Thursday, January 28, 2016


“An elective despotism was not the government we fought for; but one which the powers of government should be so divided and balanced among the several bodies of magistracy as that no one could transcend their legal limits without being effectually checked and restrained by the others.”
-          James Madison – From “The Federalist Papers” (February 20, 1788)

I’ve been reading a lot about the widening gap between the world’s rich and poor. The data is startling. Oxfam, for example, recently published a series of reports on that growing gap. The overall conclusion of the reports – “the wealth of the richest one percent is equivalent to the rest of the world’s combined.”

I don’t know for sure how accurate Oxfam’s claim is, but I tend to believe that there’s at least some validity in what they’ve written. The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. 

Not many people are willing to argue about the alarming data, but finding a solution, or solutions, to the problem is another matter. Once the discussion about fixing the problem begins, the fur begins to fly.

The 2016 election cycle is still young and the rhetoric about inequality is getting heated. By the time we get to the fall it’ll be white hot.

Will we elect someone who knows how to solve the problem? I don’t think so. In fact, if history is any indicator, the candidates who claim they can solve the problem will almost certainly make things far worse.

Why is that so?  After all, aren’t we electing our friends and neighbors? Don’t they care about our well-being? Haven’t they told us they want to represent us?

Yes, they are our friends and neighbors. They seem to care about our well-being and I think they’re even sincere when they tell us they want to represent us. But, we’ve been electing our friends and neighbors for a long, long time and none of them have ever solved the problem of wealth disparity. 

There are reasons for this. First, sincerity is a powerful campaign tool. It works. Once the election results are tabulated, however, things change. The candidate who oozed sincerity in September has now been elected. The outsider who was once looking in has now become in the insider looking out. The pre-election sincerity has been supplanted by power and privilege. In his 2010 book “The Ruling Class,” Boston University professor Angelo Codevilla described the dramatic shift this way – “Hence, our Ruling Class’ first priority in any and all matters, its solution to any and all problems, is to increase the power of government, meaning of those who run it, meaning themselves.”

Power and privilege seem to come with the office. It’s bestowed on city and county commissioners, state representatives and senators, then to representatives on the national stage. The higher one goes in politics, the more pronounced the sense of power and privilege becomes. By the time an American politician gets to Washington, D.C., that sense has become acute. It’s so overpowering that it clouds sound judgement.

To be fair, not every politician operates from a sense of power and privilege. But, the ones who really do try to serve their constituents are scarcer than hen’s teeth, as the old expression goes.

There’s something else that almost always seems to come with political power and privilege. It’s money!

How is it that so many politicians start out poor and retire filthy rich? Are they just luckier than the rest of us? I’ll leave the answer to that question with your imaginations, dear readers.

So, the question of who is going to fix the problem of wealth disparity is once again going to be put to the public in the current election cycle. Republicans and Democrats have already started pandering for all their worth.

The Republicans, for example, are pandering to the masses, with a lot of talk of taking Washington, D.C. back from the fat cats and Beltway insiders. The most acute manifestation of this phenomenon is Donald Trump. It’s hard to believe, but we’ve got a billionaire fat-cat masquerading as a populist, which makes him a living, breathing oxymoron.  He rambles incoherently about making America great again, insults anyone who disagrees with him, and threatens to bomb our enemies back into the Stone Age. The con seems to be working. He’s done it by what columnist Charles Cooke recently described as “stunning the audience into dumb submission.” It shouldn’t be working, but, the more he rambles and blusters, the more the ham and eggers love him.

The Republicans don’t seem to have an answer. How about the Democrats?

Not too long ago, multi-millionaire Hillary Clinton appeared to be the heir to the throne. But then, Bernie Sanders came out of left field, proclaiming himself to be the revolutionary who will set America straight. Who would have thought that a middle-aged rabble rouser who channels Huey Long and Vladimir Lenin simultaneously could force Hillary to keep steering further and further to the left? But, he has. Pretty soon now and she’ll be singing, “Every Man a King.”

So, there you have it. The Democrats’ cupboard is as bare as the Republicans.

God help us! America’s in trouble. The air is ripe for despotism and we may actually get it.

Saturday, January 02, 2016


I’ll say it at the outset, lest I be misunderstood. I’m not a Donald Trump supporter.

I support many of the ideals he seems to mock with alarming regularity. I’ve argued against some of his harebrained ideas in my columns (No Room for Xenophobia, for example). I detest everything the man stands for!

It would be very easy to think we could laugh him off the stage, but we’re well past that point. He’s not the clown some of us seem think he is. As Roger Cohen put it in the New York Times, “He is in earnest. And he’s onto something. It is foolish not to take him seriously.”

Just what is he on to? The mood of the country, that’s what!

This is how Cohen described the way many Americans feel these days — “A near perfect storm for his rabble-rousing is upon the United States. China is rising. American power is ebbing. The tectonic plates of global security are shifting. Afghanistan and Iraq have been the graveyards of glory. There is fear, after the killing in California inspired by the Islamic State, of an enemy within. Over more than a decade, American blood and treasure have been expended, to little avail. President Obama claims his strategy against Islamist jihadist terrorism, which he often sugarcoats as 'violent extremism,' is working. There is little or no evidence of that.”

The fear, frustration and anger are real and they’re widespread. We’re looking for leadership and all we see is a massive black hole. Almost everyone in the Western world is sensing this. The Los Angeles Times recently described how Frenchman Joseph Camus felt after the recent Paris attacks that killed more than a hundred: “Frustrated by the government’s failure to revive a moribund economy, fearful of rising immigration from the Middle East and North Africa, and convinced that recent terrorist attacks in Paris won’t be the last, Camus says he has lost all faith in the country’s mainstream leaders.”

Camus lives an ocean away from us, but his fear and loss of faith are every bit as real to millions of Americans as they are to him. We’ve lost faith in our leaders and Donald Trump has jumped in to fill the void.

His rhetoric is reckless: “I’ll build a wall.” “I’ll bomb the shit out of ISIS!” “I’ll put the Chinese in their place.” “I’ll refuse to let Muslims into the country.”

Like a gunman running amok in streets, he lets the words fly. They sound like the ravings of a madman, but they’re striking home. The adoring throngs seem to be growing.

Why is it working? Is our leadership deficit that bad?

This past summer, ISIS was still in the business of beheading Christians, Yazidis or anyone else they considered to be infidels. They were expanding their caliphate into Libya, Afghanistan and Pakistan. They were more than likely in the final stages of planning their attack on Paris. The Iranians were launching mid-range ballistic missiles, in violation of the agreement they’d signed in Lausanne. Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeeen Malik, who killed fourteen and wounded 21 in a terrorist rampage a few weeks ago, were more than likely discussing jihad over candlelight dinners.

What was the President of the United States doing this summer? He was cavorting around Alaska with Bear Grylls, preparing for an episode of "Running Wild.” According the British tabloid the Independent, he was sipping tea made from a wildflower called catkin and eating the remains of a salmon that a bear had left behind.

Thankfully, the President was adequately protected during his great adventure. He and Grylls were accompanied by a food taster (shades of the Old Testament cup bearers), 50 Secret Service personnel, helicopters and a few snipers, just in case ISIS was lurking around. According to Grylls, Mr. Obama said it was “one of the best days of his presidency.”

Good God, what was the President thinking? Did he give any thought to the optics of his adventure? The world is on fire. ISIS and other enemies are moving on our flanks and the President is cavorting around Alaska. It’s like being a passenger on a jumbo,jet and seeing that the engines are on fire while the captain is heading for the exit wearing a parachute.

Sadly, America is in that kind of shape right now. Our ship of state is about to go down in flames and our captain is donning a parachute while the rest of us wait anxiously for the next shoe to drop.

Is it any wonder, then, that a lunatic like Donald Trump is gaining in popularity?