Sunday, April 24, 2011

Travel Photography - Continuing

The scene in the accompanying photo is on my way to work and the other day, I decided to stop and shoot it. This dogwood tree is in a field on Cruso Road as drivers head up towards Cold Mountain. The fence in the foreground and the trees behind frame it nicely with the bright white blossoms drawing the eye into the upper left third of the frame.

Just past this location is the spot where I shot many of the images in my "Travel Photography" gallery on Zenfolio.

Watch for more images as we travel around the country, especially the Smoky Mountains, Blue Ridge Parkway, and the Appalachian Trail. We'll be heading up through the Shenandoah Valley next week!

Also, readers may be interested in following my new series of articles on "Restaurants with a View". Considering started a blog dedicated to that subject. Check back soon for details. The first article in that series can be found HERE.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Missing the Cold War, Part II -- Conclusion

The conclusion of the article by guest blogger, Reese McKay.
The United Nations is often pointed out as the seat of this menacing threat to the sovereignty of the United States and other national governments. However it seems to me that the UN is really mostly a sideshow used to distract and draw peoples' attention away from the real power centers (don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtains). The proceedings and operations of the UN make for some occasional entertaining theatrics. However, it was set up so that it has little real independent power. The five dominant nations at the end of the Second World War made sure that each one of them kept complete veto power over any serious initiative proposed by the UN. Each of these five “permanent members of the Security Council” has quite freely wielded their veto power numerous times over the decades. It seems to me that the real power structures are mainly all the central banks, the entire interconnected banking system beyond the central banks, the WTO, GATT, NAFTA, the G7, the G8, and now the G20, and numerous other international monetary and trading systems and rule-making processes, nearly all of which are totally or nearly totally outside of the influence of electoral and representative government.

What amazes me (and it is one of the most depressing aspects of this) is how so many people on both sides of American politics seem to fear only the "other" side's political motives and ambitions. It should be crystal clear to anyone by now that both major parties in the US have been in virtual lockstep for decades, especially when it comes to "foreign policy." Their rhetoric is strikingly different, but their actions when in the Oval Office are strikingly similar and trending continually in the same direction. This clever use of rhetoric and propaganda to keep the "common" people fiercely divided against each other is the most ingenious and powerful weapon the elites have in their arsenal. I simply have not seen more than a handful of politicians in either party over the past 30 years or so who have really stood up for the Constitution, the rule of law, the sovereignty of the US, the economic well being of the average citizen, and a foreign policy that is not merely based on keeping the American public in a state of fear in order to manipulate us to let the super wealthy continue dismantling the republic and the economy. Both parties have either promoted or stood by and gone along with policies that continually water down and dumb down the news we get. They have continually supported policies that benefit the global elites at the expense of everyone else. In fact I voted Democrat for a long time in recent years because it appeared to me that the Republicans were even more in the pockets of the global elite than the Democrats are. It seems to me that Republicans have routinely and continuously backed all international trade agreements, some of which seem to have helped to lower wages and eliminate jobs in the US. Regardless of the claims of lower prices, economic growth, and other justifications for these trade deals, I have seen little evidence that their benefits have outweighed their damage to the US economy in terms of lowering the general living standards in the United States and reducing job opportunities here. The Democrats have unfortunately jumped on the same bandwagon, doing little other than paying lip service to the importance of putting in provisions in these trade deals that protect American small businesses and workers. Many of our trade deals seem to have unilaterally given most of the advantages to our foreign trading partners such as China. These deals may also help American owned corporations open up new markets in places like China, but the net effect for most Americans seems to be lower pay and fewer jobs. China keeps its currency artificially low, giving it an unfair trading advantage, and neither party is willing to do anything about it other than engage in cheap talk.
The last Bush administration practically held a gun on Congress and threatened an international global economic depression if Congress didn’t immediately approve (no real questions or deliberations allowed) a trillion dollar bank bailout. Did everyone notice how much money Wall Street poured into the Obama campaign and the campaigns of Democrats running for the House and Senate in 2008? The bankers fell all over themselves to “support” Democrats when they realized the Republicans were going to lose in a landslide. As soon as Obama and the Democrats were in office, the bankers immediately started campaigning hard and heavy against them, despite the fact that the most powerful members of Obama’s administration were heavy hitters from Wall Street itself. I can’t really tell what President Obama stands for when it comes to the biggest and most important issues. At least the Republicans talk a better game. By that I mean the Republicans are more straight talking about their agendas and supposed principles. But am I the only one who noticed how frequently the Bush administration’s actions seemed to go in the opposite direction of their rhetoric? I don’t think I am the only one. During his second term I talked to numerous Republicans who were nearly constantly and bitterly complaining about the failures of the Bush administration to live up to their promises and to stick to Republican principles. So, just as I ask myself “who are the real Democrats,” I ask myself “who are the real Republicans?” Which Republicans are going to show up on any given day?

In any case President Obama has been such a huge disappointment that I may be willing to vote for a Republican again, as long as the Republicans can nominate someone who can at least create the appearance of being a real leader, someone who can stand up to the most radical elements in his own base when necessary like Ronald Reagan did on a number of occasions. I don't expect to ever see another one like Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt, or Ronald Reagan. I know all of them had their faults and their detractors can even make a case that they did some terrible things, but given the difficulty of being the leader of the most powerful nation in the world during a century that was wracked by such terrible and devastating wars, those three seem to have done remarkably well. I don't think it is entirely the fault of Bill Clinton or George W. Bush or Barack Obama that they have each been such disappointing presidents in so many ways. They have all had to deal with an immensely powerful mafia-like banking system and the difficulty of managing the sheer size and weight of the US government, and especially the momentum of the military-industrial complex and the intelligence/security apparatus in the context of a world that is rapidly changing, extremely chaotic and volatile. The American people seem poorly informed, childish in our expectations, and wanting to stick our heads in the sand when it comes to many of the bigger issues.

The bitterness of our divisions and disagreements (and mutual distrust) probably has a number of causes. But here is one striking fact. The country has been badly divided ever since the Vietnam War. That war and other events of the time so badly divided the country that no Vietnam combat veteran has even been elected President. Being a Vietnam vet has actually been either a political liability or at best not a big plus. It is the first time I know of in US history that being a combat veteran of a major US war has not been a major political plus in running for President. Bill Clinton did not serve in the military. John McCain, a Vietnam hero if we ever had any heroes from that war, lost the nomination in 2000 and lost the election in 2008. George W. Bush served in the National Guard, but thereby avoided actually going to Vietnam. And even his VP, Dick Cheney, the most hawkish of hawks, avoided military service during the Vietnam War. Not that I have any standing to criticize anyone who didn't fight in Vietnam, since I took my college deferment and later got a very high draft number. And I sure didn’t volunteer to fight there.
I can't exactly remember what I was thinking about above when I mentioned the "bright side." But, I still have some optimism that the American people will wake up and figure out how to work together on the things that we can agree on. Oddly, I have numerous friends of every imaginable political and religious stripe. I seem to get along with all of them just fine on a personal level. Yet I am less and less sure what exactly we can come up with that most of us can agree on. I once thought I understood American politics. Now, not so much. For example, can anyone give me a meaningful definition of “sovereignty” in the 21st Century in light of the seeming tendency of nearly everyone to go along with the continued internationalization of all trade rules and other aspects of the economy, finance, etc.? Americans seem willing to expend all of our energy fighting over the culture war and things like the definition of patriotism. We get involved in endless wars of words and name calling contests, seemingly content to let the international elites of all stripes merrily divide up the world for their own benefit and make all the big decisions without bothering to inform us “little people” of what they have decided. My only request is that people ask more and deeper questions. We need to become more intelligent in how we engage in politics and how we decide who to trust, who to support, and what policies to support.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Missing the Cold War

Today's guest blogger has been a life-long friend. We were close all through jr. high and high school. Then college and life took us in different directions. Last year we got together again for our high school reunion and discovered that we still have similar interests and opinions. As before, we don't always agree and we still enjoy lively conversations on a wide range of topics. Unlike my wife and I, he doesn't practice politibacy -- nor is he an apolitical inactivist.

This piece isn't intended as a personal manifesto, rather, he hopes to ignite interest and engage in healthy discourse with others who can contribute both similar and differing voices. Please consider the words of Mangham, LA native, Reese McKay, who now resides with his wife in Colorado. (Image from
Part One:

I often find myself missing those old days of the Cold War. It seemed like there was a certain stability and predictability about that era, although that's probably just bullshit. The decade of the sixties with Vietnam and all the assassinations was as volatile and dangerous as any other time in history. But the 70s and 80s seemed somewhat more upbeat to some of us at least. That is also probably an illusion. There were numerous economic and political upheavals during those two decades also. I probably have good memories of those two decades because I was finally out in the world on my own, starting businesses, learning about the oil business, and exploring the Rocky Mountains from the Canadian border all the way to New Mexico.
Lately I have been watching documentary after documentary on the “New World Order.” For me politics and especially world history and international politics have been a lifelong interest, so the ideas and warnings expressed in these documentaries don't especially shock me, although I could become depressed about it if I allowed myself to dwell on it too much.
In any case, as they say on Monty Python, "always look on the bright side of life." So, looking at the bright side, watching all these movies (and reading quite a few books over the past five or six years) has given me a more comprehensive understanding of the perilous situation we are in now. The fact is, even if you choose to have a more optimistic outlook (crazy as that may be) and assume that the people can still become informed enough and exert enough concerted effort as voters and active citizens to have some effect on the direction of the US government and on global relations, wars, etc., the situation still looks dire. Even if I settle on the most optimistic interpretation I can possibly make on the events of the past 50 (or 100) years, it still doesn't look very good to me.
I used to believe there was really a meaningful difference between electing a Republican or electing a Democrat as President. I voted for Ronald Reagan twice and on balance I think he was a decent president when I compare him many of the others (both before and after). But, even with the Reagan administration, the executive branch continued to arrogate more and more power to itself. The role of Congress continued to decline. The odd thing now is to remember that the "news media" actually reported on a good deal of the secret shadow government operations back during the 80s. By and large the major networks and newspapers actually reported the major scandals involving the CIA and other government agencies. They even reported on and questioned the excessive influence of some of the top para-government, para-state organizations such as the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations. It is almost hard to believe now watching old TV news footage from the 80s and seeing the news reporters actually asking serious questions of high officials about things that the "news" media almost totally ignores (deliberately of course) since those days.
Even though the top politicians were almost always protected by all kinds of finagling and "plausible denial" -- some people were actually arrested, tried, and convicted for violating US laws in some cases, including fairly high level executives of some private corporations. For example, the CIA's involvement in drug smuggling and money laundering was openly reported. Important banks such as BCCI were exposed as laundering drug money among other crimes. Now these things (although it seems certain they are happening on an even much bigger scale than they were during the 80s) are almost never acknowledged or mentioned by the big US TV news networks or the AP or the big newspapers. Now about all you get is nonstop inane gossip about the latest celebrity caught up in some meaningless personal scandal and continuous reports whenever any big natural disaster happens, politicians caught in sex scandals, and even relatively small local disasters are reported breathlessly (even if it is a fire happening in some town a thousand miles or more from where you live). Anything to avoid reporting on any substantive debates on serious national or international issues (except in brief sound bites). In fact many of the issues that historically would have been openly debated by Congress are now being "debated" behind closed doors by the para-state operations (presumably).
All through the last twelve presidencies since the end of World War II and the beginning of the Cold War, it seems that the military industrial complex and the "security state" apparatus of secret government has steadily grown in size, power, impunity, and ever greater secrecy. Congress is virtually a useless appendage when it comes to foreign affairs, and the members of Congress in both parties have largely acquiesced in this process of allowing the legislative branch to be neutered in relation to foreign policy, starting and conducting wars, etc. They can't even demand to find out what the intelligence agencies are doing in broad general terms (state secrets, especially memorably invoked by Senator Inouye back during the 80s or early 90s-- "I respectfully request, blah blah blah"). The continuity from Democratic administrations to Republican ones and back to Democratic ones is remarkably constant. The executive branch becomes ever more opaque and grabs onto ever more power and governs more and more through executive orders. Since 2001 the President (both of them) has routinely signed executive orders every year continuing the state of emergency declared that year under “Continuation of Government” laws. According to these laws Congress SHALL review these orders within 6 months after any emergency is declared and SHALL decide whether to extend the "emergency" or revoke it. Yet, Congress has routinely just passively let it go on.
Any way, I was turned off of politics (and much more interested in other aspects of life) during most of the 90s and the first term of George W. Bush's presidency. I did follow the news on Iraq, Afghanistan, etc., just not as assiduously as during other periods of my life perhaps. So, with my renewed interest over the past few years I have had a chance to look at it all with fresh eyes, a new perspective. And with this new perspective I am now finally even beginning to understand why so many of my friends consider global warming to be another fishy issue. Even though I still believe that the science of global warming is solid and has evolved over a 150 year (or even longer) period of ongoing scientific investigation, I can see that it is such a convenient issue for the global elites (the biggest bankers and wealthiest families being the dominant members of this elite set) to use in their dream of further establishing their “new world order,” which has been talked about at least since the days of Woodrow Wilson and the aftermath of the First World War. But each generation of politicians has grabbed onto this concept of a “new world order” and tried to redefine it in whatever way suited the political elites of the time. I can vividly remember President George H. W. Bush evoking his own version of the new world order back in the late 80s and early 90s. It is a vague and malleable term, a term that can have a kind of feel good quality as well as a kind of hard edged toughness to it. In that way it is perfect as a political propaganda term in American politics, since it can have some kind of appeal to both the liberals and the conservatives. It is perfect for politicians who wish to hedge their bets because it seems so innocuous and never has to be fully defined and explained.

However, the reality of this long and endless process of establishing a new world order is that it has no end. It is never finished. In actual practice one of its consequences seems to involve the gradual destruction of the United States as a sovereign nation (a project that is pretty far along) and establishing a system of world government that is accountable only to these elites (probably a mere 10,000 or so super-wealthy interconnected people, although their networks of influence obviously extend throughout all governments, most of the larger corporations, think tanks, etc.) My personal take on this is that it is not really a grand conspiracy in the way such things are often defined. There may not even be any real centralized organizational structure that is secretly in charge of this movement, whether people imagine such an organization to be the Bilderberg Group, the Club of Rome, the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Free Masons, Skull and Bones at Yale University, or any other such murky and secretive organization. I see this process more as the natural tendency of all of the people in possession of great wealth and power, and who wish to solidify their own hold on that wealth and power. One way to consolidate and extend such wealth and power is through the creation of ongoing political and academic institutions that are designed to maintain the current global status quo, whatever that may be. But, generally, as has been so well stated, power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. The more power and influence these various organizations, “trade and investment accords,” central banks, and other international political and economic structures manage to gain for themselves, the more they are emboldened to grab onto more power, and to attempt to create oligopolistic power structures that are accountable to no one else.

Part Two will appear here on Sunday, April 17, 2011. Please come back for the conclusion.