A Rock and A Hard Place

At heart, I seem to be a Socialist.  If hearing this sets off alarm bells, please bear with me.  I define “Socialism” as “Free Enterprise with a Conscience.”

Conservatives say Liberal social programs kill individual initiative.  I agree.  Arguably, to survive too many lower middleclass and poor Americans depend on unemployment checks, subsidized housing, Social Security, food stamps, and other government programs.  Farther down the income scale this is more apparent. 

At the same time, buried in arcane legalese and regulations a host of schemes and grafts exclusively benefit the rich.  Precious few of us know of the handouts thousand-dollar-and-hour lawyers, shrewd MBA’s, lobbyists, and legislators have crafted to ensure that the fortunate five percent do very well indeed!  Tax breaks and loopholes allow millionaires, billionaires, and billion-dollar corporations to minimize and dodge taxes, leaving an overstressed middle class to pick up the tab. 

An unarticulated corollary to the Conservative view is the poor need various forms of government welfare because they are innately stupid and lazy.  As I see it, the money we “earn” and have is decisively determined by where we draw that first breath!

As a kid, I sometimes felt overworked and underappreciated.  Today, I see how incredibly lucky I was!  I was born to hardworking people in a hardworking culture; I learned to work!  Born in East L.A., Southside Chicago, as one of 50% unemployed on our 326 Indian Reservations, physically or mentally handicapped, who would I be today?  Food stamps, subsidized housing, on the street, in a gang, prison, dead?  

In my meager understanding, Socialism encourages Free Enterprise while looking after those who, mostly through no fault of their own, cannot “earn” their way in the marketplace.

Under Capitalism financial profits must always prevail.  Caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place, corporations maximize profits while appearing to serve their consumer’s and society’s “general welfare.”  Those who doubt this, don’t understand Capitalism, don’t believe in Capitalism, or lie.

Of uncounted examples of Capitalism putting profit over people, two: First, Big Tobacco’s putting profit above public health, at enormous social costs is open and notorious.  From “42 Facts About How Smoking Effects Your Health,” a couple: Smoking is America’s leading cause of preventable death, disease, and disability.  Smoking costs America $300 billion a year for medical care and lost productivity.  And 40 more.  Questions?

Second: Before a Senate subcommittee, former Facebook data scientist and whistleblower Frances Haugen cited internal company documents revealing, among other facts, Facebook curries young users despite knowing of detrimental impacts their health, sows division and undermines democracy in pursuit of “astronomical profits,” executives misstated and omitted key details about what was known regarding Facebooks and Instagram’s ability to cause harm!   

The Grand Old Party

President Donald J. Trump’s January 6, 2021, assault on America’s Capitol, Congress, and Constitution exposes the level to which a Madman will stoop to become America’s first Emperor!  I’m bewildered that, reportedly, the former president still maintains ironfisted control over the Republican party.  Ominous as this may seem for Honest Abe’s Grand Old Party, indeed America, all is not lost.

In runup to our recent Presidential bout, Conservatives George Conway, Rick Wilson, Steve Schmidt, Jennifer Horn, John Weaver, Ron Steslow, Reed Galen, and Mike Madrid’s “Lincoln Project” took “Trumpism” to task.

After the  2019 bell, like a punch-drunk pugilist, the GOP staggered to its corner to clear its head and hear from trainers and coaches.  Of course, there are Republicans Heavyweights who fight fair, no low blows, no trash talk, no attempts to bribe the referee and judges.  Sane folks who are stepping forward to rescue their party and America from Trump’s Totalitarian Fantasy!

In his first impeachment trial, Senators Mitt Romney and Susan Collins voted to convict.  Less than a year later, Republicans Bill Cassady, Richard Burr, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, Pat Toomey followed suit.  In 2021 Republican Representatives David Valadao, Adam Kitzinger, Peter Meijer, Fred Upton, John Katko, Anthony Gonzales, Tom Rice, Jamie Herrera Butler, Dan Newhouse, Liz Chaney voted to impeach.

Representative Liz Chaney’s castigation of Trump’s January 6 insurrection, vote to impeach, and scorn for Trump’s “stolen election,” led minority leader Kevin McCarthy and other House Republicans to boot Liz from their leadership.  Nut-case death threats forced Chaney to spend $58,000 on private security.

Speaking out against Trump’s claims of a “rigged election” and “voter fraud,” Illinois Representative Adam Kitzinger was the first Republican to call for the President’s removal from office.

Advise from a Democrat: In 2024 Republicans should forget 2012 and rally behind Mitt Romney!  After four years of insanity and embarrassment under a sociopathic, Malignant Narcist, Mr. Clean would go far toward resurrecting the GOP’s longstanding commitment to ethics, morals, and decency.   

We need sane Democrats and Republicans.  Unchecked, Liberals would mortgage the Farm to rescue down-and-out Neighbors.  Unchecked, Conservatives would mortgage the Farm, to build hundred-room mansions and Five Star, Luxury Resorts for them and their Gazillionaire Buddies!

Conservatives look after humankind’s survival instinct.  Liberals remind us of our reasons to survive: Relationship and Love.

Sourdough Autumn

He dipped the two-gallon bucket into the spring and set it on the bank.  With both hands, he grasped a spruce limb to force protesting back and knees erect.  He paused to survey the twenty yards to the top of the bank.  Three times he set the bucket beside the trail to draw deep breaths.

A dozen paces from the bank’s crest, the sod-roofed log cabin nested in white-barked birch.  From up-pointing tips of caribou antler nailed to the frame, a two-by-five-foot door hung from buckskin hinges.  A sixteen-inch, four panel window let light inside.  Beside the door, rip-sawed from a fourteen-inch diameter birch, a three-foot long bench rested on wooden legs.

He set the bucket on the packed earth, dropped the sweat-stained, brown, felt hat on the bench, pulled a blue bandanna from a rear pocket, and sat.  He mopped the mat of white hair, broad forehead, ominously kinked nose, leathery cheeks, and full beard.  Laying the bandanna aside, he reached for a tin cup on a nail beside the window.  In long gulps he drained two cups from the bucket and returned the cup to its nail.

From a pocket of a dun Felson jacket hung beside the window, he retrieved the stub of a pipe and red tin of Prince Albert.  He scraped the bowl with a twig, tapped it against the bench, and blew through the stem.  He packed tobacco with a forefinger, struck a wooden match against the bench, let the sulfur burn off, drew short puffs, and watched the tobacco glow.     

At under six feet tall, after decades of wicked Alaskan winters and torturous summers scant evidence remained of shoulders and arms which, day after day, had driven a single-jack against the butt of a star-drill in a quartz vein.  Now, forearms and biceps hung like empty leather pouches. 

There had been fishing, hunting, some trapping, but always it was only about getting the gold!  On Upper Willow Creek pea- and a hen’s-egg-size nuggets nested in a pan of glittering “fines.”  On the Little Su a coffee can filled with coarse gold and one palm-size nugget!

Winters were one of twelve, $10-a-night steel cots, mattress, sheet–$11 for a laundered sheet—blanket, and pillow, in a twenty by thirty-foot room at  the Palace Hotel.

By spring Anchorage’s Montana Club, High-Hat, D and D, and The Outpost, Seven Card Stud, cheap likker, slow-eyed women, and shifty characters, left barely enough cash for a handful of caribou jerky, flour, coffee, salt, and bag of beans. Fish, rabbit, ptarmigan, with luck a caribou, would feed him through the summer. 

Each fall, after cashing in his bullion, he stuffed an Alaska Railroad roundtrip ticket to Fairbanks in the empty pouch at the bottom of his pack.  When “breakup” ice clogged Cook Inlet, in Robert Service’s words, “skinned to a finish,” 30-30 slung over his shoulder, pack on his back, he boarded a rail coach north.   

Between Anchorage and Fairbanks the Alaska Railroad enjoys the distinction of a score of unscheduled stops where Dreamers and Madmen plunging into or escape from “The Bush.”  At one of these he got off to paw his way through Devil’s Club, Wild Rose, and alder to a rock overhang where, camouflaged under a 6 by 8 foot canvas tarp, his pick, shovel, pan, and bedroll lay cashed.  It was time to pan another lonesome stream and pick away at another craggy outcrop.   

From his hilltop perch, the old prospector surveyed a hundred miles of spruce, birch, alder, meadows, rivers, streams, lakes, and muskeg bogs.  On the hazy horizon, like a ragged igloo, the Koyukon people’s Deenaalee, “high one,” Chechako’s “Denali,” dominated a pristine sky.

On the polar route from Oslo, Delta Flight 243 drew a chalk line on the blue slate, ten thousand feet above the summit.

I Wonder?   

Who would be more content, more at peace, the world’s wealthiest man, Jeff Bezos, in a $10,000 personally designed office chair, looking over Manhattan from a 100th floor penthouse, or an anonymous, renunciation who, eighteen hours a day for two decades, sits cross-legged on the clay floor of a Nepalese cow shed?          

Putin’s Piece

Vladimir Putin‘s assault on America continues.  Despite Russia’s and America’s Presidents denials, our National Security Agencies have irrefutable proof Vlad meddles in our elections.  While cyber-attacks against our government, corporations, public institutions, and citizens clearly lead to Russia, tracking them to Putin‘s doorstep is  problematic.  Nonetheless, there is no doubt, apart from the most pedestrian events, anything occurs without the Kremlin Dictator’s blessing, if not instigation.

From 1975 to 1991 Vladimir Putin served as a foreign intelligence officer in the Committee for State Security (KGB), predecessor of today’s numerous state security, intelligence, and secret police agencies.  In 1991 he joined Boris Yeltsin’s administration.  From 2000 to 2008 Vlad was Russia’s President.  Barred from two terms, from 2008 to 2012 he chose to become Prime Minister.  In 2012 he was again elected President and seems determined to hold the office in perpetuity.

I cite the Russian Dictator’s bio to argue that today no one else is better positioned to understand and manipulate the Levers and Switches of Power within Russia and around the Globe.

This said, I offer an old man’s wild-eyed, factually unsubstantiated, hypothesis: Given Vladimir Putin’s limitless resources and Machiavellian instinct, the “Dark Web,” “Deep State Conspiracy,” and QAnon; lies about the effectiveness of masks and vaccines against COVID-19; acts of Proud Boys, Patriots Prayer, White Supremacists, and Neo-Nazi; Trump’s “stolen election”; and current Republican Party efforts to deny Americans’ voting rights may, at some super-clandestine level, have the Soviet Dictators fingerprints on them.

In this same vein, orchestrated and commanded by would-be Dictator Donald J. Trump, “Patriots” who wrap themselves in the flag and make a great show of preserving, protecting, and defending America’s Government are the very folks who attempted an armed overthrow of that Government. I have to wonder.

How to destroy your enemy without firing a shot?  Attack and kill him from within!

Think America!  I’m dead serious!

More On “What Happened?”

What happened to America?  What happened to our parents’ and grandparents’ America?  What happened our Founding Father’s America? 

Today burgeoning numbers of notions and actions, unimagined as little as a generation back, fly in the face of fundamental precepts of a country committed to “establish justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

A laundry list:  

  • Following a five-decade decline, in 2020 America’ nineteen-thousand firearm deaths eclipsed every year in history.  Ten-thousand gun-related deaths in the first eight months of 2021 exceeds 2020 by 24% and 2019 by 49%!
  • Proud Boys, Patriot Prayer, Neo-Nazis, and White Supremacists openly challenge America’s commitment to the equality of all persons regardless of religion, ethnic, national origin, gender, and sexual orientation
  • Until a quarter-century back, few Americans did not have shelter, however humble.  Today the tents, tarps, and packing crates of homeless Americans crowd sidewalks and hunker beside freeways.
  • Global Warming is tragically and scientifically obvious.  Assuring us the Earth, “will cool off” President Trump pulled America out of a Global Initiative to limit greenhouse gases.
  • Swallow QAnon’s and other wacko groups’ groundless, wholly unsubstantiated claims, perhaps a third of our citizens believe that some “Deep State” conspires to control America and the World.  By this logic, or lack thereof, I might argue that Donald Trump kisses up to Vladimir Putin because Vlad has video of Don ruffling the sheets with Soviet Sweeties.  Lacking evidence: witnesses, hookers’ depositions, the video, this is merely one man’s unsubstantiated hypothesis.
  • After two centuries of vaccination eliminating or controlling scores of diseases, tens-of-thousands refuse safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines in favor of horse medicine! 
  • As Jowl Street sets records and Corporations and Billionaires pay no taxes, an overstressed Middle Class picks up the tab.
  • January 6, 2021, President Donald J. Trump orchestrated and ordered a seditious attack on our Capitol, Congress, and Constitution.

In 1587 Sir Walter Raleigh founded the first English outpost at Roanoke Island on the eastern shore of what became North Carolina.  After three years, a supply vessel discovered the Roanoke Colony mysteriously, swallowed up by the Wilderness.  Three decades later, on today’s Cape Cod Bay, Puritan Separatists’ established the first permanent European foothold in the Western Hemisphere.  From the onset it was obvious that to survive in this New World individual’s needs and preferences must serve the “common good.” 

Over two-and-a-half centuries of conquering, exploiting, and colonizing, America’s survival depended on understanding that, while individuals and factions would disagree and even clash, we must pull together.  We each must be prepared to sacrifice, suffer, or die in service to the Common Good!

Maybe it’s nostalgia.  Maybe I’m just a crotchety old man, but my sense is, since around the turn of the century this vital precept of codependence has seriously eroded.  Previous generations passed to us a wonderous, prosperous country.  Today, more and more Americans feel no commitment for the  common good.  It’s “everyone for him- or herself.”  Some American take American’s privileges as an entitlement, a birthright, with no thought or obligation to contribute, even sacrifice and die for the Common Good. 

Thankfully the majority of Americans, right and left, are in there slugging it out, raising families, paying taxes, doing right for themselves and each other.  

Compounding COVID-19

Fulfilling mandates to ensure the “common good” and promote “the general Welfare,” America’s federal, state, and local governments formulate statutes which curtail or ban certain individual behaviors.  Some indict these jurisdictions with “taking away our freedom.”  The push and pull between group and personal rights energizes a major dynamic of governmental debate and policies.

The charge of curtailing or taking away personal freedom is valid.  Without a license I am not free to catch a fish or perform brain surgery.  Drivers and passengers are not free to wear or not to wear seatbelts.  Drivers are not free to ignore speed limits, traffic signs, and traffic lights.  Unlicensed pilots, lawyers, teachers, bus drivers, doctors, and dentists are not free to hazard “the general welfare.”  I am not free to take another’s property or life.  Americans are free to own and use firearms.  We see where that got us! 

We wrestle over our personal right to wear or not to wear a mask and to be vaccinated or not be vaccinated against COVID-19.  Research shows masks significantly limit aerial transmission of virus.  Ninety-five percent of those vaccinated against COVID-19 will not develop the disease, a handful will be hospitalized, a negligible number of these will die from the virus.  Today Americans unvaccinated against COVID-19 overwhelm ERs, ICUs and CCUs, drive doctors and nurses to Herculean efforts, and fill hospital beds, preempting treatment of less “urgent” but no less critical patients. 

Arguments against COVID-19 vaccination range from arguable to wacky.  Some believe the rush to develop vaccines leaves room for future negative consequences.  How long should we wait to be vaccinated?  One year, five, ten while, like a phalanx of combines on a Kansas wheat field, the pandemic mows us down?

On TV, a nurse said, “I’m careful what I put in my body.”  At the same time, based on hype and sketchy claims—Aunt Agnes’s neighbor cured her husband’s cancer with dandelion soup—many who scorn allopathic medicine lay down hundreds of dollars for untested, unproven diet “Supplements.”  What daily or weekly potions, does our nurse allow in her precious body?  How might parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents who, sacrificed, sucked it up, and died “for the common good,” view some Americans cavalier, self-centered sense of entitlement?

A last-ditch rationale—which it’s not—argues that some “Deep State Conspiracy” plots to control and manipulate Americans.  Proponents present no scrap of credible evidence: no document, witness, testimony, supporting their draconian hypothesis. Who, how, why?  Someone, please explain. 

Since Edward Jenner, immunization has eliminated from human life scourges of Smallpox, Tetanus, Measles, Influenza, Hepatitis A and B, Rubella, Hib, Whooping Cough, Polio, Pneumococcal Disease, Rotavirus, Mumps, Chickenpox, HPV, and Diphtheria.

Threequarters of a century back ol’ Doctor Easley would descend on Ferron Elementary School to stab a two-inch-long needle, the diameter of pencil lead—Maybe he wiped it with alcohol between stabs—into cowering, frightened, crying first- through sixth-graders’ arms.  For a week the refrain was, “You bumped my sore or arm!”

Replete vaccinations ensure the health of Armed Service personnel.  They carry immunization certificates.  At the Oakland Army terminal, waiting transport to Korea, a Cholera shot left me aching and fevered for a week.   A year later, processing to come stateside, within ten minutes medics jabbed me three times in each arm!     

I am disappointed and alarmed by a seemingly increasing number of wimps and whiners who scorn rigorous medical research and clinical trials of vaccines proved 95% safe and effective.  Accepting the future suffering of tens-of-millions and deaths of hundreds-of-thousands of American because a tragically misguided, whining minority denies irrefutable facts and asserts “individual rights” over “the common good” is indefensible.

Do the right thing.  Wear the damn mask!  Get the damn shot!