Saturday, January 24, 2015

America: A Paradise Lost?

I admit that I get a lot of emails and articles from individuals and groups from all over the world. Most of it is your ordinary stuff...things they found interesting and forwarded on it me with their comments. Some are suggestions for future articles. Of course, I get a lot from special interests groups---some from the Left and some from the Right---hawking this or that cause and expressing their thanks for my "continued support" for "our victories" (though I may never have heard of them or their cause before), and always asking for money to "continue the fight" lest some dire event transpire.

The ones that get my attention most often, however, are the ones which deal with foreign or economic policy. I've always had an interest in global affairs. I think it's because international politics has always seemed like a cross between a game of chess and a giant puzzle with a few missing pieces (that's where a good foundation in history comes in handy). The America most of us knew---from the "greatest generation", Detroit and big cars, powerful unions and union bosses, and the world we watched nightly on "Leave it to Beaver", "Father Knows Best" or "The Andy Griffith Show" or "The Brady Bunch" have vanished. Superman and fighting for "truth, justice, and the American Way" seem so cliché that an eye roll is almost automatic. We've gone from "I Like Ike" and polls showing that most of us had faith in our institutions---church, school, the military, the media, and the government---to disillusionment following Watergate, Carter, the Contra Cover-up, Clinton's Impeachment and more scandals than I care to count.

Today, there's not much we trust. We automatically assume government is either lying or hiding something. We've become so cynical of the news, most of us watch it just to for the weather...and then look out the window to be sure. We used to hold up sports players like Johnny Unitis, Mickey Mantle, Wilt Chamberlin and the like who played as a team for the love of the sport. Now, all we see are a bunch of self-centered overpaid media driven primadonnas interested only in themselves. Take movies for instance. I still love watching films from the 1930's and '40's, as well as recent ones, but it's mostly the oldies that I enjoy most. Who could not love Randolph Scott or John Wayne in a Western? Who could be any tougher than Edward G Robinson, James Cagney, or my favorite, Humphrey Bogart except, perhaps, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas or Robert Mitchem. Maybe Clint Eastwood if you're lucky...punk. You want sex appeal? You can have your Brad Pitt. I'll take Errol Flynn. George Clooney? Shh...a pale comparison of Cary Grant. Then there's Paul Newman, Clark Gable, Henry Fonda, Gregory Peck, Sean Connery, and way more. You like bad boys? There's few today who could match James Dean, or the aforementioned "In like Flynn" Errol Flynn, the "Rat Pack", but the baddest and savviest of all is still Steve McQueen.

As for the ladies of Hollywood, if you like 'em sassy, how about Katherine Hepburn, May West, Elizabeth Taylor, Betty Davis, Marlene Dietrich, and my favorite, Lauren Bacall? Want classy? How about Grace Kelly, Audrey Hepburn (a real life WWII spy too), Dorothy Dandridge, Ava Gardner or Claude Colbert? Sexy? The Grande dame was May West, but let's not forget Marilyn Monroe, Clara Bow or Veronica Lake, Bettie Paige (the quintessential "pinup" girl whose style is still imitated today) or even Pam Grier? These were gals who could turn it on with grace, style, and could act, sing and dance like they meant it. Most actresses today, including musical performers, depend on to much skin, blatant sexual innuendos, gimmicks and not much else; certainly not talent. That's not to say all of them lack talent. Several actually are, but still, they depend on to much T&A. I'd put up Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Josephine Baker, Frank Sinatra, Bing Crosby, Ginger Rodgers, Donald O'Connor, or Cyd Charisse against just about anyone performing today. Style trumps shtick any day in my book.

While the politicians of those bygone decades weren't any more honest, they were at least more entertaining and ultimately they had the people's interest at heart, especially if they could still make a buck. Heck, even the criminals were way classier...Al Capone, John Dillinger, Frank Costello and Joe Bonanno. America, as a country, seemed to have dreams too. We believed all things were possible. We still believed we could and would do better; that our children would have a better quality of life than we did as would their children; we had good jobs (thanks in no small part to strong unions); We felt proud of who we were as a nation. We weren't doing "world apology tours". We believed in American values of an honest day's wages for an honest day's work; personal honor; looking out for your neighbors, and fair play. We really felt that God was on our side.

Of course things weren't all ice cream and soda pop. There were real problems. Leaders like Ike, JFK, LBJ, RFK, Chavez, and Martin Luther King weren't perfect, but they tried to do the right thing. Women weren't often treated fairly, at home, academically, or in the workplace (and still aren't in some cases). Racism was a big problem as was poverty, but they tried to find ways to work it out. Sometimes it was peaceful. A lot of times it wasn't, but change is rarely easy. Gays were still in the closet----probably reorganizing it by color and season (sorry, couldn't resist), but that was changing too. We didn't worry about being "politically correct". We had an education system that was top notch, especially our trade schools; even in poorer schools, they were better than the best in many countries. Today, as a nation, America is ranked 24th academically---wedged between second tier countries---on average; in some areas ranked even lower. We were taught respect and there was discipline in school. We honored our winners and those who gave it their all. Nowadays, everyone gets to be a winner. We have no losers because we're afraid it will damage their self-esteem. I always thought it made you try harder the next time and built character.

We had our ideological arch-nemesis, the USSR (cue sinister music). They were the "CHAOS" to our "CONTROL"; they had "SPECTRE" while we had "Our Man Flint". Yet, they drove to excel in technology, in medicine, and in space. We went from catching up to Sputnik to landing on moon so many times it almost became routine in just 15 years. That "bad guy" image turned out to be largely of our own creation just as the "bad guys" today are of our own creation. I guess it's just part of our American psyche that we thrive on competition.

But with all this came a certain hubris too. We thought that our way was the only way. We felt that we knew best and we weren't afraid to impose our will---be it with economic domination to the point of exploitation in places like Cuba or overthrowing governments we didn't like in places like Iran, Vietnam, Argentina, Chile, Paraguay, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Panama, and others. In almost all these cases, it was done, at least partialy, to benefit certain US corporations, and almost always we installed or helped to install military dictatorships---very brutal and nasty military dictatorships, not to mention numerous political assassinations we engaged in...both overseas and at home. Little wonder we were and still are hated in parts of the world. The phrase at the time, as I recall, was "the Ugly American". Of course, other countries, notably France and England, engaged in their own "regime changes", but not to the extent we did, and this isn't about them. This is about us. Finally, it's worth noting that with all the so-called nation building we engaged in and all the billions of taxpayer dollars that was spent, not a single country chose to emulate ours.

So what happened to us? Where is our drive? Where did the faith in ourselves as Americans go? Why have we allowed (and I do mean "allowed") our democratic republic to be quietly hijacked and replaced by an oligarchy---rule by the elite 1% and underscored by the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" misruling five years ago now. Why have we succumbed to a national debt wherein we've literally sold ourselves, our children, and even our great grandchildren into economic serfdom? With little notice, our nation silently became the second largest economy in the world behind China, the largest single holder of our national debt and current ideological enemy. Why are we no longer the world's top manufacturer of goods---where did the jobs go? Why don't we lead the world any longer in technology? Why do we suffer mediocrity in our schools or in government? There was a time we wouldn't stand for anything less than the best teachers, the best quality education, and despite any ideological disagreements, there would be bipartisan cooperation at the end of day. When did we allow ourselves to become so divided along so many manufactured differences? When did lies become accepted as truths?

Our national transportation system and infrastructure are not only grossly out of date, it's crumbing daily. Once upon a time, we wouldn't have stood for that. We've become so apathetic that nothing seems to bother us anymore. To quote Pink Floyd, "we've become comfortably numb", and yet we wonder why everything seems to be spinning out of control. America, look in the mirror. Washington isn't capable of doing anything. It's up to us, both individually and collectively, to do what's needed. Don't look to government, it's time we accept that we're on our own. We need to start working together to solve the problems around us ourselves. America, in the beginning, was about each other helping each other. It's time to return to that America again.

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