Beverly Mae and me live on a cul-de-sac with a lot of old people everywhere. Some of the houses are empty; folks go to Florida, mostly. Some travel to second, third, or fourth homes located only God knows where. None have Christmas decorations. It’s too much work when people are old and no one comes to visit.
A black kid who must have spent a lot of time making Christmas candles came to our house yesterday. He displayed his wares and gave what I thought was a carefully memorized pitch for the homeless.
How much? I asked.
Most folks give twenty dollars, he said. I held an IPhone at the ready pre-dialed to 911 in case he tried to rob me.
After looking the boy over, he seemed like a good kid, so I put the phone away and paid the money. The last thing he said as he stepped back to leave was, Thank you, sir, for answering the door. It means a lot at Christmas.
I wondered if I should tell him that the reason people weren’t answering their doors was that they had already left town, most of them. No, I thought. Better not tell him that.
People live in my neighborhood who, I think, must be more paranoid and racist than me. Some no doubt refused to answer, because they darn well aren’t going to deal with a door-to-door salesman at Christmas-time. Especially if they look like someone who might hate them for being unable to feign even a little trust — a little kindness and love — during the Christmas season. It’s scary when strangers approach the house who are male, black, and have never been seen before.
Christmas is supposed to be white as snow, right?
What if I misjudged the young man? Is it wise to tell someone just because they present well that the neighborhood is empty? Their friends might come back to pillage and loot.
Yeah, it’s going to be a crummy Christmas.
Here are ten things I worry about that make this end of year holiday season especially depressing — and it’s not the weather, which right now is grey and overcast.
The GOP raised taxes on 25% of the public. Guess who made it into that illustrious group? Me. I’m in — according to a questionnaire about finances conducted by the New York Times.
The president left the White House without wishing the country a Merry Christmas! It’s another campaign promise the oinking chief-commander broke. What good is being free to say Christmas if the president won’t say it? Everyone should be used to his lying-ways by now. Sorry — the fat-man continues to irritate me.
Will the president start World War Three on Christmas Eve? It’s just one more thing to worry about. I’m not going to bed with visions of sugar plums dancing in my head this time. Will he obliterate North Korea because they tested bombs and missiles, something the USA has done thousands of times? Who the hell knows?
Will he fire Robert Mueller, a decorated Marine veteran and arguably one of the most honest men in government? Or will he perhaps fire a random person on Christmas, because, why the hell not? It’s Christmas, people! The orange-man demands results. He doesn’t mess around when it comes to making America great. He fired the former FBI director, James Comey, because his attempt to clear Hillary Clinton three days before the election failed. You’re fired! quacked the presidential duck. He did it for Hillary. He really did. He was helping an old friend. That’s all it was. I watched him say so on television. Maybe it was fake news. I can’t tell anymore.
One of the best gifts? Trump gave Americans the precious gift of the ObamaCare Repeal. It’s what he said. I saw the video on the nightly news. He promised to replace it with something way better. Can’t wait to open that present. Unaffordable healthcare is a wonderful thing. It prevents countless thousands of Americans from going to hospitals where they risk being hurt by doctors who are only in it for the money.
Family members who have shopped say the crowds in the stores are minimal. Despite the commercial hype on billionaire-owned media, store sales have crashed.
The stock market noticed. It’s down. Yes, Russian oligarchs are playing games by pulling out money. It’s a fun prank, especially during Christmas. Why not? I confess; I cut back on Christmas spending. The economy can go belly-up — I really don’t care. I don’t put money in the stock market; I don’t vacation in Vegas. The wealthy are on a shoplifting-spree, like under former President Bush. The greed of his fellow-travelers crashed the country in 2008. The current fool’s friends are worse. So will be the results. How long will profiteering take to cut the legs off the middle-class this time around? Not long, methinks.
Churches campaigned for the biggest boob ever to run for the highest office ever in the history of the world ever and of all human-kind, ever. He’s huge, the orange fat-man. Churches organized bus-runs to take congregants to hear Franklin Graham “on tour” who pretended to anyone who listened that he was politically neutral while he ranted against witches (like the unnamed evil Methodist, Hillary) and abortion.
. Omarosé Onée Manigault-Newman predicted that people would bow before our new leader before history as we know it ends. Omarosa is one of the many misfit toys the orange man fired during his climb to ultimate power.
How can anyone go back to those crazy churches should their bozo-president actually screw-up everything at Christmas? The allure of Christianity rides on the back of a thrice-married billionaire who went bankrupt in the casino business, of all things. Somehow he never learned that casinos don’t make money, they launder it. It’s a big difference. When things eventually go to hell in a handbasket (as they certainly will), which churches are going to get the most credit? If the orange-clown kills millions of people to make a point, who gets the pat on the back? Jesus?
I have sons who have made more money than I ever imagined was possible during those times long ago when I held them as babes in my loving arms. To a man, they think things are just fine. No worries. Yes, health insurance is expensive, but think about one thing for just one minute. (People must know that now is not the time for stupid.) Rich people don’t buy health insurance! Right? They don’t need it. Anyone who hoards fourteen thousand piles of a million dollars per pile (like the president) doesn’t worry about a $200,000 hospital bill. Billionaires spend more on Rolex watches.
During the past week, the media informed the public on three different occasions that at this moment in time when the Russians are dismantling the United States, UFOs scramble over the skies of the world on every continent. Is there anyone out there who hasn’t heard the ominous rumblings of UFOs late at night while they are trying to sleep?
Since the last news report days ago, not a peep has been heard from the media. Not a line of warning by the replicants who sit in the seats of media-power. They are so life-like, aren’t they? So Perfect.So Desirable. They seem to never mispronounce words or make grammatical errors. Sure, they screw-up. They do. Listen. Sometimes they say boob-el instead of bubble. That’s how you tell.
None of this is happening, right? Surely everyone understands by now. It can’t be happening. Not now. Not ever. Cover the eyes, ears, and mouth. Stop screaming.
Why won’t you believe? I’m a pontificator. I’m trying so hard to warn you.
It’s not unusual. The current acting director, Elaine Duke, is the grandchild of Sicilian immigrants. Everyone in America comes from somewhere. Divided loyalties are as American as gluten-free apple pie.
I mention it because since 2006 when George W. Bush was president, the Secretary of Homeland Security joined those in the line of succession. The line of succession is now seventeen names long. None are Democrats. Not right now. A few are independents like General Mattis, the Secretary of Defense.
The Homeland Security Director is dead last on the list. The current acting director, Elaine Duke, is (in my humble opinion) the only person in the group who is actually qualified to be president. The list includes names like Steven Mnuchin, Betsy DeVos, and Ben Carson. Some on the list form a kind of rogue’s gallery of characters that could conceivably populate the cast of the classic, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.
The USA’s crazy-Christian, comb-over president leads the list; he directs the country; he is on the top of the world. Like 81% of the fundamentalists who elected him, he is all-in for Israel. Whoever robs and kills in defense of Israel is fine with fundamentalists. They never criticize Israel, even in love. It doesn’t happen.
The president says that he is moving our embassy to Jerusalem. He lies a lot, so who knows? According to him, Jerusalem is now the exclusive capital of Israel; it is no longer shared with Palestine—no matter what modern history and world opinion have to say.
The USA has the power to make truth and justice on the ground whatever it wants it to be. No need for negotiation. No reason to compromise. And by the way, settlements built on land confiscated from losers are just fine, no problems. Come on. Moral qualms? You’re kidding, right?
Never mind that the Old City center of Jerusalem is segregated into quarters controlled and lived in by Armenians, Christians, Muslims, and Jews. Never mind that the modern city is much larger; that nearly 40% of the population is Arab; that holy sites of all faiths abound.
The borders of biblical Israel and all the territories within are going to be re-established, just as they were three thousand years ago by God Himself. There is nothing to negotiate. No compromises will be necessary. Thank you very much.
Christians support Israel, because they believe God has a covenant with modern-day Israel validated by words written in the book of Exodus thousands of years ago. The United States and Israel are joined at the hip like Siamese twins on this one. Israel might as well be added to the collection of fifty states that make the USA.
The reality, though, is that Israel is more like Washington DC. It’s not really a state—it’s a country, obviously—but it has influence on America beyond its size by half. What goes on in Israel affects the United States in big ways (or bigly, as the president likes to say).
Israel is the size of Chicago and its suburbs and has about the same population. Right? Its grip on the United States is vice-like. It rides the U.S. shark like a remora fish. Without its shark for protection, the remora fish gets eaten, like any other small fish in a big ocean. It must be protected.
I’m totally on board. Israel has enemies. The generation that parented the Jewish people who live in Israel today were nearly exterminated by Hitler. The post World War refusal of the west to take in refugees added to their determination to go home to their ancestral lands.
The problem was that people already lived in Israel and had for centuries. Despite the good faith efforts of the nations to broker peace and safety, every Arab neighbor attacked Israel on the day of its rebirth.
Israel won the military contest and occupied lands that international agreements said they had no right to hold. Refugees who had crossed the Jordan River to escape the conflict couldn’t come back. Israel locked them out. It now had a Palestinian problem that would never be solved.
Trust on both sides evaporated. The world today lives with the dangers, resentments, and hatreds that erupted from a failure to love one another during the years when it mattered most.
The world owes the Jewish people a safe place to live. They have suffered enough. In the meantime, we need to build a fairer world. Jews, despite the horrors they have endured, do not have a monopoly on suffering. Many people, including Palestinians, have gotten a raw deal. It’s time to set things right.
I don’t see fundamentalist Christians as being helpful. I’m not feeling the love. I’m not seeing an effort to understand that God loves people who are everywhere. People who God loves are sprinkled like salt among the Palestinians and the Jews of Israel.
These are the people that Christ Jesus gave his life to save. I’m not feeling the respect for Christ’s vision from the fundamentalists who right now have an opportunity to comfort the fearful and dispossessed on all sides. All sides. Believe it.
For Jewish people the stakes are particularly high given a history that repeatedly shows that when they don’t have safe haven, haters attack them. The United States and France can be safe places for the most part, but Israel is special. Israel is an established safe haven for Jews, period. They need one. The world, through the United Nations, established it. A lot of history backs the decision to help, some of it recorded in the Bible.
That said, no follower of Christ Jesus, no one who has read the Bible—New Testament, the Torah, the Prophets—believes that Israel was chosen by God to rule the world. I don’t have to quote the Bible. People know what the Lord requires. He asks people to love mercy, act justly, and walk humbly with their Creator. Does anyone believe it?
Jesus didn’t immolate himself on a Roman cross because people are good, but because they are wicked. People chosen by Jesus don’t rule; they give up everything they have to serve and love others. It’s simple, really.
It’s not easy. Some say it’s impossible apart from the kind of love that was shown to us by a messiah who suffered.
When I studied Hebrew at a local Hillel school many years ago, a girl in the class actually said that Jews were chosen by God to rule the world. Israel would save the earth and bring light to dark. The rabbi nodded his assent. I asked what she thought about the concept of forgiveness. The rabbi waved his hand, and the group moved on.
After class, the teacher pulled me aside. Grace is a Christian concept, he told me. Grace has no place in Judaism.
The instructor locked eyes with me and explained in no uncertain terms that a fundamental tenet of my faith was crap. He intended to make an impression, and he succeeded.
At about the same time a geneticist and his wife came from Israel to America to study at a nearby university. They had young kids the same age as mine. Somehow we met and liked each other. They became close friends. We visited their apartment from time to time. I noticed that they read the Bible to their children, so I asked about it. It’s our history, Yossi explained. We are atheists. But our children must learn who they are.
A few months later we attended a summer dinner at a kiva on campus where a Jewish writer gave a short talk on Israel. We dressed-up and took the kids. Yossi, his family, and mine walked together on the pathway that led to the building.
I was surprised to learn that to get into the event we had to make our way past a line of about a hundred Palestinian demonstrators. It was like walking a gauntlet.
The protestors held signs, but the odd thing was they didn’t speak. They stayed quiet. It was eerie. More than a few wore ski-masks. They stared through eye-holes in silence. No smiles. I felt afraid. My stomach churned. I smelled fear in my nostrils, but Yossi seemed unfazed. I reached for my children and held their hands.
Weeks later, Yossi brought his family to visit at my place. To make polite conversation I asked Yehudith, his wife, about life in Israel. What was it like living there? She said that she didn’t want to go back. The air-raid sirens in Israel frightened her. When they wailed during the day they triggered panic attacks.
Yehudith and her husband were Sabras—native born Israelis. Born and raised in Jerusalem, they didn’t travel, because they had no money.
They knew no other life. I too was poor then. I was raising two children by myself and living in a small house. It was a thousand-square-feet with an unfinished basement. When Yossi and Yehudith first visited they said it must be a mansion. Yehudith marveled at its size and amenities.
She couldn’t believe how well-off we were. She marveled at how much stuff we had. She gasped at the size of our yard. In Jerusalem people didn’t have yards.
Yes, we did have a big yard. No one nearby had one that came close. It was lush and green. Its size was an accident of good fortune—the result of bad planning by developers.
I decided not to tell Yehudith that we were poor. I didn’t have it in me to make her feel worse. She wasn’t going to believe it anyway.
While the Little Rocket Man and North Korea capture the world’s attention, our president is in Tokyo to deal with a threat that dwarfs anything we have faced since the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor 76 years ago.
The surprise attack against our Navy on Sunday morning, 7 December 1941, started a cascade of retaliation against the Japanese that three-and-a-half years later resulted in 67 Japanese cities burnt to ashes during a few months of sustained “fire-jelly” attacks by hundreds of Boeing-29 Superfortress bombers and other aircraft. After napalming the cities to dust, the United States followed the horror with a “preemptive” nuclear strike against the cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.
Nine million Japanese civilians were left homeless. The death toll has never been definitively calculated, but two million souls is a reasonable guess.
A few years after the stalemate of the Korean War, General Curtis LeMay—head of Strategic Air Command—claimed that his pilots had killed a similar number of Koreans by aerial bombardment—20% of the population.
The United States killed an estimated million Iraqi civilians in the more recent wars in the Middle East, which included the Gulf War and the Iraq War.
It killed two million Vietnamese civilians during the Vietnam genocide of the 1960s and 70s.
Why am I bringing up a bunch of disturbing statistics? What’s the point? Why not leave unpleasant memories forgotten in a distant past where they can’t impact the happy lives we live now, not then?
What possible benefit can remembering the past confer upon our contented present? Why bother puking up a sour history that only the old-timers among us experienced?
May I ask one more question? Maybe thinking about the answer will help some to make sense of current events that seem to have no rhyme or reason.
Of the fifty countries against which we have directed our military wrath since World War II, which among them has a right to the biggest grievance? Who did we hurt the most?
Which country has been forced to endure the shame of a military occupation that never ends? Ok, maybe it sounds like more than one question. Deal with it.
America fights secret and not so secret wars against communist, Islamic, western hemispheric, and, it turns out, African countries all the time. We have conducted strategic operations against friend and foe alike since World War II.
We have meddled in the internal politics of super powers like Russia and China. The Dalai Lama of Tibet wrote in his book Freedom in Exile that the United States gave him millions of dollars to incite violence against China, for example.
The USA has attacked militarily one in four of the 190 countries on the earth during the modern era. Which country is the one most likely to harbor a secret ambition for revenge?
America keeps itself in a state of perpetual war to feed the appetites of voracious weapons manufacturers whose stockholders are among the world’s most affluent. The AUMF (Authorization for the Use of Military Force against terrorists) passed Congress, and President Bush signed the bill in August 2001 for a reason—to fuel the demands of arms dealers to free them from the inconvenience of securing approval by Congress to declare wars—which the Constitution demands. Only Barbara Lee (no relation to Billy Lee) of California voted against it.
Since 1991 Congress has passed and the president signed four AUMFs, mostly to cut down on the amount of work and resulting delays that are inevitable when large elected groups of representatives are compelled to go on record for or against any particular conflict.
We in America live under a lot of illusions. We tell ourselves a lot of lies about how wonderful we are and how everyone wants to be like us. Our enemies who fear us the most insist—some of them anyway—that they love us; they want to live with us and be like us, and we tend to believe them.
No one tells a command officer who is carrying an automatic assault rifle that he is a pig; the term “butt-wipe” is never used. No one wants to die for a no good reason like name calling, for example. Our subjugates place flowers in the barrels of our guns and tell us they love us.
Everyone who has been shamed and humiliated prays for their day of liberation; the day of their revenge; the day the world is finally set right. It’s human nature. The desire to settle scores crosses cultural, religious, and geographical boundaries.
Few countries that have suffered cremation by fire of millions of their citizens forget. They don’t forgive. Think long and hard. It’s true.
The situation in Japan is dire; it really is. The United States for some insane and goofy reason permitted the Japanese over the past thirty years to build the most sophisticated nuclear power grid the world has ever seen.
The USA sold the Japanese uranium-impregnated fuel rods. A by-product of their use (to produce the intense heat required to generate electricity) is plutonium. Instead of collecting and disposing the spent fuel rods, the Japanese built facilities to extract the plutonium. They promised to use the plutonium for fuel in advanced power generators called “fast reactors.” Fast reactors are, in theory, cheaper and less complicated; they are also more volatile; more dangerous to operate.
After the earthquake and tsunami of 2011, the Japanese abandoned “fast reactors”. They discovered during the audits they conducted following the disasters at Fukushima and other facilities that their fast reactors had safety records that bordered on terrifying. They stopped using plutonium for fuel. With no place to “burn” the plutonium they were harvesting, it began to accumulate, bigly.
In the entire universe plutonium is found above trace amounts at one location and one location only: planet Earth. Plutonium went extinct due to radioactive decay billions of years ago. It can be created during rare cosmic events, but the bomb-making kind—Pu 239—is a manufactured element that does not occur in nature. It is a by-product of nuclear fission reactions. It hides itself within the matrix of elements that make up the remnants of spent fuel rods.
Plutonium is among the most poisonous substances known. The speck of plutonium dust that kills you, you will likely never see. Some scientists today have downplayed the lethality of plutonium 239. My advice is to be skeptical whenever vast amounts of money and power fuel a controversy.
Regardless of its lethality as a poison, no one argues that fourteen pounds is enough plutonium to make an atomic bomb of a construction so unsophisticated that a high schooler could fashion the necessary components in shop class. Sophisticated bombs require even less plutonium—a mere nine pounds.
Japan has harvested 47 tons (94,000 pounds) of high-grade plutonium from its nearly one-hundred or so nuclear power and processing plants, which include power plants, research reactors, fast reactors, reprocessing installations, and recently decommissioned facilities—decommissioned due mostly to safety concerns.
Japan’s production schedule is running at a frenetic pace—adding eight tons of surplus plutonium to its stockpile every year into the foreseeable future unless the United States is able to shut down Japan’s reprocessing installations with an agreement scheduled for negotiation in 2018. Our new president has said the old agreements won’t be changed.
By this time next year the Japanese will have accumulated enough high-grade Pu 239 to make as many as 12,000 atomic bombs. Should it make that choice, Japan will possess the world’s largest nuclear arsenal.
What follows next in this essay is the scary part. Some readers might want to bail and maybe find a good comic book to occupy their imaginations.
Despite agreements with the United States that followed World War II, Japan has one of the largest military budgets in the world. The country spends 42 billion dollars per year on its military. This expenditure does not include its civilian nuclear power system or its civilian space exploration programs.
The Japanese consolidated three civilian rocket launching companies into one (named JAXA) in 2003. They are launching rockets into space all the time. JAXA designed, built, launched, and maintains the largest module on the International Space Station. The Japanese have spacecraft in the asteroid belt and spy satellites in earth orbit. These are civilian programs.
The Japanese don’t have to make bombs from their plutonium stores to wreak havoc on an adversary. They can pulverize the metal into aerosols and release plutonium dust into the air over cities.
They can load plutonium into drone subs like rumors say the Russians have done and set hundreds of them in the coastal waters of our country. The subs can lie in ocean sand and silt for decades before releasing their poisons, should it ever become necessary.
Their advanced missile technology might enable Japan to overwhelm our defenses by launching multiple warhead missiles over our homeland. It might take a few months, but poisoned populations would eventually succumb to the release of toxic dust.
And, should they choose to make bombs, well, any country with the resources of a country as sophisticated as Japan can turn high-grade plutonium into bombs in a few days; they can possess the capability to create hell on earth in the blink of an eye, anytime they choose. With the right (or wrong) leadership they can unleash a nightmare of suffering far worse than the inferno we inflicted on them 72 years ago.
Plutonium is an artificially produced killing material that no human being, company, or country should ever be allowed to possess or use. It is a forbidden apple of physics that can only bring anguish to whoever uses or shares it with others.
Japan has the potential to threaten the world with the same level of terror as the United States, Russia, China, Pakistan, India, Britain, France, Germany, Israel, and who knows what other countries. Many countries are conducting (in secret) diabolical engineering even now and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
What could be worse? Believe it or not, our predicament might already be much worse than anyone in the USA is willing to think about or imagine.
What about the possibility that North Korea and China are playing a game of good cop / bad cop with our military planners? What if Japan is toying with the idea of leading an unholy alliance? Behind our backs? Do we really have enough Japanese-speaking spies to keep track of all the secret Samurai cults that might be conspiring at the highest levels of government. Do we?
What if Vladimir Putin thinks: The United States lied to me. I helped to elect an American president who is ineffective—a buffoon who can’t help me the way he promised. Let’s get ’em!
Imagine an alliance of China, North Korea, Russia, and Japan; an alliance led by the one country that has the greatest lust for payback; the strongest ache to settle scores once and for all.
A surprise attack by such an alliance would be nation ending. It might end like the Battle of the Little Bighorn. We don’t have enough soldiers or missiles or ships to fight a gathering of tribes who possess tens of thousands of nuclear weapons.
The USA has the power to destroy the whole world if we must, but we can’t save ourselves; we can’t save our country; we can’t save the planet.
In the conflagration that took the hyper-alert Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer by surprise, all his ribbons and medals; all his accolades; all his friends in high places couldn’t save him, his men, or even his horses. The battle of the Little Bighorn was a massacre that dwarfed Custer’s reputation for being a really good person; a hero of the Civil War loved by every patriotic American.
To those who say, Billy Lee, you’ve gone paranoid on us… the Japanese would never organize an attack against America unawares… not a nuclear attack… they know how bad it would be… they suffered through one… they know better than anyone… and look at them, how they smile when we tell bad jokes. The last thing on their minds is revenge. The very last thing!
I say, you are so right! The Japanese would never hurt us. I lived in Japan for two years after the war. The Japanese have their quirks, yes, but most of them are not cruel or insensitive. They don’t enjoy watching torture videos for entertainment, most of them. Tying up women and twisting their bodies to prepare them for rape is not something most Japanese men would have any part in. Am I right? Of course I am.
The Japanese are not monsters. They are a kind and gentle people who don’t farm or ranch or mine, because they are resource impoverished. When I lived there our Japanese house-maids and yard-boys were as sweet as they could be. They meant us no harm. I see that now.
But how on earth are the Japanese going to get rid of the 47 tons of plutonium poison they have produced? And how will they dispose of the eight tons they plan to produce each year into perpetuity—plutonium which they admit has no longer any peacetime applications whatsoever?
Everybody knows plutonium has a radioactive half-life of 24,000 years. It’s never going to go away. Someday, through inattention or from whatever other cause, plutonium containment structures are going to rot, and the poison will leach into the soils, the oceans, and the atmosphere to kill all living things. It is Earth’s best case scenario—the scenario where nuclear war never happens, the world disarms, and plutonium is tucked away out of reach and out of sight of war makers and other terrorists.
The process that will sterilize the planet of all life is already well underway and cannot be stopped—not over a period of tens of thousands of years. Read the essay, RISK, elsewhere on this site. Humans are likely to be extinct by the time the unnatural poisons of war and opulence first make their advance against the innocent, less intelligent life-forms that we will leave behind—like chipmunks and kittens, for example—who will never be able to understand what is killing them or why.
Our new president is in Tokyo as I’m writing this essay. Anyone who asks him will learn—because he’s not afraid to say it—he is really smart and bigly educated. He understands people and how best to manipulate them to maximize his advantages and get what he wants. You don’t believe it? Ask him—for the love of God—ask him.
Maybe we should help the Japanese store their plutonium in a safe place—a place much safer than their earthquake tormented islands that float within the largest fisheries of the Pacific Ocean. We could store the plutonium perhaps deep in a cave somewhere. Maybe we could store it beneath the volcanic cauldrons of Yosemite—or some other remote location, like a trench astride the San Andreas fault.
Yeah, that sounds good. Let’s do that.
If we talk nicely, will the Japanese listen? Maybe they will, if our new president has the sense to ask. Does anyone have a better idea? For the love of God, tell someone.
The United States Navy insists that it has 277 ships on active-duty. About 132 are combat surface vessels; 75 or so are submarines. About 70 are logistical craft designed to supply the fleet. Do the math. 132 surface ships patrol the oceans. Yes, the Navy says they have a fleet of 160 or so non-commissioned ships held in reserve, but they are unavailable and ineffective during first strike scenarios.
The New York Times agrees with the Navy. Everyone agrees—we have 277 ships. I hope the Navy and the New York Times are lying, because if they aren’t, we are in big trouble. We don’t have enough boats. 132 surface ships can’t control the Great Lakes, let alone the world’s seven oceans. Submarines, everyone knows, are almost useless except when used for nuclear deterrence.
The Navy’s Seventh Fleet is headquartered in Yokosuka, Japan. The fleet is responsible to cover 48 million square miles—from Japan to South Korea to Singapore, unless the far reaches of the South China Sea are included; then the square miles are too confusing for anyone to compute. China claims the whole of the South China Sea as its sovereign territory anyway, including all reefs, atolls, and islands.
How many ships bear this awesome responsibility to keep the sea-lanes open and safe from pirates and hostile powers like North Korea? The Navy says, 70. The USA deploys one aircraft carrier and 69 ships. Some news outlets have reported that an additional carrier group has been sent into the Sea of Japan to augment the current force configuration. A typical carrier strike group consists of eleven vessels, two of which are submarines. So, the total as of the date of this essay might be as high as 81.
Sorry, but someone is ordering our sailors to do an impossible job. The job is too big, the resources are too thin, and guess what? A flotilla of 81 vessels scurrying about the South China Sea trying to keep a lid on China, which is expropriating islands that belong to Vietnam, Taiwan, and the Philippines while they build and fortify new ones wherever they feel like it is more than enough problems to exhaust any navy. People get tired. Accidents happen.
We have 70 ships in theater, the Navy says. We probably have 81. What does the other side have?
Well, we don’t really know. They lie. So do we. But we and they both watch; and we and they both spy and calculate.
Hillary Clinton—once upon a time (is there anyone who remembers?) she had the security clearances to know for sure—in one of her 2016 presidential debates, let it slip that Russian drone submarines are patrolling our coasts. These are cheap subs with no crews on board.
She said it once. Her assertion was never repeated in the press or public media. Everyone pretended they didn’t hear, for good reason. The number and types of ships in the Russian and Chinese fleets that are arrayed against our tiny arsenal of boats are state secrets. It’s all classified—out of reach of everyone except those with a clearance and a need to know.
It seems clear to more than a few casual observers of Chinese shipping that the Chinese are building the most high-tech navy the world has ever seen. They have been building it for a few decades now. They have regularly practiced their sea-going skills in coordination with the Russian navy since 2012. Last year the Russians and China held joint naval exercises in the South China Sea, of all places. Joint land-based military exercises started in 2007.
China is selling it’s naval technologies and hardware to smaller countries that don’t normally threaten us. Thailand is buying Chinese subs. With military hi-tech weapons spread among a dozen or more countries in secret alliances with China, well, if it’s happening more than we know, does anyone think it’s good for our side?
But really, what would any reasonable person suspect are the forces arrayed against us? Look around. Hundreds-of-thousands of Russians live on the island of Cuba, just ninety miles from the United States.
Go on Google Earth and look at the Cuban neighborhoods. Some nice ones have Russian street names. It’s true. The Russians have a number of wonderfully designed, modern military bases for both subs and ships; and oh yeah, they have fighter jets and missiles, as well. Let’s not kid ourselves. Go look.
Am I trying to scare the public? Doesn’t the public have enough to fear? Isn’t terrorism, immigration, climate change, distant war, disease, and precarious health care (that could collapse any moment now that the GOP is in charge) enough to worry about? Of course it is.
Besides, our country has ten-thousand nuclear weapons buried hundreds of feet below the cornfields and deserts of our heartland to extinguish any threats, should we lose our Navy. Until they rot and their plutonium leeches into our soils, why needlessly worry? Everyone should sleep well at night, right? I don’t want to alarm anyone, I don’t.
Secretary of State Tillerson said we should sleep well, so why not? He knows all about the Russians, having helped them build their oil industry over many decades. Depending on when anyone takes its measure, Russia’s energy industry is the world’s largest and most productive—bigger than Saudi Arabia’s. People don’t believe it, but it’s true. Russia is the world’s biggest oil and natural gas producer and exporter. Secretary Tillerson must know what he’s talking about, right?
Well, here is some stuff that is not so comforting. It might scare some people. Between 1975 and 2016 (41 years) our Navy experienced nine accidents, mostly between our own ships. Only two accidents involved the boats of foreign countries. That’s not bad. That’s not the scary part. But hear me out.
In 2001 a Japanese fishing-training boat, the Ehime Maru, with thirty-five Japanese citizens aboard, was obliterated near the Hawaiian island of Oahu, when the commanding officer of one of our attack submarines apparently hot-dogged the craft for civilian joy-riders. Our new president, George W. Bush, went on national TV to apologize to the Japanese, and the United States paid huge fines and compensation to the Japanese government and the grieving families of the nine who died, which included four high school students.
In 2004, the aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. John F. Kennedy, ran over an Arab sailboat in the Persian Gulf. 15 people died, but the Navy never identified who they were, apparently, and no one was compensated, as far as I know. Two jet fighters parked on deck were damaged. The Navy relieved the commanding officer.
The most serious accident was in 1975 when the same U.S.S. John F. Kennedy hit one of our own guided-missile cruisers, the USSBelknap, off the island of Sicily. The Belknap was completely destroyed; seven sailors died.
A fire burned on the Belknap for twenty hours just a few yards from the magazine where Terrier surface-to-air missiles were stored. The ship was constructed with aluminum, which caught fire. The entire above deck structure melted. It took nearly five years to reconstruct the ruined cruiser. In 1995, the Navy struck it from the Naval Registry and began using it for target practice. They sunk it during a live-fire exercise in 1998.
A year after the Belknap accident, the USS John F. Kennedy collided with another ship, this time the aging USS Bordelon destroyer during a refueling. The Navy struck the ship from its registry and sold it to Iran for parts in 1977. No one died.
So, during the forty-one years between 1975 and 2016, the US Navy had nine peacetime accidents, seven of which were friendly-fire and self-inflicted. 24 foreign nationals died; 7 U.S. sailors; 1 U.S. civilian. Ship losses: one cruiser and one obsolete destroyer. Maybe other losses occurred. I haven’t heard about them, if there were any.
And now comes the scary part; hold onto your pants: In the seven months since the inauguration of our comb-over commander-in-chief (and keeper of our nuclear codes), the U.S. Navy has suffered four major accidents that have killed 17 U.S. sailors and injured scores more. We’ve lost two of our most powerful missile-guided destroyers—the U.S.S. Fitzgerald and the U.S.S. John S. McCain. It will be years before they are back in service. Readers can read about the fates of the USS Antietam and the USS Lake Chaplain in the links below.
At least two dozen sailors and officers have been disciplined, including a Vice-Admiral, a Commander, and a Lieutenant Commander. Admiral John Richardson, chief of Naval operations, has ordered an “operational pause” to all fleet commanders. He’s ordered a months-long review of protocols, because, he says, “there’s something out there that we’re not getting at.”
All this commotion is happening during a time when we’re planning to conduct war games against North Korea and are daily challenging the Chinese in the South China Sea.
Can I put things into perspective? If the accident rate of the past seven months was applied to the past forty-one years, the U.S. Navy would be short another 85 ships and 800 sailors. Thousands more young men and women would be maimed and wounded, and 250 promising Naval careers would be wrecked. In peacetime, essentially, the U.S. Navy might have lost one-third of its fleet and some of its best sailors and officers at a cost of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Here are a few of the headlines from our country’s newspaper of record, the New York Times. All headlines are from articles written in 2017. I’ve read every single one of them. Readers can access their content by clicking on the links. The remainder of my essay is written below these headlines:
*Some readers may have noticed that the last headline seems to have no connection whatsoever to this essay. But they would be wrong. Recall that the battleship USSIndianapolis was the fiercest war machine we had during World War II in the Pacific. We used that ship to deliver the atomic bomb, Little Boy, (the bomb dropped on Hiroshima) to Tinian Island in the western Pacific Ocean sometime during July, 1945. It would be assembled and delivered to the Japanese people with terrifying effect on August 15.
From Tinian the Navy ordered the Indianapolis to advance to Leyte Island in the Philippines to prepare for an all-out assault and invasion of Japan scheduled to follow the atomic blasts that were soon to occur.
On July 30 the lumbering battleship encountered a Japanese submarine which delivered six torpedoes in the wee hours of the night. Two struck the Indianapolis. It took twelve minutes for the battleship to sink below the surface. The ship sucked four hundred men to the bottom and left behind an oil slick that would sicken the nearly one-thousand sailors and marines who survived to face the threat of death by dehydration, drowning, and sharks.
The Navy didn’t notice that their prized battleship was missing. After five days of vomiting, diarrhea, hallucinations, and shark attacks, three hundred men were still alive (some in lifeboats, including the Commanding Officer) when an aircraft on an unrelated mission saw something suspicious and flew down to take a closer look.
Twenty-two men who were pulled from the water remain alive today. The Navy court-martialed the commander, Captain McVay, and convicted him for not zig-zagging as he sailed. The Japanese sub-commander testified that zig-zagging would not have mattered. The Indianapolis was going to the floor of the ocean, in any event, he insisted. Nothing could have stopped what happened.
Losing a ship, even in war, is a big deal in the Navy. It’s not something that anyone takes lightly, even when there are extenuating circumstances and good reasons for failure. Captain McVay committed suicide in 1968—clutching a toy sailor in one hand and his service revolver in the other.
The Navy has a history of not being able to keep track of its ships. The earth’s oceans are vast, and we don’t have that many boats on them. Hiding ships from our enemies means we sometimes hide them from ourselves.
Civilian boats are another matter. Merchant fleets deploy 51,405 ships on our oceans. Most of them are bigger and longer and heavier than our 277 Navy ships. Almost all run on auto-pilot most of the time, especially at night when the crews sleep. If the computer directs the tanker to ram a boat like the Fitzgerald, that’s what is going to happen. In collisions, chances are Navy ships will lose.
Collision avoidance should be easy. Crews need only have situational awareness and the ability to steer the boat. The problem is that to perform these tasks crews rely on a complicated matrix of technologies that always seem to fail in critical situations like combat or rule violations by other boats.
These technologies should be used to confirm human observation and decisions; instead sailors confirm what the technology tells them, but only when something goes wrong, which is almost always too late. An alarm sounds and a glance at a computer screen shows that a tanker is 500 meters to starboard, so a crew member looks out a window to see if it’s there. No! That’s bassackwards and will get someone killed.
Officers might better demonstrate proficiency in the absence of high-tech aids for situational awareness and steering, then add high-tech proficiencies one skill-set at a time. Maybe they wear merit badges to enable COs to tell at a glance who can handle hydraulic controls and who is good at computer-aided navigation, for example.
Every officer doesn’t have to master every skill-set, and the least skilled officer should be able to turn off the high-tech systems they haven’t mastered in order to steer the boat and stop it using the skills they do have, when necessary.
Laser distance finders (like those used by golfers) and wide-field-of-view night vision binoculars should be standard issue. A half dozen or more sailors should be stationed around the perimeter of every boat and be required to report what they see or don’t see every five minutes or so. No snoozing!
Anyway, one thing about the four accidents this year (January 31, the USS Antietam; May 9, the USS Lake Champlain; June 17, the USS Fitzgerald; August 20, the USS John S. McCain) bothers me: the destroyer McCain was nearly sunk just two weeks after it challenged the Chinese at a contested atoll named Mischief Reef, which the Chinese have in recent years built-up into a military base.
I have a problem with coincidences that turn out bad for our side. Malevolent intent by an adversary is always possible. Every bridge officer should understand the protocols to avoid intentional (or unintentional) collisions initiated by rogue (or wayward) boats.
Our Navy is a mess. Everyone knows it. The optics of powerful warships limping into port under the power of a dozen or so tugboats emboldens our enemies and demoralizes our patriotic fighting men and women. We have the wrong ships, designed the wrong way, for the wrong wars, for the wrong reasons. And our Navy is overworked to the max. We all know it’s true. It doesn’t have to be. It’s good to have high-tech systems, but they are useless during a crisis. Everyone must be proficient at low-tech and know how to enable it. Seriously.
Politics and corruption, profiteering and greed, laziness and lack of zeal are going to kill us all if we don’t wake up. It’s time for civilians to step up and defend our way of life. It’s time for corporations and billionaires to do what’s right—not what makes them wealthy at the expense of our country’s defense and the prosperity of our citizens and the people of the world who are looking to us for leadership.
We are going to regret privatizing our military and using contractors instead of citizens to fight our battles. We are going to lose our freedoms and our country if we don’t fight for both. Everyone must do their part. Corruption can have no role in the process.
We must use our power to make the world safer, freer, and better for everyone, not just ourselves. People are sick and tired of “America first.” We have so much, already.
It’s time to share our advantages, with love. If we do what’s right, if we embrace public service and reach out to the disadvantaged in the world (the military, after all, doesn’t have the room or the money for every citizen), we won’t need to kill everyone who hates us like we’ve been doing for hundreds of years.
A year or two of public service by every American in bad neighborhoods and blighted communities might make a big difference in the why, how, and who we fight.
It’s un-American for the wealthy to leave fortunes to their children and grandchildren. It creates a caste system, which is what we fought a revolution to avoid. Under current tax policy anyone who dies can leave up to $5.5 million tax-free to relatives. Any excess above $5.5 million is taxed at 40%, generally speaking. It’s a bit more complicated, but taxation always is. Loopholes are important to rich people. They pay tax attorneys a lot of money to maintain their power and financial privileges.
Forty percent is not generous enough for people like our current president and his GOP associates. They want the “death tax” (as they derisively call it) eliminated. I’m arguing that the rate should be increased to 100%. Handing out hundreds of millions of dollars to spoiled brats is destroying the USA. A corrosive degeneracy is creeping into every sphere of the lives of the wealthy.
It’s not like there is no precedent. It happened in ancient Rome. The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon was required reading when I was a young man in the 1960s. Modern printing companies have consolidated the history into three volumes and into an abridged version of one.
Gibbon, an English historian, published his first volume in 1776, the birth-year of the USA. His six-volume masterpiece relied exclusively on original sources and, as the remaining five volumes flowed out over the following thirteen years, heavily influenced the builders of the American republic for the next seventy years to the brink of the Civil War.
Gibbon disapproved of Catholicism and challenged its version of history and the role of martyrs. His history was controversial, which resulted in revisions that he continued to write until his death in 1794. His work remains controversial to this day for a number of reasons that aren’t going to be discussed in this essay. Gibbon understood that cruelty and insensitivity in an entitled class of rulers contributed to Rome’s decline. When the barbarians walked into Rome, they were greeted as liberators by ordinary people. Rome fell like a rotting apple. Gibbon’s History was a warning to the future.
In modern-day America creative workarounds have enabled the wealthy to hand out to crazy relatives a lot of clout they didn’t earn. Yes, it’s difficult to stand up to mob bosses, crooks, and their families. It should be obvious that it’s impossible to accumulate billions of dollars legally, but many have. Behind every fortune is a dark secret—sometimes many secrets. It’s true.
So much for freedom and equal opportunity. Freedom is easily lost to wealthy people who think that those who dare to challenge them are misguided misfits—lower and dumber than farm animals, in many cases.
Wealthy Grandpa, it turns out, had hundreds of legislators on his payroll, which bought him all the advantages of a modern-day emperor. His adult children—who haven’t done a darn thing but argue about which-of-them-should-get-what after Grandpa dies—seem to think that they deserve all the power and perks they didn’t work for and could never earn had they been born into the impoverished family whose mother got her start working in Grandpa’s sweat-shop.
I like math, so let’s do some. Divide the Gross National Product (the GNP ($17.1 trillion) by the population (309 million). Use a calculator, anyone who can’t figure it out on their fingers (just kidding!).
If incomes were equally distributed in America, a family of four would earn $221,000 per year. Yes, I agree, it’s not a lot of money—some folks would really suffer trying to raise a family on so little—but try to understand that half of black families earn less than $35,000; half of white families earn less than $70,000.
Unequal administration of legal protections and justice;
No access to health care for tens of millions (despite ObamaCare);
Discriminatory hiring, promotions, and firing based on race, political beliefs, and looks;
Defense by a mercenary military isolated from the general population—a major contributor to the collapse of the Roman Empire, according to Edward Gibbon);
Endemic corruption of politicians, church, civic, and business leaders.
Does anyone disagree with this list? Go to Florida and try to find a safe place to live. Gated communities dominate the new housing markets. The majority of Americans don’t have enough money to gain access to this private world.
As for legal protections, anyone who has suffered arrest and spent time in custody knows that indigent people rot inside our jails, because they can’t afford bail or high-priced private attorneys. It’s a no-brainer. Believe it or not, some of the incarcerated are innocent, but they are treated as guilty and forced to plea-bargain; many are unable to articulate a coherent defense. They end up with false criminal records that make staying out of future legal traps more difficult.
As for healthcare: Aided by the complicity of the Supreme Court, twenty-eight states refused to set-up health-care exchanges under ObamaCare. Twenty-one states (where five million low-income persons with no health care live) refused to expand access to the poor under Medicaid, despite it being fully funded and paid for by the federal government.
Tens of millions of poor remain outside the care of our state and national health care system of hospitals, medical specialists, and general practice doctors.Wealthy GOP donors hope to destroy health care for the poor and lower-middle class with the help of our newest president, because they don’t want to finance medical aid for indigent people—despite all the privileges and protections that they accrue by forcing a myriad of taxes on middle income folks (like social security and sales taxes), which the wealthy avoid for the most part due to their immense incomes. Also, many of the super-rich make their money in the stock market, where the capital gains tax rate places them in the lowest tier of tax-payers. It’s hard to believe, but it’s really true.
Has anyone ever wondered why so many of the racist, alt-right, neo-Nazi, white-supremacists are clean-cut, shaved, symmetrical, and well-dressed men? A visitor from the Philippines who attends a weekly Bible-study with my wife said that after watching the Charlottesville riots, clean-cut white American men now scare her.The reason these fascists look the way they do is obvious, of course. They have good jobs! Another reason is that they hide their nasty tattoos under expensive shirts, many of them.
Mega-millionaire business owners don’t hire people they feel they can’t trust. It’s that simple. Progressive, clear-headed men and women who care about fairness tend to dress and speak freely. They can be troublesome in a workplace, especially if they question unfair practices in pay, hiring, and promotions.
If you are wealthy and run a business, why would you ever hire anyone who thinks for themselves? Hire instead an ignoramus from the alt-right or the NRA. They follow their ideology like lemmings; discrimination against blacks, gays, women, and progressives doesn’t bother them.
Look at professional football, for an example. The billionaire owners of teams (many have the reputation of Neanderthals) hire players who have a PR (public relations) personality. Skill comes in second. Any high school coach in America could recruit a football team out of America’s prisons that could win a Super Bowl nine years out of ten. Yes, their players would be poor and in some cases, inarticulate.
In America, talent on the field of sport doesn’t work that way. Compliance is a player’s highest virtue, then charisma (as evaluated by billionaire owners), then talent. Hard work? Anyone can be forced to work hard, and most do who aren’t born wealthy. Any thinking fan knows it’s true.
Let’s move on. How come we don’t require people to fight for their country as a responsibility of citizenship? Everyone knows the reason. The wealthy don’t want to risk their kids in a potential combat where they might be wounded, maimed, or even killed.
And why should they? Hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged kids line up to sign-up for service “voluntarily”, because they need a job and, hopefully, an education they currently are unable to afford, even if they have a job. The military provides both, supposedly, but in recent years cut backs in benefits for non-officers have been enacted, because, once again, the wealthy don’t want to put up the money.
We hire a lot of kids from other countries to serve our military, both as “contractors” and as a “path to citizenship”. In conflict zones, like Afghanistan, the majority of soldiers on “our side” are foreign nationals. It’s the fastest route to failure according to Gibbon. Read his history, those who don’t believe it.
Many kids won’t re-enlist after their first tour. Military service, despite all the ads on TV, is a tour into hell for many of them. Living far from home and being under 24/7 control by officers who can throw anyone in the brig without trial for any reason is too much stress for most people.
The wealthy continue to degrade the benefits of service for the disadvantaged despite the fact that without a military to protect them, the wealthy could not hang onto their privileges. Common, everyday people are not as blind as the self-serving narcissists who refuse to do heavy-lifting, even as they order drones and the young alike into the killing zones of battle.
Moving to number six on the list—endemic corruption—let me ask this question. Is it honest to accept money for political favors? Just asking. Enough said. I’m not going to waste your time or mine discussing the obvious. An encyclopedia could be written about the history of corruption in the United States. At least one volume could be devoted to corruption during the twenty-first century, a short period of seventeen years.
The most honest man in the FBI, James Comey, helped the Russians wreck our last presidential election by responding to fake news reports planted by Russian agents. Comey behaved like Inspector Javert in the Victor Hugo novel, Les Miserables. He pursued the Democratic nominee relentlessly during her campaign.
He went for her jugular in the final week by reopening a closed investigation and holding a news conference to smear what little reputation and dignity she still possessed. He undercut Hillary Clinton in the final week of the 2016 presidential election. He changed the trajectory of our nation’s history in a way that won’t sit well with future generations.
Corruption disguised as virtue is vice. Any idiot can figure it out. And now our country is paying the price. We elected an unqualified buffoon to be our president. We hope against hope that someday he will change. Maybe someday he will. Who knows?
Let somebody else write about graft; about dishonesty; about slander; about lies; about corruption. I haven’t got the energy. Who wants to be killed for writing what everybody already knows is true? I don’t.
My general statement is this: the United States is hiding behind a pack of lies about its past, present, and future. It’s not so easy to tell the truth to people when large numbers of them start to read your stuff. Fortunately for me, few people see my essays. Yes, I’ve been threatened, but thus far the threats have been manageable.
I don’t know what the solution is. I do know that our current president is making a bad situation worse and less safe for average people. Character is destiny, some say, and I believe it. The president lies and slimes and slanders pretty much everyone except sycophants. He plays the bad boy on an almost daily basis. It’s not going to end well for him or us, if we refuse to do what’s right.
We are so screwed. Read my essay, RISK, those who don’t believe it.
Risk has little to do with who is president, but admittedly some presidents increase risk. The verdict is still out on our current president.
I heard Elon Musk say that our country is like an aircraft carrier with a small rudder. The president sits by the rudder—it’s about a foot wide and three feet tall—and tries to steer the carrier to the right. By the end of his term, the carrier will not have turned much. However, its forward momentum is unstoppable. Are we headed toward the correct horizon? Does anyone know for sure?
It’s not good, peeps, what’s about to come. My advice is to take things a bit more seriously and prepare as best as anyone can for whatever problems might arise from poor leadership and the neglect of minorities, the impoverished, and the disadvantaged that always seem to follow.
Today, as I write, the orange man (now blonde) who stole our election on behalf of the Russians held a meeting with Russian diplomats. He allowed only one press organization to cover and release photos. I asked some reasonably well-informed, smart people what press organization they thought it might be. They answered, Fox News.
Of course, their answer was nonsense. Fox News is clueless. It always has been. It’s run by a group of non-native Americans (their countries of origin are China and Australia) who have their own idiosyncratic ideas about what they want the USA to become. Their women parade around on camera half-dressed; recent lawsuits have disclosed that executives use many of them for sex. They pretend to be patriots and Christians. Of course, anyone who isn’t deaf, dumb, and blind knows they are neither. They aren’t reporters either. Cheerleaders for GOP politicians is a better descriptor.
No, the correct answer is TASS, the Russian news agency, which is an arm of the Russian government. TASS made the press announcements. They released the photographs. And of course, life goes on. No one seems to care. On Tuesday, the FBI director—who led the investigation into ties between our leaders and Russian mafia-oligarchs—was fired.
On Wednesday (today), we learned that it was the president—he remains under investigation—who fired the FBI director; he celebrated by meeting with his Russian friends. They all wore black suits, as if to highlight their bonds of power. The president lied, it turns out, about both the process and his reasons, according to members of his own staff who leaked to major news outlets.
The FBI director learned that he had been dismissed when he saw the announcement on television—the place where all of us get the news we trust most. He thought it was a prank. He was preaching, apparently, to a new class of recruits somewhere in southern California. He read the announcement on the scrolling news ribbon. Later, one of the president’s civilian body guards hand-delivered the director’s pink slip. One report claimed that the leader of the FBI hired a commercial aircraft to make his escape home. (ABC News reported that he was able to secure a government plane.)
Unless the Russians go door to door arresting people, no one will ever care—certainly no one in the GOP, it seems. The typical American lives inside a psychotic bubble of evil. Some act like they’ve lost the ability to assess realistic threats to their way of life; to the things they hold dear. They’ve watched too much television, too many movies, too much pornography; they’ve explored too many fake news sites—sites designed by experts to manipulate them into believing absurdities.
The typical American takes too many drugs—some wake up with caffeine and amphetamines; some struggle through stressful work days that last way too long; they sustain themselves by swallowing tranquilizers or derivatives of heroin like oxycodone; some put themselves to sleep with barbiturates or alcohol or both. Some drugs are prescribed; they’re necessary. Others are illegal. It doesn’t seem to matter. The appetite for drugs is massive; Americans spend billions of dollars every year for drugs they shouldn’t be taking.
Many Americans would strap syringes to their arms if they believed that no one would notice—as did Howard Hughes, the billionaire industrialist from yesteryear. Some readers may recall that our government confiscated his many businesses to make it easier to build and secure our country’s infamous war machine; the process drove Howard insane; he became dependent on drugs only they could reliably supply to keep him docile and compliant. He lived his last days wearing Kleenex boxes on his feet, because the tissues cushioned his arches and comforted him.
Howard Hughes watched movies all day long, movies he once produced; they often featured his long-lost Hollywood friends. When he felt sad, which was often, he tapped the end of the plungers in the syringes strapped to his arms. Sometimes he cried.
The Mormon FBI agents who baby-sat him allowed him to wallow. They left him to himself, for the most part. He never traveled, unless they took him. He never fled his gilded prison. His addictions made flight impossible. He might as well have been left to die on a sandbar in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He dropped off the face of the earth. Members of Congress, some of them, worried about him.
The public was asking, Did Howard Hughes die? He had vanished from view like a ghost. No one ever saw him. He must be dead, some argued. Others knew better. They arranged a phone call with his handlers—to allay the fears of those few who believed that bad actors held him against his will. Some powerful congress members wanted to know the truth and share it with the public.
During the call—which was broadcast to the world via speaker-phone before a full congressional gathering—Howard said that he was OK. He was alive. Someone asked, almost as an afterthought, if he was happy. His reply stunned Congress into silence. He answered, No… I’m not happy.
The phone called ended, and that was that. A few years later, Howard died. The coroner said that he found broken needles embedded in the bones of Howard’s arms and legs. He weighed less than ninety pounds.
Erich Fromm published the book Escape from Freedom in 1941. It was a required read in my high school during the 1960s, which was a long time ago—for some people. It seems like yesterday to me.
Fromm was a German psychoanalyst who argued that true freedom, if it ever came, would scare people so bad that they would embark on an unhealthy search for security; for certainty. The search would be a kind of escape; a frantic fleeing from the painful dissonance that the dissimilarity between people with disparate values can inflict.
This discord intensified inside the USA during the past decade or so. Does anyone really want to go through the list of things that Americans hate about each other? Must I mention gay marriage, abortion, liberal politics, civilian access to weapons of war, religion, race, ethnicity, politics, viewing habits, Facebook rants, Twitter smears, and on and on?
People follow; they unfollow; they block; they unblock. They flip channels. Nothing works; nothing helps. Erectile dysfunction, for example, is a subject that is thrust into everyone’s faces; into the deepest recesses of our subconscious minds. It’s relentless. It’s discussed with commercial intensity on every media channel. People who watch sports programming can’t escape it.
No one can turn off the voices that are driving us mad, because the people who manipulate the public don’t agree with our points of view; with our sense of life. Do I suffer from erectile dysfunction? No; Hell no! I wish I never heard the term.
Do I yearn for a leader; a guide; someone to stand things up; to set things right? Yes. Of course I do. But it seems like Christ is not going to visit anytime soon. Maybe a Second Coming is fantasy. Maybe we’ve been stood up. Maybe we need a Führer. Yeah, that’s it.
I said earlier that I borrowed this essay’s title from the book of the same name published in 1941 by the German-born psychoanalyst, Erich Fromm. I don’t know if the book is required reading today or not; perhaps it should be; better books might have replaced it.
I considered a different title; I did. Maybe the Stockholm Syndrome would have been better. It’s about the ten percent of hostages who take on the values of their tormentors. I thought and thought. No; Escape from Freedom was best.
At least for now.
Note from the Editorial Board: The details of the life of Howard Hughes included in Billy Lee’s essay are based on his memories of events as recorded in press accounts written and televised in real time as they were unfolding. Billy Lee’s memories do not in every case align with current historical accounts, because the history of Howard’s life has been reconstructed and fictionalized by many sources—according to Billy Lee. Billy Lee believes current accounts are revisionist, and in some particulars may in fact be inaccurate. Billy Lee witnessed the congressional interview with Mr. Hughes as it occurred.