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Archive for March, 2016

“Well, then, why don’t you write a travel piece?”

“A what?” I asked.

“Oh, you know, a piece about where you’ve been and what you’ve seen; the fascinating sights, restaurants, museums, and so forth?”

“You talkin’ to me?” I queried.

“Well…sure…” he replied, now growing a bit hesitant.

“The places I’ve been; the fascinating sights, restaurants, museums, and so forth?” I said, looking quizzically at this person I thought I had known for over 50 years…and actually turning around to see if he might be speaking to a complete stranger behind me.

“I DON’T TRAVEL,” I screamed as though speaking with a dolt, adding, “WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT?”

That brought the conversation and companionship to a rather rapid close as he stormed off, waving his hands in the air in an “I give up; what the hell’s the use,” fashion. This, by the by, is not the first, nor will it, in all probability, be the last time one of our conversations has ended in such a manner, ie, with one of us throwing our hands in the air – why do we do that, anyway – and trudging away.

So, here I am, stuck with a blank page on the computer, still in a quandary over with what to fill this clean white sheet of screen. “Why write anything?” you ask.

“Well, writing is what keeps my sanity intact, what remains of it that is.” I enjoy writing. Actually, I enjoy writing pieces that make people think…one way or the other. They agree or disagree with my postulations, and it doesn’t matter a damn to me which way they go. As a matter of fact, I prefer it when people violently disagree with me – well, not violently perhaps, but you know what I mean – and they respond with their own clearly stated – most of the time – positions.

My options are limited. To write about any of the five presidential wannabee’s merely gets my blood boiling since there’s not one who is worthy of the highest office in the land. Seriously, think about it: Trump wants to build walls, allow his cronies to do anything they damn well please, up to and including criminal behavior. He wants to make abortion a crime and he hasn’t a clue about foreign policy. Ted Cruz wants to carpet-bomb the Middle East and tough tomatoes for anyone in the way. The way he’s talking, all Muslims would wind up in WWII-like ghettos. John Kasich and Bernie Sanders would each get eaten alive by Congressional foes, and that brings us to Hillary. Sooner or later, she will be indicted for something. I liken Hillary to John Gotti…she’s the Teflon pol to whom nothing seems to stick; Whitewater didn’t stick; Benghazi didn’t stick; e-mail messages aren’t sticking so far. Not a damned thing seems to stick. Ergo, who is going to run the country? As Felix the Cat (for those who remember) might say, eeeeeeeeek!

So politics is out. Perhaps I should write about Senate Bill 524…it’s a pisser! It’s called the “Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act of 2016,” and its purpose is to “authorize the Attorney General to award grants to address the national epidemics of prescription opioid abuse and heroin use.” What, we’re now making the Attorney General find a new way to fight the drug war. I guess we’ve given up trying to fight the cocaine war. It appears that Congress, in its investigative role, has found that, “The abuse of heroin and prescription opioid painkillers is having a devastating effect on public health and safety in communities across the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drug overdose deaths now surpass traffic accidents in the number of deaths caused by injury in the United States. In 2014, an average of more than 120 people in the United States died from drug overdoses every day.” My reaction to this is that it’s a great way to reduce the gene pool! Who are these 120 people who have chosen to die by drug overdose?  The circle of Kumbaya singing, well-meaning-but-wearing-rose-colored-glasses crowd will call me harsh, but that’s okay, because these 120 will not breed and they will not vote. Let them die and then let’s go after the doctors who prescribed a 20 or 30 day prescription for Percocet, oxycodone, OxyContin, or hydrocodone. I have had nearly 20 surgeries in my life, and I believe I’ve taken one Percocet pill. Did the surgeries hurt? You bet your butt they did? Were they as painful as some others might be? No! However, if doctors don’t warn patients about the addictiveness of these pills, the docs aren’t doing their job. Why did some of these addicts turn to heroin? Because (a) it can be cheaper than some of the prescription medication; (b) they couldn’t find another doctor who would authorize the pills; and (c) heroin worked better and faster. As a consequence of all this, Congress now wants to play nursemaid to people who don’t have the intelligence or desire not to become drug addicts. Sorry, that’s not where I want my tax dollars spent.

But, Congress responds, “According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (“NIDA”), the number of prescriptions for opioids increased from approximately 76,000,000 in 1991 to nearly 207,000,000 in 2013, and the United States is the biggest consumer of opioids globally, accounting for almost 100 percent of the world total for hydrocodone and 81 percent for oxycodone.” And “Opioid pain relievers are the most widely misused or abused controlled prescription drugs (CPD) and are involved in most CPD-related overdose incidents. According to the Drug Abuse Warning Network (“DAWN”), the estimated number of emergency department visits involving nonmedical use of prescription opiates or opioids increased by 112 percent between 2006 and 2010, from 84,671 to 179,787.

Feel free to give me reason after reason for drug addiction in this country, but don’t tell me; please don’t tell me that I have to be part of a legally-adopted payment plan to help junkies rid themselves of an addiction.

Perhaps I should have written that travel piece after all…here goes. I’ve driven and flown from Massachusetts to LA and to Florida. I’ve driven the northern route which is New York State through Indiana, Illinois, Ohio, etc., and I came back the southern route through Arizona, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, etc. Our son was married in a hillside chapel in Tennessee, so I’ve been to Gatlinburg, and driven over the Smokey Mountains into North Carolina. My travel has been limited to the United States, parts of Canada, and four unforgettable trips to Bermuda. Unlike many other people, I have not been to Europe or any exotic locales. I’d like to have seen the pyramids, but I have a thing about suicide bombers or kneeling in an orange robe and a drugged stupor while some jerk removes my head from the rest of me. Could I be more expansive about my travels? Certainly, but this little essay is now approaching 1,200 words – go ahead and count, ya damned fool – and my fingers are getting tired. Hope you enjoyed the tirade and that you’ll return again soon.

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“Hey, we bagged the guy who planned the terrorist attack in Paris!”

“No kidding. You really got him?”

“Yeah, had to shoot him in the leg, but we got him. Now we just have to interrogate the son-of-a-bitch and see what else they might be planning.”

“Oh, man, that’s great!”

“Yeah, we found a number of suicide vests in his apartment. See ya later.

“Yeah, later.”

Less than two days later, what happens?

“Breaking news…There have been two bomb explosions at Brussels-Zventam airport outside of Brussels and another in the underground train system. At this moment, 21 are known dead…update…36 are now known dead, and ISIS is claiming credit”

Was this a real conversation? I don’t know; I wasn’t there! I didn’t shoot the son-of-a-bitch in the leg. I’m not a member of any Belgian law enforcement group, but I cannot help but wonder…Did you beef up security at the airport, railroad stations, underground transit terminals, and other public places that daily draw crowds? The minute he was in cuffs, did it occur to anyone that perhaps other cell leaders might start thinking about changing their time tables? If the answer is, “We cannot afford to have a continued heavy presence in all of these places,” then I have to believe that Belgium, like nearly every other nation will continue to be shocked every time another guerilla attack of this nature takes place.

“Suicide vests in his apartment?” What the hell is that? “Oh, hi…Mary…this is Abdul….yeah, fine, thanks, and you (pause). Oh, that’s great. Hey, listen, we finished your vest. Yeah, that’s right, the one with the Semtex in the back. Yeah, that’s the one. You can come over anytime and pick it up. Oh, by the way, has Hassan told you your target yet? Wow, that’ll be spectacular…yeah, right. Okay, we’ll see you later tonight then. Okay, Mary, see you later.”

This is the world in the early 21st Century. Would it be an open phone line? No, of course not. Would the conversation have been that blatant? I really doubt it. Could it actually happen just like that? You bet your bottom dollar it could.

We. Are. Living. In. A. World. Of. Terrorism. And. A. World. Of. Hatred. Why is this so? I do not have a clue. Political candidates in the United States say that Americans are angry. Are the Belgians angry? Are the Spanish angry? How about the British or the French? Are they angry? It would seem so because terrorists – I guess these are the angry people – are setting off bombs to kill those who aren’t angry; who are innocent and haven’t done one damned thing that they deserve to die or be maimed.

What is the ultimate goal of these terrorist people and groups? It can’t be world domination…well, I don’t think that’s what it is, so we have to ask, “What is the end game,” and the answer is that no one, the terrorists probably included, knows what the hell it is. For now, it appears that all that want to do is create world panic about who will be next. “The main and principle goal of the Islamic State that ISIS tells their new members is that to establish an Islamic State that will encompass the Arab world and after that we go to other countries.” Wasn’t Hitler’s goal to get back the lands the Germans lost after WWI and then get the rest of Europe? I believe that was the original plan and, as has been asked many times of many people about many things…”How’d that work out for ya?”

Am I being simplistic in my thinking? Yes, deliberately so. There is so much that none of us know about Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham or ISIS. Can we identify how their religious beliefs differ from those of other forms of Islam? Sure we can, but that makes no difference. It appears that in the end, this religious sect wishes to rule the world as they see the world, and they will achieve that goal through the spreading of terror around the world until every single person conforms to their beliefs. As a consequence, total destruction of this group is the only answer, and the only way to achieve that is a vigilance level that we have yet to reach.

My simplistic sense tells me that the FBI, Homeland Security, or any other federal agency with a terrorist task force, could walk into an apartment in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, or even Washington, D.C., and find bomb-making equipment, perhaps even a few unclaimed suicide vests. They could do that if… but where would that lead? So we will continue to follow Thomas Jefferson’s advice that, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” and we other nations will do the same.

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Let us make some assumptions…you may believe them to be unwarranted and that’s your privilege. However, that is the Royal “us” which means that I am the one making the assumptions, and you, well, you’re just along for the ride.

The first assumption that I will make is that I, you, me, we, am dead. We have crossed the great divide, gotten on board our particular plane, seen the bright light and heard the most beautiful music we’ve ever heard, etc., etc., etc. By the bye, this really isn’t an assumption; like it or not, there will come a day when whatever is on our bucket list will have to remain there because we have kicked that particular bucket.

The second assumption I will make is that we – you and I – have been reasonably good people. Without fanfare, we have supported charities, given a buck here and there to a homeless person, not committed murder, although we have stolen things from the office, lied about a few “small” things, seen a special human being along the way and, as President Jimmy Carter once remarked, “Lusted in my heart.” All in all, though, our former life had more ups than downs, and, except for that time when our bracket got totally busted in the first round, life has been good.

The third assumption I will make is that we – thee and me – went directly to the first level of heaven. No, it’s not like Dante’s first ring of hell. And, this isn’t like purgatory where you get to serve time before you go ‘up’ or ‘down.’ This is a nice place…with one exception. When you arrive, you are immediately assigned a seat in a beautiful glass building. This chair to which you have been assigned and to which you are magically transported, is known as the seat of heavenly knowledge. You see, for as good as you and I have been, we still have to ‘earn’ our wings, so to speak. While we thought that we knew the consequences of our actions on earth, here we are to learn precisely the results of our actions. For instance, remember the time when you nudged that golf ball a bit to the right to help you make that shot that got you out of the woods. You didn’t think anyone was watching, but your young caddy saw it; saw you get away with such a simple thing; he went on to be a world class money manager who robbed people of their savings…and you can just imagine the consequences of that. But that’s okay because in front of your seat is a long desk. It has books that tower out of sight. You will stay here and read every one of those books. You will ponder what happened worldwide when you took every single action in your life. Once you have completed reading, you will be asked what you might have done differently, either to make the results other than they were or to leave them as they happened. This isn’t a quiz on which you’ll receive a grade…well, not as we know grades…no, this is a quiz to determine your eligibility to move on in the heavenly scheme of things. By the way, cheating isn’t an option. Saying that you didn’t actually move the ball will just put you on another plane…very quickly…and it isn’t going up…get the picture?

So you sit in your seat, looking up at the tower of books. Next to you is another heaven-bound individual. His book tower is somewhat smaller than yours. You ask him why his book tower is smaller. He answers by telling you that he died over 3,000 years ago. This rattles you just a wee bit and you look back again at your tower. “Holy crap,” you think, “I’d better get busy.” As you say this, the first book, the one at the very bottom of the tower, slides out before you. Before opening it, your curiosity gets the best of you and you turn your head this way and that, to the left and right; then you turn and look back. The seats and desks go back far beyond your ability to see all of them. What you can see is that some seats are empty; others have towers of books larger and higher than your own, and some are much smaller. Looking ahead you see the same thing…seats, desks, occupants, small towers, larger towers, everyone reading, everyone concentrating on the book in front of them. You begin to read.

Each second of each minute, of each hour, of each day, week, month, and year appears to be contained in these books. As you read, you find that you and everyone, everything, every moment of your life affected the lives of millions of others. You learn that you, along with everyone else who ever has been or is now existing, is part the Chinese butterfly effect which, in turn is part of the chaos theory. Let me give you a simple example: In your middle years, for no reason at all, you passed a street musician, stopped, listened as she played the violin, and she played well. You dropped a five dollar bill in the hat in front of her. With that five dollars, she went to a fast food restaurant. Her violin case was seen by a man who was having a quick lunch. He asked if she played. He heard her music and took her to someone he knew in the music business. She went on to become a concert violinist of such renown that others were influenced to pick up a violin and being playing, etc., etc., etc. And all, of this happened because you took the time to drop a five dollar bill in a hat. Obviously, there were a thousand steps before the violinist achieved her dream of having thousands or millions hear her music, but you were a part of that. It has been said that a butterfly, flapping its wings at just the right moment, may someday, cause a tornado in Kansas. True or not?

And so you read…

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Obstructionist

“Obstructionist”

This is a word that is tossed around lightly, particularly by those who are unfamiliar with the way in which our federal government actually works. When one party has a majority rule in either the House or the Senate, the other party becomes the obstructionists. It was true under John Boehner’s leadership in the house and Harry Reid’s in the Senate. It is true of Mitch McConnell, and I’m willing to be that when he goes home to the wife and Kids each night, Paul Ryan can count a few more gray hairs as he pours a large glass of Gray Goose.

I have called the past several Congressional sessions the do-nothing Congress. This is not original with me. It has been used by just about every major newspaper in the country, from the Sacramento Bee to the Washington Post and from The New York Times to the St. Louis Dispatch. The bandwagon is chock full of critics of the 535 men and women who dream up and attempt to pass legislation to aid either their constituency, their state, or the nation.

I’m aware that somewhere in Congress, at this very moment, there is a bill that is/was/and always will be designed to prevent such nonsense as the lead poisoning that has taken place in Flint, Michigan, Newark, New Jersey, and God-only-knows-how-many-other-cities-towns-and-villages-across-the-United-States! That such a bill has been proposed and is stalled somewhere in the halls of Congress is a travesty. That 535 people cannot reach agreement on such a bill is criminal. The finger-pointing and accusatory comments made by Senators and Representatives, people who are supposed to fairly represent “We, the people,” are sickening. Year in and year out, water mains break across the country. It warrants a three-minute segment on the evening news and then it’s gone. “Well that pipe is over a hundred years old so we have to replace a section,” the water commissioner says. Replace a section? Are you kidding me? Deferred maintenance is one thing, but this is a vital commodity that is used by over 310 million Americans every day. If you believe that the 800 pound gorilla in the finance committee is the local school budget, think again. It should be public works, water and sewer, just as much as it should be school improvements. Where does the money come from to do all of this? Gee, how much pork is in the defense budget? How much of a contribution to the nation’s health is being made by the tobacco, pharmaceutical, farm, and public health lobbies…who don’t care about a thing other than getting their share and to hell with Miss, Master, Mr., Mrs., and Ms. America.

I use the word, “travesty,” and perhaps that’s just not strong enough when I’m speaking of a Congress that has more than 7,882 bills and resolutions awaiting action by either the House or Senate. When compared to the 134 bills and joint resolutions that have been enacted so far in this session of Congress, Americans of every size, shape, color, and state have the right to conclude that “politician” is just another name for Machiavellian, influence peddler, or power broker…and these are far from complimentary. I’m not certain, for example, why we need a bill to stop improper payments to deceased people, but there it is…Senate Bill 1073. Just doesn’t make one whole helluva lot of sense to me…someone dies, you just stop paying. Could it possibly have something to do with fraud? Nah that would never happen!

So what does it take to get a bill enacted into law in Congress? Would you believe that there is the potential for twenty-three separate steps that have to take place? Yep, you heard me correctly. Let’s start at the beginning…always a good starting point.  It starts with a senator or representative introducing a bill. The bill must then be referred to a committee or several committees where it can sit until someone on the committee or committees decides that there should be hearings on this piece of legislation. Once the committee hearings are over, the committee either adds amendments or not, passes the bill on…or not, or the committee head may give the bill a new number and submit it as part of the committee ‘report.’ The assumption here is that everything is moving along beautifully; in point of fact, it’s often moving like molasses in January in China, Maine on a ten degree downhill slope – get the picture?  The bill now must be scheduled; rules of the House must be observed, ie, special rules, suspension of the rules, or privileged matter (it gets really confusing). In the Senate the bill must receive unanimous consent agreements or motions to proceed. Now we have the floor debate followed by the floor amendments and a vote on final passage. Uh-oh, here we are at step eleven and a vote has been taken on final passage…but wait…the House version and the Senate version are somewhat different. This brings us to step twelve…reconciling differences between the House and the Senate. We move on to amendments between the houses, or we step forward…or backward, depending on how you wish to view it…into ‘conference committee negotiations.’ The conference committee submits its report and floor debate takes place on this report. The floor votes on the report and, with luck, the conference version is presented to the president. Three things can happen at this stage: (1) the President signs the bill into law; (2) he allows the bill to become law without his signature; or (3) he veto’s the bill. Back to the hill goes the bill and there is a first chamber vote on overriding the veto. The second chamber then votes on overriding the veto. The bill will become law if a two-thirds vote to override is achieved in both chambers or, lastly, the bill fails to become law if one chamber fails to override.

Could this whole process be simplified? Sure it could. Shrink the size of Congress. Insist on a more streamlined process in the current Congress. Prevent bullshit amendments that are nothing more than pork for some senator or congressman who is trying to sneak something through to benefit some of his or her constituents. Turn some of these legislative duties back to the states, both for passage and for funding, and probably hundreds of other methods to speed up what is going on behind the closed doors on Capitol Hill.

We have a seriously flawed political system brought on by the conflict between the legislative and executive branch of our government. It is time that both branches put on their big girl panties and grew up! It’s your bruised egos that has allowed anger in America to coalesce into a political issue that could, conceivably, allow this nation to come under a new system of leadership, namely, a dictatorship. Is that really what you people, sitting on your high and might perches, want for America?

 

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Let’s face it; this world is never going to reach, near, come close to, or even espy the Utopian model we wish it to be. You have your idea of what perfection would be, I have mine, and a few more than 7.3 billion other folks have theirs. How can we possibly ever come to some kind of an agreement? In addition to a populace that is in constant disagreement, we have all of these societal differences that breed village, town, city, state, national, and international disagreements. In other words, if you wish to live your life as you would like and I my own, we can’t do it. We are serfs, vassals, slaves in a world that, for a great deal of it anyway, doesn’t believe in slavery…well, that’s not quite true but darned close to it.

Recently, I watched a television program – some might call it a documentary – about a house/castle being built in the Ozarks. Nearby, there are a series of caves which house grocery items, enough to last several decades. The conspiracy theorists might say that there is some connection, although the reporters on site couldn’t find any secret passageways between the castle and the caves. These same theorists appear to feel that this castle which is “proof” against anything other than a direct hit with anything other than a powerful thermonuclear device will become home to a group of the very richest people in the something-or-other; the inference was the .001 percent of those living in the good old USA. These people will be the Illuminati of whenever all hell breaks loose, and they will become the government of whatever is left. Right, wrong, or somewhere in between, I don’t wish to begin an argument with the conspiracy theorists. In addition, anyone wishing to live in the Ozarks is more than welcome to it.

Therefore, if we take the overriding majority of us, i.e., the slaves who are, following some catastrophic event, to be governing by the .001percent who have somehow made it into the Ozarks and named themselves the all-knowing and all powerful…whew…it would appear that once more, fantasy has overwhelmed reality.

Look, sure there are things we don’t like or would like to change. Depending on what it is, we can or are unable to make change. You don’t like one grocery store, you have the opportunity to go to others. That’s not the case in some areas of the world. You want to drive to Washington, D.C. to watch the children play in their big buildings, you can drive through Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, and no one is going to stop you from doing so, checking your papers at every state line or searching your luggage because you may “belong to the other side.”  Granted, if you’re leaving from Massachusetts, this isn’t a great distance, but you do pass through five states in traveling the less than 500 miles between here and our nation’s largest playpen. You can’t do that in some sections of the world either. There are hundreds of examples that I could give to show that even though we may think of ourselves as being slaves in many ways, we Americans are among some of the most fortunate people in the world. If we think of ourselves as being a slave to this or that, we generally can find an answer to free ourselves from whatever that bondage might be.

If you can believe it, one source ranks the US as eighth in standard of living in the world. Who ranks above us? Well, there is New Zealand, which is kind of small, and if you tried to jam our three hundred and some odd million people onto its shores, might just sink. Canada supposedly has a higher standard of living, but if Trump becomes president, it too, might become overpopulated with ex-pats from the US. Ireland, Liechtenstein, Germany, Sweden, and Switzerland round out the group that have a higher standard of living than America, but I’m quite certain that we can say the comparisons are like trying to compare apples with bananas.

Perhaps if you were to ask, “What is the point of this diatribe on which I have just wasted the best part of a minute of my life?” I would have to answer, “Stop bitching about what what’s wrong with America or your little part of it, and start thinking of what you do have rather than what you don’t.” I don’t know whether you remember this saying or not; I don’t even know where is comes from, but I’m going to plagiarize it right now, just to make you feel better:

“If you have food in the refrigerator, clothes on your back, a roof over your head, and a place to sleep, you are richer than 75 percent of the world; if you have money in the bank, in your wallet, and some spare change in a dish some place, you are among the top 8 percent of the world’s wealthy; if you woke up this morning with more health than illness, you are more blessed than the million who will not survive this week. If you have never experienced the danger of battle, the loneliness of imprisonment, If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death …the agony of torture, or the pangs of starvation…you are ahead of 500 million people in the world. If you can attend a church meeting without fear of harassment, arrest, torture, or death …you are more blessed than three billion people in the world. If your parents are still alive and still married …you are very rare, even in the United States. If you hold up your head with a smile on your face and are truly thankful …you are blessed because the majority can, but most do not.” There is more, but enough of the schmaltz…I think you hear the message.

We have a great deal of which to be thankful. As for me, whatever time I have left is truly a gift. To those whom I have offended or who I have yet to offend, tough; put on your big boy panties and get over it. To those I can call friend, hang in there, I’ll be out of your hair quickly enough and you won’t have to put up with my nonsense any longer. To those I don’t know…damn, I wish I’d met you; to those I do know, oh you poor people!

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