Monday, January 27, 2014

If You Were King....?

What follows here is so startling that even the calm Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News cautioned his viewers that they would have a hard time believing it.

85 people own as much as the poorer half of the entire human race.

I'm going to say it again:

85 people own as much as the poorer half of the human race.

Yes, you read it right.  85 people own as much as do 3.5 BILLION people.

Note that I didn't use words for the term "85" even though correct usage mandates such when a numeral begins a sentence.  I wanted you to have the full impact of the smallness of this number:  85.  A two digit number.  Far less than the number of people it would take to fill one very small movie theater.

They own collectively $1,100,000,000,000.  That's one point one trillion dollars.  They own, on average, about twelve billion apiece.  As an individual you virtually can't spend the interest on twelve billion fast enough to keep interest from accruing and thus enlarging your holdings.  That's true even if you put the money out at the chump-change rate of one percent, which is what the rest of us get on our chumpy little savings, if we have any.

What some business person would answer is that these very rich individuals don't necessarily own all this loot as disposable income or posh luxury homes and yachts.  (Though you can bet that they have lots of these goodies.)  Much of their wealth is invested in businesses that produce jobs for many people.   So say the defenders of the super-rich.  Well, let's hope that's true.  If so, the numbers above remain startling but arguably don't rise to shockingly criminal.

What is shocking is how pathetically small are the individual  holdings of one half of the people of the world.  They have virtually nothing.  They have on average about $315.  It's not clear if the folks compiling these statistics are counting only money as "wealth" or including everything one has.  I suspect it's the latter.  So 3.5 billion people essentially have nothing.  Maybe a tent or a cardboard dwelling, some raggedy clothes, possibly a pair of shoes, a cooking pot, part ownership in a small cooking device that burns wood or coal and increases global warming a lot (3.5 billion small fires are a lot of carbon going into the air).  They likely have a drinking cup though lack clean water.  They probably get their water out of a river or communal well.  Maybe they have a goat or a sow or a few chickens.  (Flu arises in China each year because the poorest people share their living space with pigs or fowl.)  They may have a share in a tiny piece of land to grow a few edibles.  Mostly they trade their labor  -  the labor of beasts of burden  -  to buy their subsistence diet.  There are no toilets, lights, books, schools, or piped warm water for bathing.  Nothing.

Bill Gates has just addressed his club of the super-wealthy whom he has pressured into pledging to give away all their wealth.  He's just told them that the number of poor nations is dropping to an "all-time low" due to the successful efforts of his group and the IMF and the World Bank, etc.

Well, that's nice.

But it's sort of meaningless.  Other studies show that the economic inequality in these no-longer-dreadfully-poor countries has made the poor people even poorer.  Some people in those countries are doing better because of Bill Gates; most are not.  Gates and his guys have helped only those who turned around and helped themselves to the whole pie.

The answers in these poorer countries is the same as the answers would be here in the USA where economic inequality has become outrageous.  End corruption.  Fund all schools equally well.  Tax fairly.  Let the workers be adequately paid for their labor, especially teachers.  Let everyone own stock in something, preferably the company they work for.

But even then can capitalism provide for all?  It seems to be the only system that even comes halfway close.  But it also seems to require "growth", the ever-increasing exhaustion of the world's resources.  Isn't there anything else that can give people a decent level of living and an escape from squalor?

Yes, there is.  But that's for next time.  Meantime, see if you can think of a better system.  What would you do if you were king of the world?


Sunday, January 19, 2014

Flee, Groucho! Flee!

A posting or two ago I promised to tell the story of Groucho Marx and the FBI.  As they used to intone at the opening of the Lone Ranger radio show, "Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear...."  Except it's not the Masked Man and his Mighty Horse Silver who are riding out of the dust of history.  It's the FBI in hot pursuit of  -  can you believe it?  -  Groucho Marx!

It's 1971.  Nixon is grinding his way through the presidency, and a lot of us are worried about what's going on.  Among those concerned is Groucho Marx.  We all tend to forget that comedians pay close attention to what happens in the world.  But after all, it was the Fool who was with Lear on the moor that night in the wild storm that represented the political breakdown of their world.

Groucho looked the situation over, chewed on his cigar, and said that the best thing that could happen was the assassination of Nixon.

He was clearly right because Nixon's campaign cornerstone, his "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam, had actually meant going on with the war for years and years and causing the deaths of hundred of thousands more Southeast Asians and thousands more Americans.  He was also poised to try to steal our country, steal elections, and generally mess up everything.  Being a trouble-maker himself when in character, Groucho sensed all this about Nixon.

The FBI heard what Groucho had said and high-tailed it to see him.  Following the assassination of John Kennedy and the gross mishandling of evidence in the shooting. as well as the carelessness of local police in letting their star suspect get shot down, Congress had enacted a law making it a federal crime to kill a federal officer or even threaten one.  Or a federal candidate.  The FBI were understandably eager to exert their new jurisdiction over would-be federal malefactors.

But, honey, not all the king's horses nor all the king's men are a match for the likes of a Groucho Marx. Catching out a comedian is like catching quicksilver in a sieve.  When the FBI asked Groucho if he had indeed threatened the life of the president he emphatically denied it and then craftily added, "Besides everyone knows I'm a liar."

I don't when, if ever, the FBI realized they'd been flummoxed.  When did Groucho mean he was lying?
When he urged the killing of Nixon?  Or when he denied doing so?  One can envision the FBI about a half hour after the interview wondering what in the hell Groucho had actually said to them.  But apparently there are no second acts in pursuing a Groucho.  Having originally acted like idiots the FBI now had the good sense to slink away without arresting the 80-year-old Groucho, instead being content to merely give Groucho Marx a case number, identifying him as a threat to the president.

How outrageous, you exclaim.  Giving a case number to Groucho Marx and starting a file on him.  But it's okay.  In those bad old days, we mouthy types all had FBI case numbers.  It was our badge of  courage.

What's yours?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Tea Party Is Toast! And You Heard It Here First!

This past week Congress enacted a spending bill over the objections of the Tea Party. Yes!  The Tea Party has indeed lost its grip on the House of Representatives,  just as I claimed last October, almost four months before its demise was formally announced two days ago by the New York Times.

"Speaker John A. Boehner has reasserted control over his fractious Republican conference." sayeth the Times this week on its front page, "leaving his far-right flank angry and isolated."

As explained in this blog at the time, the death of the Tea Party came during the stand-off about the budget last fall when the Tea Party GOP in Congress insisted on closing down the government if Obamacare wasn't repealed.  Beyond that they threatened not to raise the debt ceiling, meaning the country would default on its debts and we would all have to move into caves.  Obama pledged to stand firm against them and their threats, announcing he would not negotiate with them.  Boehner noted Obama's stance and proceeded accordingly.

Together Boehner and Obama defanged the Tea Party, as I pointed out step by step last fall.  Knowing he could count on Obama not budging, Boehner let the Tea Party shut down the government, luring them into it by making vague noises to the effect he approved their shenanigans. Once they were out on the limb and with GOP polls dropping through the cellar floor and frightening even some Tea Party members, Boehner scampered up the tree with his power saw and cut off the limb. He put the budget bill and the debt ceiling measure on the floor of the House so that they could pass with the votes of both the less radical GOP minority of his party and the Democrats.

This wasn't a game, folks.  At stake was the fate of the country and not just as to the looming default.  Our very democracy was at risk.  Democracy's fundamental is that the majority rules.  By stooping to extortion the Tea Party contingent hoped to thwart the will of the people.  They not only wanted to negate a duly enacted law, i.e. the Affordable Care Act, but also negate the outcome of the 2012 election.  In 2012  Obama resoundingly won a second term, and one million more citizens voted for Democrats for the House than voted for Republicans.  If it were not for GOP gerrymandering, the House would have been Democratic.  Since fall of 2012, the Tea Party has been trying post facto to overturn the 2012 election by threatening to defeat any GOP member in a primary unless he votes with the Tea Party.

It no longer works.  Boehner has chosen to ignore the threats and instead allow votes in the House even when there is not a Republican majority in favor of a measure.  No longer can 84 GOP Tea Partyers paralyze the government.

The New York Times has now published the Tea Party's official obituary on its front page.  The mainstream media (when it finishes gorging on Chris Christie) will fall in line behind the Times and view the Tea Party as a deflated balloon.    

And in the background we can hear the angry wailing of the mourners.  Among those now screaming bloody murder, according to the Times, are the Tea Party Patriots, Heritage Action, and the notorious Club for Growth, three of the mightiest of the far-right groups.  How far the mighty have fallen!

In short, the Party is over.  Now let's go celebrate!  The drinks are on me.

Just remember you heard it here first.



Saturday, January 11, 2014

"I Am Not a Bully" and "I Am Not a Crook" But Is Christie Lying?

One step at a time, please.

We already know Gov. Chris Christie is basically a liar.  He claims he's not a bully but he is.  When someone has to go on TV and tell the nation that he is not a crook, as Nixon famously did, or that he is not a bully, as Gov. Chris Christie just did, then chances are that the guy is a crook or a bully as the case may be.

In 2009 when Christie lumbered onto center stage as a GOP candidate for governor of Democratic New Jersey, he acted like a bully right on television in front of everybody, yelling at various women voters when he didn't like their questions? Given his girth, he should have been doubly careful not to come across as a bully.  Being a big bully is worse than being just a bully.

So that's settled.  He has acted like a bully.  Therefore he is a bully though he dissembles about it.  We now know that the political bullying by closing the George Washington Bridge is in character for him.

The question remains:  Is he lying about not knowing that his staff closed down the George Washington Bridge as political payback against a Democratic New Jersey mayor?

Of course he is.

There is no way he couldn't have known unless he was seriously stoned the entire week the shutdown happened.  I worked near the top of Gov. Jerry Brown's first administration.  I saw a governor governing up close.  California is a lot bigger state than New Jersey, but Jerry Brown would have known if his staff was closing roads as political payback.  How can any governor not know?

Let me assure you that there is ALWAYS someone ready to go to a governor (or any boss) and rat out miscreants in the organization.  Honey, that's the way up the ladder.  That's the way the ratter-outer proves loyalty to the boss and gets lots of brownie points.   Was no one loyal enough to Christie to let him know what was going on?  That would really be yet another sad comment on him!

Suppose his office had no loyal ratters, unlikely though that is.  Even then how can the head of a state, big or small, have around him people who are stupid enough to pull such a stunt but simultaneously be clever enough to hide from the governor their involvement even though they are dumb enough to put the whole thing into emails.  People can't be outrageously stupid one minute and then deucedly clever the next.  They also can't have an impulse to hide something from their boss and yet be blaring it in emails.  Let me assure you that in government  -  and most human affairs  -  this sort of mishmash just doesn't happen.

Of course they might have been so brazen with their emails in the belief that their boss was too stupid to ever catch on to the whole thing.  If his top staff thinks so ill of him, that does not speak well for Christie.  But isn't he saying the same thing?  He insists he doesn't know what was going on in his own office. That makes him one dumb dude.

He also insists he was lied to by his trusted upper staff.  Really?  Who picked these duplicitous, disloyal and stupid people to work for him?

In short, Christie's story doesn't wash.  He's either one dumb dude or he's lying.  What really is bad is that he thinks we are dumb enough to believe him.  As the mother of six children and a lifelong politico, lawyer and college professor, I sure know when someone is spinning a lie.

I'll bet you do too.  But if you do believe Christie, there's another bridge in the New York area that I'd like to sell to you.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Insane FBI Pursues Insane Clown Posse and the Juggalos.

I am so glad I've lived long enough to see the FBI make a collective ass of itself yet again.  Gosh, how we've missed J. Edgar Hoover and his weird nutsiness, peaking as it did with his tape recording under the mattress of Martin Luther King, Nobel Prize winner and one of the half dozen most significant persons of the 20th century.  A fed official who can make that big a mistake is a dream come true for all comedians.

But Hoover's less colorful present successor is now coming close to the zaniness of Hoover.  I don't know the present jerk's name (he is very uncolorful indeed) but he and/or his Bureau have decided that some rap band is a public enemy and that its followers are "gangsters".  This reminds me of Putin jailing those cute girl singers.  Haven't these police-state guys got anythimg better to do?  Like stopping the bombing at the Boston Marathon or at the Volgograd train station?  Both of these terrorist attacks were directed at athletic events.  Wouldn't it be more manly of the FBI and Putin to protect athletes than to harass singers and their followers?

That's where the Juggalos come in.  In case you didn't know, they are the followers of the Insane Clown Posse.  Apparently they wear tattoos.  Wow, what a crime!  And several Juggalos have done some bad stuff.  I think, however, that their worse act is picking Juggallos as a name because I can't manage to spell it consistently.  But hey.  These Jug guys and the Insane Clowns are real Americans.

We know that because they have just filed a lawsuit against the FBI for harassment and a bunch of other stuff.  That's the American way!  File a lawsuit!  If I had some money I'd contribute to the insanity of this whole thing by at least sending the Jugs and the Clowns enough to buy their lawyer a sandwich.

We used to get wire-taped all the time by the FBI.  And followed.  Even into an I-Hop.  In that Nixon era nothing was sacred.  Not even pancakes.  But I didn't sue the FBI.  When one of them wanted to interview me about an anti-Nixon demonstration I had organized and wanted the names of the labor leaders involved, I did two things.  I said it was too noisy to hear him where I was and that I'd call him right back.  Then I called the president of the county bar association.  He was a great help.  "If we could get the Los Siete off, we can get you sprung!" (See postscript below for who the hell Los Siete were.)  The smarta_ _  lawyer was laughing. So I told him he could mind my six kids until I got out of jail.  He stopped laughing.  But an idea had been born!

Next I called the FBI guy back and said I could meet him at my house in 20 minuted and he could hold the baby while I fixed dinner for the other five kids and, at the same time, we did the interview.

He never showed up.

This week a bunch of aged anti-Vietnam old darlings are confessing to their youthful burglarizing of an FBI office during the Vietnam war so as to steal documents showing the USA was doing bad things in Southeast Asia and to American protestors.  The old dissidents used a crowbar to break in.  Kinda crude.  But they've been smart enough to lay low until the statue of limitations has run out.

I wonder.  Has the statute of limitations run out on inviting an FBI agent to hold your baby under false pretenses?  Is laughing at the FBI a crime?

And why did the FBI almost arrest Groucho Marx in 1968?  Tune in soon for  "Flee, Groucho! Flee!" And tips on how to spot an FBI guy or an undercover cop.

P.S.  Los Siete were a group of six Latinos brought to trial in San Francisco for allegedly shooting a police man to death.  "Siete" means seven, but one of the guys eluded capture.  Los  Seis were acquited.  Thus the attorney errs on two grounds in calling them "the Los Siete,  the other mistake being that "los" means"the".  Theirs was a cause celebre among the many celebrated causes of the 1970s, like Angela Davis being on trial for having all that hair.  These were the watershed years when police departments and other things were about to change from all-white male to something else entirely.  Oh, baby, we have come a long, long way! We who laughed then are still laughing!


Sunday, January 5, 2014

Seven Things for Facing Down the January Monday Morning Blues

The holidays are over. In that part of the world that has real winter, January will creep along drearily.  Even outside the lands of snow and ice, January is stern. And, to top it off,  tomorrow is Monday.

So what are ya gonna do?

Pick your face up off the floor and think about the following things, past, present and future:

1. This great new Pope Francis is shaking things up!  Why didn't the Catholic church get a Jesuit pope a long time ago!  This guy is the gift that never quits giving. Humane, compassionate, funny, humble, shrewd and  -  most of all  -  telling it like it is!  Go get 'em, Francis!  A Catholic friend of mine in Little Rock who has to use closed caption TV reports that, when Francis was elected, the transcriber struggled with understanding "the first Jesuit pope" and instead wrote "the first Jewish pope".  Says the Little Rock friend, "The Church is an equal opportunity employer."

2. Think about Gene Kelly doing the number "Singin' In the Rain" in the movie of the same name.  Monday or not, you gotta smile!

3.  Rejoice that the feds are ordering the farmers to stop routinely feeding antibiotics to animals we are going to eat.  This is a major cause of the mutations in bacteria that make them impervious to antibiotics.  It's a long overdue regulation but it's come at last!  Chalk another one to President Obama. Left to itself the fed department would never have stood up like this to the farmers.

4.  In September the EPA issued regulations on coal-fired plants that will virtually shut down the old plants and prevent any new ones being built.  These regulations will save lots of lives in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic states where the particulates in coal smoke blowing from Ohio produce aggravated asthma that kills thousand every year.  Further, coal smoke is a major cause of global warming and acidification of the oceans.

5.  Season IV of Downton Abbey starts tonight in the USA. In this season all the characters will be killed off.  Except Thomas.  Meantime, our own super-rich citizens will get further schooling in how to employ the rest of us as servants.  You'll notice I used a Roman numeral for Season 4.  The reason? It's show biz tradition!  Sheet music and movies always have Roman numerals for dates. This greatly troubled the guy I used to write comedy with because he was somewhat handicapped as a movie historian and the same re songs.  He lamented, "I was absent that day in high school when they taught Roman numerals".

6. The role of Thorin Oakenshield in the new Hobbitt movie is played by Senator Ted Cruz.

7.  Six more Guantanamo prisoners have been released.  They could have left years ago but they preferred to stay in prison rather than go to the countries that offered to take them:  Costa Rica, Palau, the Maldives, El Salvador, Bermuda, and Switzerland.  These guys weren't guilty of terrorism, but if they were put on trial for stupidity....?  They've just now picked Slovakia!

Have a great Monday!  Just keep thinking about Gene jumping in those puddles!  And stay tuned in to this blog all year for handy hints on how to change the world.  Which you absolutely can do.

Wait! Wait!  I'll go to Bermuda even if those released prisoners don't want to!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Good for Jimmy Buffett! Now it's Your Turn. Parts I & II

The media loves to ballyhoo the bad stuff. Thus a lot of encouraging news slips past us, including news about how things are getting better.  So I'm kicking off this new year by pointing out some good stuff, including some efforts you may want to join.  And also a tip of the hat to Jimmy Buffett for trying to save one lost man.  As the Jews say, "He who saves one life, saves the world."

So here's some good news you may have missed:

1.  Ever wonder what happened to all those Russian nukes after we signed disarmament agreements?  Those nukes have been lighting your life!  During the past 20 years, no less than 10% of America's electricity has come from the nuclear material in the Russian nukes.  Oddly, no one much recognizes this wonderful conclusion to 40 years of terror nor the concomitant 10% drop in our use of fossil fuels.

2.  Due in part to a cutback in miles driven and an Obama-required increase in auto fuel efficiency, America's importing of oil has dramatically dropped.  (More required auto efficiency comes in 2015.) This is not only good environmentally but signals a big shift in U.S.-Arab relations, i.e. no more boot-licking of "friendly Arab leaders".  Was this lessening of dependency on Arab oil part of the Arab Spring?  In our oil-soaked past we would have leapt to protect our "friends" on their seats of power. Instead, i the Arab Spring, we let the people determine the outcome.

3.  We may be near a resolution of the Arab-Jewish standoff in the Middle East, says Secretary of State John Kerry. True, this has often seemed imminent over the last 60 years and never actually occurred, but  Kerry is a different from any of his predecessors.  He's a hell of a lot tougher.  Unlike Hilary Clinton and other previous Secretaries, he's gotten the two sides back to the table. And don't forget how he pushed Iran to agree to halt nuclear enrichment.  Also remember how he manipulated Russia's Putin into getting rid of Syria's chemical weapons.  Kerry may be just the one who can push the two sides past their intransigence.

Items #4 and #5 are mentioned in #3.  We are safer from these weapons of mass destruction.  That's always good news!  So where's the celebrating?

6.  Although acidification of the oceans may be killing the great coral reefs,  hundreds  -   maybe thousands  -   of volunteers are transplanting more resistant reef segments onto the ocean floor so as to give the reefs a second chance.  Also Presidents Clinton and Obama  both took significant action to protect the reefs off U.S. coasts.  Millions of ocean acres are now federal preserves.  Google the preservation of ocean reefs to see what you can do to help.  An estimated 60% of ocean life depends on the reefs.  As for the acidification, it's a by-product of the carbon in the atmosphere that's also causing global warming.  And we all know what we can do to cut down global warming.  So in 2014 just DO IT!  Drive less, put on a sweater and turn down the thermostat, insulate, turn off and/or unplug your lights and appliances when not using. And, most of all, get your city and state to enact conservation measures.  YES,YOU CAN get measures adopted.   Most laws start with one person wanting something very, very much.  Let it be you!

Take a break in this long blog.  That's why it's in two parts.  Go take a nap, or go for a walk, or make some coffee.  P.S. The Jimmy Buffett story is in Part II below.


7.  GOP denial of global warming is the worst enemy of the earth.  It's the death knell too for the human race. Why?  Because we can't get international treaties controlling carbon emissions until Congress enacts a law legally binding the U.S. to uphold the treaty commitments it makes.  Absent such a law, other nations just don't trust us. So here's the biggest thing you can do in 2014 to fix this beautiful old world and give your grandchildren a chance at life:  WORK AND CONTRIBUTE TO ELECT A DEMOCRATIC HOUSE AND 60 DEMOCRATS IN THE SENATE.   Do this NO MATTER WHERE YOU LIVE!   Beginning soon, I'll try to identify the 17 House seats where we have a chance of winning back a House majority; same re the seats we need in the Senate to get our majority to 60 and thus preclude filibusters.  After we win in 2014 we can DO SOMETHING BIG ABOUT GLOBAL WARMING!  We can enact the law that will convince other nations we mean to do ur share.  Thus we can get a strong treaty. YOU CAN SAVE THE WORLD with 17 more House seats and four more Senate seats!

8.  Good for Jimmy Buffett!  A small story perhaps but a heart-warming one.  A reminder of the goodness in each of us. Like #7, it's about the ocean.  Buffett had engaged a boat to go fishing off the New England coast when word came that a fisherman was overboard somewhere in a huge area.  When Buffett heard this he instructed the captain of the boat he'd hired to take them on a search mission instead of the fishing trip.  Buffett didn't find the lost man but, against all odds, someone else did.  Found him alive.  It's like Sean Penn rescuing people from Katrina.  Or George Clooney trying to save people from the slaughter in Africa.  It's a testament that none of us are absolved from our duty to each other.  With that in mind we are an unstoppable force for good.

9.  Occupy Wall Street yet lives!  Its goal in 2011 was to make a statement and it succeeded.   It focussed the political mind wonderfully well for the 2012 election, clarifying for voters the real issues in GOP v. Democrats and thus helping Obama win.  Its progressivism and populism also promise to have an impact in 2014.  The rallying cry of Obama et al is increasingly "economic fairness", "equal opportunity" and"closing the gap" between the super rich and everybody else.  Under this banner will come, hopefully, an increase in the minimum wage and an extension of unemployment benefits.  Baby steps perhaps (except to the recipients!)  but a start toward the tax reform needed to strip the wealthy of the big breaks shoveled at them by the GOP in the Bush years.

10. We are going to plant some trees in 2014.  Yes, the "we" includes you.  Newly-planted trees eat lots of carbon out of the atmosphere. Trees ARE carbon.  If we plant enough trees we can do much to reduce increases in global warming.  As it is, the air that blows west to east across America leaves our east coast cleaner than when it entered from the Pacific, thanks to our forests.  Smokey the Bear was right!  We need our forests.  All year I'm going to nag you to plant a tree.  GO GET THAT SHOVEL!

So it's hi ho, hi ho, we're off to save the world in 2014.  Just like our predecessors did all that good stuff in prior decades, the stuff I wrote about last time.  The torch has passed, not to a new and younger generation but to all of us here now.

Don't let the light go out!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

It Is the Best of Times: A New Year's Present to You and the World

"It was the best of times; it was the worst of times."  So said Charles Dickens at the beginning of  "A Tale of Two Cities" in one of the greatest openings ever.

With a new year beginning, what kind of times are we in now?  As I say in the title, these are not just good times, they are the best!

They are certainly the best they have been during the nearly 78 years of my life.  The year I was born the world was suffering its sixth year in a terrible Depression with no end in sight, the Spanish Civil War was becoming a rehearsal for WWII, alert Jews of Europe were already trying to flee Germany and Poland, polio was a cruel scourge, measles worldwide killed hundreds of thousand of children yearly, blacks were being systematically lynched in this country, women were universally oppressed, in America gays and Catholics and all minorities were despised and excluded, there were no birth control pills and very limited grounds for divorce, trade unions were getting nowhere, and cars were unsafe at any speed. And if you got a simple bacterial infection from a scratched knee you could die.  There were no antibiotics.

To round things out nicely, let's push our starting date back to 1914, making our comparison for a full century. That gets us the twin disasters of World War I and the 1918 flu epidemic.  Certainly those years weren't anybody's idea of "the good old days".

Folks, there never were any good old days.  THE GOOD OLD DAYS ARE NOW!

Clearly now is the best time there's been for a hundred years, maybe in all recorded history.  War is no longer viewed as the normal and natural activity of nations.  We are even getting less tolerant of governments making war on their own people.  War is a crime, and we bring heads of government to trial for starting wars or committing other "war crimes".  This was inconceivable when I was a child during World War II.

To a large extent it was also inconceivable that the world would rush to the aid of a nation struck by a natural disaster, as now routinely happens.  In the old days dismal black and white newsreel pictures of Chinese or Indians starving by the millions didn't stir the nations to relief action.  Nor did the terrible flooding of the Ohio River valley when I was a kid.

A century ago London choked under "killer fogs", as you can find if you read your Sherlock Holmes.  It was from the filth of coal burning.  In Chicago, the buildings that were supposed to be white were almost black from coal burning.  By the early 1950s in sparkling clean Los Angeles, auto emissions and factory smoke brought forth a new pollution:  the blinding haze of something called "smog".

In those same 1950s something else would be added to our air:  Strontium 90 in the radioactive fallout from atom weapon explosions in the desert.  Public radio (just beginning to exist) encouraged us mothers to submit our toddlers' baby teeth for testing for radioactive poisoning.  Everybody forgets John Kennedy ended the above-ground testing.  I don't forget.  And I love him for ending it.  It was a parent's nightmare.

The really big nightmare was, of course, the fact that we would have had at best only a half hour warning to flee the true apocalypse of a nuclear exchange with Russia.  In 1962 the Cuban missile crisis was utterly terrifying, but we lived in only slightly less terror of nuclear war for over 40 years.  That's a long time to be scared for yourself and your children and then their children.

I could go on and on.  And you could respond that we still have problems today, such as global warming and other environmental degradation, a shrinking middle class in this country and an embattled labor movement, civil war in Syria, sporadic terrorist attacks everywhere from Boston to Mumbai, and horrific working conditions in southeast Asia that can cause a thousand deaths in the collapse of a factory. The stand-off in the Middle East between Arabs and Jews has passed the half-century point and continues. There are also about 27 million people worldwide who are reputedly in slavery; many millions more who live in desperate poverty.  And bacteria are becoming increasingly impervious to antibiotics. These are all dreadful things.        

But we know about them, and we are trying to do something about them.  Surprisingly perhaps, we're making gains on solving most of them.

That piece of good news is, however, for next time.  I'm not predicting, however, that 2014 will be nothing but good news. No right-thinking Jew dares such optimism, nor does a Democrat in a midterm election year with a Democrat in the White House.  But I do suggest we look for the good and work at making more of it happen. And if I'm still up for that at age almost-78, why not you?

Happy New Year to us all!  Now let's do it!