Wednesday, December 19, 2012

“Keep Hope Alive. It May Be All We Have.”

I have been writing this blog for several years, based on the long-delayed response to various individuals who, during the course of my life, opined that I had a talent for writing and that I should have a go at it. Perhaps it was a lack of self-confidence or misplaced modesty that precluded me from giving it a try.

I found retirement an uncomfortable fit and I seemed to have more time on my hands than I could put to good use, so I decided to take up the pen and see if there was a modicum of truth to all of those voices of encouragement. I found a comfortable niche and realized that I rather enjoyed putting my thoughts on paper. As to whether that has proven to be a fruitful and worthwhile endeavor, I have to leave that to the reader. Praise is not the issue. Honesty is.

My venture into the world of the written world caused me to pause and ask, “What is the most important tenet that should govern this endeavor?” I decided it could be summed up in one simple word – TRUTH. I could not possibly take the plunge without a firm commitment to always strive to be truthful with myself and to my readers. I have tried to remain true to that commitment. As to how successful I have been, again that has to be left to better judges than me – my readers.

I make no bones about the fact that I am interested in a variety of issues and subjects, and I have no qualms about being forthright in that regard. The multi-faceted makeup of what we are as human beings in all its manifestations has provided me with a wealth of opportunities. I have few regrets.

If I had to identify one aspect of what we are, as a people, it is the ease with which we have allowed others to shape and determine our values based on the skilled use of tools that play to our hedonistic and materialistic needs. Knowledge is, without question, the most arduous and difficult of all the pursuits put before us. The rigors of acquiring knowledge and the attendant wisdom that comes with it seem, all too often, to take a backseat to anything that plays to the entire panoply of what makes us feel good or what may cause others to envy or idolize us for what we have. That is sad testimony to the value we place on our full potential to become responsible citizens of the world and to cultivate a genuine desire to make this planet a better place for us all.

The most awesome period of innovation that has occurred during my lifetime is that wrought by computer technology. Now, I cannot dispute the benefits that technology has bought to the various aspects of our lives. However, the “free market” has also exploited that technology so we are immersed in electronic toys beyond belief. We wait, with baited breath, for the next gimmick that will play to our need to yet have more fun with the latest and greatest coming off the assembly lines spewing forth an endless array of “toys” sold to us as yet another means for making us more savvy, accomplished and successful, whatever those terms may mean. I am saddened by the casualties that have followed in the wake of those “advancements” to our way of life. We no longer talk to each other. We no longer visit with others. We no longer read good books. We no longer know how to write, both in substance and style. We have diminished the value of social intercourse and substantive human relationships. We can’t live without cell phones, social networking, texting and social media. We are plastic and unfeeling. Sadly the most egregious of all, is that we no longer know how to think critically and hold those institutions and servants of the common good to account for their failures to serve the societies and the world community for the sake of every inhabitant of this planet. In the final analysis it is the ultimate indictment of what we should be at our best. Mediocrity has now become the standard by which we measure ourselves. Is that not the ultimate tragedy of mankind?

I measure the United States by those to whom we have entrusted our institutions of government. To me, that is the best insight we have as to where we are as a nation and how much we will either (a) demand from our public servants, or (b) how much we will succumb to the deceptive practices and ambitions from them. It doesn’t take a lot of effort to throw these two divergent perspectives into sharp relief. I find that by reflecting back on the occupants of the White House, I can pretty well tell who has been the worst and the best during my lifetime. It isn’t rocket science. Rather it is common sense.

The best Presidents of my lifetime were:

1. Harry S. Truman for his tenacious commitment to basic human honesty and decency.

2. Dwight D. Eisenhower for restoring dignity, stature and statesmanship to the office of President.

3. John F. Kennedy for demonstrating the sheer brilliance of what it means to be a real leader by his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Anyway you look at it; he saved the world and its people from total annihilation.

The worst Presidents of my lifetime were:

1. Those who were members of the Bush Dynasty and their skills in courting the deceptive, ambitious and destructive talents of dictators, plutocrats and oligarchs.

2. Richard M. Nixon for obvious reasons.

3. William J. Clinton for his total lack of any sense of character, decency and morality. His failure to serve the electorate as President and his collusion with those whose avowed pursuits were personal gain, wealth and power contrary to the common good and the welfare of the nation.

4. Barack Obama stands out as the most disingenuous president of my lifetime. I believe he was hand picked by the most avaricious among us. I am persuaded that he was chosen as the keynote speaker at the Democratic National Convention in 2004 for very good reason. He was anointed as the one to carry the torch for the grand scheme of subduing the nation for the benefit of the wealthy and privileged. He would become President to further the agendas of those who were determined to shred the fabric of the middle class and working people of this country. He would be President to do their bidding and to obliterate any semblance of power and equality by those who were and are the backbone of this nation. He would be President to rape and pillage the environment for big money, corporate capitalists, defense, energy, foreign interests, and to emasculate anything that might have the slightest appearance of advocating for organized labor. He would give lofty and inspirational speeches in order to mesmerize and seduce the people for those who were sworn to reduce them to servitude in the service of great wealth and power. He would lie with impunity and engage in double-speak without the slightest reservation or remorse. He would covet secrecy, presidential prerogatives, and cozy relationships with defense and intelligence agencies. His Justice Department would be an arm of his administration that would turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to violations of the law in favor of those who would seek to pervert and exploit any notion of justice.

In my opinion, he has proven himself to be the most amoral person to have ever taken the Oath of Office. He is a person without conviction and character. The nation has only begun to pay the price for his avariciousness and servitude to all the forces that seek to destroy all that we are and seek to be. I am convinced that everything he does, ostensibly for the welfare of the many is, in reality, simply a part of his agenda for furthering the goal of serving the seats of power, privilege and affluence that put and keep him in office. I am deeply remorseful for ever having supported him in his quest for the presidency.

All Barack Obama is and is not has been glaringly apparent to anyone with the slightest curiosity as to what makes him tick. He is as transparent as a window pane. I think the time is upon us for the so-called “Progressives,” to wipe the stars from their eyes and see this man for what he is. Isn’t it time to call him out on his blatant hypocrisy and stop blindly accepting him for what he professes to be? Deception is abhorrent, but self-deception is criminal. The results of the last election have not changed Obama one iota, nor will they. He is what he is; a shill for every vested interest that is the complete antithesis of civility and what this country is all about. He sold his soul a long time ago. He is locked into delivering on his commitment to power and money. We, in turn, are duty bound to do everything we can, within the framework of the law, to stop the juggernaut he is about to unleash on a fragile, but trusting and unsuspecting public. Time is no longer on the side of well-intentioned and reasoned minds.

I would like to think there is some hope to stem the tide of his agenda, but I am not at all optimistic that is likely to happen. My fear is that we are so complacent from our self-imposed ignorance, lethargy and the will to do anything meaningful to rectify it that it is almost hopeless to seriously entertain any such prospect.

Where is the lifeblood and energy of the Occupy Wall Street movement? Where is the determination and strength to support organized labor in its quest to rescue and restore health to an economy for those who want nothing more than to earn an honest living? Where are the environmentalists who want to save this planet for those who seek to reverse the plague and savagery of exploitation? Where are the seeds of a government that wants to see better days for all people, and that realizes the merits of regulation and oversight by a government that is elected to serve everyone and to advocate for all of us? Where is the will to fine tune our system of government so that it serves our common purpose and nurtures our finer angels?

It is not to be found in the halls of an entrenched government that serves only the interests of those who seek to destroy our common purpose, our will and the determination to be all that we were intended to be by those few brave men who created this nation?

a. Let’s begin by getting money out of politics.
b. Let’s insist on complete separation of powers, with honesty and transparency in every aspect of government.
c. Let’s return a balance to the power between the states and the federal government. Anything that has the appearance of being self-serving should be viewed with suspicion and, if necessary, ratified by a vote of the people before being enacted into law.
d. The two-party system is a ruse for the concentration of political power in the hands of a few in order to manipulate the many. That notion should be abolished in favor of allowing any legitimate party to actively seek the votes of the electorate, without any encumbrance or restrictions that do not apply equally to all other political parties.
e. A semi-autonomous bureau should be created that is accountable to an appropriate and impartial oversight body in order to ensure that all contracts, treaties and other binding agreements are free of any appearance of being self-serving and are deemed to be in the best interests of the United States of America.
f. It should be required that all businesses engaged in news reporting, analysis and other means of informing the electorate are totally independent and free of any relationship, whatsoever, that would compromise its complete independence and autonomy from any other business enterprise.

I have advocated before that it is time for us to consider an autonomous convention of independent experts in all aspects of government and constitutional law, free of any affiliation other than to academia, to conduct an audit of our government and how it addresses its obligations to be of service to those who elect them to office. The results of their study and any attendant recommendations should be published for distribution and appropriate action by the people who vote and elect public servants to office. From my perspective, there is far too much secrecy, conflicts of interest and collusion by elected officials and public servants, and those whose interests may be contrary to the welfare of the nation.

I can only scratch the surface. God knows, this nation is awash with some of the best brains in the world that would dwarf anything I might have to say. However, I would hazard a guess that the lion’s share of those minds would welcome the opportunity to take this task head-on and demonstrate their collective ability to make what we euphemistically call “government” one hell of a lot better than it is!

What, I ask you, do we have to lose? A dose of healthy introspection might just be what the doctor ordered. At the end of the day, the hallmark of this country must always be “Freedom, with liberty and justice for all.” Surely, it is time to permanently retire the misconception that this country exists to ensure that “those who have the most always get the most, and the rest of us suck the hindmost.” If we don’t do it for ourselves, you can bet your sweet “bippy” that the cesspool of humanity ensconced in Washington, on Wall Street and the suburban environs in Virginia that hold this nation hostage sure as hell won’t do it for us.

Keep hope alive.

Cowboy Bob
The Sagebrush Philosopher
December 19, 2012

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"A Sprig of Rosemary"

You probably wouldn't know it by the way I write when I am on my high horse over something that has really rankled me, but I am basically a sentimental softy.  What causes my rancor to turn to mush are the words of an accomplished master in the use of the English language. 

Charles McCabe was a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle when I was a student at UC Berkeley in the 1960's.  I rarely missed savoring his daily columns.  He played on a panoply of thoughts and feelings within me.  Although emotionally fragile after I finished, I always felt better about my own humanity when I did.  He was one of a kind. 

He died in 1983 in San Francisco.  In his memory, the restaurant he frequented every day reserved his table for one full year, dutifully adorned with a martini and a single red rose.  A fitting tribute to an honest man whose emotions ran deep but which he openly and freely shared with his devotees. 

A Sprig of Rosemary
Charles McCabe
The Fearless Spectator


How would you like to be remembered? Or is the thought really too awful to think? Is saying good-by to life one of those things that strikes you with terror, as the word cancer affects some people?

When the time comes for me to say good-by (and I would have it delayed as long as possible, thank you) I should like to be able to summon the grace of that civilized Englishman, Horace Walpole. “I shall be quite content,” he said, “with a sprig of rosemary thrown after me, when the parson commits my dust to dust.”

I am perfectly willing to be remembered for what I am, which means what I think I am. That is not all as admirable as you might think if you do not know me well. My value, in the end, is no greater than any other collection of flesh and blood below the earth or on it.

One of the nice things about living, though, is that you can savor, in memory, the vanished presence of those you have loved or liked. While it is no longer fashionable to memorialize the dead with rosemary, as it was in Shakespeare and Walpole’s day, one can still throw a sprig of the stuff in the direction of those who graced life while we were around.

I think of a special girl who is buried in Golder’s Green, on the far side of London. She was perhaps the most beautiful woman I ever met -- coal black and snow white, of hair and skin. For a while we meant everything to each other, which means there were no words we did not say to each other, from the ugliest to the loveliest, and no things we did not do to each other, in that spectrum of action which we command.

We parted with the bitterness of those who know they have failed, failed in that marvelous adventure which can be the discovery of a soul.

Yet the memory of that girl, when she was alive and now that she has gone, was never bitter. When she was away from me I could do what was not possible for me when we were together: I could accept her for herself. What she was, was too much for me to handle when she was mine. She was too beautiful, and loved by too many men, and too various and bright in her spirits to belong to anyone, even herself.

I did not know the beauty of her spirit, or what it meant to me, until we were parted. Then I knew, and it hurt like hell for a long time. The fire finally burned out. It became beautiful.

I think of her today, and often, with a delight which is tinged with sadness, which is I suppose the appropriate combination of feelings for those we have loved. I can hardly remember a word she said, though she said many witty and memorable things, but the vivid dancing of her face comes to me as strongly as the colors of the garden I am now looking at.

She would never know that she would give me this richness, in a place so far away and a time so remote. She could not know, when I said I loved her, how the words would become tinged with truth as the years passed by. The blessing she dispensed may have been, to her, as casual as the affection she bestowed on a horse. These things we can never know.

I do not believe I will ever be remembered the way I remember this half-Irish, half-Spanish elf. It was her quality to bring out, in one particular man, from time to time, the best part of his nature. That a life can do this is surely a quite beautiful thing.

If one had the faith that one had touched another in this way, at any time, that surely would be an affirmation of the value of life. As I said, one can never know about these things. One can only guess. But it can be a lovely guess. Rosemary is for remembrance, and for constancy. Today would be that girl’s birthday.

Charles McCabe
Tall Girls are Grateful
Chronicle Books, 1973
54 Mint Street
San Francisco, California 94103

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

"Blowin' Smoke"

I don’t know about most folks but I, for one, am tired of being patronized and schmoozed by every brand of those who claim to be a part of the “1%” or privileged class that seems to believe they have what is equivalent to the divine right of kings, in the pursuit of every conceivable kind of avarice and greed known to mankind. I am tired of the never-ending effort to keep us in the dark while feeding us bull crap. There is a time when everything points to the fact that we are being “had,” big time. That time is upon us and it is time to stop the merry-go-round and get off. It is time for a reality check and to place the whole spectrum of deception into proper perspective.

I simply no longer accept as credible all of the rhetoric that is handed to us as truth and reality by the opinion makers in Washington, New York and Hollywood. I am no longer enamored by the products of Silicone Valley and the sanctity of Wall Street. I am no longer willing to grant special privileges to those who simply take those dispensations and rip us off, then tell us to shove the leftovers where the sun don’t shine. They are all a bunch of con artists and whores of one ilk or another, constantly on the look out for one of our many vulnerabilities so they can jump at the chance to exploit the human condition yet again. By their behavior, you would think they regard the rest of us as a bunch of fools and blithering idiots and, sadly, we certainly give them reason to believe as much.

We all dutifully fall into line when patriotism is called for. We salute the flag and get all teary-eyed when the brass bands play. But, what are we saluting? A grand illusion that causes us to believe what they (the power structure) want us to believe. Contrary to popular belief, we simply don’t have one system of government. We have one political party with two branches. Both serve the same masters of wealth and privilege. But it is done with a different slant every two, four and six years. Other political parties have, for all intents and purposes, been marginalized from actively participating in the political process. I would say that looks a lot like a carefully crafted and closed system that benefits a few at the expense of a great many.

Every aspect of our lives is controlled by a whole host of corrupt political, judicial, financial, military and intelligence agencies that scratch each other’s backs to the collective detriment of the taxpayers. Every election requires that we dutifully play the role of “voters” so they can lay legitimate claim to their favored and coveted positions in the plunder of this country and, indeed, the world. They are the power elite who own and control every aspect of our lives. They are the oligarchs, the corporate capitalists, and the corporate news media. They are the consummate seducers who keep us totally oblivious to the reality that is swirling around our heads as they brutally assault every right and guarantee that we, as citizens, believe to be ours. Social safety nets become their next opportunity for material gain at (you got it) the expense of the common people.

Like a band of sheep being led to the slaughter, we look the other way and believe what we want to believe, while the planet is systematically destroyed through avariciousness the likes of which the world has never seen. We, the people, are a pathetic lot, allowing every conceivable kind of exploitation and destruction of all that rightfully belongs to us, so long as our appetites are satiated by what they, the establishment, has convinced us is what we really want, not what we need, all in our best interests.

We are so burdened with military hardware floating on the oceans of the world and flying in the skies above us that we will probably soon need a new government agency just to police the congestion caused by the sheer volume of traffic in order to prevent oceanic or stratospheric collisions. Of all that armament, ostensibly developed and purchased in order to protect our “national interests,” I rather suspect that very little is or will ever be pressed into any form of bona fide military service. But, it certainly makes legions of defense contractors, and senior military and procurement officers handsomely rich come retirement day, all at the expense of the American taxpayers. If they aren’t the closest thing we have to royalty, I don’t know what is. And, we dutifully pay the expected measure of proper homage to them.

Compare the attention and resources devoted to Wall Street, Corporate America, Defense, Intelligence and the myriad perks they have accorded themselves or have bought with bribes to their collaborators in order to make it all happen. What is happening to teachers, fire fighters, law enforcement officers and the nation’s infrastructure is the reality with which we live, day to day. It gives new meaning to terms of what is deemed essential and what is discretionary. All the while, the thieves go free from indictments and prosecution, while dedicated public servants hit the bricks and wonder where the next meal is coming from. Where is the justice in all this? Passive entertainment is in; reasoned intellect and deliberative and critical thought are passé.

The current popular jargon used to refer to our perceived financial crisis is “falling off the cliff.” Do we actually believe there is a debt crisis in this country without giving the slightest bit of attention to asking why and for whom? Do we actually believe social programs put in place for the common good are, somehow, to blame for all this or are we standing on the verge of simply acquiescing to that belief as the predators take more away from us, reduce services and increase our taxes for the privilege of doing so? Where is the simple logic in all this? Who gains and who loses? I rest my case.

While the victims of Hurricane Sandy huddle in the darkness of what is left of their homes and their communities, mindful of the fleeting rhetoric of our resident orator at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, and Colonel Sanders on steroids from New Jersey, the opulent splendor of Park Avenue is ablaze with lights illuminating the chick shops and the surrounding environs of wealth and privilege. Who is left to come to their aid? It is their friends, neighbors, families and a few well-intentioned and dedicated groups who give a damn, simply because they accept their efforts as the dues they pay for being a part of the human race. FEMA is a faint acronym from another world that has left them to fend and survive for themselves. Is this the America we want and the America we have a right to expect? I would hope not.

Tourists visit our nation’s capitol, mesmerized by the monuments erected to the power and privilege we revere, not so much for what they have done for us, but quite unconsciously for what they have done to us. Their lofty words not withstanding, more often than not all their professed noble intentions boil down to some form of pillage, plunder or seduction that makes us actually believe they give a damn. Or, do we accept it because we are afraid not to? Their ill-gotten wealth, privilege and raw power are ominous forces to contemplate.

Isn’t it time we got serious about the reality of our lives? Climate change and global warming are real. They are the biggest threat to our very existence and all of the “things” we have come to covet. When the planet is barren, what is the value of all the money amassed by the oligarchs, the politicians, the financiers, the producers of fossil fuels and all the other destructive forces that have been unleashed on us? The “point of no return” is upon us. If we don’t stop kidding ourselves, it will be too late. When we reach that point, I would ask you, “Who benefits?” All of the goodness, decency and creative energy of the common man goes down with the most vile and despicable specimens of humanity among us. At that point, there are no winners.

We simply must clean up government. We must get money out of politics. We must insist our elected officials stand on their own, focus on the people who elected them to office, and stop being mesmerized and beholden to big money and the influence of all the branches of government that operate in the shadows and in secrecy, and routinely practice the art and science of “conflicts of interest,” all accruing to the detriment of the people. It is not a healthy arrangement for anyone and it is toxic for all of us.

We must insist on a return to a completely free and unfettered press that will serve the citizens of the country and acts as our watchdogs on all the centers of political, social and financial power that may have the potential to harm the very foundations of our democracy. As the old sage from Missouri once said, “Don’t tell me; show me.”

There is an old bit of Wyoming folk wisdom that says, “Someone is blowing smoke up our ass.” That pretty well sums it all up from my perspective. I would, in turn, ask you, “How much longer are we going to tolerate this as standard bill of fare from our elected and appointed leadership before we say, “Enough is enough!” We want our country back and we want the urgent action necessary in order to save this planet and our very lives before it is too late.

Greed and avarice may be powerful influences, but they are not moral, honorable or humanely decent. I, for one, don’t believe one damned word they say, one damned promise they make, nor do I have a modicum of trust and confidence in anything they advocate being “in our best interest.” Their total and complete lack of character tells me otherwise.

Cowboy Bob
The Sagebrush Philosopher
December 5, 2012