Monday, November 22, 2010

"Only We Can Keep Hope Alive"

Now that the dust has settled on the mid-term elections, I have had time to reflect on the dynamics of that exercise in futility. In the light of day and with a little reflection, it really is more of an indictment of our democracy in action than it is an affirmation of all that it should be. We have just entrusted hundreds of people with the treasures of our country with, essentially, no knowledge about them. We have taken at face value all they have told us, all that others have told us, and the images of them created by the professionals in the propaganda and image-making business. That isn’t just astonishing, it is downright frightening.

Should we not, at the very least, require an outline of their basic qualifications, such as their educational background, their work and career experience and their service record?

Shouldn’t we know what we are getting when we open the doors of our nation’s capitol to these strangers who are going to determine our national destiny for God only knows how many years to come?

Shouldn’t that information be an essential part of every voter’s pamphlet we receive preparatory to casting our vote?

Shouldn’t we have some idea as to how well equipped they are to make decisions about the complex issues of our day?

The stuff political parties peddle about those they are championing for public office engender less confidence in me than my friendly used car salesman or store-front lawyer. Yet, we readily yield to them as if they really are honorable and well-intentioned people. Is that crazy or what?

We have entrusted our future and our lives to people who are going to make decisions, on our behalf, about every aspect of the most complex society and economy in the world. Who determined that they are qualified to address any or all of those issues in the 21st Century? For all we know, we may have a cadre of people whose abilities might offer little more than what might might would qualify them to do business in a barter economy. How do we know?

Generally, conflicts of interest are regarded as rather serious issues. However, those we put in government service on our behalf routinely engage in such practices with impunity. They determine their own compensation and benefits packages. They accord themselves perquisites without any oversight by outside third-party watchdogs or by those who vote them into office. Is it surprising that they fall prey to all the temptations to which they are subjected? Is it any wonder they steal us blind? How many could resist the temptations of sums of money unheard of and favors that are exclusively within the purview of the most privileged among us? They quickly evolve into subscribing to a sense of entitlement and believing their own press that comes from living within a bubble that insulates them from the real world. Is that dangerous or what?

We talk about lobbyists and special interests as if they were a given. Who made that determination? Shouldn’t lobbyists simply be outlawed? They do not represent the people of this country. They represent those who, by definition, are adversaries of the people. Why do we belabor, but never do anything about campaign finance reform that would clean up this cesspool that marginalizes those they are supposed to serve, in favor of those who ply them with every conceivable largess from cash to favors they could never have even dreamed of in the life they left behind?

Who said they have the knowledge and experience to effectively deal with the extremely complex issues facing us today? We have a reservoir of some of the greatest minds in the world who have devoted their entire lives to mastering academic disciplines and acquiring experience that are a national treasure. Yet, we never call on them to help solve the very complex and difficult problems we face? Is that even sane?

Politicians have, as their primary objective, re-election. They covet the power, the money and the perquisites that come from doling out their office to the highest bidder. Those who finance their campaigns and ply them with personal favors is their real constituency. Decision-making is by compromise and those they serve are the beneficiaries of the spoils emanating from the political gamesmanship that is at the center of everything they do. Mediocrity is the standard of excellence and we, the voters, pay the price.

Real leadership should have, as its primary objective, doing what is right, with the greatest good for the greatest number. Leaders surround themselves with people they regard as being smarter than they are. They defer to the wisdom and expertise of those people, giving them the freedom to do what they do best. They make decisions based on sound evidence and reasoned deliberations. Their reward is in knowing they have given it their best in the service of their constituents, with their integrity and character in tact.

The last example of real leadership and true statesmanship by a national leader was when John F. Kennedy and those closest to him stared down the Cuban Missile Crisis. We have not seen courage and conviction of that caliber since an assassin’s bullet took his life on that fateful day in Dallas in 1963.

What might have been the outcome of a financial reform effort had a real leader been at the helm? Would the fox guarding the chicken coop have written the very regulations that would control his unbridled greed and blatant thievery? I don’t think so. Rather, the dialogue would have probably conveyed, in so many words, “You took advantage of the American people and the party is over. We have taken back control. And you, Mr. Clinton, can take all of your cronies and corrupt practices back to the darkness from which you came.“

What would have happened if a real leader had insisted on transparency and stared down the slugs of the health care business that have fleeced the American people for decades? Instead, he further enhanced their ability to continue, all accomplished behind closed doors. What if the agent of “Change We Can Believe In” had simply honored his campaign promises?

What would have happened if real leadership had been at the head of the table and had told big pharmaceutical companies, unequivocally, that negotiating with the government was an absolute requirement for their continued business? Nothing discretionary about that. It might have cast a completely different light on the mid-terms.

What would have happened if President Obama had kept his campaign promise to re-open NAFTA and other free-trade agreements? Our industrial base might well be recovering by now instead of spiraling downward into even greater depths of hopelessness.

What would have happened if he had kept all of the other campaign promises he made? Would George W. Bush and Dick Cheney be facing the consequences of their criminal behavior? Would we still be mired down in an even larger debacle in Afghanistan with the sacrifice of precious human life from the least among us, and at a cost of billions, if not trillions of dollars? Would organized labor have received the fair treatment that would have helped to equalize the power between big business and the working people who labor in their service?

And, most important of all, what would have happened if Obama had been a real leader rather than a milquetoast consensus builder, who mouths bipartisanship as a cover for his uncompromising loyalty to the elite, the moneyed and the powerful of this country? What would have happened if all those corrupt and compromised re-treads from the Clinton Administration had been sent packing and he had appointed his own Cabinet to advise him?

I would hazard a guess, all things considered, that our national landscape would have looked much different and would have held far more promise for better than ninety percent of us.

The operating philosophy of conservatives and their penchant for a free-market at any cost is, by definition, aggressive and an assault on the finer aspects of our human nature. Its appeal is to the baser aspects of whom and what we are. Unless I missed something, this country was not built on a sense of entitlement, but on a sense of “liberty and justice for all.” On the other hand, those who tout themselves as being liberals often appear to suffer from delusions of having a superior intellect and a higher calling that entitles them to flaunt laws with which they disagree. After all, we are a nation of laws and it is not within their exclusive purview to determine what is to be regarded as right and just. For example, diversity is a concept in which everyone has a stake and a say. We are one nation, not a collection of individual interests that entitles each of them to remain separate but equal. Nor should the conservatives marginalize them in order to keep them there. It is arrogance and, frankly, an ignorance that is an affront to a basic sense of fairness. The bottom line on the balance sheet is that human beings who do honest labor are not just a consumable resource with no right to ascend the ladder of opportunity in order to better themselves. Regardless of who harbors those attitudes, I find them offensive. The notion that all of us are created equal is a myth. It belies the validity of differences in genetic make-up, intelligence, and all one inherits as his/her birthright. To the extent that places people at an extreme disadvantage within the context of society, there has to be some means for leveling the playing field. That is simply the fair and decent thing to do.

I am not so sure our system of government is capable of cleansing itself of the toxic forces that permeate every aspect of the power they hold. I am not so sure we can go back to a time when the honor and decency we expect from those we elect to public office can be rekindled. Have we evolved so far into the swill of what so much of modern-day society holds out to us that we cannot even conceptualize, much less legitimize, the finer aspects of who and what we should be as a people?

Personally, given the complexity of our society and the demands of being a responsible member of the world community, I have serious doubts that our form of democracy can remain viable. I have arrived at the point where I am persuaded that a parliamentary system of government, firmly resting on a foundation of a Scandinavian-style of progressive socialism, may well be the most effective model for addressing the complexity of the domestic and global issues facing us today.

On the other hand, perhaps the only place we can, realistically, start is through the avenue of a new political party, where we can restore the ideals of honesty, integrity and courage in government and that are so essential to our national leadership. It is highly unlikely we will ever get it from the two major political parties. I do not regard the Tea Party as a viable option.

Our institutions, despite the overwhelming influence of dishonesty and cowardice within our political system, still retain an abundance of the kind of enlightened and dedicated talent we need in order to bring about that change. Sadly, some of the best fell victim to the emotional hysteria created by some of those who currently dominate the political scene. However, one need not look long and hard to identify them. They are there, many of whom still hold out hope that there will be an opportunity for them to demonstrate their mettle to a nation crying for help.

A ship without a rudder goes nowhere. That is, in my opinion, the fundamental problem we face. I see people like Chuck Hagel, Bill Bradley, James Webb and, yes, Eliot Spitzer as embodying many of the qualities of leadership we need in order to point us in the right direction.

The future looks bleak and is just cause for despair. It is going to take a long time to get out of the disaster that has descended upon us. However, let us never give up hope. Let us never relax our vigilance. Let us never stop trying. When determination fades and hope is gone, we have nothing.

Cowboy Bob
November 22, 2010

Monday, November 15, 2010

“Did I Miss Something?”

We Americans are a strange lot in many respects. We are a collection of contrasts that often don’t jibe.

The facet of our makeup that most fascinates me is the extent to which we go to tout our love of equality among men. That is, ideally, a big deal insofar as our national character is concerned. However, in reality, we readily create and support differences in status within our society, quite willingly and readily. We have a different set of standards we apply to celebrities and powerful figures. We defer to them and accord them status that does not apply to the common person. We permit them to engage in excesses and indulgences that are not available to the rest of us. There are very real double standards that are indigenous to who and what we are.

I am, by nature, an egalitarian. Perhaps it harkens back to the sod from which I came. The motto for Wyoming is “The Equality State,” and I not only believe there is much to be said about the meaning of those few words, but I believe in them with all my heart and soul. The only real heroes we have, for the most part, are those who have long ago been consigned to the earth below the manicured lawns of cemeteries after having “paid the ultimate price,” in the service of their country, or those who still wear the uniform. As for the others, we have ascribed to them a superior status, probably more out of a sense of envy for what they appear to be, or out of the power we ascribe to them for what they have. In either case, those are false premises from which flow all sorts of excesses we tolerate that would not be the case if applied to the average person.

I happen to believe that all great fortunes have, at their source, thievery on a grand scale. I, also, happen to believe that most of our other heroes exist because of a vicarious need on our part to emulate them. I question whether or not we really get our money’s worth.

Have you ever noticed that those who enjoy all that super status ascribed to them by a willing society only make “mistakes” whereas, their common counterparts commit crimes? The former makes public apologies and acts of contrition. The other goes to jail. The image of the former is quickly “sanitized,” whereas the latter carries the stigma for a lifetime. Where is the “equality” in this? I just don’t quite see it.

None in my lifetime has been quite as glaring as the persona of William Jefferson Clinton.

If you recall, on his inauguration day, when he and Hillary presented themselves to the incumbent President, George H.W. Bush and his charming bride, Barbara, the chill was so palpable an Arctic wind would have seemed like a tropical breeze. Yet, within a very short time, Bill and George had become the best of friends, playing golf together and traveling all over the globe touting their various humanitarian endeavors.

Did I miss something?

Bill and Hillary were no sooner comfortably ensconced in the White House than it came to light that he and a poor little rich girl from Beverley Hills had been engaged in a bit of exotic hanky panky around and under the desk in the Oval Office. Bill was, ostensibly, talking on the telephone while Monica was engaged in playing “telephone” under the desk. Now, by all generally accepted standards, such behavior would have been regarded as “moral turpitude.” Bill would have been bounced out on his ass and Monica would have been relegated to oblivion. But that was not to be the case. After all, people in high places are judged by a different standard. They don’t commit crimes or grievous indiscretions. They just make “mistakes.” Bill plunged himself into a public display of contrition, seeking counseling for his sexual addiction from that great paragon of virtue, Jesse Jackson who, parenthetically, just happened to have his own progeny from a sexual “mistake” squirreled away in some secluded part of Los Angeles. But, rich and powerful boys play by a different set of rules. The fact that Bill disgraced the Office of the President of the United States was, after all, just a “mistake.” Although it is doubtful that the Diety to whom Jesse professes his loyalty, Jesse’s “mistake,” was quickly forgotten and both now stand before the world completely sanitized for having made those insignificant little “mistakes.”

Did I miss something?

The champions of the free market and small government wasted no time in seeking Bill’s impeachment. But, Bill, being the cool cat he was, remained reasonably composed and, again, committed another small “mistake,” when he was found guilty of what, when applied to the common person, is known as “perjury.” Perjury is classified as a felony but, then again, the rich and powerful don’t commit crimes, they just make “mistakes.” Bill was cleansed and quickly morphed into the outstanding leading example of statesmanship and leadership we have all come to love.

Did I miss something?

Bill had a nose, not only for power, but money as well. He courted the favor of Phil Gramm, Republican Chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, Robert Rubin and Larry Summers, all complicit in their common goal of inflating the housing and derivatives markets, and totally deregulating the financial industries. Goodbye Glass-Steagall and hello riches beyond their wildest dreams, all bought with the money of unsuspecting investors. Ah! Such are the newfound joys of gambling with other people’s futures and no one to look over your shoulder. Yet another cardinal lesson on how the benefits of the “free market system” accrue to the common good. Yeah; right!

Did I miss something?

Phil Gramm faded off the scene, but his wife was rewarded with a cushy, albeit rather minor position in George W. Bush’s Cabinet. After all, they have the divine right to take care of their friends without consequence, right?

Bill and his minions still brag about how they handed over the largest budget surplus in history to George W. Bush and his happy band of thieves, only to have all that money squandered in a twinkling, all based on a pack of lies and corruption on a scale never witnessed by this country in its history. I still cannot quite accept that Bill didn’t suspect that might happen. Rather like handing an ice cream cone to a school boy and telling him to not eat it. The fruits of their collective plunder and blatant dishonesty are wreaking havoc on our economy to this day, with no end in sight.

Did I miss something?

With both Bill and George H.W. distinguished progeny of the highest office in the land, they set themselves to altruistic pursuits that were worthy of the white stallions and glistening armor of gallant knights from days of yester year. When President Aristide of Haiti embarked on a mission to gradually democratize that impoverished island, it took very little time for George “The Lone Ranger” and his faithful companion “Tonto” Bill to save the poor peasants of Haiti from the possibility of raising their own rice at a fraction of the cost of what it took to buy that same food staple from the corporate producers of rice in the United States. After all, we had to protect interference with the free market that clearly established its superiority when applied to the human condition. The Aristide Administration was quickly and surreptitiously undermined by the dynamic duo, Aristide was consigned to exile in South Africa and the island nation of Haiti sank back into its life of desperation and life at the subsistence level. I don’t recall seeing a lot of copy devoted to that slight of hand by our former leaders.

Did I miss something?

Then there is the shroud of mystery surrounding that charismatic young man who wowed the delegates at the 2004 Democratic National Convention with his Keynote Speech. Who was he and where did he come from? Who cared? His image was just what the power brokers were looking for, and he was clearly a force with which to be reckoned in 2008.

I find the whole hard-fought contest between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic Presidential Nomination rather incredulous. I am more inclined to believe the whole epic was less a quest for the nomination and more an act of theater staged for popular consumption. I will grant you that the final push to the nomination was a real cliff-hanger, but Obama was clearly on the trajectory to the nomination. He soared to victory and wasted no time in making a series of imperial speeches that only he can stage and deliver. He had us mesmerized by his persona and the endless promises of reforms that would be reminiscent of the golden days of Franklin D. Roosevelt.

But, what doesn’t quite jibe in all this theater is why did Barack Obama import former stooges from the Clinton Administration, all of whom occupied key positions in his Cabinet and administration? Why are they the very ones who were instrumental in setting the stage that led to the greatest deregulation of the financial industries since the prelude to the Great Depression? Why was he so tenacious in keeping them in all the key financial and administrative positions, despite learned advice and encouragement to the contrary? Was this wonder-boy really his own man or was he the one anointed to further the dark ambitions of a pervasive greed and avarice on a scale never before witnessed in the history of the Republic? What happened to all those reforms that were to be the foundation for “change we can believe in?” Why did he do a complete about face and cave in to virtually every vested interest he had vowed to challenge, and that had a stranglehold on every aspect of an economic behemoth that was impoverishing the lives of the middle and working classes of this country? Why does he still persist in that relentless pursuit, all under the banner of political bi-partisanship? Who is sitting in the Captain’s Chair on this voyage of the Titanic? Bill or Barack?

Did I miss something ?

Why do I see the tentacles of the Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush Administrations in all this? Because I no longer see a democracy with honest differences between the major political parties. Because I only see a country governed with one, unified plutocracy. Any real difference between the political parties was blurred a long time ago. I will acknowledge that we have different labels, but when it comes to ruling, both major political parties are one and the same, beholden to the same centers of power, greed and evil. They pick those who will be the front men for their pursuits. They finance them and keep them in power. Their power extends not only to the White House, the Senate and the House of Representatives, but to the Supreme Court, the Federal Reserve, the Pentagon and other unrelenting leeches on our national character and our national treasure. Their “lobbyists” are like maggots crawling all over the rotting corpse of what was once a great nation, populated with a good and decent people, and holding hope and promise for every one of its citizens. Through their control of the industries that fund, shape and control our perceptions of the world around us, they create in our heads what they want us to believe. Every effort to reform and change our system of government, and return it to the people, requires that one only scratch the surface to see the hand of the oligarchy that not only owns but controls our very lives. Those who serve as their lieutenants do their bidding and formulate the false outrage and resistance to their unabated encroachment into our lives. Dick Army, Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and their like? Just actors dutifully playing their parts for the purpose of further anesthetizing our senses and dulling what little intellect and inquisitiveness we may still have to call on.

I have no doubts that Barack Obama is the product of an insidious agenda catering to the basest aspects of our human nature. He can be counted on to relentlessly pursue bi-partisanship and he will cave in to the opposition in every instance where it benefit’s the super-rich, the powerful, the influential, the corrupt and those seeking to drain every ounce of life-blood from those who “work” for a living. Tax cuts for the top one percent of the population will be extended and continue indefinitely. The monetary gluttony of the military establishment will continue. Elizabeth Warren will be consigned to the back bench when all the dust created by her dedication to honesty and her dogged determination settles. Will he seek a second term? Only if there is still work left to be done on behalf of those who have him on a short leash.

All of this will be summarily dismissed as just the machinations of another far-out conspiracy theorist. It always is and, so far, it usually works.

Given the incestuous relationship between the Republican and Democratic political establishments, I honestly believe this country is crying for a new political party that subscribes to honesty in government, transparency in all it does and champions the needs of the majority of the citizenry it is intended to serve. I don’t see how we can continue as we are without the entire charade disintegrating before our very eyes.

Such an endeavor will be a monumental undertaking. It will require strong leadership with the charisma to appeal to our better angels and inspire us to new heights. It will require a solid base of dedicated people who know the difference between right and wrong; the difference between real freedom and tyranny in all its forms, and the need to be ever-vigilant and on-guard against the frailties of our human nature, not the least of which is the legitimate pursuit of unbridled greed. There are those among us who can pull it off. They are former members of government, academicians, and people seeking real change and a better life. They are those who are willing to stand up for decency and all the human attributes that distinguish us from those who only seek the gratification of their insatiable appetites for hedonistic and materialistic pleasures in life, the rest of humanity be damned.

The notion of a new political party is, in my opinion, a first step. Its first order of business must be a commission comprised of the finest minds in our midst, with the avowed purpose of developing a blueprint for restoring integrity and original intent to our system of government. It cannot be trusted in the hands of politicians. They are too willing to “compromise” for the sake of their own interests. We have a vast reserve of academic minds in all the relevant disciplines, including the energy and vigor of the graduate students pursuing degrees in those disciplines.

Were it not for the fact that I am now permanently consigned to the taxonomy of “Senior Citizen,“ I would be the first to sign on.

Cowboy Bob
November 15, 2010

Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Obama Is Really Good At ....."






But he sure as hell is no leader.

Kinda reminds me of an assessment made years ago of the Foreman, by one of the ranch hands, on a ranch south of Cody, Wyoming, when he said “He is like a bull with one nut and one horn. He can’t fuck nor fight. All he can do is ‘beller’ and shit!”

Sez it all as far as I'm concerned.

Cowboy Bob
November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

“The Day After”

The dust is settling on last night’s political blood bath much as it does on a desert sunset. All seems somewhat quiet and serene as a prelude to our elected leadership limping to the end of their current terms of office. We have, once again, reminded the world of the unexplainable fact that, between the 49th Parallel and the Rio Grande there exists that mysterious phenomenon whereby there are, indeed, more horses asses than there are horses. We have shown how laughable the “wealthiest and most powerful” country in the world really is when it comes down to the serious business of governing. People actually believe the charade, and the avalanche of distortions and untruths to which we have been subjected in the waning weeks of the rush to power.

One could almost have memorized the script as each of the winners and losers kissed their spouse, held up their children for public adoration and thanked an endless array of loyal supporters for their genius and dedication. Absent was any open acknowledgement and appreciation for the obscene amounts of money poured into their coffers by the battery of vested interests that are preparing to claim their pound of flesh from the victors.

We could almost have been lulled into believing that this lot really represented a transformation of character and new blood that will clean up the cesspool of humanity to whom we repeatedly entrust our dollars and our lives as each of the old moves out and the new moves in. Such is the folly of our system and the burning desire to convince ourselves that the truth of it all really isn’t that bad. All we have to do is become angry, throw the bastards out and everything will, once again, be copasetic. Don’t bother me with details. Don’t confuse me with facts. Above all, don’t ask me to go through the rigors of routing out the truth of what we face to the collective peril, not only of our nation but, indeed, the world.

We don’t seem to care all that much about the fact that our democracy has been hijacked by the highest court in the land. We don’t seem all that concerned about the wholesale plunder that continues, unabated, by the scions of Wall Street, the international corporations, the military/industrial complex and all those who are complicit in the rape of what was once a great nation.

We scream to the heavens about the massive amount of our national debt, but take in stride any mention of socking it to the super rich by allowing their obscene tax breaks to expire at the end of their ten-year life span. Doesn’t that seem a bit oxymoronic ?

Ben Bernanke continues to quietly dole out the largesse of the Federal Reserve to those who only want more for little to nothing, and need less. All of the backroom deals struck between the White House, the Senate, lobbyists and those they represent remain unchallenged. We pay and they play. Not a bad deal for them. Meanwhile, people struggle to survive without jobs and compete for space under bridges and overpasses. Our infrastructure continues to deteriorate, but the ads for luxury cars and opulent diversions multiply.

Does anyone really believe there is going to be any meaningful and sweeping changes by the cadre of screaming maniacs streaming into the hallowed halls of the Capitol under the banner of the Tea Party? Simple solutions and trite slogans do not solve complex problems. Never have and never will.

I hold out little hope that our system of government, and the gigantic and numerous parasites that feed off it can be routed out. Do we really think we can cleanse ourselves of the complicity we share in all that we have allowed to grow and fester? Can we restore integrity to government institutions, which we have every right to expect will be squeaky clean and above reproach? The sheer size and complexity of the dragon defies any success in doing so. The monster is bigger, richer and stronger than any legion of shining knights on white horses we may have at our disposal.

My focus, like that of so many, has been on the excesses of a system of government and vested interests. But, actually, the focus should be on us and what we are willing to tolerate. The fundamental flaw is not in Washington, D.C., New York and the like. Rather it is in our collective lack of real character and the will to do anything to restore integrity and honesty to institutions created to serve us. We are no longer shocked by anything. We are no longer one people, under God, with liberty and justice for all. Instead, we are a collection of individuals, each with his/her own agenda, the common good be damned. We don’t give one hoot in hell about anyone else so long as our insatiable appetites can be fed from a system of cheap goods and temporal pleasures that flow from a cornucopia of human misery and deprivation. At the end of the day, we really don’t stand for much of anything. The essential ingredients of human decency have become the stuff of nostalgia and naiveté from days long past. Today, all that counts is me; the human condition, the environment and the planet be damned.

How many honest servants do we have in the halls of Congress, the Senate, the White House, the Supreme Court and the myriad institutions they rest on? How many of them proudly and diligently labor in service to the people they profess to serve? How interested are we in cleaning up their mess and holding them to account? But, even more telling, is how many of us really care?

John Boehner’s attempt at a contrived display of emotion last night brought tears as big as horse turds to my eyes. He and those who refer to him as “my good friend” are all alike. Come January 2011, the flowery words and trite phrases will have faded, and we will be expected to bend over and grab our ankles in unison. True to form, we will dutifully comply without so much as a whimper.

The rich will get richer. The poor will get poorer. Eventually, the parasite will consume its host, and we will be just another great civilization consigned to the ages. Time is not on our side.

Cowboy Bob
November 3, 2010