What's All This Then?

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Thursday, December 31, 2009

First the bad news. I did not win the Illinois or any other kind of lottery. That is not the reason for my absence from the blogosphere. There are reasons but I won’t take the time to go into them now because I need to get something posted here before I create a new record of a month without a single comment. That hasn’t happened since I started this blog in April, 2003 and I certainly don’t want to stagger into 2010 or 5700 or whatever year you’re celebrating, looking back at a blank page.

There are too many things that have happened since I last wrote to try to play "catch up" - so perhaps I should look past all of those things and look back to this time last year to see how things have changed since December 31, 2008 - or maybe to see how things have stayed the same - which is more likely to be the case.

Looking back at this blog, I see that one thing certainly hasn’t changed. My posts were becoming already becoming infrequent. The last post of 2008 was on December 22 and back then I was catching up on several topics - among them the anticipated inauguration of Barack Obama and the Fed interest rate cut down to a quarter point. I’ll have a comment on that last item for sure - but how about the state of the world? Has it - we - changed to the point where "they" - intelligent beings from some other planet - might finally be willing to pay is a visit? The answer is clearly no. In fact the chances of that momentous event occurring seem to be getting smaller from year to year.

The Israeli/Palestinian conflict remains a conflict after more 60 years. There’s still talk of a "peace process" but no movement towards peace. Most of the world tends to blame Israel for the lack of progress - so no change there. For a few days this month, Egypt of all countries, appeared to be supportive of Israel in preventing a crowd of Palestinian sympathizers from around the world from crossing from that country into Gaza to demonstrate support for the poor Gazans on the anniversary of Israel’s military response last year to years of rocket attacks. But this morning it allowed a few dozen to cross over to demonstrate. Is there a lesson for Israel here? Maybe the world will love her if she just absorbed rocket barrages and other attacks and did nothing? But then Dick Cheney would accuse the Jewish state of being soft on terror.

I don’t know what he’d say about England which has had plenty of trouble from home grown Islamic terrorists but has also become a danger zone for Israeli politicians. 2009 was a year in which any Israeli political leader was in danger of being arrested for "war crimes" if he or she tried to visit the U.K. That Gaza thing again. Israel should know better than to try to defend itself.

The U.S. is still involved in armed conflict around the world. And whether or not we’re involved in actual battle, our military is literally everywhere in the world. Just watching those televised Christmas greetings from military personnel serving overseas can leave you shaking you head. What are we doing in Germany - or in England? Didn’t the war end in 1945?? When you look at where we are and what we do militarily from other nation’s perspectives, you get some idea of why we are often looked upon as the bad guys even when we’re trying to do good things.

Freedom wasn’t a big winner in 2009. Comparing last year’s dictators, theocracies and mass killings of citizens by their "governments" with this year showed little change and the nations that we considered a danger to the rest of the world remain a danger. Maybe even more so. The same can be said of poverty and despair. While we anguish over poverty and unemployment and homelessness in the U.S., it is nothing compared to the millions of people who live on a daily income of less than the cost of a bus ride in Chicago - people who live without running water, electricity or sewage. If there was any change for the better from 2008 to 2009, it is imperceptible. It’s no wonder that "they" don’t come - but the need for them to show up and help us unite this fragmented world grows in urgency from year to year.

For us of course it’s been the year of recession and dodging a depression by the skin of our teeth. Ben Bernanke is Time’s man of the year. Supposedly, he saved us from disaster with his money management skills and his magical disappearing interest rate. The latter is supposed to make money so easy and cheap to borrow, that businesses would be standing in line to collect barrels full to expand or start up businesses and kick unemployment down to next to nothing. It didn’t do that of course but what it did do was harm millions of Americans - many of them seniors - who relied on interest bearing investments as their main source of income. Not an issue for financial chess players of course. They don’t deal with flesh and blood - just number crunching. Flesh and blood doesn’t get you on the cover of Time.

The unemployment figures were disastrous of course, but you could look at them in another, disturbing way. With millions out of work, the country didn’t grind to a halt - or even slow down that much. There was no lack of goods and services. As long as you had money, you didn’t notice the effect, if any, of mass unemployment. Which could be interpreted as meaning that we don’t need to have that many people employed for the country to run smoothly. We don’t need as many retail stores as we have. We don’t need to have as much of anything for the country to provide as many goods and services as the population needs. Which means that full employment can only be achieved through excess production and excess services. Which is a hell of a way to run an economy.

Has anything really changed in the field of health care from last year to this? A bill is pending, the major portions of which will take effect years down the road. Meanwhile, what has changed from last year to this is that health insurance premiums have gone up - as have CO-pays and the price of most medications. I predict that they will continue to go up, no matter what remains in the health care bill when the president signs it. And if mandated insurance purchase and "children" staying on their parents policies until they are pushing 30 stays in the bill, it’s possible that this may be the issue that will persuade "them" to visit our primitive planet to conduct mental health tests on our political leaders.

I think perhaps the major change from 2008 to 2009 has been the emergence and increased influence of a far too large a number of nut jobs in politics and broadcasting. If 2009 is to be remembered as the "year of" anything at all, it will have to be the year of the crazies I was listening to someone filling in for Bill Press this morning and he played a "top dozen’ crazy things said by right wing radio nut jobs. I wish I could have recorded them. Some were by people I’d never heard of - but all of the comments qualified as being in the crazy category. Some radio nut who I’ve never herd of, maintained that Obama had plans for Jews that mirrored those of Adolph Hitler. Michael Savage was quoted as insisting that autism was no more than bratty behavior by bratty kids. And on and on. Twelve bizarre statements that once went out over the public airways. There was a time when you could dismiss such nonsense as unworthy of response from serious people. But that was before 2008 and 2009. Today, these nut cases have become heroes to millions because they are voicing the dark and sick beliefs of many of those millions. I used to wonder how the people in Minnesota’s sixth district could elect someone as crazy as Michelle Bachman. Than I saw the so called tea baggers and their signs on news reports and it became clear to me. The ignorance and bigotry that we always knew was lurking just below America’s thin veneer of civility had found its voice in people like her and broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh and Glen Beck. And while it may be a minority of the voting population, it’s a substantial minority, proud of and not afraid to reveal its extremist views. Scary stuff - reminiscent of pre Civil Rights law times .

If, a year from now, the Limbaughs and the Becks of the world still dominate the radio airwaves and cable television and more Bachman types have been elected to Congress, there will be no question about whether things have gotten better or worse from 2010 to 2011.

Happy New Year to one and all.