns are little more than a minor inconvenience. We don’t even bother to question what the collective beneficiaries of this war are doing and what it is costing us. Who has been looking over their shoulders to make sure the interests of the taxpayers have been properly served?

And while the true believers looked up to our faux leaders in Washington with rapt adoration, knowing that they were “keeping us safe and protecting our freedoms,” our men and women in uniform were being sacrificed on the altar of their grand deception. The dead came home to Dover Air Force Base under a black-out on the news media, as if the fallen had somehow dishonored the nation. Thousands of others have been physically and emotionally maimed, and have received little recompense for all they have suffered. Let us not lose sight of the fact that a goodly number of those serving in our all-volunteer armed forces have served because they had no choice. After all, there were no longer any decent and respectable alternatives to go to in our decimated job market. A damned disgrace if you ask me!

So, where does all this leave us? Well, it sure doesn’t look promising.

1. There has been the largest mortgage meltdown in the history of the country.
2. Residential foreclosures are at an all-time high.
3. We are buried under a mountain of consumer and public debt.
4. Major financial institutions have failed, with countless others clinging to life. Were it not for
the taxpayers saddled with the brunt of the cost for their survival in order to protect
investors, the ripple effect would be disastrous. Taxpayers take all the risks and investors
claim all the profits.
5, Unemployment figures are climbing.
6. The cost of the Iraq war continues unabated, with no end in sight. The sink hole has no
7. The cost of gasoline and other petroleum products have gone through the stratosphere, with
no significant relief in sight. Typical of Americans, we are clamoring for a quick-fix that isn’t
there and are poised to believe everything slick politicians promise as instant solutions.
8. We are a debtor nation going ever deeper into debt in order to finance the bottomless pit of
the Iraq war and growing demands for social and public works programs, exacerbated by
what is euphemistically referred to as a “recession.” A rose by any other name ……………..
9. We are borrowing money from other nations to finance “the war,” chief among them China. 10. Our infrastructure is in shambles with no funding available to fix it.
11. ………..and more and more, ad-nauseum.

Now, comes the latest revelation. The Iraqi government has recently announced that they are awarding a contract to develop the country’s oil industry to (guess who?) the China Oil Company! How about them apples? Bottom line: No matter how ill conceived the war in Iraq was, over 4,100 American lives have been sacrificed to try and bring them a better and kinder form of government than what was toppled. The gratitude of the Iraqi government for those lost lives is to shaft the United States by shunting their business to our biggest creditor. Isn‘t that just too cozy to contemplate?

We dance around the word recession, one re-definition after another, in an effort to deny the ultimate reality. Let’s face it, we stand on the threshold of a world-wide economic meltdown because of our individual and national folly, and a lot of misplaced trust.

The forthcoming national election is probably the most important since the Great Depression. Not one to be taken lightly. It is an absolute imperative that we cast our votes based on as much verifiable and objective information as we can possibly gather about the two presidential candidates. If we don’t, as so aptly stated from Macbeth, “It is a tale … full of sound and fury; signifying nothing.”

Cowboy Bob
September 12, 2008

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

“Lipstick on a What ????????”

Just when you think it can’t get any worse, we have dawn to dusk coverage of a topic so vitally important to the country and, indeed, the world as “lipstick on a pig.” Is this what the campaign for the highest office in the land has degenerated to? Are we so ignorant that we dignify this kind of crap and, even worse, give it one scintilla of credence? This is what we get from corporate-owned news outlets that want to ensure a prevailing level of stupidity among the electorate. Keep them satiated and keep them focused on a diet of trivia that is the stuff of juvenile minds. We now have a massive demand for Sarah’s eyeglass frames, plus the introduction of three action-dolls of the bimbo from the frozen North. Are we not capable of greater things in the face of a total collapse of our national economic and social fabric?

I cannot believe how the foundation of the greatest democracy in the world rests on the impressions created for popular consumption by the image makers of Madison Avenue and Hollywood. Nothing like fooling yourself. Hey, folks, Rome is burning! Put down your fiddles and learn what is happening and what you can do about it. Your very life and the future of your progeny depend on it.

When hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on bagging the highest elected office in the country that only pays $400,000 per year, the payoff is immediately suspect. On the surface that doesn’t seem to be a very good return on investment. Those who seek the office and the political machines that champion their causes must see a whole lot more for their money than we do in terms of the spoils that will go to the “winner.”

I don’t trust either of the two major political parties. They have a strangle-hold on the electoral system and control every aspect of our government. They have effectively neutralized and hamstrung any serious attempt at an alternative party. We have one choice between the two. Take it or leave it. We are deluged by massive numbers of one-minute sound bites that say little or nothing, or are outright fabrications of the truth. But, we blindly accept all that nonsense as gospel and make our choices accordingly. Just what the doctor ordered!

That John McCain endured the agonies of the damned while he was a POW goes without saying. But to extol him as a hero is, in my opinion, a bit of a stretch. He is only one of thousands who have suffered through years of incarceration as prisoners of war. Rather, I pay more heed to the way he slithers from one position to another in order to incur the favor of those in positions to further his ambitions. After what George W. Bush did to him in 2000, any self-respecting person would not have given him the time of day, much less cozy up to him to the extent McCain has. The mere fact that he would seriously consider the Democratic Party as an alternative speaks volumes about his commitment to party principles. The personification of his rather fluid principles is only underscored by the sycophant, Joe Lieberman, being attached to McCain at the hip. Hey, John, you can stop beating your war record to death. I want to hear what you stand for, if you stand for anything. If John McCain can co-opt the label as a war hero, Bill Clinton can pass himself off as a sex therapist.

Aided and abetted by Bill Clinton who deregulated the financial industries, the Republicans wasted no time in seizing the moment and systematically plundering the nation. Now they are hell-bent on devouring the corpse. The American middle class, which has been the historical backbone of this country, has taken it in the shorts, big time. They are the ones who have fought our nation’s wars, who have borne the brunt of its grief and the aftermath, and who have received little recompense for all that they have given. It is they as taxpayers who are being asked to bail out the excesses of corporate America and foot the bill for massively huge severance packages for CEO’s who have taken their organizations down the pathway to financial ruin. It is not the hustlers and opportunists of Wall Street and Washington, D.C.

The last 8 years stand as mute testimony to the depths of evil to which our elected officials are capable of descending. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that one out. And the real travesty is that they will probably get away with all their shenanigans without ever being called to account for what they have done to this once great country.

Then there are those “across the aisle.” The great champions of the common man. All one has to do is to seriously look at the myriad examples of collusion with their adversaries, the pork-barreling and corruption to which they have been a party. They have bought into such great social and economic tonics as NAFT, CAFTA, and the total dismantling of every regulatory program designed to protect the population from such excesses as those heaped upon us by the Republicans. They have, also, worked hand in glove to insulate themselves from any semblance of accountability to those who put them in office. They have colluded with those who share the chambers of government and who believe in the omnipotence of their judgment over the wisdom of the people they are supposed to serve. Where in the hell are our advocates in all this?

Republicans are the great champions of a totally unfettered free market as the panacea for all our ills. That premise is glaringly flawed by the fact that for a free market to work for the benefit of everyone, all those involved in the market must, of necessity, be absolutely squeaky-clean honest. Without honesty, the entire system is victim to the excesses of human nature. Seems to me the last eight plus years underscore that fundamental flaw rather well.

The other thing that galls me about the Republicans is making religion one of the mainstays of our national politics. Now, I respect and admire anyone with genuine religious convictions. But religion, to my way of thinking, is a very personal matter and has no place in any campaign dialogue. The disproportionate amount of attention devoted to this issue saps valuable time, resources and energy from the focus of what our political discourse is all about.

Democrats hold themselves out to us as the great champions of the people. The collective connotation of the word “people.” would suggest to me that there is an all inclusive philosophy behind that notion. I don’t see that in actual practice. One of the fundamental principles of our government is that it is founded upon and operates from a base of respect for and an adherence to the rule of law. I see a progressively greater erosion of that principle every single day. Rather, I see a political party that panders to every special interest group and minority faction in society. Are we not “one nation under God?” Do we not expect every one hitting our shores to come here legally and to seek assimilation into the greater identity of what it takes to be an American?

Every nationality that has ever immigrated to the United States has come here expecting to “earn their stripes” and to do what it takes to become an American. That is, until an exception was made for the hordes streaming across our southern borders. That they are criminals violating the very laws we hold dear is no longer relevant. Rather, it is they who seek to demand rights they have never earned and never had. It is they who want a bilingual society and all the attendant difficulties inherent in that notion. It is enough that it splits us as a unified people, but ask our neighbors to the North as to how well it has worked for them. I don’t hear that same hue and cry coming from the Southeast Asians who have immigrated to our shores. They have worked to become a part of the American fabric, not an island within a nation. Today, they are some of our finest examples of success in realizing the “American Dream.”

We are not a society of special interest groups. We are one people being served by one government. I am appalled by the political figures who have declared American cities as havens for illegal aliens, and the churches that are doing the same. Where is the public outrage at the fact that they are violating their oaths of office and that they are breaking the law? Those who violate their oath of office and break those laws should be impeached and thrown out of office. Those who wear the cloth and provide safe havens for “illegals” should be stripped of their nonprofit status and thrown into the slammer just like the criminals they are. Those running for public office, be they Democrat or Republican, have a solemn duty to all of us to respect and uphold those laws as well. Our hopes, dreams, aspirations and basic needs are as one people, not a collection of special interests who want only that which will serve their own agendas. They have no inherent right to what belongs to all those who have preceded us in working to make this country what it is today.

If the Democratic Party is truly a party of the people, then it is high time it acted and advocated as a party of everyone, not just those factions who speak with the loudest voice. If the Republican Party is the party of Lincoln, then they need to accept the fact that “government” is not a dirty word. Government is the people and it is there to look out for all of us. That means it is there to keep us honest so everyone has an equal shot at all this country has to offer. If it takes regulation and oversight to make that happen for the collective benefit of everyone, then so be it. By the same token, the electorate has an obligation to keep government honest, as well.

This country is staring into the abyss of a total collapse of the great experiment known as the United States of America. We are like a row of dominoes standing on end just waiting for someone to knock down the first chip and set the whole process in motion. If we don’t get very serious about what we face, we are surely destined to become a third-rate power, watching what was once the basis of our national pride shift to the Orient, Russia and the oil-producing nations of the Middle East. At this juncture, I am not altogether certain we can stop the Titanic from hitting the iceberg.

As surely as the sun rises in the East and sets in the West, arrogance and ignorance always travel in tandem. One is the lifeblood of the other. As for “lipstick on a pig,” that is a cheap shot at trying to derail the real debate as to what this election is all about. To those who dignify such nonsense, I say, “get over it and get real.” The sun is setting on us all.

Cowboy Bob
September 10, 2008

Thursday, August 7, 2008

"Old Glory in Tatters"

I am increasingly dismayed at the course our country seems to be taking. Since the bottom fell out of the housing market and the sub-prime mortgage crisis burst on the scene, plus the sudden and unexpected explosion in the price of gasoline and other petroleum products, I have to admit that my optimism about the future is on the wane. I find it utterly incredulous at what has happened and the speed with which it has come crashing down on our heads.

The tapestry of this country; social, economic, political and spiritual seems to be unraveling before our very eyes. What has happened to our national character and those principles we hold inviolate?

We are no longer shocked by anything. Crime is rampant. People are beaten to a pulp while waiting at bus and train stops. Parents are killing their children and each other. The most heinous sex crimes imaginable are now commonplace. Hit and run crimes are routine. There is total disregard for those needing our assistance in emergencies. We drive by them as if they don’t exist. Drug-related crimes are at epidemic proportions. Metals are being stripped and stolen from roadsides, sports arenas, parks and other public places, to be sold for a pittance (and shipped to China) to support the habits of meth and other addictions. White-collar crimes seem to be little more than an annoyance and regarded as just part of the cost of doing business. Have we become so impervious to what is going on around us that we no longer notice? Do we even care?

The personal set of values, which governs our lives and the way we behave, are fluid and situational. There is no basic core of principles to guide us. We can rationalize and reduce any issue to whatever is expedient at the moment. Lying is no longer regarded as terribly serious; just a question of degree. Whatever one can get away with or whatever the traffic will bear seems acceptable. Everything is in the moment, any long-term consequences be damned.

I see us descending into a state of anarchy and, frankly, that troubles me deeply.

Our economy is in shambles. Despite the finger pointing and blame that is going on, we all share some responsibility for this rather sad state of affairs. Fewer and fewer of us appear to be anchored in a belief system that demands principles of decency and integrity to guide our actions and behavior, and that serves the common good. We believe we are inherently entitled to whatever the limits of our credit cards will permit, common sense and good judgment not withstanding. The pursuit of pleasure is almost a national obsession. Our heroes are entertainment and sports figures whose empty and shallow lives contribute nothing of substance to our daily lives. They offer little, if anything, that could be construed as enhancing the finer attributes of our human nature.

Intellectual pursuits are the fare of the few and the indifference of the many. Karl Marx said that religion is the opiate of the masses. I would submit that passive participation in society, clouded by possessions and fun, is now the opiate of the masses. If we are to dig ourselves out of the morass in which we now find ourselves, we have to raise our sights from the mundane to the relevant.

I believe our schools should devote the time and resources necessary to make sure the youth of this country have a well grounded knowledge of the history of our government and how the institutions of our democracy and government are supposed to work for the welfare of everyone. They need to understand what the system of checks and balances is and what purpose they are designed to serve. They should know and understand the vital role of the Fourth Estate in keeping our government honest, and how the news media is supposed to work in fulfilling that sacred responsibility to the citizens of this country.

Those who have great wealth should not be allowed to profit from the misfortunes they have been instrumental in creating for others. We need safeguards to protect people from their predatory practices and their tentacles that suck the very lifeblood out of our lives.

I see within our government and our political institutions a class system that has placed disproportionate power in the hands of a few. They seduce the populace without benefit of kiss. We lack the good sense to realize what is happening to the economic institutions and systems that have been the bedrock for gainful employment and a decent standard of living for the average American. The American Dream should be more than a dream. It should be a solemn duty one generation has to the next. Greed, usury and manipulation of our economic systems for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many hardly raise an eyebrow.

As we witness the collapse of our economy because of the excesses of those who revere great wealth, our government is manipulating what are touted as relief measures for the common man, but do more to bail out those affluent interests who have created the problem. The taxpayers owe greedy investors, speculators and corporate “leaders” not one scintilla of support. They should bear the full weight of their avarice, judgment, ambitions and investment failures; not the taxpayers.

I believe the ultimate purpose of every government institution and public servant is to serve the people of this country. Our elected representatives promise us the sun, the moon and the stars, only to pursue their own agendas once back inside the Beltway. The centralization of power in Washington, D.C., and the resulting exclusivity, has created a self-serving monolith over which we have little influence and practically no control. They violate our rights and squander our tax dollars with impunity. They feather their nests at our collective expense. The proliferation of influence peddlers and lobbyists underscores how removed our “public servants” actually are from the people they are sworn to serve.

There is no real system of checks and balances. Instead, we have a legislative branch that is probably the most exclusive club in the world, far more concerned with their own self-interests than for those who elect them to office. Instead of voting our wishes, they re-define them in their own terms and vote their own interests. We have an imperial presidency that runs rough shod over the Constitution, our individual liberties and any attempt at congressional oversight. The Supreme Court is more political than judicial, as evidenced by the 2000 presidential election, and our disproportionate concern about the political persuasion of judicial appointees than we are with their record in jurisprudence.

I see scant attention being paid to conflicts of interest. We have a Defense Department awarding contracts to defense contractors with little more than cursory attention to outside oversight, including any meaningful budgetary constraints. We have an Executive Branch unilaterally awarding no-bid contracts to companies having questionable ties to the office holders themselves. What public interest is to be served when the President has the power to pardon those who violate the laws they are sworn to uphold?

I dare say any reasonably good CPA and a competent lawyer could probably design a system of safeguards that would significantly curtail the excesses in our nation’s capitol. We should have an independent national review and auditing body that really works to ferret out conflicts of interest, corruption and self-serving practices within the various institutions of government and every government contract.

Except for bona fide issues of national security, all deliberations within our government should be carried out in the light of day with absolute transparency. Secrecy has no place where the people’s business is concerned.

Term limits might well be key to ensuring our elected officials have no opportunity to claim “squatter’s rights” on any public office, and curtail their ability to amass vast amounts of personal influence and economic power that could be used contrary to the public interest.

I have very little confidence in our major political parties. I see them as just another means for special interests to dominate the national agenda. The purity of their philosophies is fundamentally flawed by the natural tendency of the human component that, more often than not, pursues its own interest at the expense of the common good. Democrat or Republican - both are members of the same plutocracy that has an iron grip on our federal government. Those of us who vote them into office are mere spectators, make no mistake about it.

Where are good old common sense and the basic rubrics of a meaningful system of oversight these days? We are supposed to be a nation based on a system of laws, equally applicable to every citizen in the land. How does that jibe with the ability of the President to summarily grant immunity to cronies who have violated those laws? How does that jibe with a legislative body that can vote itself salary increases, fat benefits packages and perks that are the envy of the world? Shouldn’t the basic principles of adherence to the law and avoidance of a conflict of interest be fundamental to any office and institution of government?

Jimmy Carter may be a great statesman at this point in his life, but his performance in the White House was abysmal. He opened the Social Security Fund to plundering by immigrants at the expense of our own citizens who look to the integrity of that program for a modicum of security in their old age. How does that square with the “party of the people?“ Give me a break!

During his terms in office, Ronald Reagan heaped more debt on the backs of the American people than all of his predecessors combined. How does that square with the principles of “fiscal conservatism” that is the hallmark of his political party?

Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and removed all oversight on the financial industries that, essentially, cut working Americans off at the ankles and opened the doors to their wholesale exploitation by every financial huckster in the business. We are left with a massive exodus of American industries and jobs to cheap labor markets around the world. Our financial markets and institutions have been reduced to pillage and plunder by greed on a scale not seen since the days of Warren G. Harding. The only risk and burden associated with these actions fall squarely on those who have to work for a living. What Monica Lewinsky literally did for Clinton pales in comparison to what Clinton figuratively did to the citizenry for the benefit of big business and great wealth. And he calls himself a Democrat? Bull puckey. In name only, you can be sure of that!

Then, if the foregoing examples are not bad enough, along comes Georgie Porgie, Sickey Dickey and their happy band of Neocons who make the egregious actions of any and all of their predecessors look like child’s play. Public debt amassed by Ronald Reagan pales in comparison to what the Bush Administration has accomplished. It didn’t take them long to bankrupt the country, remove all safeguards for the consumer, destroy the nation’s infrastructure, sacrifice thousands of brave men and women on a pack of lies, trample on the Constitution, violate the very laws they were sworn to uphold, etc., ad nauseum. Meanwhile, John Q. Public continues happily down the yellow brick road to the land of milk and honey, all the while totally oblivious to the impending catastrophe awaiting them. We got exactly what we deserve because we are either too lazy, too corrupt or too stupid to know what is really happening!

We are where we are because there are no ideals to which we subscribe, no tenets of decency which we hold inviolate, and no moral compass to guide us. We no longer hold to account and apply standards of conduct to those we have entrusted with our very lives. Why? Simply because we no longer stand for much of anything of substance. There are no excuses. The blame rests squarely with us, individually and collectively.

Old Glory waves proudly, as she always has, but her fabric is tattered because of our benign neglect for all she symbolizes and what we are supposed to stand for. Until we regain our lost character, re-learn how to stand on genuine principles and subscribe to ideals that mean something, our descent into the same morass of all failed civilizations is, perhaps, all that awaits us.

We have become much like the Cowardly Lion in the Wizard of Oz. We seem to be searching for what continues to elude us - courage - with the conviction and determination to back it up.

After this next election, Obama and McCain will probably retire to the bar at the Mayflower Hotel and muse over how they slipped it to us once again. They will raise their glasses in a toast and quietly exclaim, “Well, we gave them exactly what they wanted; the best damned President money can buy.“ Being the poor, ignorant fools we are, we won’t have a clue as to what has befallen us yet again.

Anybody game for a parliamentary system?

Cowboy Bob
August 6, 2008

Friday, July 11, 2008

“Where Are We Headed?"

If there is one inescapable fact of life it is that the life process begins at birth and ends at death. There isn’t much we can do about that. To be sure, we can shorten or lengthen that continuum based upon the extent to which we choose to live a healthy or not-so-healthy lifestyle. We do have some control over that, and sanity suggests that we pay some reasonable degree of attention to that variable.

Like so many aspects of what we are all about, Americans tend to take this issue to extremes, as well. This has led us to a pre-occupation with remaining forever young, and obsessive about how we are going to hold on to the Fountain of Youth. If it weren’t so pathetic, it would be humorous in a morbid sort of way. Ponce de Leon tried to no avail and we haven’t the God-given sense to realize that it is forever beyond our grasp. Despite the extent to which we go in order to engage in the grand self-deception that it is somehow within our power to halt the aging process, it continues to elude us.

All one has to do is watch advertising and entertainment images on television, plus an occasional walk through a local shopping mall to realize just how far a field our obsessions have become.

The risks of bulimia and anorexia not withstanding, the ideal woman must still be little more than a skeleton covered by a tightly stretched covering of human flesh. Add to that a humongous set of boobs and you have the personification of the perfect female. Women with a well-rounded figure are a thing of the past; a relic from the days of old movies and glamour queens. Frankly, I’ll take the figure of a Marilyn Monroe to these human sticks any day.

Modern day mothers seem incapable of permitting their daughters to have a normal childhood. That is passé these days. No matter how young, the sooner they can get them into hip huggers, a bra and a plunging neckline, so much the better. I can only attribute that perversity to some warped notion of the mother’s sense of self-worth. Children deserve to be children, with all the innocence and wonder that goes with it. Instead, they are the objects of doting mothers who want the world to see what a perfect little living doll they have made her into. Conformity comes at a price. Individuality requires courage and a sense of proportion.

Men don’t get a free pass on this one either. Women are not only what they think men want them to be, but too many men, as well, want to be the perfect physical specimen for adoring women, as defined by entertainment figures and advertising executives. In order to do their part, you find them doing all they can to become the perfect male physique; big biceps, washboard abs, etc. This, of course, is the prelude to maintaining their sexual prowess and the envy of others, both women and men. Good luck, guys, because it won’t last forever and when you fall, you will fall big time. Father Time will stare you down and bring you back to reality.

I object to the advertising of prescription drugs, but don’t count out the limitless greed of the drug companies to do their part in this grand deception. Our households are bombarded with advertisements for no less than three different drugs for the purpose of addressing the problem of erectile dysfunction. They have no business being advertised in the media, and children have no business being subjected to that crap either. We don’t need to make a public spectacle of any man’s inability to get it up when “the need arises.” If that isn’t a private matter, I don’t know what is. The health of the prostate is yet another example of a potential male imperfection, and one more case of an industry-induced obsession with the pelvic region of the male anatomy. What is wrong with going to a physician when you have a problem, get a proper remedy and keep it a private matter? Do we really need to subject mixed company to this trash as an interlude in our entertainment bill of fare?

As if the foregoing isn’t enough, we are subjected to advertising of all sorts that shows the male and female of the species just short of total nudity. You would have to be from another planet not to realize that it is all pointing to the success of a sexual conquest. They are laying together in a bed on the beach, sharing a bathtub as the female appears to dutifully begin her decent to the lower reaches of the male sharing the experience, or speeding towards the nearest motel for the culmination of the Viagra experience. I can’t help but wonder how long it will take before we are all treated to the joy of witnessing full penetration as part of our daily entertainment. Sick though it may seem, I don’t discount that possibility one bit. I fail to realize what all the fuss is over a physical act that has been the basis of human procreation since we first set foot on the planet. Common decency dictates that it be a private matter between two consenting adults.

The one ad that I find the most repulsive is for a certain diet program based on a panoply of prepared meals that are guaranteed to produce the female equivalent of Aphrodite and the male equivalent of Adonis. I am convinced that the casting call for the human players in these vignettes go something like this: “Only slutty airheads with big breasts, bone-headed male caricatures with subnormal IQ’s, and has-been actors need apply.” What most strikes me about all this is what more is to be emulated by modern mankind, given his total preoccupation with the physical aspects of what he is all about. Somehow that seems a bit out of balance to me.

I will be the first to acknowledge that we have lost our moral compass traditionally provided by religious institutions. That they have become a means to acquire vast amounts of wealth for those in power, or that they have become gigantic bureaucratic monoliths requiring a battery of ecclesiastical experts in order to interpret the way to salvation goes without saying. But, I raise the question as to whether it is in our best interests, as people and as a civilization, to simply walk away from them and seek to define human conduct and morality strictly on our own terms? It seems to me that is an open invitation to slide into a state of total depravity, given our proclivity to rationalize our own self-indulgences at the expense of the finer aspects of our human nature, and at incalculable cost to our civilized existence. Is it not better to stick with what we have as religious institutions and try to change them from within, rather than abandon the only guiding lights of human decency we have left?

Christ walked with the common man and chose his disciples from the most humble among us. That is good enough for me and seems like a pretty good starting point for insisting that those to whom we have entrusted our salvation address our needs. Duping us into believing only they have the answers we seek, and only for a price, just doesn’t make much sense. In the final analysis, we are their “customers” (to use a chick term). I don’t wish to minimize their knowledge or the purity of their intent, but they need to understand that those who sit in the pews are not a bunch of sheep waiting to be led to slaughter. Rather, a goodly number of them have minds capable of critical thought, and have significant expectations of the clergy to respect that and to deliver the goods. Using the ecclesiastical shroud of mystery as a method of control just doesn’t wash in today’s world.

I don’t see that being glued to a television screen, a computer monitor, or staring blankly at the latest hand-held electronic companion is necessarily good for us. Maybe it is time for us to take some time away from all those electronic toys and reacquaint ourselves with family, friends and the human race. I have no doubt that would produce a wonderful world of re-discovery as to who and what we are, and would enrich our lives immeasurably.

In so many ways, we are a lonely, empty, and impoverished people. We not only need to take care of the earth we share, but we need to share a common purpose and care about each other through every step of this earthly journey. When we come to the end of that spectrum from birth to death, I choose to believe we will be much better off for having done so, and our immortal souls will be ever so much more pleasing to our Creator when we make that final journey. I accept that is beyond empirical proof and is nothing more than a simple act of faith. But what hope do we have without it?

Cowboy Bob
July 11, 2008

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Crime and Punishment"

In the time I have been around on this terra firma, I have witnessed successive generations of spoiled brats evolve into self-absorbed adults, begetting even greater spoiled brats who morph into even greater self-absorbed adults. We now live with what I perceive to be a population of totally selfish humanoids, totally obsessed with materialistic and hedonistic pursuits, and reveling in the bliss of self-imposed ignorance the likes of which I never dreamed possible.

The first discernible leak in the dike seems to have occurred around the time when Dr. Spock made the scene and firmly established the beachhead of permissive parenting. That set the stage for the spawning of all sorts of disciplines subsumed under the title of “behavioral scientists,” that found a reason and an explanation for every conceivable kind of aberrant human behavior. It seems as if everyone is now the victim.

I grew up in a time when it was rather well understood that privilege belonged to adults and, with hard work and maturity, children would eventually earn their place as adults, with all the rights and privileges thereto pertaining. We have now evolved from an adult-centered society to a child-centered society. No longer do we give credence to such notions as character, honor, integrity, discipline and morality. Those are as passé as home-cooked meals, and what a price our society has paid for their indulgences and our folly. Discipline begets self-discipline. Self-discipline begets character, honor, integrity, and the very moral fiber that binds good and decent people together. With the passage of time and this evolution toward more permissive enlightenment, we have little more than social, political and economic chaos.

One of the most glaring consequences of what we have wrought is the naïve belief that we are all governed by the same system of laws. Rather, the application of laws seems to be situational and, more often than not, predicated on economic and social status. If one is a member of the elite Washington Establishment, it is almost certain that the laws of the land simply do not apply, save for a peek in a restroom stall or cavorting with a prostitute. Otherwise, our nation’s Capitol, and indeed the country, are up for grabs. One can lie a nation into war, flaunt the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, consign over 4,000 young men and women to an early death, and bankrupt the country without so much as a slap on the wrist. Meanwhile, impeachment is “off the table,” per Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid. After all, they cannot put the nation through all that, but they will dutifully go out, wave the flag, extol the virtues of those having made the “ultimate sacrifice” in order to protect our country, and bankrupt the nation without so much as a whimper. On the other hand, if one is at the other end of the socio-economic spectrum, you can bet your bippy that the strong arm of the law stands poised to randomly strike for the least serious of infractions.

I am sufficiently idealistic as to cling to the belief that the law should apply equally to every citizen of this country. That crime is on the rise doesn’t require a battery of polls or social studies to confirm that fact. All one has to do is to watch the evening news with some degree of regularity. However, what we throw some people in the slammer for and let others off for begs logical explanation.

I think we need to re-visit the merits of individual responsibility and accountability. If you did it, you pay the consequences. On the other hand, I think the whole issue of what we incarcerate people for needs to be re-examined. Our system is all over the board and simply makes no sense whatsoever. There are just too many people in prison for crimes that don’t warrant incarceration. There are, also, too many people walking the streets who should be cooling their heels behind bars.

Individual and collective responsibility need to be re-introduced as essential to life in a civilized society. “Doing your own thing” is a credo for excesses that even the most primitive of cultures abhor. That particular philosophy has been around for a sufficient period of time to clearly establish that it has not and does not accrue to our collective benefit.

Parents should be held responsible for the actions of their offspring up to age 18. If one of their little dimpled darlings destroys or vandalizes property or does bodily harm to another, well Mom and Dad should be on the spot for paying recompense for such behavior, even at the expense of re-financing the home, car, etc. The taxpayers should not have to bear any part of the burden. We have enough on our plate with myriad other more pressing needs.

I just don’t buy into all that is peddled by the various organized groups of bleeding hearts that salvation is there for everyone, if only we will give him or her another chance. Some people are just bad from the “get-go” and no amount of resources beamed at restoring them will ever produce positive results. It shouldn’t take a brain buster to objectively determine who falls into this category, so they can be duly put away in order to spare society the cost of their criminal behavior Violent career criminals and sex offenders readily come to mind.

I am one who just doesn’t happen to believe that violent sex offenders and pedophiles ever change. As far as I am concerned, there is no cure. Violent sex offenders should go directly to the big house with no possibility of parole. Following the outcome of their appeal, if the charge still stands, castration and a guaranteed lifetime cell should follow. As for non-violent pedophiles, the minimum sentence should be lifetime parole, with the clear understanding that the first time he falls off the wagon, off with the plumbing and directly to the slammer without passing “GO” and collecting $200. If you abuse it, you lose it. That should be easily understood.

As for the rest of those wayward souls who run afoul of the law, I don’t lump them all together. We need to seriously look at a two-tiered prison system.

For first-time offenders, minus sociopaths and violent criminals, the prison system to which they are consigned should be based on a model designed to provide maximum opportunity for rehabilitation and their return to society. Life and accommodations there could be modeled after that provided for basic training to our armed forces. Education and a therapeutic milieu should provide for the opportunity to acquire an education and learn how to master the skills necessary to be functioning members of society. Entertainment and literature should be devoid of violence and sexually explicit materials. Access to the Internet should be restricted if not prohibited altogether. College courses could be taught for credits toward a degree. As the foundation for a sound liberal arts education, a course should be available on the 100 Greatest Books Ever Written. Given that the population is there because of criminal conduct, there would need to be a structured regimen and a disciplined lifestyle.

Part of the sentence should be a field trip to the second of a two-tiered prison system, the one for career and violent criminals, augmented by classes on what it means to be a member of that population. The message and admonition should clearly convey that if you don’t make it after the first tier, the next time you offend you will be on the fast-tract to the real deal, where rehabilitation is not the order of the day; punishment is.

Because we seem to have lost sight of the value of discipline and punishment in favor of what are euphemistically referred to as “country club prisons, life in the second-tier prison system should be hard time characterized by an austere lifestyle and hard work. Entertainment should be limited to educational television channels and public broadcasting. No videos or access to the Internet. No violent or sexually explicit materials of any kind, including reading material. College courses could be made available, but not in Law or Criminal Justice. Time devoted on how to beat the system should have no place here.

Workdays should be 10 - 12 hours, six days per week, Labor would be devoted to manual arts such as making license plates, and building furniture and pre-fabricated homes for indigent populations, victims of disasters, military bases, prison populations, etc. Proceeds from disaster relief and welfare organizations could be used to defray the cost to the taxpayers for operation of the prison systems.

The option of parole should be applied within strict guidelines and not be subject to liberal interpretation where society is likely to get the short end of the stick. John Q. Public has had quite enough, thank you.

Cowboy Bob
July 2, 2008

Sunday, June 15, 2008

"Reflections on Fathers' Day"

Today is Fathers’ Day and an important day for a lot of kids, both young and old, who remember the patriarch of the family with a great deal of love and respect. As for me, I have never coped with holidays very well. Most were tinged with sadness brought on by a variety of circumstances.

I grew up poor and, for me, so many of the wonderful fantasies associated with Christmas, Easter, etc., that are a part of every person’s life, just weren’t a part of my childhood. I can never forget how many times I searched my very soul for an answer as to why Santa Claus left us so little, all of which was practical, when I tried so hard to be a good kid. For reasons I could never explain, I just didn’t measure up to most other kids who were blessed by that charming old elf.

I will never forget the time the Easter Bunny didn’t bother to stop at our house. I was seven years old for that one. My brother, sister and I searched the house from top to bottom while my Mother quietly sobbed, sitting at the kitchen table. Finally, she said “Kids I hate to tell you this but the Easter Bunny didn’t come this year.” In that instant, Easter became a holiday that, to this day, I simply cannot enjoy. The old rabbit let me down and I was never quite able to forgive him for it.

When I was a very young boy just beginning to file memories away for later recall, I absolutely worshipped the ground my Dad walked on. He was gone from home a lot, away shearing sheep, working on various ranches, etc., so he could come home with enough money to sustain us for a few more months. I would so look forward to the day he would return and, as he came through the door, he would sweep me up in his arms and give me a big hug. I never felt so secure and happy than I did on those occasions. They were times that nourished my very soul. I can’t quite recall just how old I was at the time, but on one of his glorious returns, when I ran to him, he said, “Son, I think it is time we started shaking hands like real men.” I have never felt so rejected or as deeply hurt as I did at that moment. My world of safety, security and profound love for my Dad evaporated right before my eyes. To this day, some 60 plus years later, the pain of that initiation into the world of what he thought was that of “real men” has never left me and I never gave my Dad a pass for what he did. I loved him so much.

My Dad grew up even poorer than I and I am sure he had more than his share of disappointments, as well, but which he rarely talked about to anyone. He kept them to himself, but whatever the pain of those experiences was, caused him to despise his own Father. It led him to engage in a variety of hopes, dreams and fantasies that never materialized, but which he held to tenaciously for his entire life. He loved horses and so regretted that he wasn’t born a hundred years earlier so he could have lived the life of a “real” cowboy. The only time I saw tears in his eyes was when he recounted that wish to me. I wanted to cry with him, but I didn’t.

My Dad was a good horseman and was never happier than when he was on a horse. He had an eye for good horse flesh and trained them all extremely well. He gave his all to rodeo competition in calf roping and cow cutting, knowing all the time that one day soon he would be the World’s Champion Calf Roper or Cow Cutter. The dream eluded him and he never made the first string. Oh, there are still a few of his trophies around but they were more consolation prizes than that of a winner, and he knew it. Hey, something was better than nothing but I always knew the pain of disappointment was there deep within him. He had a good singing voice and he gave it his all. He knew that one day someone would come along who would recognize his talent. He was certain that he would shoot to the top of the game, with all the attendant fame and fortune it would bring. Like so many of his dreams, that one died a quiet death, as well.

He was a stern disciplinarian, the sting of which I felt once in a while. But he was absolutely brutal to my older brother. As I grew older I became aware of the disparity with his affections and came to bitterly resent him for it. He tried to vicariously relive his life as a rodeo cowboy through me. I humored him by going through the motions, but that was not my bag. He was devastated when I told him that I wanted to go to college and be a professional man. Our relationship was never quite the same after that.

He felt that so much of that to which he was rightfully entitled had been denied him. Behaviorally, that notion manifested itself in selfishness at the expense of his family. A good Stetson hat and a pair of custom made boots where his right. We three kids were going to school with holes in the soles of our shoes. He would let us know that he was poor as a kid and now it was our turn to sacrifice so he could have what he had missed. All it did was to reinforce a seething anger that was growing within me.

He was a rounder of the first order. It seemed as if there was always another woman in his life. We all suffered that indulgence, but none more than my Mother. She remained silent and, I am sure, felt very much alone in the face of that assault on her rightful role as wife and partner. It was a part of him that was manifest most of his adult life and it took a terrible toll on our family. My anger towards him only intensified.

The estrangement from my Dad followed in the wake of one of these numerous dalliances. I just couldn’t take any more, so I cut off all contact with him for over four years. I had long ago ceased to care what he was feeling. As the ice gradually melted we, too, mellowed but things were never quite the same.

So, what lessons did I take from these formative years in my young life? I learned not to trust at a very early age. I played it close to the hip and never let my guard down. I learned that love was the stuff of movies but was rarely a part of real life. I learned that being vulnerable was a sure sign of weakness and of a fundamentally flawed character. The skeletons of the past were better left in the closet. I cannot recall my Dad ever manifesting vulnerability or real love. He could be charming, witty and affable, but I doubt that few, if any, ever really saw the authentic and genuine Bill. And, most of all, I learned that success in life meant you pursued a goal that would net you the most money in the shortest period of time so the specter of poverty would never again darken your door. That was the course I set for myself and I never wavered. In the end, it only brought me an ocean of disappointment in what I was versus what I could have and should have been. A career in broadcast journalism would have made me as happy as a clam, but the risks associated with real success were too frightening for me. Instead, I chose a career that I hated every waking moment of my working life and made me one of the best professional whores in the business. Fear of failure became my nemesis and I always played it safe. As a result, I never gave it my best, my employer never got full measure and I never had an ounce of satisfaction in what I did.

As the years have passed, I no longer subscribe to the notion that being a real man is necessarily synonymous with being macho. Being a real man takes a lot of character. Being macho is nothing more than posturing and bluster. Real men are not afraid to be open and vulnerable to those near and dear to their hearts. Real men don’t withhold their hugs, an arm around the shoulders or a pat on the back and don’t try to substitute a hand shake for the real deal. Real men know that love is so much more than what is tied to their sexual virility. Real men accept the fact that maturity and age are an unavoidable part of the life process. They don’t try to substitute erection enhancing drugs for the wisdom and character that only comes from a life honestly and well lived. They know that love quickly morphs from hormone overload into endearing affection for those they care so deeply about.

I find it rather curious that all of the qualities Our Dear Lord mandated that we should be are, more often than not, the very qualities looked upon with the greatest disdain by those who subscribe to the masculine myth.

My Dad and I never had the opportunity to mend the fences between us because of distance and separate lives. Only once did we have the chance to sit at a bar and tip a few together. I recall looking him right in the eye and asking him how many women he had “known” in his life. Without a second of hesitation he answered, 97. I was stunned and I asked what made him do it. He looked at me with eyes like those of a cherished pet who has been severely scolded and replied, “Bob, don’t ask me because I can’t tell you.” I knew I was probing into a part of his life where I had no business going. But I did realize that there was something there that was so much more difficult than I could ever imagine and I really didn’t want to pursue it any further. I have speculated on all sorts of reasons that could explain his behavior, but for the sake of his memory and my own peace of mine I, too, know that it is best left at its place in time.

I never got to his funeral because of s snowstorm in Southern Wyoming. As a consequence, we never really had the chance to make peace with each other. But, as the years have passed, I see him in a different light. His life and his failures are his for all time to come. It is best left there. However, I have come to realize that he probably was gripped by many of the same fears in his life that have been with me in mine. Intimacy was impossible for him; it has been difficult for me. He probably knew many times in his life when he ached to bare his soul and reveal his demons to someone close to him, just to ease the pain of the burdens he carried, but there was never anyone he could trust enough. As I write these words I realize that they aren’t necessarily pearls of wisdom coming from my intellect but, rather, are visceral insights into my own life.

I have forgiven my Dad. Now, in the twilight years of my own life, I pray every night that my Creator will help me to internalize and manifest what I regard as the four greatest attributes of the human condition:

1. Unconditional love
2. Unconditional acceptance
3. Unconditional understanding
4. Unconditional forgiveness

Those are, in my humble opinion. the four cornerstones of a well-adjusted human being. Without question, the most noble is forgiveness.

Fear, in all of its manifestations, is surely our greatest enemy.

As I reflect on this Father’s Day I cannot help but wonder how much of my better side has been denied my two children because of the way I am wired. The old adage to the effect that “The apple does not fall far from the tree,” scares me. Perhaps the time has come for me to ask them before it is too late.

Happy Father’s Day.

Cowboy Bob
June 15, 2008

Friday, June 6, 2008

"The End of Act I"

I am reasonably certain that the nation has given a collective sigh of relief that the circus of the Democratic National Primaries is finally coming to a close.

When it all began, about one and one-half years ago, I was enthused and excited at the prospects of what might eventually come out of it all. I have been glued to the television set, cheering one moment and cursing the next. When all but Obama and Clinton were left standing, I looked forward to a serious contest to the finish line. But I have to admit, it lasted far too long for me. The Iraq war rages on, the mortgage meltdown has intensified, the cost of gasoline has gone through the stratosphere and unemployment is growing by the day. At this point, I just want to see it all come to an end and finally see just what can be salvaged from our national disaster, so we can all get on with our lives.

At the outset I was very taken with Barack Obama. I still think he is sincere, bright and articulate. I think he will make a good president, but I am a little more cautious with my optimism. I think he could have conducted a better run in parts of the country that are hardest hit by globalization and free trade, and those whose issues are, for the most part, bread and butter. I don’t necessarily believe he is an elitist nor do I believe he should feign being “one of the boys” by engaging in behavior that is out of character for him. Obviously, he is not an accomplished bowler nor does he seem to be the type who would throw down shots of whiskey and chase them down with a mug of beer. However, much could be said for him if he simply and overtly acknowledged his differences in style with his audience. Pledging to understand their plight and vowing to work his heart out for them would have done wonders for him. That, I believe, would have gotten him a few more miles down the road in terms of his own credibility. As for his religion and his past history in that regard, it is none of our business and the news media would have been well advised to drop the issue and focus on what this next election is really all about. But, that doesn’t run up the ratings, does it?

As for Hillary Clinton, the literature is replete with the details of the blind ambition and sleaze by both her and Bill. They are not the paragons of integrity they would have us believe. When it comes to their political and personal ambitions, they have demonstrated they don’t take prisoners. She certainly revealed that side of her nature in the instances where she fawned all over Obama on stage, only to repeatedly kick him in the gonads, over and over again, after the fact. It is no secret that lying and deception are legitimate parts of their arsenal in the war to win at all costs. There is enough in print about both of them for any reasonably literate junior high school student to easily write a comprehensive doctoral dissertation. But, for all the volumes written about them, the news media and the Washington establishment have chosen to ignore that reality. After all she has given of herself through public service, she deserves our respect, not our condemnation. Bull puckey!

Bill Clinton should have been thrown out of office when he demonstrated his total lack of respect for the ultimate symbol of the Office of the President and the American people by his antics with Monica Lewinsky in the Oval Office. Hillary should have gotten an Oscar for her performance as the hapless victim on one hand and her steadfast defense of Billy Boy on the other. Give me a break. They just don’t have what it takes to be listed very high up in the social register. Given the fortune they have amassed in just seven short years, they will never have to work for a living again. It is time they went back to Arkansas and settle down in a nice double-wide. Hillary could take up the art of baking cookies and Bill could teach sex education at a local junior college, including live demonstrations. The nation has had enough of both of them.

I love the posturing of Hillary in the wake of her defeat in the primaries, and the unrelenting and belligerent person she has shown herself to be. I am tired of all the crap about giving her some time and space for all this to settle in and for the sake of her feelings. Now I ask you, if Hillary was a man do you honestly believe there would be the slightest concern about her feelings? Get real. She is playing the gender card. If women want equality, then using their feminity to their advantage is off limits. If Hillary’s tears were genuine in New Hampshire, then they should have been ignored. A box if tissues should have been handed to her, and she should have been told to buck up. Gender equality is not situational. You can’t have it both ways. After all, look what happened to Edmund Muskie when he lost his emotional composure during his run for the presidency. The harpoons were quick to follow and he lost the race.

The reporters and pundits in the news media are a source of entertainment in and of themselves. They are asked what they think so-and-so is going to do, what he/she is thinking at the moment, how they are feeling about an issue at any given moment, etc. Hell, they would all have to be a bunch of clairvoyants as a basic prerequisite for doing their job. What a bunch of poppycock. They are there to report the news.

As for Barack Obama, I do share the view that his choice of a running mate as the Vice-President is of paramount importance. I don’t think it is appropriate to be used to pay back political debts or other obligations. The selection of a VP should be based on the need for complimentary skills and experience to those held by the President. If Obama is serious about demonstrating “bi-partisanship” and “reaching across the isle,” then someone from the other party or an independent should not be excluded from the running. Frankly, I think Senator Chuck Hagel would be a damned good fit. He is a Vietnam Veteran, he has served with distinction in the U.S. Senate, he has been steadfastly opposed to the Iraq War and has been a successful businessman. He is strong and a man of tremendous integrity. I have no doubts that he would be instrumental in Obama garnering a lot of votes from Independents and Liberal Republicans in the forthcoming General Election. I, also, think there should be room in Obama’s Cabinet for Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Bill Richardson, John Edwards and Dennis Kucinich.

As for Hillary and former Senator Grassley? Naw, I don’t think so. We have had enough. The final curtain has come down on Act I. Time to move from the Theater of the Absurd to reality. The country and, indeed, the world cannot wait any longer.

Cowboy Bob
June 6, 2008