Monday, July 31, 2017

The Dalai Lama Offers Advice on Meditating Properly

When I was younger, my first real interest in any kind of religion or spiritual philosophy was with Buddhism.

Now, at the time, it was initially restricted to an academic interest but, perhaps inevitably, it grew to something far more.

In time, I began to buy and read books on Buddhism that did not just explore the subject matter in an academic manner, but revealed how to practice meditation.

In 1999, my family and I went to Central Park in New York City to see the Dalai Lama speak. Special guest movie star Richard Gere introduced the Dalai Lama, and there were traditional Tibetan monks doing that strange throat singing, all of them dressed in traditional Tibetan monk style, like you see in movies like "Kundun" and "Seven Years in Tibet." It was enjoyable to watch him speak, although still, that level of wisdom seemed to me still very foreign and inaccessible at the time. But I kept reading books and learning about it, and began to feel that perhaps I could begin to truly understand it, that it required effort to translate, if you will, an eastern philosophy or religion (whatever you want to classify it as) and implement it in my admittedly very western lifestyle. Little by little, it felt like I was getting better at it, grasping it more and more with each book read.

However, I was never very good at meditating, and so somewhere around 2004, I began to pursue some kind of Buddhist worship services or group meditation, or some kind of help, in any case, to help me do it right. And a bit to my surprise, such a group existed, and not too far away from me, on the campus of my then wife's former university, William Paterson.

It was interesting, and it felt strange to suddenly be part of a group which not only had the same kind of interest in Buddhism, but which also, by and large, had far more experience with it, and especially with meditation. Still, I never really did get good at meditation. Working two jobs, I found myself falling asleep from time to time, and more often, I struggled not to fall asleep. When this was not a problem, my mind still tended to wander, and it was difficult to reign it in and focus on what I was supposed to focus on.

So, while my interest in and knowledge of Buddhism flourished, my actual practical application of it in daily life remained largely absent. Sure, I had learned much about Buddhism, but was not actually using this knowledge in a manner that might prove helpful in a personal way. And this kind of defeated the point of learning about it. Admittedly, I am still not especially good at meditating, as it is still a work in progress. Trying to find the still waters when my mind sometimes feels like a rushing torrent is a skill that has admittedly eluded me to this point, and as embarrassing as this might be to admit, I cannot even remember the last time that I actually attempted to meditate.

Surely, I am not the only one with this problem. Others also must struggle with this meditation, which is viewed as the key to using Buddhism in a practical and intimate manner in one's everyday life. This must be especially true for us here in western society, no matter the country, because we have been conditioned from the beginning to be busy, busy, busy. In fact, it sometimes feels like we are to view it as a vice if we are not extremely busy at all times, and this has become very problematic, because the pace of our lives, far from loosening, has actually gotten even more hectic over the course of recent decades. As if so sure of the merits of these values, we are now imposing this spirit of being tremendously busy, to the point of being overbearing, onto our children. Many people of my generation and older feel that younger generations have to too easy, and are too lazy, with their video games and texting and such. However, paradoxically, we have imposed tight schedules on kids as a society. They have far more school work and homework than ever before, and more often than not, parents seem to load up a busy schedule for kids. In between all of that extra school work and other things, such as extracurricular activities after school (sometimes multiple activities) and other things outside of school (martial arts or piano lessons or being tutored for all of those standardized tests that kids are forced to take), it seems that kids are essentially being prepped for busy, busy adult lives. Frankly, it sometimes feels like kids are being robbed of their childhood in the process, and this seems like a crime to me.

But I digress. Indeed, we need to focus on trying to find that inner peace, which means separating ourselves to the extent possible from our busy, busy, busy lives whenever possible. And Buddhism offers a conduit with which to do that in mediation. Again, though, it is hard to do. It might look easy at first glance, when you see people folding both laps and simply sitting, seeming to do nothing. However, I assure you that they are doing a lot more than that, that they are trying to find some measure of inner peace, and this is the trick that has proven exceedingly difficult for me, admittedly.

The Dalai Lama recently gave some tips on how to meditate properly. Obviously, he is more than an authority figure on the subject, because he is likely the authority on meditation. And he understands how difficult it is for many of us, especially here in western societies, for the reasons stated above. So please, if you are interested in trying meditation, take a look at the article where the Dalai Lama gives his tips. I have included the link below, so that if you are like me and have struggled with meditation, this can perhaps help guide you, at least a little bit:

The Dalai Lama Reveals How to Practice Meditation Properly May 3, 2017:

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Anniversary of the End of "The Reign of Terror"

Sadly, I missed posting this particular blog entry on the date when it would have been far more fitting, but better late than never, n'est pas? 

A couple of days ago marked the anniversary of the end of the Jacobin "Reign of Terror" era of the French Revolution, when the main guy behind the Terror, Maximilien Robespierre, was himself sent to the guillotine. The events leading to his arrest and his being led to the guillotine shortly thereafter continue to be unclear, and will likely remain obscured in history. After all, there were no television cameras or recording devices back then, and Robespierre himself had limited access by the press to a lot of governmental proceedings like this. However, one thing for sure is that Robespierre himself was the final victim of the very "Reign of Terror" that most historians feel that he was most responsible for, being the leader of the "Committee of Public Safety" (Comité de salut public in French).

Kind of gives a new take on that expression "death by committee," now, does it not? Or maybe even that expression originated from the events of the French Revolution, although I cannot say for sure. 

Most of us know that the French Revolution was more or less largely defined by it's excesses, and that is of course especially true of the "Reign of Terror," when an estimated 16,000 plus Parisians were executed by the blade of the guillotine in the Place de la Révolution in Paris (which is now known as the Place de la Concorde). This, of course, included most of the most prominent figures of the Revolution, including, but certainly not limited to, Maximilien Robespierre, George Danton, Camille Desmoulins, Louis XVI, and Marie Antoinette. Even the inventor of the guillotine, physician Joseph-Ignace Guillotin, was himself sent to his creation to meet his end. Those were grim times indeed.

It should be noted here that the guillotine was originally designed as a humane way of sending people to their deaths, and emphasized equality. As surely anyone with a decent grasp of history knows, there were all sorts of grueling and horrifying methods of execution that had existed prior to the French Revolution. Between numerous nations, there were several methods of execution that had been used, including hanging (the most common in France prior to the Revolution), as well as some that automatically make people cringe, such as being sent to burn at the stake, or the use of the Iron Maiden in Britain. Even beheadings had been especially horrifying prior to the guillotine, which was designed to be efficient and, again, to remove as much pain as possible. It was quick and efficient, and often described as feeling like a cool breeze on the back of your neck, before instant death.

With the sheer numbers of citizens who were sent to the Place de la Révolution to be guillotined during "The Reign of Terror," it became clear to everyone that the revolution had spiraled out of control, and that the excesses were glaringly obvious. It was a tragedy, of course, and was the dark period that followed the bright focus earlier on liberating the French people from what had been brutal oppression at the hands of the Ancien Régime in the feudal system of absolute monarchy that had existed prior to the outbreak of the revolution. 

The thing is, the revolution was inevitable. Had it not happened in France specifically at the time that it did, it surely would have happened elsewhere at some point. France was, in retrospect, perhaps the most likely candidate, because of the nature of the Ancien Régime, and because of how much they had needed to borrow to fight wars overseas, particularly in the perennial chess match between Britain and France at the time. France had spent enormous sums of money during the Seven Years War (often known in North America as the French and Indian War) and, ironically, supporting the rebel cause during the American Revolution. Some of the ideas from the American Revolution helped inspire the French Revolution, although the debt that France incurred as a result of these conflicts forced the monarchy to dramatically raise taxes on the people, who were starving. Of course, anyone who has visited France and seen some of the elaborate palaces, Versailles being only the most famous and impressive of these, will at once understand that the Ancien Régime did not want to compromise any of their own luxuries in the process, so they felt that the third estate (the 97 percent of French people who were just trying to make it, and not at all living lives of luxury) could and should pay for it.

Indeed, it cannot be said with any certainty that Marie Antoinette, when told that the masses were starving, actually responded by saying the words, "Let them eat cake." However, there is no doubt that the nobility were largely indifferent to the sufferings of the masses, all while forcing them to pay heavy taxes in order that they themselves, members of the French nobility (and particularly the royal family, of course) should live in grand and opulent lifestyles. Louis XIV had desired the Versailles palace in order to impress foreign heads of state, and felt that only a place like that could reflect the full glory of the King of France. He seemed to feel it was a strategic necessity, although he also invited thousands of members of the French nobility to live there, ultimately so that they could be controlled and kept under watchful eyes. As for the masses, very few of them ever got to enjoy the benefits of such places and, in any case, those who got the chance only did so rarely. Versailles might be an attractive tourist destination these days, but it should be remembered that this was the king's royal estate - one of many - and was not really open to the public at the time.  

So yes, when the royal family who supposedly were divinely chosen to rule over France seemed so indifferent to the suffering of the vast majority of the French people, which they themselves of course created, then it was time for a change. Indeed, the Revolution became bloody and has even come to be defined by it's excesses, as well as how it all ended with a tyrant like Napoleon taking over. However, it should also be remembered that the French Revolution happened because the French kings had for so long ignored the plight of their own people, and just kept adding to their burdens. Also, Napoleon was seen as a tyrant who tried to take over Europe, but let us not forget that it was those other European nations, all still ruled by monarchies themselves, who waged war on revolutionary France, trying to forcibly suppress it from the outside. Napoleon was a brilliant general and military strategist who simply allowed France to enjoy some remarkable successes on the battlefield, and like other opportunists at the time, he simply used his growing status to eventually grab power, quite literally (he grabbed the crown from the Pope). 

All of this I say not to condone the excesses of the French Revolution, such as the "Reign of Terror," but rather as a reminder that it seems that sometimes, people criticize the French Revolution without really seeming to understand the brutality of what had been in it's place beforehand, and the necessity of getting rid of the  Ancien Régime. It most certainly was not sustainable, and needed to go. And, in point of fact, it did go. Perhaps we do not like to think of the image of a literal killing machine prominently displayed in a square of a capital city for public executions of high profile figures. However, the French Revolution ended absolute monarchy. Even when the Bourbon dynasty was restored after the Napoleonic wars, the fact of the matter was that the French people had had enough of it, and when kings tried to grab too much power, the people took it away from them. There were subsequent revolutions in France throughout the 19th century, in 1830, in 1848, and again in 1870-71. Ultimately, the monarchy of France was abolished. And yes, I personally think that this was a good and necessary thing.

We right do well to remember all of this in our own age, when corporations and the very wealthy elites also seem intent on grabbing as much power and money as possible, of hording and then hiding these staggering fortunes in offshore accounts. I cannot say with absolute certainty how or when some kind of uprising will occur, or whether it will shake the world like the French Revolution did. However, that the current system is unsustainable, there is no doubt. Much like the Ancien Régime, elites today simply have gone too far, and lost sight of any sense of limitations.

In any case, I meant to publish this a couple of days ago, but admittedly got a little too busy with things to actually do so. However, I added some movies, all from Youtube, that you can watch, all about the French Revolution.

The one which I am most familiar is "Danton." It is an excellent film about specifically the "Reign of Terror." I have seen it several times in my life now. The first time was either as a kid, or at most, as a teenager, when my understanding of the events was limited at best. The next time was at Rutgers University for a course that focused on the French Revolution, specifically. And now, I just finished watching it again earlier today (one of the reasons that I did not publish this earlier, because I wanted to watch it as a reminder of what happened, because life can sometimes make you forget such things).

I think this film really captures the essence of what it must have been like, and what happened. You can see the power struggles, the very informal and impersonal way that Robespierre calls others "citoyen" (the precursor to the infamous term "comrades" used by the Bolsheviks). There are moments of dark humor, such as when the imprisoned Camille Desmoulins rejects the opportunity to visit with Robespierre, who has come to prison to visit with him, and possibly give him a chance to get out of prison and the inevitable death sentence that comes with it. The response ("Tell him Camille is not home") is morbidly funny. Also, Danton's meeting with Robespierre offers both insight and humor, with Danton condemning Robespierre and strongly suggesting that he does not represent the French people, that Robespierre wants everyone to be like heroes in novels, that he has an unreal quality and is overly powdered and impersonal.

It is a very good, albeit dark and depressing, movie. But if you want to kind of get behind the scenes for the darkest chapter of the French Revolution, it is strongly recommended. The other videos I added also, because they should provide some strong background about the French Revolution and what led up to it, and how it began to spiral out of control. I cannot say that I have seen all of them, although in time, I intend to. However, they were added here in case you, the reader and potential viewer, are interested enough to pursue further exploration on this topic.


Saturday, July 29, 2017

Philosopher Daniel Dennett Discusses American Politics & the Strange State of Our World Today

Recently, American philosopher Daniel Dennett shared his thoughts on the world right now, a world where Donald Trump is president, where facts hardly seem to matter at all, and where rapid changes threaten to alter everything that we know and take for granted about ourselves and about our world.

The article is an interesting read, and you can find the link down below. Dennett delves into his thoughts and impressions on which way the world is going, and his insights might surprise and/or enlighten you, or at least get you to think about some things from a very different angle than you might have otherwise done.

Frankly, with times as crazy and just plain weird as the ones in which we currently live, sometimes it is necessary to step back and try and examine it from a different perspective, and in this case, we get a glimpse of what a philosopher thinks of what is going on in the world now.

The paradox of these times that we live in, this era of the Trump presidency, is quite striking, when you think about it.

On the one hand, things have gotten so ridiculous, with new scandals every single day, with a classless and intellectually and morally bankrupt man at the helm (although he sure s rich, and seemingly getting richer from the office that he is currently holding, is he not?) pushing the envelope literally on a daily basis, so that most of us are kind of suffering from an exhaustion of outrage. Frankly, he could not have designed it any better. We who stand opposed to him already feel exhausted in trying to keep up with all of his many trespasses, that it winds up that we have to pick the most important battles to us. 

All of this has felt like the ridiculous to the utterly absurd, with high school level drama exceeding that of most soap operas, and it is all coming from the White House. We have had bad presidents in office before, but never such presidencies where there seems to be ridiculous major headlines coming out on a daily basis. President Trump bragging to anyone and everyone who will not or cannot run away, from the Australian Prime Minister to the Boy Scouts, about the size of his election victory (although he lost the popular vote by nearly three million). He tweets ridiculous and petty things at all hours, and even tweets undignified video clips from his brief flirtation with wrestling, something that most people, even many of his allies, feel is far, far beneath the dignity of the office that he holds and represents. Right from the start, the presidency seems to have been mired in controversy and staggering contradictions. Trump gives an address that sounds petty and insular, then he gives his address before Congress, and people are praising him for finally looking and sounding presidential. Then, he destroys that with some fresh new idiocies inside of 24 hours. He always said that he would make America stronger, yet the alliances that other countries are forming because they do not feel that they can trust the United States in the Trump era has only weakened the nation, and it's credibility is seriously compromised after his disastrous announcement of withdrawal from the Paris Accord and his participation in the G-20 summit. There are internal conflicts within this White House, as well, with Trump seeming to push Attorney General Sessions into resigning, and then a major shake up within the White House in seeing Anthony Scaramucci coming in. It is Scarmucci's job the clean the image of this White House up, yet he started with a profanity laced interview and immediately started pointing fingers, claiming he knew where all of the leaks (and there have indeed been many of them) within the White House were coming from. Like his boss, Scaramucci does not hesitate to air dirty laundry publicly, and he specifically aims at Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, who then resigns. Whether or not he was guilty of the leaks, it seems too early to say. 

Indeed, all of this has felt like the circus has come to town, except we keep having to listen to it and watch this on the evening news, or in screaming news headlines. Sometimes, it feels surreal. Other times, it feels like a mind-numbingly stupid and vain reality television show, which perhaps makes sense, since we have a mind-numbingly stupid and vain reality television star serving as president.

Yet, on the other hand, it has never felt more important to pay attention, and disgusting and depressing as the news coming out of Washington has been, particularly in the last six months and change now. Because behind all of this absurd, reality television style drama, there is a very real threat to democracy. If there is one thing that we can all agree Trump wants and is good at, it is grabbing more power. This conflicts in an obvious way with the constitutional limitations on his power. For example, the most recent questions about whether or not he can pardon himself and his family for any and all wrong doings is a very serious thing, even though on the surface, it sounds so ridiculous and absurd as to be a farce. These are now serious questions about just how much a president can get away with, because let's face it, if there ever has been a president who would outright be willing to pardon himself, it is Trump. What happens if he succeeds? What happens when he takes that as a green light for plenty of other trespasses, as history has shown he will? He has already disgraced the office of the presidency like no one else in history, but let us remember that he is only six months into a four year term. That means there is still plenty of time left for him to do still more damage. 

Trump and his team have also hinted at various different times, and in a myriad different ways and with varying degrees of subtlety, that a conflict in trying to grab more power might indeed be coming (and might seems such a weak word here, since it seems almost a certainty that they will indeed continue to push the envelope. After all, this is a man who just last week, declared that he was all in favor of allowing Obamacare to fail, which is a frightening thought, since that would mean millions of Americans suffering. Yet, he seemed all for that, in order to score a few more political points. We could sense that this would happen, since the healthcare failures have so far been the most notable of this White House's efforts to establish a legacy, and they clearly do not want to be defined by failures, since Trump promised that the country would just win, win, and win some more with him as president, to the point that we would grow sick and tired of winning. For someone who promised so much winning, he sure has been losing a lot since coming into office, hasn't he?

Yet, not everybody sees it this way, of course. In this day and age, where facts seem to really not matter so long as people seem to willing to question or simply ignore them, plenty of Trump supporters still believe that their man can do no wrong. Regardless of what he does or how he flounders, so long as he comes up with a remotely plausible excuse to his crowd (and his fallback has clearly been that any negatives or criticisms of him or his administration are automatically "fake news"), then they will continue to believe what they want to believe. And trust me, they want to believe him, and since he has risen from a famous billionaire to a reality television and fake wrestling star and all the way to the White House (what impressive credentials, eh?), his credibility in their eyes just keeps growing and growing.

Frankly, everything that Trump does gets a ton of media press. That might be normal now that he is president, but this was the case well before he was even close to the presidency. Also, it seems that every little peep and fart from the White House gets staggering levels of coverage, as well. It has reached a point where he is clearly the center of some sort of cult of personality, with some people who clearly love him no matter what, unconditionally, and with others who just as clearly cannot stand him, and where his every action and every word confirms their low opinion of him. But one way or the other, there is just no denying the unbelievable levels of essentially free press coverage this guy gets. And for all of his talk about how unfair and biased the media is, and how much "fake news" is out there, you get the impression that secretly, Trump loves the media, and would not be anywhere near as prominent a position without them, and that nobody knows this better than Trump himself.

Dennett suggests that Trump has essentially gotten a ton of what amounts of free press for quite some time now, and it is simply because he generates a ton of press coverage every time that he sneezes. Frankly, it might make you wonder a little bit, since he has such a mediocre and pedestrian mind, and hardly has thoughts that warrant serious exploring. Yet, millions of people love him and look up to him, and that has clearly serves to benefit the man. Dennett explains:

"I’ll give you an example: why do advertisements cost so much at the Super Bowl? Answer: it’s not just that millions of people are watching but that millions of people, hundreds of millions of people, know that hundreds of millions of people are watching. And that gives it additional credibility. And the web isn’t like that. But when you’ve got Trump tweeting to millions of people at a time, they know that he’s tweeting to millions at a time. He’s getting one of the advantages of this credibility effect without the disadvantages."

Dennett explains that the major problem with where we are politically is that somehow, facts have largely become irrelevant:

"The real danger that’s facing us is we’ve lost respect for truth and facts. People have discovered that it’s much easier to destroy reputations for credibility than it is to maintain them. It doesn’t matter how good your facts are, somebody else can spread the rumour that you’re fake news. We’re entering a period of epistemological murk and uncertainty that we’ve not experienced since the middle ages.

"Sometimes, views can have terrifying consequences that might actually come true. I think what the postmodernists did was truly evil. They are responsible for the intellectual fad that made it respectable to be cynical about truth and facts. You’d have people going around saying: “Well, you’re part of that crowd who still believe in facts.”

But Dennett does not merely talk about American politics today. He explores other things entirely separate from politics, and suggests that people have become a little too comfortable with not thinking about how things work, and just essentially taking it for granted that they always have worked before, and so it stands to reason (to them, or to us) that it always will work:

Serious comprehension of anything is very recent, only millennia old, not even a million years old. But we’re now on the verge of moving into the age of post-intelligent design and we don’t bother comprehending any more. That’s one of the most threatening thoughts to me. Because for better or for worse, I put comprehension as one of my highest ideals. I want to understand everything. I want people to understand things. I love understanding things. I love explaining things to myself and to others. We’ve always had plenty of people who, for good reason, said, “Oh, don’t bother explaining to me how the car engine works, I don’t care. I just push the ignition and off I go.” What happens when we take that attitude towards everything?  

Dennett also speaks about our overly easy and convenient reliance on things that we never bother even trying to understand, such as the internet:

"If the internet went down, and a lot of people say it’s just a matter of time, it will probably take the power grid down, cellphones, radio, television – we’ll be plunged into electronic darkness. We’re not used to that. If you thought 9/11 was scary, this is going to be a tremendous panic-inducer. We should be planning what to do about that."

It is a fascinating article that just might get you thinking about things that you might not have thought about before. To see the article in it's entirety for yourself, click on the link below:

Daniel Dennett: ‘I begrudge every hour I have to spend worrying about politics’Carole Cadwalladr @carolecadwalla Sunday 12 February 2017 04.00 EST

Friday, July 28, 2017

Latest Republican Attempts to Repeal Obamacare Fails

It started to feel like it was a cruel joke, these repeated attempts by Republican lawmakers to try and, once and for all, repeal Obamacare.

For years, they had been relentlessly talking about their determination to "repeal and replace" Obamacare. A few years ago, a Republican measure to repeal Obamacare had actually passed through both the House and the Senate, although that was when President Obama was still in the White House, and everyone knew that he was obviously unlikely to sign into law anything repealing his own signature accomplishment during his term of president. 

So that measure was more symbolic than anything else. It was the equivalent of a friendly game in soccer, which is to say one without any real stakes. Or a preseason game in one of the four major North American team sports, or perhaps a non-title fight, or in the old days of “professional” wrestling. In other words, Republicans were able to bask in the glow of a strictly symbolic victory, but everyone knew that the real test would come if and when Republicans got the White House and both chambers of Congress, the House of Representatives and the Senate.  

Well, they indeed got all of that after winning the 2016 election. And their biggest stated priority was to “repeal and replace” Obamacare. They had been talking about it for years, and were determined now to put their words into action. 

Except that as it turned out, they did not have a plan. For all of their talk over the course of years, the GOP never did actually come up with any kind of a plan to replace Obamacare. The House finally came up with one earlier this year, although it seemed a bit rushed. The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that some 24 million people would lose their healthcare if this bill passed, and it would make healthcare more expensive and less accessible to most, except for the rich, who benefited from this bill. It was defeated. 

In the meantime, Obamacare's popularity started to grow in the polls, until for the first time in what seemed like forever, a majority of Americans approved of it. This also coincided with strong disapproval of the Republican plans that would supposedly replace Obamacare. Republicans kept working at it, but this became the running theme. 

The House, under Majority Leader Paul Ryan, came up with another plan. This one, too, benefited the rich and hurt everyone else. According to the CBO, an estimated 23 million people would lose their health insurance. Still, the House passed the measure, although it seemed unlikely that the Senate would pass it as it then stood. However, that did not prevent Republicans from gathering on the White House lawn to publicly celebrate, even though this premature celebration was likened to a football team kicking a field goal in the first quarter of a game, and then celebrating wildly, like they had won a championship.

Next, the Senate tried to work a plan that it could force through. They did so in secret, not allowing any details of the plan to be leaked to the public, or even to fellow members of Congress, neither to Democrats nor even to fellow Republicans. They were warned about trying to rush through a deal, that many of their fellow lawmakers refused to vote on a bill that they did not have adequate time to review.  

In the end, they came up with a plan, although once again, this plan looked very flawed from the start. The CBO estimated that now 22 million Americans would lose their health insurance, including well over ten million by next year. Once again, the measure benefited the rich at the expense of everyone else, and healthcare would become more expensive especially for senior citizens. Also, polls showed that a vast majority of Americans disapproved of the bill. In fact, a mere 15 percent of Americans approved of it.

Nonetheless, Republicans tried to force it through. It did not matter to them that it did not have the approval of the American people that they supposedly represented. They had promised to “repeal and replace” Obamacare, and their conservative base promised that they would hold them to task for it. So, they went ahead with the vote. 

And lost. The measure went too far for some more moderate Republicans, but did not nearly go far enough towards repealing Obamacare for hardline conservative Republicans. It went down in flames. 

These were very public failures, which meant that they were costly. Republicans in Congress looked compromised in public, and so perhaps it should serve as no surprise that they would try and try and try again. President Trump urged GOP lawmakers to postpone or even cancel their vacation plans for the summer layover until they could in some way repeal Obamacare. In the meantime, Trump and other Republicans stated that they would allow Obamacare to fail, which was the first time in recent memory that prominent members of government seemed so willing to publicly be in favor of something that would hurt millions of Americans, such as the collapse of the current healthcare system. 

Republicans next tried simply repealing Obamacare, and finding a replacement for it later. This, of course, was not what they had promised to do, and it smacked of desperation. Still, they tried.

And failed. Narrowly, true. But even many GOP lawmakers were uncomfortable with the idea of simply repealing Obamacare without even a replacement plan in place. 

Still, Republicans would not be dissuaded, despite these mounting public failures. They went at it again. Last night, they attempted the so-called "skinny Obamacare" measure, where a long session would be held, and the vote would be cast, while lawmakers on either sides could propose as many amendments to the bill as they wanted.

And it, too, failed. 

Indeed, it did not fail by much. The final vote was 49-51, but that was enough for this latest effort to fall short, as well. 

Once again, the Republicans suffered a very public, and very humiliating, defeat.

The irony was that the deciding vote, for all intents and purposes, was from Senator John McCain of Arizona. The Senate delayed the vote for repeal of Obamacare just a couple of weeks ago, while McCain had to deal with a serious health concern. It turned out that McCain was diagnosed with brain cancer. They praised McCain publicly for his toughness, and proudly boasted of his character and integrity, and his unofficial status as a "maverick." Even President Trump, who had been critical of McCain while running for president, praised him now. Also, they needed his vote, which was not an outright vote to repeal Obamacare as it was to discuss it, and then move towards repealing it.

So they waited, they delayed the vote. It was ultimately defeated, and they kept trying. Now, it turns out the Senator McCain cast what was, for all intents and purposes, the deciding vote against this latest measure to repeal Obamacare. 

It all seems like too much. Their first plan was a disaster, and their second plan was hardly any better, minimizing the estimated number of people who would lose their health insurance from 24 million to 23 million. Even President Trump described this bill as "mean." The Senate GOP leaders who worked on the next incarnation of the GOP bill to repeal and ultimately replace Obamacare narrowed it to some 22 million. All of these failed, and the efforts then shifted to simply repealing Obamacare without a replacement plan, but this was too incomplete for many, and these efforts failed, too. Last night's defeat cemented the failure.

Now, we are left to wonder what will come next. Members of Congress are now going off to recess. They will of course be back, but for all intents and purposes, despite President Trump's urging Congress to stay in Washington until they can replace Obamacare, these efforts look dead in the water, at least for this summer. Will they try again when they come back? Perhaps. Probably, even. However, they once again face the same problem of not having a replacement plan, or at least not one that seems adequate. And surely, their repeated efforts - all of which have failed - have to compromise them on some level. Their conservative base surely is not happy, and obviously, the people who are opposed to repealing Obamacare are also not happy. And they failed, undeniably and repeatedly. These were very public failures, but they felt that they needed to try and repeal Obamacare, even as it turns out, if they had no replacement plan in place. Even when 85 percent of Americans stood opposed to their efforts to simply repeal Obamacare without any kind of replacement plan in place. 

Republicans have now tried and tried and tried again, but they have failed each time. When their votes actually succeeded to pass a measure to repeal Obamacare, it was when they knew full well that President Obama still sat in office, and would obviously veto that legislation, which of course meant that the stakes were not all that high, that it was just symbolic. Once it stopped being symbolic, and real people would be impacted and hurt, even Republican lawmakers hesitated, knowing that they might very well pay the price in future elections. 

All of this makes us wonder what will happen next, because it is unclear. The GOP clearly wants Obamacare repealed, and it seems likely that they will once again attempt to repeal it. However, without a serious plan to replace it that does not hurt tens of millions of Americans and so blatantly benefit the rich at the expense of the rest of us, can they actually do so? It seems that even the current incarnation of the GOP - not known for their moderation - have their limits. When you try and cram through something that only has 15 percent approval ratings, you are not simply doing something that benefits the nation or it's people, you are trying to impose a very unpopular measure on them, and this was something very intimate with most, because healthcare affects all Americans. 

The fact of the matter is that all of this underscores exactly how flawed the "for profit" healthcare system is in America. Yes, I have said this before, but it bears repeating: we are the only developed country in the world that fails to provide a universal, affordable healthcare system for it's people. Decades ago, there was another one, but that was South Africa during the days of white minority, apartheid rule, which does not speak highly of our then shared status with it. But since South Africa got rid of apartheid, it to implemented such a healthcare system as other developed nations has, which means that now, we really do stand alone. And here's the thing: not one of those other countries has moved towards repealing their healthcare system, which implies that it works. The people in those countries seem happy with their system, while here in America, it is hard to remember the last time that the healthcare debate was not a prominent and divisive political argument.  

Let us be clear, Obamacare did not resolve all of the country's problems with healthcare. What it did, or what it was, was essentially a move towards putting limits to the formerly limitless "for profit" system, but it certainly remains a "for profit" healthcare system. And it is because it is "for profits" that it continually fails us, because the focus is not on the health of the sick and the elderly, but rather on profits for major healthcare industry corporations, who literally profit from people's pain. Health insurance providers make more profits when they deny people with "pre-existing" conditions, and to bring that fully back would be insanity. And big pharmaceutical corporations make a killing here in the United States, charging whatever they want, because unlike in other countries, there are no price caps to keep these medicines affordable. 

So while Obamacare did not nearly go far enough for my tastes, personally, it was at least a step in the right direction. Republican efforts to "repeal and replace" Obamacare effectively take us backwards, dragging us right back to the days when profits were the only objective for the healthcare system, and taking care of people came in a distant second. While I am critical of Obamacare, replacing it with something that gets rid of all of the improvements and benefits of the system, while bringing back all of the worst excesses of what existed before, would be detrimental to the country and it's people. And again, a mere 15 percent of Americans approved of these Republican plans, which really speaks to just how miserable of a failure these plans were. I would be all in favor of tinkering Obamacare to improve it, as mainstream Democrats were suggesting, although ultimately, if we are to really cover everyone, we would need to get rid of Obamacare in favor of a single-payer healthcare system that covers everyone, as Senator Bernie Sanders has consistently advocated. Anything less will keep this bitter and divisive political argument going. I am glad to see that Republican efforts to bring back the old system, and all of it's failings, have failed. However, we cannot be naive enough to believe that they will not try and try again, which is all the more reason to now push for a major healthcare overhaul from another angle, and to finally bring the United States into the family of nations that embraces a fairer, single-payer healthcare system that will universally cover everyone, and keep costs down, as well. The trick will be to get lawmakers to go with it, because they are effectively spokespeople for major corporations, including the ones who profit from our "for profit" healthcare system. Until that happens, then the healthcare system in this country will always be on the verge of failing and/or collapsing, and sliding back to even worse healthcare systems in our past will continue to be a distinct possibility. And if recent history has shown anything, it is that tens of millions of Americans quite literally cannot afford these flirtations by the GOP to turn back the clock and bring back something that never should have come to be in the first place. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chester Bennington & Chris Cornell Were Indeed Very Close

As I mentioned last week following the death by suicide of former Linkin Park headman Chester Bennington, he and Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden, Temple of the Dog, and Audioslave) were unusually close, which makes it rather eerie that they both committed suicide by hanging, specifically, earlier this year.

Bennington sang at Cornell's funeral, and he also was the Godfather to Chris Cornell's son. So clearly, there were very close. He also sang a tribute to Cornell on the Jimmy Kimmel Live show the day after Cornell's suicide in May, telling the audience first:

"We were going to come out and play 'Heavy' first. In light of our dear friend Chris Cornell passing away, we decided to play our song, 'One More Light' ... We love you Chris."

After Bennington's suicide, Cornell's wife Vicky tweeted the sentiment that just when she thought her heart could not break more, this happened.

A spokesperson for the Cornell family issued this statement in the aftermath of Bennington's death by suicide:

“The Cornell family is overwhelmed by the heartbreaking news about Chester Bennington which tragically comes so soon after their family's own loss. They open up their loving arms to Chester’s family and share in the sorrow with all those who loved him."

It really is a tragedy. We have two of the most iconic singers of the hard rock scene - two very close friends, in fact - who committed suicide within a couple of months of one another. They brought intelligence and intensity to their music and their entire approach to life, and in these dark times, we sure could have used a little bit more of that kind of presence, and that approach to music and art in general.

Such a tragedy! RIP, Chris Cornell and Chad Bennington

All of the quotes used in this particular blog entry were taken from the following article by Michael Rothman of ABC News (see link below):

Chester Bennington and Chris Cornell: Inside the close bond they shared by Michael Rothman, Jul 21, 2017,

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

While Trump & American Supporters Continue to Contest Merits of Science, Britain and France Move Towards Eliminating Cars Run on Gas & Diesel

These are the kinds of stories that give me hope for the future. Earlier this month, France announced that it would set a target date to ban cars running on gas and diesel by the year 2040.

Now, Britain has just made similar news, announcing that it would also attempt to ban cars by 2040.

France and Britain have joined the growing network of nations that are taking serious steps towards eliminating one of the most important and persistent factors in the rise of carbon emissions that have contributed to greenhouse gases that warm the earth's atmosphere. By attempting to eliminate cars that run and gas and diesel, these countries are at least getting serious about taking ownership in their own role in coy and curtail this and combat climate change. 

Indeed, France and Britain joined the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, and India as nations which are trying to eliminate polluting cars, to take them off of their roads. As an American, this otherwise wonderful news also unfortunately underscores just how proposterous our own political position is currently under the Trump administration. Remember, Donald Trump stated his belief that he believes climate change is a hoax invented by the Chinese, and his announcement that he was withdrawing the United States from the Paris Accord was universally condemned. It seems that while other countries are taking a far more responsible stance with an eye toward building a more sustainable future, Americans are too busy trying to get the latest model of gas-guzzling SUV's or trying to add still more to their suped up gas-guzzling muscle cars or pick up trucks to notice that they seem to be alone in their disbelief of climate change. 

This underscores exactly how real the threat of climate change/global warming is. It also shows that other nations are at least attempting to address this growing crisis, instead of doing what tens of millions of Americans are currently engaged in, which is wasting their time, energy, and credibility on arguing if climate change actually exists and, even if some of these people have or will reluctantly concede that it does indeed exist, whether or not it has anything to do with human activity, and thus whether or not we should lift so much as a finger towards actually doing anything about it. 

Yet despite that earlier enthusiasm, these are also the kinds of stories that, as an American, make me feel ashamed and a bit desperate politically about my own country. It feels like the United States is destined to mire in it's own juices of excessive pride and a tendency to over-analyze everything, to the point that pseudo-intellectuals will explain all of this away, and that despite the sincerity of these clear attempts by other major western nations to take drastic measures in an effort to combat climate change, Americans politically will seemingly always scoff and laugh - the very things that Donald Trump (hate calling him President Trump, even though it's been official for over half a year now) stated that the world was doing towards Americans for signing the "unfair" Paris Accord - at the naivete of these nations who are showing serious sacrifice to address not just a serious issue, but a downright crisis.

At this point, it truly seems that the United States, the nation of my birth and most of my upbringing, as well as the nation of my residence, stands alone as the only nation remaining unconvinced and skeptical about climate change, despite the overwhelming evidence that the debate is over, that the threat is real and climate change most certainly exists, and furthermore, despite the enormous evidence suggesting a clear link between rising global temperatures and human activities.

This illustrates the main things that worry me about the future. Down the line, will we, our modern society collectively, make things so bad here on our only planet, that it will be rendered uninhabitable (at least for us)? But also, the more immediate and embarrassing problem, is if my country, the United States, is already a pariah nation standing alone, stuck in the political mud and believing in causes, and especially in a skepticism, blinded by a fog of our own making that allows us to view ourselves as entirely exempt from the consequences of our own actions, even as the rest of the world clearly long ago got past all of that, and is taking action.

When I was a kid, apartheid was the law of the land in South Africa. The 1980's was a decade when causes, and political activism in general, seemed dead. That had taken place in the 1960's and, to a lesser degree, the 1970's. But Americans felt burned out, and tired of causes. The only cause that seemed to elicit any response at all was the situation in South Africa, where an officially racist regime clung, due largely to indirect and unofficial support from some countries, especially the United States. While much of the rest of the world, and even Congress, advocated an economic boycott to try and force a change, President Reagan instead championed so-called "constructive engagement mostly predicated on mutually beneficial and self-serving economic ties that helped to allow the apartheid government in Pretoria to continue on. And so the situation in South Africa essentially dragged on, with clashes between black activists and police seemingly on a daily basis, with scenes and stories these days coming from South Africa not entirely unlike those of modern day Israel and the occupied territories, which reach our television or now laptop or cell phone screens during the nightly news, and which often dominate headlines.

At the time, I remember asking myself how Afrikaners could stand the embarrassment of being the last remaining nation with such a seemingly obvious stain upon them from the official endorsement of legalized racism. But F.W. DeKerk became president and quickly announced that apartheid as a system had failed, and that the country needed to seek a "new dispensation." Mandela was freed, and negotiations began to end apartheid and white minority ruled governance. It culminated with Mandela's election victory in 1994, and during inaugural address, he mentioned how no longer would South Africa be the skunk of the world.

As an American, I feared that my own country would replace South Africa as the skunk of the world in some ways. As an American, I feared my nation gravitating toward a pariah state as well, where the rest of the world would be shaking their heads, as entirely perplexed of our stubbornness and backwardness as we were back then of Afrikaners who dug in to battle any changes of the doomed apartheid system.

While comparing America's climate change stance to Afrikaner's stance on apartheid decades ago is like comparing apples to oranges, because the two simply are not the same thing, I would emphasize that the one thing that both have in similar is that they went against not only world opinion and conventional thinking, but also against the facts. Apartheid in South Africa could not last on a continent where only South Africa had a whites-only government, and where whites themselves were a mere fraction of the overall population. And climate change denial cannot survive in the United States when there are mountains of scientific evidence and data that strongly suggest that it is real, and that there are links to it and human activity. The fact that the United States most likely contributed more - and perhaps even far more - than any single other nation in the world is not insignificant. 

Frankly, I have tried to understand the other point of view in all of this. The people who argue against climate change sound so damn convinced with themselves and their own arguments, that it sometimes seems hard to dismiss them. You start to wonder if maybe they are right? 

But then, you start remembering certain things. Like how Exxon had scientific evidence clearly suggesting that climate change was real, and how they went to extraordinary lengths - some might suggest criminal lengths - to try and cover this up and keep it from public view. And then you remember how the Bush administration, not known to be especially environmentally friendly, admitted that climate change was indeed real, even though this reluctant acknowledgement was not followed with significant action. And then you remember that, not all that long ago, opponents of "environmental wackos" were often literally laughing at the very notion that the earth is warming, and some brilliant luminaries among them, such as Senator Inhofe, took (or mistook) the fact that their were still winters and cold, snowy days as evidence that global warming was utter and complete nonsense, never bothering to actually look at what the scientists were actually saying. 

No, global warming never meant that the world would just literally keep getting warmer and warmer every single day in every single place on earth. That would be patently and obviously ridiculous. What they did say was that, as a whole, the planet was warming, and this was indeed backed by evidence - tons of evidence, now. They argued that we would see things grow more extreme - that storms and droughts and summers and winters would all grow more extreme. Given the record hot temperatures in various places around the world, such as in Australia, the Mojave Desert, and the Arabian peninsula (all within the last couple of years), and the emergence of the "polar vortex" on most people's radars here in the United States, and the severity of numerous storms (including Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy) and record droughts as well as record floods, we most certainly have plenty of concrete evidence that people like Senator Inhofe should not ignore, always assuming that he is capable of looking up from all the money that he is raking in by denying climate change exists to bother noticing, of course. 

The arguments and attitudes employed by climate change skeptic have shifted, have changed over the course of the decades now. They went from active hostility and mockery of "environmental extremists" to mostly admitting, again grudgingly, that climate change perhaps does exist, but it is either not nearly as big of a deal as environmentalists claim, or not linked to human activity. In the meantime, what scientists have been warning about has not changed, but has gotten a bit more precise. 

Frankly, the time for arguing and debating is over. Climate change is real, and it has been caused by human activity. The fact that it became so obvious and unavoidable to notice coincided with the increased gases in our atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution really picked up steam (pardon the unintended pun) is not static. There is too much evidence that already exists to dismiss it, and we simply do not have time to wait until every last person, every last cynic, is convinced, or until absolute certainty is achieved, even among Trump and his supporters. There is too much at stake, and urgent action is required. 

We Americans stand alone as the only nation where the leader rejects the Paris Accord on account of his personal skepticism of climate change. But remember, Donald Trump is no scientist. He claims to be an expert on a lot of things, to know better than everyone else. Can we really afford to believe these lofty and baseless claims of his? How well did that work with his claim that he knew more about ISIS than the generals? Again, he cannot argue the actual science of it, because he is not qualified to do so. He has shown considerable ignorance in a lot of areas, but in very few is he as obviously all wet and exposed, weak, and vulnerable, as his claims that climate change is a hoax. 

Climate change is most certainly not a hoax. The rest of the world sees this, and as you can see, many countries are taking serious action to address it, at great cost to themselves. Literally, those minority of Americans still in denial stand alone in their self-serving denials and claims that the science is still too unclear. Yet, they speak for us politically, don't they? We as a nation consist of less than five percent of the world's total population, and 70 percent of Americans believe in climate change, and believe that we should take action on it. So why is it that the 30 percent who still deny climate change speak for the rest of us, and that this group - less than 2 percent of the world's population - should so boldly take on the rest of the world's logic on this key question, especially when these deniers essentially have not bothered changing their positions or arguments for decades now, even though new research and evidence have continued to come in?

Of course, you and I know the answer to that. The reason that their minds have not changed despite all of the evidence pouring in is that the corrupt money keeps pouring in, as well. Self-serving scientific research denying climate change is funded by big polluters, and is used to allow them to keep digging and digging for more fuel sources. But as we can see, much of the rest of the world is indeed moving on, eliminating gas and developing clean energy, while America keeps drilling for oil and trying to resurrect the dying coal industry. 

Mockery might be good for laughs at times, but it is not a serious political stance. How we got to the point where the adult equivalent of a school yard bully got elected to represent the most powerful nation in the world is really something we need to examine, especially since all he offers is mockery and bitter, petty little tweets aimed at anyone who dares disagree with him. All he offers in the way of debate about climate change is his mockery and dismissal of it. But mockery goes beyond that, and it is a huge problem, especially where climate change is concerned. When Senator Inhofe brings in a snowball to suggest that this is proof that global warming does not exist, it is mockery, and it is a problem, and thus not a real political stance. When Representative Boehner eats jelly beans on Earth Day, and claims to like eating the green ones especially, that is mockery, and it is a problem, and thus not a real political stance. When Governor Mitt Romney delivers his acceptance speech for the GOP nomination and claims he has no interest in trying to lower the levels of the oceans, it is mockery, and thus not a real political stance. Mockery is of course a form of cynicism, and cynicism has become a problem in the United States, and a huge one at that. And in few areas is it doing the level of damage that it is doing with our stance on climate change, and it is one of the main reasons why the gap in understanding and cooperation between Americans and the rest of the world is growing, rather than shrinking. 

The problem is not with the countries that are trying to do something. The problem is with the only country presently and actively trying to do nothing. No, worse. Not trying to do nothing, but trying to go backwards. Trying to collectively, politically plug it's ears and pretend that nothing has changed, that all is fine and dandy with the world, if we just keep doing what we have always done. Because the so-called golden years of the United States that everyone seems to keep wanting to return to also happened to be big polluting days, back when we were not nearly as aware of the damage that we were doing.

The thing is, the world has indeed changed, and we need to change along with it. To adapt, and grow wiser and stronger as a result. Change is painful, I know. But the rest of the world is doing it. So, why can't we?

These are the articles that I used in writing this entry:

Meet the 4 countries trying to ban gasoline cars by Nathan Taft, June 28, 2016:  

UK joins France in pledging to ban sale of non-electrified cars by 2040 by Viknesh Vijayenthiran, July 26, 2017:

Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars from 2040: minister Kylie MacLellan, JULY 26, 2017:

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

American Workers Seem to Have Forgotten Their Own Worth - and That's a Real Problem

This is one thing - one of the really big things, actually - that I feel is wrong with the United States today, and perhaps even the main reason, or at least one of the most obvious symptoms, of why and how the standard of living has declined so severely over the course of recent decades. 

Indeed, many Americans do not believe in their own value at the workplace, and seem to take an overly appreciative approach towards the companies that hire them, that they undervalue themselves and their own role in the process. 

Yes, since the early 1980's, wages began a steady decrease, as did benefits. And it seems that no matter how low they go - and they are starting to be quite low by now - there always seems to be quite a few Americans who champion policies and politicians who advocate making still further cuts in salaries and benefits. 

Much like with other issues, it seems obvious to me that other countries offer a better way. Yes, in numerous other developed economies, workers generally enjoy a much higher minimum wage, and much better benefits. Yes, by and large, workers in other nations tend to work less hours, less days, and receive far more bang for their buck, so to speak, than their counterparts here in the United States.

The result? Well, standards of living have increased in many European nations, while those in the United States have seen their decline.

Workers in other developed nations generally have far more vacation than Americans, and amazingly, many Americans do not even take the vacation time that they are entitled to out of a sense of guilt for taking any paid time off from work at all. But in Brazil, Sweden and Finland, they each enjoy at least 40 days of paid vacation and/or holidays, while workers in Britain, France, and Lithuania enjoy nearly that much. Workers in Austria, Germany, Denmark, Spain, Poland, Croatia, Slovenia, New Zealand, Tunisia and Italy all enjoy over 30 days. Workers in Australia and Ireland enjoy nearly 30 days.

Workers in numerous other developed nations enjoy other benefits, as well. Every other industrialized nation enjoys affordable, universal healthcare. For all intents and purposes, many describe it as "free healthcare." Of course, that is not true, it is not free. They pay much higher taxes. That said, consider this: not one single country that has such a healthcare system in place - and remember, every other industrialized nation with the exception of the United States has such a system in place - has made any serious moves to scrap their system in favor of the kind of "for profit" healthcare system that Americans seem to have to endure, and which always seems like such a contentious issue during each and every election cycle, and quite often even when it is not an election year, such as this one. In fact, Republicans in Congress will try to vote to repeal Obamacare later today, and they are arguing, essentially, that Americans should have the right to choose no healthcare coverage at all - as if anyone who could seriously afford it would want to be off healthcare. But Americans keep falling for it, and keep electing these clowns into office.

Nobody would describe healthcare in the United States as free, like they do in those other countries. In fact, Americans on average pay more - and far more, at that - than citizens of any other nation for their medical care. That means, also, that more of their generally lower wages goes towards taking care of their own healthcare.

Of course, there are other benefits that citizens in other nations enjoy, as well. They have cheaper childcare, paid maternity leave, generally have far better public transportation than what is available in the United States, and they have governments that take clean air and combating climate change far more seriously than we Americans do.

In other words, they get a whole lot more bang for the bucks that they make. And by and large, for that matter, the governments that the elect, for all their imperfections, actually work to try and improve the lives of their people far more than the Americans government works to try and improve the lives of their people, which brings me to another thing that I feel contributes to the declining standard of living for Americans: their excessive skepticism of their government. They focus so much on limiting government power, that they weaken it, while allowing major corporations, who are elected by no one and do not even pretend to have any interests other than fattening their own wallets, to get away with murder, and have their own power grow unchecked.

But that is another topic of conversation, for another day.

Suffice to say, I feel American workers are cheating themselves on many levels. They could have all of these things, these strong benefits, that countries in every other industrialized nation enjoy, and which could improve the quality of life here in the United States considerably.

Instead, the prevailing viewpoint seems to be that we should all be very thankful to our employers for even having a job, and that we should not impose on their generosity, because otherwise, they will let us go personally or, on a grander scheme, they will outsource those jobs out overseas, where labor is cheaper.

Perhaps, and I understand the logic of this reasoning. However, those who believe in this unquestioningly forget that many of these corporations who either outsource the jobs, or threaten to do so, got rich from American labor in the first place, and generally need access to American markets to make strong profits. I cannot say for sure what would be required to make something like this happen, but it seems to me that any company that moves a significant amount of jobs that could be done here overseas so that they can get cheaper labor to do it should automatically lose access to the American market. Again, most of these companies would not be where they are now if not for American workers, and they need to remember that the economy worked better when workers were treated fairly. That is why many countries where workers are doing far better than American workers seem to be enjoying relatively positive outlooks on the economy, while here, Americans are always stressed out, worried that their jobs are expendable and that they had better lay low and keep their noses close to the ground to do their jobs quietly and without complain, lest they be targeted the next time the company downsizes. On many levels, this just seems like a form of economic blackmail.

Obviously, this is one particular topic that I could probably go on and on about. In many respects, this is probably one of the areas where having a foreign background, and thus understanding other points of view, has been helpful in allowing me personally to understand that there are indeed other ways of seeing and doing things. It seems to me that, indeed, American workers just do not know their own strength and significance to this economy in myriad ways, much like American voters have gone way too far with their excessive skepticism of anything and everything to do with the government, necessarily equating every government program or proposal as automatically evil, all while giving "too big to fail" banks and corporations a free pass to continue to fleece the country like they have been doing for decades now. But in the interests of time, it is time for me to wrap this up and publish this already.

For now, if you are interested, please take a look at the couple of links to the articles below, which tell the story of how American s have fallen so far behind other countries in so many crucial areas:

Companies have forgotten how to pay workers fairly — and workers have forgotten what they deserve by Daniel Gross, Slate Jul. 15, 2017:

Monday, July 24, 2017

Donald Trump Jr Already Tired of These White House Years

Can you imagine this?

Donald Trump, Jr., the son of our overly privileged manchild president, born with a silver spoon up his ass just like his father, sounds a whole lot like he's whining right about now!

Get this: while still a high ranking member of the Trump campaign, he took a meeting with a Russian official who offered him some incriminating information on Hillary Clinton, apparently just wanting to help the Trump people out. Of course, Junior wants his father to be president, so he goes ahead with the meeting, and whether or not the information given was used or not, or even if it actually helped Trump win the White House. 

Frankly, we might never really know that.

What we do know is that he sounded very interested and enthusiastic to take the information from a foreign official, to help out his father's campaign, and later tried to hide all of this. Eventually, the story was being relentlessly pursued by the New York Times, and Junior decided to release those emails because of this pressure.

We do not know yet what will become of this story. We do not know if Junior will be punished in some fashion or other, or if other high ranking members of the Trump campaign might also be found to have incriminating evidence against them. We do not know how high this goes up (although the president's son is pretty high!), or if it will lead to anything. 

What we can surmise is that there was clear intent there, and enthusiastic intent, at that. Junior wanted that information, and took the meeting, against what would probably be most people's better judgment. Junior himself now wishes he had made better decisions, although you obviously cannot go back in time. He did what he did, and this whole story has compromised the credibility, and possibly even the legal standing, of the entire administration. 

Now, Junior is whining. He is tired of all of this, and just wants these four years of his father's term in office to be over and done with already!

Yeah, well, believe me, pal, plenty of people can relate to this. At least in terms of politics.

I do not want the next four years to necessarily rush by, but I will be glad to see Donald Trump gone from office, and indeed, I do very much hope that it will happen in January of 2021 at latest. But who knows? Perhaps he will be impeached first.

But since it seems that the Republican Congress is not interested in holding a GOP President to account, then we can likely look forward to three and a half more years of this kind of nonsense, if not longer! 

“[Trump] doesn’t like failure and mistakes, and he doesn’t accept them,” a source told People magazine.

Yeah? Well then maybe he will not even bother to run in 2020, because frankly, the whole Trump presidency has been one huuugge mistake! It is surely the darkest political moment in the recent history of the United States, to be sure.

Donald Trump Jr Just ‘Wants These Four Years to Be Over,’ Says People Cover Story  The Wrap Brian Flood The WrapJuly 19, 2017

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Roller Skating During It's Heyday

Ran into this article earlier, and thought it was a bit of fun to go back in time to when roller skating was far more hip thing, and when roller rinks were one of the coolest places that you could go to.

Indeed, as this article suggests, roller rinks had everything! It was a place to go rolling around in, skating, of course. But you almost always had some fun places to eat, music blaring (which is always a turn on for young people, of course), and you also often had some extras, such as a built in arcade. Remember when arcades themselves were a thing, before the home video game systems basically put them out of business? 

Well, in any case, this article was a bit of a throwback to a different time. Or, at least, it might help you to remember a different time, when it was still a bit easier to go out and have a good time, when there were more places for young people to go.

Roller rinks used to be all over the place, much like arcades and bowling alleys. All of these things seem to be going by the wayside these days, because the focus, again, has been so much on having these conveniences at home, that many people hardly go out at all anymore. Or, they go out to nightclubs that blast that really crappy techno music, which tends to grate on my nerves, personally, and which, speaking for myself, I can only take in very small doses. 

In any case, here is a link that allows you to reminisce about roller skating at it's height, if you are so inclined. Please take a look:

Roller Skating Was Crazy Awesome!, Uncategorized | July 12, 2017:

Saturday, July 22, 2017

Paul McCartney Handles Protests From the Westboro Baptist Church Brilliantly

If Paul McCartney did not show us all a way to deal with people who take themselves way too seriously, and who show absolutely no sense of humor at all, then I have no idea how best to deal with it at all.

We all know that this world has no shortage of extremists and lunatics in this world. Why, just earlier today, while driving, I saw someone in front of me driving a pickup, and sporting a "Extremely Rightwing" bumper sticker on.

Now, I know that extreme sports and extreme things in general seem to be having their moment in the sun of popularity in our culture lately, but it still amazes me that there are so many people like that, who take such obvious pride in their admittedly extreme political positions. It also seems to me that they are trying to make their presence felt, trying to make sure that everyone knows that they are there, almost as a form of intimidation. Which, of course, is what fascists tend to do. Because if there is anyone politically who champion taking things to an extreme, it would be fascists, of course. And these days, we have someone in the White House who was endorsed by outright fascists groups and organizations and sympathizers, and who himself is often accused of being a fascist - and not without some justification!

The Westboro Baptist Church take extremism to a whole new level, and often even put rightwing extremist nut jobs to shame. Hell, they go so far as to piss some rightwing extremists off with some of the things that they do, such as protesting at funerals for little girls shot during random mass shootings, or protesting at funerals of soldiers fighting faraway wars. 

Of course, the Westboro Baptist Church people protest everywhere, and almost everything, because the world does not fall in line with their extremist, literal interpretation of the Bible. They protest everywhere, far and wide, and that certainly includes certain aspects of popular culture that they feel are just signs of this society's decadence, including concert.

Even someone who most people would feel is quite tame by way of comparison to many of the artists out there, these people decide to target. After all, there are some bands and musical acts who truly do show far more extreme signs of decadence and outright disrespect for the Church (especially the Westboro Baptist Church) or the Bible in general. 

And so, there they were, protesting just before a Paul McCartney concert. Trying to make their presence felt, being visible and making sure that everyone heard their extremist, excessive views, and their disapproval of the lifestyles of  pretty much everyone who was attending the concert, despite the fact that they most likely knew almost no one personally who was going. Why should a little thing like a lack of knowledge in this regard stop them? It never stopped them before.

Anyway, Paul McCartney lightly made a joke of it, thanking the Westboro Baptist Church for their warm reception and welcome, which seems to me like him taking the high road, acknowledging their presence while expressing no anger or anything. Frankly, he showed far more class than any of them did in the process.

If you want to read a bit more about how he handled it specifically, then please click on the link below, which will take you to an article all about it. I recommend it, because indeed, the former Beatle handled himself quite well under the circumstances. 

 Paul McCartney posts meme mocking the Westboro Baptist Church following protests outside Kansas show  By Rhian Daly Jul 20, 2017