Sunday, March 18, 2012

"Keep Your Eye On The Ball; That's What Matters"

I have to confess that I write a lot about politics, our government and the generally sad state of affairs that has prevailed for far too long in this country. I am extremely frustrated at how difficult it is to penetrate the barrier erected by the mainstream news media that, for all intents and purposes, effectively filters out truth in order to espouse the “company” line for every conceivable special interest operating within our society. It all comes at the expense of the average American who simply wants to earn a respectable living, provide for some degree of upward mobility for his/her family and set aside a fair sum for retirement. Is that asking too much? I really don’t think so.

I place a significant part of the blame at the feet of the opinion makers in the entertainment industries that create and peddle an endless array of pure crap though their myriad media outlets in movie, television and other avenues that does nothing more than corrupt our moral fabric, seduces us into believing that what they serve up to us is, indeed, the truth. Our aversion to any real attempt to seek out truth leads us to accept, at face value, all they market. Is it any wonder we are in such dire shape, with our society falling down around our heads?

I am genuinely concerned that the forces are converging toward an irreversible two-class society that may well culminate in some form akin to an elitist state that will clearly draw the lines of demarcation between those who “have it all” and those who are left to pick up the crumbs.

Much to my regret, I voted for Barack Obama in the last presidential election. For that, I assume full responsibility for all that goes with it. However, that does not prevent me from seeking the truth, and holding all of those who pervert truth and justice to account for what they do.

Were it not for the Internet, I dare say there would be little or no real news for us to digest in the course of our daily lives. Let’s face it. ABC is owned by Disney and all of its various business interests. Entertainment is but one small part of their empire. Then, there is NBC and MSNBC, and their never-ending love fest over Obama. Largely owned by General Electric, they have their tentacles right into the White House where Jeffrey R. Immelt, CEO and Chairman of General Electric, serves as one of President Obama’s chief economic advisors. Is it any wonder that NBC News and MSNBC never hold the President and his administration to account for their myriad failures on behalf of the American people?

Although Westinghouse largely owns CBS, they seem to do the best job of any of the major networks in trying to maintain some degree of objectivity in their news division. The fact that they have a long and distinguished history as a news organization may account for that fact.

CNN seems to be leaning toward a more conservative slant on the news. But the most glaring example, with no attempt at all to be fair and balanced, rests squarely with Fox News.

I am impressed with Current TV for making what appears to be a sincere effort to become a serious and reputable news organization. I am encouraged by what I have seen. However, I leave it to the reader to draw his/her own conclusions.

At the end of the day, the best repository of good journalism and the investigative journalists who make it all happen is clearly to be found on the Internet. It is well worth the time and effort to become more than casually acquainted with the wealth of knowledge and information to be found there.

I place a real premium on morality. By that I mean what is important to me; what I consider right vs. wrong. I have no need to preach to or convert others. That is a journey each of us must take on our own and for which we bear complete responsibility. Of all the moral virtues, I place the greatest premium on truth. Sadly, that seems to be the most elusive of all. Mining for truth is an arduous endeavor that is far too strenuous for most Americans. Just look around you. The four contenders running for the Republican nomination for President are a national joke. Obama gets a free pass because he manages to give a good speech whenever things get a bit shaky, but he can always be counted on to go back to the udder of his buddies on Wall Street, Corporate America and the Military/Industrial Complex for another dose of imperial sustenance. I shudder at how quickly he has become comfortable with the title, “Commander-in-Chief” and his adoption of some of the most intrusive measures, all wrapped in a shroud of secrecy, that he, Defense and Intelligence are prepared to invoke should circumstances (in their exclusive opinion) require. Anything less than a limited life of secrecy applied to issues of “national security,” should be outlawed. In the final analysis, our entire government apparatus should be transparent to those who cast their votes on Election Day. Otherwise, the master may soon become the slave to a system that was intended to be a servant of the people.

I have long believed that Bill Clinton and his administration, in collusion with key Republicans in government, set the stage for the total collapse of our financial system in 2008. From that, I concluded that Barack Obama became their surrogate, as evidenced by the massive infusion of former “Clintonites” into his administration. It only takes a cursory examination of the history of his administration and its relationship to the barons of Wall Street to realize that they have done their job well. Anyone wishing to get a clear picture of all those in key positions carried over into the Obama Administration are referred to an excellent piece of work done by in 2010. It is all there and well worth the read.

Permit me to recount just a few of the danger signals that I think should be cause for concern to all of us:
1. The fact that there has been no effort, whatsoever, to indict and prosecute all those who set this nation up for a financial fall leading to the economic crash in 2008. They still remain free and very much an influence on our national, economic and financial lives. Compared to the sterling record and the test of time during which we relied on the Glass-Steagall Act to regulate the financial industry, the Dodd-Frank Act is hardly ominous. Poor former Senator Chris Dodd is now suffering under the burden of a mere 762 per cent raise in his newfound job with the entertainment industry. Barney Frank is giving up his House Seat. For what and for how much only time will tell.

2. The fact that the President of the United States has, for all intents and purposes, totally ignored every significant campaign promise he made while running for President, all to the detriment of the American people.

3. His “secret” meetings behind closed doors at the White House with the various players in our national health system, resulting in a total abandonment or watering down of everything he promised, and a virtual monopoly for an industry that continues to fleece us at every opportunity.

4. The total absence of any serious attempt to reign in the excesses of the military establishment, the intelligence apparatus and all the industrial giants who serve them and feed off our tax dollars.

5. His advocacy on behalf of big money and big business, and his token support of anything having to do with labor unions and the plight of those they represent, at a cost of untold billions (if not trillions) of dollars from the pockets of working people, the poor, the elderly and the disenfranchised.

6. His early support for extension of the Bush Tax Cuts and his persistent and veiled threats against Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are some of the most glaring examples. Every significant government service that has proven to be a benefit to the country, as a whole, is fair game. The U.S. Postal Service is but one of the more apparent and glaring examples.

7. The use of our civil police by federal and state governments in order to protect those who spawned the outrage from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

If one closely examines the lessons of history, the cries for economic justice and social change usually come from the rank and file of the oppressed. However, when the movement becomes formalized and aligned against the people, that same movement morphs into a government, co-opted and supported by big money, big business and the military services. Economic and social justice becomes subordinate to the pursuit of empire.

Every member of our society has a solemn obligation to be aware of and sensitive to the danger signals. We must free ourselves from the mindset of “tell me what I want to hear, not what I need to hear.” When we abandon our ability to engage in critical thought and a healthy dose of skepticism, we have only ourselves to thank for the loss of our democracy. Democrats, Republicans and every institution of government share a common thread; an inherent goal of taking care of their interests at the expense of those of us who put them in office and pay the tab. They all feed from the same trough of corruption at our collective peril. Vigilance is not just an ideal; it is the imperative for our survival as a nation and as a people.

As we approach the forthcoming circuses of the two major political parties, I would urge every concerned American to check out two fledgling political parties and what they stand for. Although in their infancy, they just may hold out the promise we are looking for in order to take this country in a new and better direction, for our individual and collective welfare.

Rocky Anderson and the Justice Party

Buddy Roemer and the Americans Elect and Reform Party

Without doubt, we certainly need something better than what we inherited and what we have. When it comes to wealth and power, we may be dwarfed by an elephant in the room. However, it may, also, prove to be the mouse in the same room that is his downfall. Hope may be all we have, but it is the same hope that has kept the world in focus throughout recorded history.

Cowboy Bob
The Sagebrush Philosopher
March 18, 2012

Friday, March 9, 2012

What Is Meant By Education?

“Education” is a term used rather freely these days. It is almost as sacrosanct as Motherhood, Apple Pie and The Flag. It seems as if every one has an opinion about it, touts its many virtues, but has no clear understanding of what the term means.

I recall when I first entered university, a very astute professor who stood before our first class of the semester and announced he wanted to put what was meant by “education” in its proper context. With that, he simply stated, “before any of you buy into the notion that you are somehow special, just remember this. If you take a jackass and send him to college, all you end up with is an educated jackass. Where you take that pearl of wisdom is a serious responsibility and something that should impart to you a certain degree of humility. You will not only be a better student while you are here, but you will be an infinitely better person when you leave us.”

When they are in their best campaign mode, politicians tend to throw the term “education” around, as if it will impart a certain virtue to all the empty promises they peddle. They seem to believe that it will somehow cloak them with the same aura as that of the vestal virgin. At the end of it all, it can mean just about anything a person wants it to mean, with little or no common understanding of what the point of it all was meant to be.

From my particular point of view, I see education as having a multiplicity of meanings, depending on the aptitude and interests of those being “educated.”

The pinnacle of education is generally seen as the end product of a “college” education. College is perceived as the beginning and end all of the process by which we become treasured members of society. However, its one great flaw is to presume that “education” is a generic concept that applies to everyone exposed to it, and that they have the capacity to assimilate it to the point they really are anointed by the experience. I can only conclude that is the meaning as understood by every political personality when he/she promises a “college” education for everyone.

Recently, this notion was shattered by a news segment on television. It reminded me that there are, indeed, many different experiences subsumed under the label of “education.” It took place during an interview of one of the contractors involved in the construction of a new bridge from Oakland to San Francisco. The reporter, to his eternal credit, was concerned about the use of foreign labor against the backdrop of massive unemployment in this country. The offending country was, of course, China. The question that was raised was why modular portions of the bridge were being sub-contracted out to China. Good question! The answer was sobering. The reason given was, “because there are so few qualified welders left in the United States that, in order to garner that particular skill, the contractor had no alternative but to outsource that skill to China.

It never occurred to me that, because our industrial base has been so decimated by the avarice and greed of Corporate America, and its wholesale outsourcing that is so vital to their insatiable quest for yet more money, that may well be the root cause of this particular problem. Could it be that this is the result of an ingrained contempt by American business for vocational pursuits that might have anything to do with labor unions? Could this have diminished opportunities for American workers to serve a proper on-the-job apprenticeship under the tutelage of accomplished and certified journeymen? Therein lies a classic case of an opportunity for vocational “education” that is no longer available to those seeking a career within the broader economic context of our society. We have not only “outsourced” the skills, but we have dealt a mortal blow to opportunities for the vocational education necessary to develop and produce those skills. How does that provide opportunities for those seeking to enter the skilled job market?

The Europeans have always had a much healthier perspective on vocational pursuits and the requirements an aspirant has to fulfill before being permitted to work within any of their valued and respected vocations. I think the United States has lost sight of the relative importance that segment has within our educational system, and the means for acquiring the knowledge and skills that qualifies one to be a respected member of our vocational labor force so essential to our economy.

College may be very well suited to people who have an aptitude for more academic and intellectual pursuits. God knows we need those minds in order to have a balanced and healthy society, and to push forward the frontiers of knowledge. But not everyone is suited to go to college. For any of us who may have been reminded (as I have many times throughout the course of my life) about how inept we college types can be when faced with a vocational challenge, it gives pause for reflection on just how valuable those vocational skills are. I shudder to think of how many times my ass has been saved because of someone who could logically analyze a problem and fix it with his hands! I can attest that, without that help, I would have been dead in the water more times than I can recall. Some of those instances come to mind from a variety of predicaments I found myself in, one of which is particularly poignant and amusing.

One such occasion was when I put corn husks down the garbage disposal. When I tried to operate the disposal, it froze tighter than a drum. I labored for what seemed like hours to remove all of the debris, but it still would not work. The only option left was for me to call a plumber. When he arrived, he surveyed the problem, pressed a red “reset” button on the back and “voila,” it worked. When presented with his bill I argued that, surely, he was not going to charge me the full fee for a house call simply for pressing a red button. He politely reminded me that he was not charging me for having pressed the red button, but for the knowledge he had that there was a red button to be pressed that would solve the problem which, of course, was knowledge I did not have. That assault on my advanced degree from a great university proved to be a cardinal lesson in humility and gratitude; one which I have never forgot. There are indeed legions of skilled laborers who may lack the formal education I am fortunate to have acquired, but every one of them has a knowledge and skill that I can only envy. I could not have progressed in life without that battery of vocational knowledge and the skills I relied on to help me.

I see the opportunity for vocational studies as one of the biggest gaps in our educational system, and one which has been a major factor in the erosion and loss of so much of our industrial base. If we are to truly have equal opportunities within the population in order for this country to provide the means for earning an honest and decent standard of living, this is a part of what we call “education” that must be revisited and revalued.

“Education” encompasses many different aspects of learning and the mastery of knowledge. For one to claim to be seriously educated presupposes a certain amount of discipline and a serious commitment to what may be a long history of study.

There are three classic disciplines that are regarded as the pinnacles of achievement that only an “educated” person can rightfully claim in order to be considered a bonafide intellectual. They are those leading to (a) a Doctorate in Philosophy, (b) a Doctorate in Theology, and (c) a Doctorate in Law. The course of history has seen other disciplines lay claim to titles associated with that same level of achievement, none of which can honestly claim to have mastered the same level of intellectual prowess or the same degree of commitment as what is to be found among any of those three. To be sure, there has been a certain amount of bastardization of theology and law, but the purity of the knowledge base remains and is mastered by few.

As religion has become more secularized, the commitment to theological standards and the integrity of guiding principles have been compromised. As a consequence, religion has, in many cases, lost its standing as a moral compass. It has given license to a broad and varied interpretation of what is regarded as right vs. what is regarded as wrong. Fortunes have been built on peddling “faith and religion” to those who want a fast spiritual cleansing and instant wealth. One need only scratch the surface to see the vast storehouse of hypocrisy marketed as the “will of God.” The birth of the Tea Party and the zealots it has spawned says it all. As a member of the cloth once said to a rather self-absorbed parishioner, “I am less interested in how you talk your faith than I am in how you live it.” Well said.

The discipline reserved for the study and understanding of what is known as “Law” is, at its zenith, far from what has come to be regarded as the contemporary meaning of the term. The various meanings that now carry a market-based price tag can be found among the various political parties, the institutions of government, prestigious law firms, storefront lawyers and bail bondsmen. One can readily see quite a spectrum, with little or no relevance to what was originally meant by “law.” Ah, the lure of the almighty dollar vs. the purity of the profession!

If we are to restore integrity and respect for what we label “college” and “universities,” we need to pause and re-examine what is taught in those institutions with some effort to discern the difference between knowledge, mastery and training.

I happen to believe that the bedrock of our higher educational system is most completely embodied in the system of state universities and colleges, community colleges, and vocational schools. That is the system within which lies the greatest opportunities for an education that will best prepare the future custodians of our society. They are supported by the people and are, generally, more affordable.

There are, of course, those paragons of higher academia that are supported by private funds (rich people) and their progeny. There are provisions for the common folk to enter those hallowed halls on scholarships, but the bulk of those seeking a higher education are from the privileged among us. They not only learn marketable skills and disciplines, but they further assimilate and hone the value systems that cast an aura of certainty over their divine right to exploit the human condition in order to support their wealth and their station in life. An added bonus is being immune from conscription into one of the branches of the armed forces and the attendant dangers of being mortally wounded in the “defense of their country.” Oh, I almost forgot that all came about by the nation adopting an “all voluntary military.” Clearly, it is a class issue and a choice those from the bottom 99 percent choose to exercise. The fact that those counted among the “Hallowed Halls of Ivy,” sit on billions of dollars in endowment funds and that the preponderance of their student body comes from the secluded bastions of the super rich is purely coincidental. It is simply a matter of choice, freely exercised.

The most vile of all those holding themselves out as institutions of higher learning are counted among the “private colleges and universities” that develop and market “degrees,” at inflated prices. The underlying motive is to provide exorbitant returns to their investors who founded those rather sullied examples of academia, leading to the burdening responsibility carried by their students who are saddled with mountains of debt in the form of student loans they can no longer afford to pay. Seems an appropriate place to insert the word “greed,” doesn’t it? Moreover, the value of those so-called degrees is not worth the cost of the paper on which they are printed. The standing of the academic staff is, at best, dubious among the ranks of those who have a rightful claim to that distinction. Interestingly, politicians are the chief recipients of the financial largess for use in their quest for election or re-election. Does that really surprise anyone?

I have a particular contempt for all those who fall into what I call the “dot com techies.” To presume they are educated is an affront to the term. I see them as little more than highly skilled in the marketing and use of computerized systems and electronic gadgetry that serve as the basis for every conceivable kind of exploitation within the marketplace. They are plastic, empty and totally devoid of any compassion for the human condition. I find them superficial and arrogant. They have founded and operate some of the most exploitative business enterprises in our system of business and commerce. They have a sense of self-entitlement and what appears to be an inherent right to exploit those who work for them in their unending quest for affluence by the few at the expense of the many. At best, they “play boss,” but know little if anything about “being boss.” They are frauds that, at the end of the day, wouldn’t make a pimple on the ass of anyone who could reasonably consider himself/herself as a member in good standing of a real vocation. They are more fluff than substance.

Yes, I am an ardent supporter of real education that has legitimate standings in our society. But, although vitally important, I do not believe the health of our future rests, completely, on a foundation of scientific and technical disciplines. If we do not attend to a fundamental need to become thinking, feeling and compassionate human beings, there is no hope for our future. Those who seek out studies in the liberal arts are the real custodians of all that sets us apart from the predators who now seem to control every aspect of our lives. It is the Bill Moyers of this world who contribute so much toward the body of knowledge that feeds the finer aspects of the who and what we are as civilized people; not the Bill Gates.

Cowboy Bob
The Sagebrush Philosopher
March 9, 2012

Sunday, March 4, 2012


I have been writing this blog for just over three years. What I have committed to paper has, for the most part, been the product of my own take on a variety of issues that affect me and/or the society in which I live. I don’t pretend to have all the answers nor have I posed all the salient questions of the day, so when I have published something that is the product of another person's perception of the world, I have tried to be meticulously judicious in giving credit to that person.

I have a particular interest in politics and the affairs of government. I have a deep and abiding faith in this country as envisioned by the Founding Fathers. Whenever the integrity of those principles is compromised at the expense of the body politic of this country, I become concerned, as any responsible citizen should be. In those instances I have no compunction about expressing my views as honestly and clearly as I can. What others may choose to take away from that effort is their responsibility, which I cannot control but for which I have a profound respect.

I happen to believe that the underpinnings for us all, as responsible citizens, is quite simple – morality. By morality I am referring to a basic sense of what is right and what is wrong. I shall leave the various sordid interpretations of that concept to those seeking a more titillating experience.

I cannot recall a time in my life when I have seen the fabric of the people of this country, in every walk of life, so compromised. Rather than being concerned about a fundamental sense of integrity and what is right vs. wrong, we seem to have evolved into accepting a broad tolerance for “whatever the traffic will bear.” With that, morality flew out the window and was relegated to the stuff of fools by all of those who have set themselves to the task of exploiting every facet of our society for their own individual and collective ends, the common good be damned.

With this introduction, I have come to the conclusion that there are infinitely more questions than answers that should be of concern to all of us. However, given that we have become progressively more complacent and trusting of those to whom we have entrusted our futures, I hold out faint hope that any discernible effort to restore integrity to our social and political fabric will succeed. So, I am simply going to pose a series of questions for which I have found no credible answers. The mere fact that my questions may seem redundant is precisely because the questions remain unanswered. Most of these questions can be traced back to various campaign promises made by Barack Obama in his quest for the Presidency, and for whom I voted on the strength of those promises.

1. Why has Bill Clinton been given a free pass for his complicity in the deregulation of the financial industries when he was President of the United States? Why did he collude with Phil Gramm, the Chairman (Republican) of the Senate Banking Committee in order to eviscerate Glass-Steagall and open the doors to the wholesale plunder of our nation’s wealth? Why did he bring such paragons of virtue like Robert Rubin, Larry Summers, Alan Greenspan and others of like mind into the inner sanctum to participate in the gluttonous banquet that was about to become theirs for the asking?

2. Why, as one of his first acts as the newly elected President, did Barack Obama reincarnate those same rogues from the Clinton Administration to occupy every significant post in his Cabinet and his White House Staff? What was and still is the thread of continuity in that relationship?

3. Why has Barack Obama relied on the alumni from heavy hitters in the field of business and commerce to serve as his “chief economic advisers?” For example, the former senior executive from General Electric, a company that has figured prominently in the ownership and management of NBC, and among the major defense contractors to our military establishment. What happened to the perils of “conflicts of interest?”

4. Why has there been virtually no indictments and prosecutions of senior executives at the major financial institutions on Wall Street?

5. Why have the banks, mortgage companies and other financial organizations been given preferential treatment and access to taxpayer’s funds?

6. Why has there been only a token effort to restructure and regulate the very financial institutions that brought this economic calamity down on the heads of the people of this country?

7. Why has the Chairman of the Federal Reserve been given carte blanche to disburse government funds to domestic and foreign financial institutions at his sole discretion?

8. Why did our newly elected president decide not to honor his commitment to bring to justice those who lied the nation into an illegal war based on false evidence? Maybe it is because, when you become a member of the “Old Boys’ Club” you don’t assail your new-found brothers?

9. Why did Barack Obama decide to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest among us at a time when the nation was crying for additional revenue to stave off the devastating effects of the “recession” he inherited from his predecessor?

10. Why did Barack Obama choose not to pursue the restructuring of NAFTA and CAFTA in order to make it more equitable to the working people of the United States of America and the pool of labor affected by those treaties?

11. Why did Barack Obama renege on his commitment to strengthen labor laws in order to level the playing field between those privileges given to business and industry, and those accorded organized labor?

12. Why did Barack Obama not honor his commitment to a single-payer option in his health care program?

13. Why did Barack Obama not stand firm on requiring drug companies to negotiate the cost of prescription drugs with the government?

14. Why did Barack Obama renege on his commitment to reign in the excesses of hospital management companies in their dealings with the government on matters of national health?

15. Why has Barack Obama failed to take China to task on issues of an equal playing field in trade between our two countries, and their persistent currency manipulation to our detriment and to their benefit?

16. Why has Barack Obama remained silent as renegade state and local governments engaged in repeated wholesale assaults on government workers and labor unions?

17. Why has Barack Obama failed to discontinue warrant-less wiretapping?

18. Why has Barack Obama failed to close the Guantanamo Gulag?

19. Why has Barack Obama continued to allow a double-standard of justice for those deemed to be “enemy combatants?”

20. Why has Barack Obama allowed British Petroleum to get away with a slap on the wrist for the devastation they caused in the Gulf of Mexico?

21. Why does Barack Obama’s penchant for “bi-partisanship” become most apparent when it comes to matters affecting the wealthy, international corporations, banking institutions and the defense establishment?

22. Why has Barack Obama only given lip service to environmentally friendly forms of energy development while he is, also, giving free reign for the exploration and development of fossil fuels?

23. Why does Barack Obama seem to, periodically, flirt with an assault on those government programs that have served the people responsibly, effectively and economically from their inception? I am referring to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and, yes, the Postal Service.

24. Why has the Department of Homeland Security grown in geometrical proportion to other functions of government while those previously associated with the agency reap huge profits by their association with companies doing business with that same agency? Has this agency, too, become "too big to fail?"

25. Why has the Department of Homeland Security been so intimately involved with state and local governments and local police in planning and executing their assaults on the peaceful protests of those subsumed under the banner of Occupy Wall Street? How has this become a "federal" issue and a threat to the nation?

26. Why is the entire military establishment treated so gingerly when it comes to requirements for cutbacks in defense spending? Their latest ploy to cut back on funding, but still giving them more money, in the aggregate, to spend isn’t even subtle.

27. Why has there been such a plethora of private contractors and their subsidiaries doing work for the Defense and State Departments that used to be vested with those serving their country in the armed services? I am referring to Halliburton, Black Water, and a whole host of others, the quality of whose work is often questionable, who operate under much less supervision, with less accountability and at humongous amounts of money compared to the cost paid for services provided by our military and government organizations. Who profits from all this? Moreover, how is this arrangement not only more effective but more cost-effective? It doesn’t compute.

I think the time has come for the American people to be treated to that long overdue promise of more transparency and accountability, and less secrecy. So far, I don’t think we got what we bargained for. Words are cheap and are the stuff of politicians. Courage and honor are the stuff of real statesmen.

When you look at our choices for the next presidential election, there isn’t a whole lot for us to celebrate. Unless we miraculously get character over greed, I think we are in for one hell of a fall. To effect the massive changes required in the culture of our politics, I am afraid, may require far more of that precious commodity, "time" which may no longer be on our side.

Cowboy Bob
The Sagebrush Philosopher
March 4, 2012