Things Fall Apart, The Centre Cannot Hold

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“A House divided against itself cannot stand.” These words from Abraham Lincoln as he began his campaign for the Senate seat in Illinois, are just as true today as they were nearly 160 years ago. For the US in 2017 is divided against itself in ways that are difficult to comprehend. Fault lines exposed in our society in the 1960’s have widened, and the shifting of the electoral tectonic plates threaten our stability as a nation.

In the 1960’s, Richard Nixon evoked the image of the Silent Majority. That is, the good honest working men and families who shared true American values, who decried the changes in society playing out on TV and in the streets. Yet the 1960’s proved to be the time when the belief that American society was a monolithic culture, came apart. The beliefs in monogamy and consumerism were challenged by the hippies. The belief that the Federal government always had good motives and would never lie were chipped away as the truths came out regarding Vietnam, and past programs like the Tuskegee syphilis experiment. Then Watergate revealed that even our top leaders were capable of deception and crimes. A schism grew between those who considered themselves anti-establishment, and those who represented the silent majority.

Fast forward through the decades. Societal changes continued through the succeeding generations. Some changes were evolutionary, such as those wrought by the 1965 immigration bill that removed the preference for white, European immigrants in favor of other groups that were not as prevalent in the US population. The fallout of our war in Indochina led to a large increase in Asian immigrants. Small cities that had been homogenous, like Lincoln Nebraska, developed a growing ethnic nature through the settlement of refugees, and later, their families.

One of the largest fault lines in US culture was created in 1973, with the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade. Before that decision, abortion was legal only in a few states, and services to terminate pregnancies were spotty throughout the rest of the nation. Desperate women sought the services of unlicensed and often incompetent practitioners, resulting in many having to go to hospitals to repair the effects of a failed abortion. In 1962 alone, nearly 1,600 women were admitted to Harlem Hospital Center in New York City for incomplete abortions. This document from the Guttmacher organization from 2003 gives an excellent perspective on the nature of abortions prior to Roe v Wade.

https://www.guttmacher.org/gpr/2003/03/lessons-roe-will-past-be-prologue

Quite simply, throughout history women have faced the issue of unwanted pregnancy, and have sought extreme means to relieve themselves of pregnancy. Although the stigma of unwed motherhood has been reduced (are there any homes for unwed mothers still around?), abortion will continue to be sought by women. It is only in the past 44 years that it has been recognized in the US as a right for the would-be mother to choose to terminate a pregnancy within certain bounds.

Another of the tectonic plate slippages of the past few decades is the change in religious attitudes. We have seen the demise of WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) leadership in society. The P’s have migrated over the years, over to E’s and C’s (Evangelicals and Catholics), or to Nones. Those who moved to denominations with more fervent beliefs have led the efforts to reverse Roe v Wade. Those who moved from P to None are often wondering why the religious right is looking to take away their freedom. Those of us who have remained behind in one of the standard P churches are wondering how to retain our relevance in a society that seems to actively align against our own choices. The chasm that exists between the Christian sects gets ratcheted up multiple notches when non-Christian religions are brought into the equation. Especially in the past few years, the hydra heads of anti-Semitism have remerged, and the internet overflows with references to the Protocols of Zion, about Jewish domination of the US media empire, and with conspiracy theories of various false flag operations aimed at deceiving the US into fighting Israel’s wars by proxy.

Then there is the issue of Moslems. To many in this nation, Islam is viewed as an affront to all that is good and sacred. For those who are against Moslems, the words of the Quran are parsed and spat back out, showing those portions where the texts call for Jihad. Those quotes are taken as emblematic of the entire religion, relegating Islam to be a religion of hatred. Never mind that one can find similar quotes in the texts of the Jewish and Christian religion, and never mind that the history of civilization has often been punctuated by battles over religious supremacy. The despising of Moslems has motivated Donald Trump to try multiple ways to permanently ban one fifth of the earth’s population from having access to this country, all in the name of preventing domestic terrorism.

At least in the 1960’s and 1970’s, we still had the vestiges of a common enemy to unite our population. Communism was our existential threat during that time, and we built up our military-industrial complex to face its menace. Then, within the blink of an eye, the entire edifice of Communism collapsed, and suddenly the economies of nations long suppressed through isolation of socialistic regimes was unleashed. China became everyone’s favorite supply chain partner, and the US began hemorrhaging manufacturing jobs, especially low value-added jobs, and jobs in energy intensive industries like steel. Those were often the jobs that held together smaller towns and cities in fly-over land within the US. The phrase Rust Belt was coined to represent the decline begun when old manufacturing sites were shuttered and left to the elements to oxidize, since they had no economic value anymore. Entire regions where a good and honest living could be made through factory work, now had few options for advancement. Emotions began to boil as resentment built at the unfairness of life when those on the coasts were living the high life, while those in the heartland subsisted on fast-food jobs and big-box retail clerk jobs.

With the advent of the internet and the shattering of the old system of 3 television networks showing only what they wanted you to see, came the next stage of this nation’s partition. The media fragmented into self-reinforcing segments, and for those who stay within their media world, it becomes impossible to understand those who listen and watch the other side’s media. Fox News and Breitbart fans do not believe that old-time media outlets can report the truth. Thus the allegations against Roy Moore are viewed as part of the plot of the deep state to take down the leadership of Donald Trump. Similarly, those who follow the elite media and liberal television networks cannot comprehend why those who support Roy Moore are ignoring the facts. We are now in an age where facts are irrelevant if they don’t agree with your preconceived notion of the truth.

In 2017, the fault lines of this nation have split off both sides of the spectrum. On the left you have the remnants of the counter-culture of the 1960’s, with calls for radical redistribution of wealth across society. The right itself has fragmented, and what has emerged is the Donald Trump manifestation of nationalism and ethnocentrism taking over the Republican party in a hostile takeover. This segment of the population has assumed the anti-establishment role that hippies played in the 1960’s. They have a deep distrust of all things related to social elites. Even though they have seized the reins of power, they have not yet been successful in exerting their will to move the ship of state to their liking. The events of the next year will likely determine the eventual fate of this movement. Will they be reaffirmed by continued electoral success, or will the segment of the population still residing in the center of the political spectrum end this attempt to hijack the American experiment?

 

With Deregulation You Get – RINO’s?

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General Kelly enunciated a list of things that American’s used to hold sacred back in the days when “America was great”. I do believe he missed one important item. We used to hold sacred the responsibility for our broadcasters to present a balanced and unbiased perspective. But in 1987, the Federal Communications Commission stopped enforcing the fairness doctrine, which required maintaining a balance in broadcasted opinions. This was part of the first Republican deregulation wave, during the Reagan Presidency. Now, with the benefit of 30 years of experience, we can see the effects of this phase of deregulation.

Once the airwaves were unshackled, broadcasters searched for ways to remain relevant. AM radio in particular needed resuscitation, since it had become much less relevant with the advent of FM radio which had poached its music monopoly. Experimentation began, with syndication of certain voices becoming more frequent. First among his rivals, Rush Limbaugh began syndication in 1988. He found a loyal following among those conservative listeners who began their political involvement by their adherence to the principles espoused by groups like the John Birch Society. This right fringe of the political spectrum found its way to the AM radio dial, and by serving as a dedicated audience, provided the opportunity for others to start their own talk show empires.

It was not long before these purveyors of group think began to affect the popular culture. Dittohead became a common descriptor for those who followed Rush, and people wore it as a badge of honor. It served as a symbol of their liberation from having to think for themselves. Now they could outsource their own need to analyze anything for themselves, allowing the radio to establish their own beliefs. On reflection, it is not surprising that many followers of conservative talk radio are also Evangelical Christians. In their church environment, they also are relieved of having to think about their principles and beliefs. Instead they are told in no uncertain terms about the fifty shades of black and white. The two populations (Evangelical Christians and conservative talk radio listeners) would have a significant overlap if analyzed via a Venn diagram.

Meanwhile, the left or progressive side of the political spectrum did not have a similar movement develop in the broadcast media. For whatever reason, liberals tend to form their beliefs through self-reflection, or through their experiences in the world, rather than have their beliefs spoon fed to them by a larger than life figure. As a result, the language of outrage that developed in conservative talk circles was allowed to serve unopposed as the descriptors for liberals over time. Liberals abdicated the field of linguistic battle, and by the time they noticed the language being used against them, the battle had been won by the conservatives. Witness the common descriptions for liberals and progressives today: libtards; snowflakes; and SJW. These are used as terms of disparagement, intended to insult those to whom the comments were directed.

The final piece of the media establishment that created a haven for conservatives was the birth of Fox News in 1996. In this comfortable environment, conservatives could feel their egos being massaged by a plethora of hosts and guests, all reinforcing the belief systems of the conservatives that they alone were God’s chosen. It reinforced their world view that their steadfastness to the principles and beliefs broadcast on a Fox tape loop was all that stood between them and the chaos that would result if liberals gained ascendancy. More and more people became adherents to the world view of the Foxes and Rushes, and they continued the demonization of the left via the bastardization of the language that they celebrate. They formed what I call the radical right.

The Republican establishment encouraged the growth of this new group that seemed amenable to their party. The establishment offered a wink, wink, nod, nod at the radical right, feigning lip service to the goals of reversing Roe v Wade, pretending to open their arms to welcome the cultural conservatives who ruled the talk show and Fox circles. All the while, the establishment’s true agenda of cutting taxes on the donor class got carried out under W when the surplus amassed under the Clinton years was squandered in the Bush tax cuts compounded with the war on terrorism conveniently left outside of the budgetary process.

This fake adherence to the goals of the radical right festered within the souls of that group. The resentment exploded after the near collapse of the economy in 2008, and with the failure to seek criminal prosecution of the Wall Street collaborators who steered the economy into the iceberg. The Tea Party emerged as an inchoate political movement, seizing on the opposition to big government solutions as being failed policies that landed so many people into an economic morass. That the new leader of the Federal government was a half-black interloper who dared to have an international background, allowed the Tea Party to frame their opposition to the establishment as opposition to President Obama.

The radical right never forgave the slights from the Republican establishment. Thus began the movement to classify establishment Republicans as RINOs, or Republicans In Name Only. Indeed, the vocabulary of the radical right against their own supposed allies was as vindictive as the names they invoked against the left. So we have cuckservatives and RINOs and cucks as derogatory terms used against those establishment Republicans.

At this time, it appears that the radical right wing of the party formerly known as Republicans is rising ascendant. This group does not seem to realize that they are truly a small fraction of the total population of this nation. Instead, they are reveling in each victory against a Flake, or a Corker, as evidence of their superiority.

What I find supremely interesting is that a direct association can be drawn between an act of deregulation (ceasing enforcement of the Fairness Doctrine), and the wave of political polarization washing over this nation thirty years later. As this administration keeps working to roll back regulations developed over decades, it is instructive to keep in mind that these actions can have unintended consequences. And those consequences can be quite destructive, but it may take 30 years for the effects to be fully developed. Be careful what you ask for – you may just get it.

 

The Decline and Fall of Which Empire?

Nebraska stadium

Empires die, if they are lucky, with a whimper, not a bang. On October 14, 2017, Memorial Stadium in Lincoln Nebraska let out a huge whimper. On that night, the team representing the University of Nebraska laid down and allowed Ohio State to eviscerate the Husker’s defense. Meanwhile, the Ohio State defense smothered the offense, eventually allowing meaningless second half touchdowns, but shutting out the home team throughout the first half while amassing a 35 point total when they were not stopped once. Five possessions, five scoring drives.

The whimper was heard in the second quarter. A tradition of Nebraska football is that fans purchase red helium balloons, and release them when the first score happens for the home team. In the middle of the second quarter, the Huskers gained their second first down of the game. First a trickle, then a flood of balloons started to dance in the strong north wind, signifying the depression that the fans felt due to the humiliation they were witnessing.

At half time, the wind picked up considerably. The huge American flag flying over the north stadium snapped loudly in the breeze as it stood straight out as if starched. The noise of the wind muffled the whimper being sounded by the hordes of fans filing down out of the stands, and eventually out of the stadium to face the cold strong wind. I joined the exiting throngs along with my brother’s family.

As we wound our way back through the campus, we heard the roar of the stadium at our back as the team managed to strike with a lone long touchdown pass. But nothing could disguise the utter demolition of a team with a proud history by one of the few teams with even a prouder history. That pride has shown itself through the 55 years of consecutive sell-outs of the stadium, longest sell-out streak ever in either college or pro sports. If the performance of the team continues to match that of the last two games, even that tattered remnant of empire will fade away, if not this year then certainly next season. But the rise and fall of a college football empire will affect only a small fraction of the population of this country, and does not represent an existential crisis.

Empires do have a finite life. Empires fade when the cost of maintaining the empire exceeds the tribute brought in. They may be overthrown from without, or within. But until this year, I never heard of an empire being overthrown by its own government. With its initial effort, the new President withdrew from the Trans Pacific Partnership trade treaty. That treaty, intended to align nations in the Pacific watershed away from the growing maw of China, was a symbol of the American empire of commercial dominance. However, the new administration believes all trade agreements are win/lose propositions, and that the verdict of history is that the US has lost with all of its trade agreements. What this administration does not realize is that the US has used its position as the owner of the global reserve currency to enable this country to run both substantial trade deficits and Federal governmental deficits. The reserve currency is the symbol of the American empire, since it ensures demand for US dollars and US debt instruments. Imagine what the cost of imported goods would be if the US dollar suddenly was not required for international transactions?

Yet the current administration ignores these macroeconomic factors, arguing instead that all of our trading partners are taking advantage of us since we do run trade deficits. This administration believes that if we just pull back from international engagements, trans-national agreements, and treaties, we will be able to set our own trade terms and retreat into a world of US sourced products that fulfill all of the nation’s needs.

The effects of this near-sighted policy is already making itself felt. China is pressing Saudi Arabia to accept yuan as a mode of payment for its oil imports. When that happens, look for other countries to follow suit and then the whole house of cards propping up the US economy will be left teetering in mid-air. Other signs of the US ceding its international role are showing with Europe turning inward as the US President disparages NATO and other treaty obligations. A fundamental misreading of the Iran nuclear treaty shows that this administration does not recognize the treaty as only having jurisdiction over nuclear matters. No, this administration insists that Iran is not adhering to the spirit of the treaty by invoking factors that were never included in the treaty.

And then there is the elephant in the room (sorry, Republicans, you didn’t make the cut). How do you solve a problem like Kim Jong-un? Apparently, this President believes that intimidation and crude insults trump all other choices, like, maybe diplomacy? After all, intimidation and crude insults helped him triumph over all of the other prospective Republican candidates. Why wouldn’t the same tactics work with the still-young heir to the North Korean political dynasty? Everyone fears the US military!  We’re invincible (but we must do something about the appalling lack of nuclear weaponry. What have we been doing since the 1970’s anyhow?). No, North Korea is not a problem you can bluster your way through.

The history of the US empire post WWII took a wrong turn after the end of the cold war. Instead of using the opportunity to begin limited withdrawal of US forces from the excessive number of bases we maintain overseas, we felt the need to expand our footprint. The events of September 2001 enabled the US to go even further to increase our presence throughout the world, and all in the name of the war on terror. We should pursue reductions in bases and overseas presence of our military. It now is viewed as divisive across the world instead of being a soothing presence. But with an administration whose head decries diplomacy, and threatens fire and fury, do not look for this empire to go gently into that dark night.

When you have an empire replete with a naked emperor, and simpering sycophants in his party who still fear the tweet of doom, nothing good will happen. I can only wish that the American Empire does not go out with a bang. Yet I fear that, for once, cooler heads will not prevail, and we will find ourselves in a conflict with unimaginable casualties, and unprecedented global consequences.

After Vietnam Protests at College, Streaking!

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Photo courtesy of the UT History Center of the crowd watching streakers in Austin, Texas.

Spring, in 1974. The cloying stench of Watergate hung over the nation’s senses. Vietnam remained in the nation’s conscience, even though US troops had pulled out the year before. In early March, an unseasonable warm spell brought the college students outside at the University of Nebraska. And the attention of the country was drawn to – Streaking!

I was a college sophomore at the time, trying to make it through my classes of organic chemistry, engineering calculations, classical physics, and partial differential equations. Meanwhile, my roommate who had a ROTC scholarship, but had decided by that time to deliberately flunk out since he would not have a service obligation if he didn’t finish his sophomore year, was drawn to the ongoing pursuit of women. He and I were polar opposites when it came to our success with women at that time. There was once when I went to bed in the bottom bunk, and awoke the next morning and found that the top bunk held two people, but I digress (I was a sound sleeper).

March 6 dawned chilly, but by the afternoon, had warmed up into the 70’s. The first warm day in spring on a college campus brings out the hedonism of the students. Blankets were stretched out in our quadrangle, and shirts are shed in order to soak up the first of the spring’s sun rays after the horrendous winter weather on the prairie. After supper, as we should have been studying, word started spreading from floor to floor, and from door to door. “Hey, they’re streaking around the fraternity houses”.

Our quadrangle was smack dab in the middle of campus. On the far side of our dorm, along 16th street, stood the large fraternity houses – Sigma Phi Epsilon, Sigma Nu, Kappa Alpha Psi, Phi Kappa Psi, Pi Kappa Phi. And then there were the sorority houses – Alpha Omicron Pi, Alpha Phi, Chi Omega, and others (Google Earth is great for reconstructing these sorts of memories). Beyond 16th street were other high rise dorms, so all in all, a critical mass of horniness and hormones flowed out onto the streets of Lincoln that night.

For those of us in our quadrangle dorm, we wore our non-Greekness as a badge of honor. In fact, I had penned a t-shirt with the symbols of ΣΦØ, or Sigma Phi Nothing. But if the Greeks were putting on a free show, me and a few thousand of my close friends were more than happy to share in the event. A group of us from our floor first fortified ourselves with a toke or two, and then joined the thronging crowd that quickly grew large enough to block the arterial 16th street. Lincoln suffered a traffic infarction that evening, as the campus police did nothing to disburse the crowd, but instead redirected traffic around the blocked artery. There were thousands of men and women out enjoying the warmth and the wild experience.

We were out there, wondering when the show was going to start, when suddenly a group of naked men dashed out of their fraternity and ran around the building, going back in through a side door. The crowd cheered as we inhaled the aroma of released inhibitions. Then at one of the sororities, someone appeared at the window, topless. The crowd surged towards the sorority house just as the fraternity’s show ended. Then another fraternity joined in the display, with a group of men jumping out from the bushes and taking a quick lap around their house. Back and forth went the show, and there was even a sorority house that joined in the naked laps. Eventually, though, the show quieted down, and folks drifted away. Traffic flow was reinstituted, and we went back to our own rooms to reflect upon the night’s events.

Not my roommate, though. He proceeded later in the night to streak the girls portion of the quadrangle, and was rewarded for his deed by having someone join him in a combined streak. He never did come back to our room that night.

Thus ended the great streaking surge at the University of Nebraska. Incidents of streaking broke out sporadically, but never again was there a huge surge in place to watch a few exhibitionists strut their stuff. It turns out that the first week of March 1974 was the peak of the streaking epidemic. Ray Stevens had his novelty hit The Streak that very month:

https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=0ahUKEwiR3Jy3-MPWAhVJ9YMKHWP-DgoQyCkIKTAA&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.youtube.com%2Fwatch%3Fv%3DXtzoUu7w-YM&usg=AFQjCNHz9UXM8EvOFet2ryxAKe6y0f64fw

Though for a few years, some schools kept up the tradition, it now is a rarity for a streak to break out, and it will never be the phenomena it was in ’73-’74. And if a repeat were to happen today, the videos would be all over the internet instantly.

It makes me wonder what the next faddish behavior will be. A generation before I went to college, it was the era of the panty raid. My father had mentioned panty raids at Purdue when he had gone to school, but I never knew if he took part in one of those raids. One of the questions you wish you could ask, but never will be able to now.