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Emergency! Calling On All Train Lovers

BLOG #19, SERIES #8

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

EMERGENCY! CALLING ON ALL TRAIN LOVERS

May 10, 2017

In the Sunday, May 7, Denver Post was this alarming article by Forrest Whitman. It begins with these jolting words: “If you see a train, better get on it. The California Zephyr, the Coast Starlight, the Empire Builder, the Southwest Chief, may soon be heading west for one last ride. . . . Of course, it is all about money. The budget Donald Trump submitted to Congress looks like it was written by the Heritage Foundation, a group that thinks the government has no business subsidizing anything, except for the military. Amtrak may cover 94 percent of its budget almost entirely from ticket sales, but still, that’s not enough for those purists.

“What a loss to the West these iconic trains will be. They are not only part of our Western history, but they are also symbols that somebody still cares about the rural West. Trains say you can still get out of town even when a blizzard is moving in. Trains say to the handicapped person that she can have mobility. Trains say to a senior that he doesn’t have to beg a ride from family or a friend but can get down to the station and make his own way. It’s the train that stops downtown that says to a little Western community: ‘You have value beyond what any Harvard Business School teacher would assign.’”

Whitman also points out that “many people living across America’s vast heartland voted for Trump, believing his promise that a trillion dollars would be poured into infrastructure. Now those trillion dollars have evaporated.”

Whitman also notes how ironic it would be for Colorado to have poured millions of dollars into the reconstruction of Denver’s Union Station, then lose its trains! Because of its congestion, the Northeast trains don’t need to be subsidized. But of the 31 million Amtrak riders last year, 19 million never set foot in the Northeast. . . . “The sad fact is that this new budget leaves 144.6 million Americans with no train.”

For a further irony, note that 600 billion dollars have been poured into highways since 1947—141 billion just since 2008!

Whitman concludes with these somber words: “Losing our trains cuts the heart out of the West. I hope we’ll call, write letters, and let Congress know what it means to us if our Western trains are forced to catch the last westbound.”

* * * * *

I am personally enraged by this Federal shortsightedness. Mark my words: For reasons akin to this, rarely do the American people entrust all three branches of government to one party. Whenever an exception occurs, arrogance and over-reach invariably takes place, regardless of which party takes control. I’m personally all but certain that unless the GOP lives up to its promises to all those who believed its promises to the millions who don’t live in Northeast cities—that the Republican Party will lose control of at least the Senate, and most likely the House as well in the 2018 elections. And, if so, it will have only itself to blame.

* * *

But for right now, we have no time to lose. Let’s each respond to Whitman’s call to action: Bombard the White House, Senate, and House with missiles of outrage. Do it today!

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Election 2016

BLOG #50, SERIES 7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
ELECTION 2016
December 14, 2016

What a relief: the long almost unbelievably contentious election is finally over! For most of us, it couldn’t come soon enough. Reason being: now, at long last, normal life can resume again. At long last, friendships can be reestablished—hopefully—between all the millions who have been estranged by the decision to vote differently from the other friend, family member, or spouse. Then, for a time, we can forget that America is split right down the middle where party affiliation is concerned.

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What an enduring miracle democracy is, as has so often been said: “the worst form of government—except for all the others.”

And the cycle tends to endlessly repeat itself.

One party defeats the other amidst much rancor. Members of the winning party are jubilant and members of the losing party are despondent. If one party pulls off a trifecta (presidency, Senate, and House of Representatives), the winning party tends to be ecstatic, and the losing party broken-hearted.

The interesting thing is: When a trifecta occurs, almost invariably, the winning party over-reaches and becomes arrogant and dictatorial, thus planting the seeds of its own destruction. First thing you know, the mood is, Let’s throw the rascals out! – and they do. And the cycle continues.

So let’s all remember that nothing ever keeps going up and nothing ever keeps going down. Sooner or later, there will be a course correction.

Having said that, “Long live the United States of America!”

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The 2016 Primaries – What They Reveal About America

BLOG #11, SERIES #7
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
THE 2016 PRIMARIES
WHAT THEY REVEAL ABOUT AMERICA
March 16, 2016

As an historian of ideas, I have very mixed emotions about what I’m seeing of today’s political process. Those who keep up with our blogs may remember that, several years ago, I reported the conclusions reached by a high conclave of church leaders in Europe. Most significantly, their expressed fear that since Americans were no longer a literate people (the average home featuring home libraries of books and current magazines and newspapers), which is resulting in an increasingly ill-informed electorate that bases their election-related voting on 15-30-second sound-bytes on television rather than thoughtful analysis of more extensive data—then it was considered axiomatic that democracy in America might very well not survive at all.

Do their conclusions not sound prophetic given all that we see and hear?

But, on the other hand, look at the millions of people who tune in to the primary debates—especially the GOP, which fielded 17 strong candidates gradually being winnowed down to three or four. That is encouraging. At least many people care enough to watch.

But now let’s turn to specific areas of grave concern to anyone with high hopes for America’s future:

Terrifying to me is the return of Huey Long politics. Students of American history will remember that infamous governor of Louisiana who rose to power by character assassination. In short, he had goon squads who used detective-based research in order to unearth incidents of character flaws in each politician who stood in his way. Especially necessary to his preservation of power was finding little-known or not-known-at-all moral slips (and all of us make them), then publicizing them so as to destroy those individuals. Movie-buffs will remember the great 1949 film, All the King’s Men, based on Robert Penn Warren’s powerful novel (same title). In the movie, Broderick Crawford, as Willy Stark, a Huey Long prototype, portrays a man who, while appearing to have the best interests of the people in mind, is instead a ruthless and corrupt politician who systematically (much as Hitler did in Nazi Germany) destroyed one by one, those who stood in his way (He won Best Actor that year). Mercedes Cambridge won Best Supporting Actress for her role as the aide who mercilessly implemented the governor’s commands. The film also won Best Picture. In real life, eventually Huey Long was assassinated.

I suggest that each of our readers pay careful attention to our 2015-2016 primaries, and ascertain for yourselves whether or not anyone is substituting character assassination, character ridicule, or otherwise landing punches below the belt, rather than providing positive, well thought-out reasons why his/her candidacy for President ought to be voted in over all the other candidates. In other words, which current candidates ought to be taken seriously by voters (because they provide serious, thoughtful, specific, accurate, substantive reasons for their being the eventual nominee, and which do not). We’ll continue next week.

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A WORLD ADRIFT

BLOG #43, SERIES #6
WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE
A WORLD ADRIFT
October 28, 2015

Once, very long ago, we had Pax Romana, which lasted for a very long time. If you include the Eastern Byzantine Roman Empire, it lasted well over a thousand years. Then came Pax Britannica that lasted over a hundred years. It was followed by Pax Americana—it has lasted about a hundred years. But now that America has all but abdicated its role of global peace-keeper, the proverbial Pandora’s Box has been opened with a vengeance.

Up until recently, a system of global alliances, anchored by the authority and credibility of America, has helped keep the world from ripping apart. Not so today: Hardly any nation seriously believes America cares much about anyone other than itself any more. Result: Russia has stormed into Ukraine—and now Syria; America is retreating from Iraq and Afghanistan; and is permitting China to challenge it across the Pacific. The Middle East is in shambles and millions of displaced people are overrunning the nations of Europe. Europeans assumed national boundaries meant something—but when people are starving, nothing short of wholesale slaughter will stop them from their desperate search for a better life.

In history, democracies have rarely lasted longer than two centuries. Now many are wondering whether or not the same will hold true for America.

In economics, if global trust breaks down, nothing will be able to save the global economy.

If we ever needed God before, we certainly need Him now.

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IOWA CAUCUS – REBIRTH? OR ABERRATION?

WEDNESDAYS WITH DR. JOE

IOWA CAUCUS

REBIRTH?  OR ABERRATION?

 

Dec. 21, 2011

 

As a historian of ideas, I’ve always been fascinated by sudden turning points.  Case in point: During the last year, we’ve seen, one after another, the emergence of democracy all across North Africa and the Middle East.  Even totalitarian Russia now feels the open scorn of its people.

 

In the daily news, we’ve seen Europe reeling from one economic seismic shock after another.  For decades, Europe has been a poster child for a template that appeared to have staying power: one currency for all, fiscal stability, no closed borders between nations, cradle to the grave welfare for all, more than generous retirement benefits, vacations galore (it often seemed that the population of the entire continent could be found on beaches every August), and millions of tourists flooding the continent the icing on the cake.  But no longer: Europe’s template has cracked right down the middle.  And nobody knows how to fix it.

 

In the U.S., things are little better than in Europe.  Only the fact that the spotlight of the world has been fixated on Europe rather than us has enabled us to escape the world’s scrutiny.  But that cannot long last.  Our status quo is unrelentingly grim.

But in Iowa, on the eve of the last debate before the Caucus, something electric happened.  Gingrich may well be right in declaring that we haven’t had anything this substantive in our political arena since the Lincoln-Douglas debates a century and a half ago.  But first, I must admit that, though I’m a registered Republican, I’m a centrist and vote accordingly.  Like most Americans, in recent years I’ve been disillusioned time after time by the G.O.P.  All too often it has seemed as if our Republican leaders were determined to out-dumb each other.  “”Naive’ and “uninformed” way too inadequate to describe their condition, their evident ignorance of current events and national and world history off the charts of probability; their voting out of offices the informed and intelligent moderates who would work together for the good of the country –  instead they elected, all too often, individuals so close-minded they’d stampede the nation off a cliff rather than work together.

However, on Dec. 15, there took place a rational debate between presidential candidates who, for once, did themselves and their party proud.  Same for the moderators.  Such an impact did this make on me that I was unable to sleep afterwards; in fact, at 2:30 a.m. next morning, I got up and wrote until 5:00 a.m.

 

But even now, I find myself incapable of really making sense of all I heard that night.  I’m mightily muddled.  But even so, permit me to muddle through these swirling unconnected thoughts.  Stream-of-consciousness disorganized because I can’t yet make sense of them:

 

It’s like, on the eve of Dec. 15, the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back.  The candidates and the concerned audience fed on each other, together rising to unexpected heights:

 

Rather than merely ramble on unstructured I am bullet-pointing the concerns that generated that eve of Dec. 15:

 

 

  • Government gridlock
  • Out-of-control spending
  • Massive unemployment – worst since the Great Depression of the 1930s, for third year in a row
  • Epidemic of bankruptcies
  • Millions of lives shattered by foreclosures and being evicted from their homes.  Almost half owe more than they could get by selling their homes.
  • The middle class shrinking so dramatically that the gap between rich and poor has yawned so wide we risk revolution from the disenfranchised.
  • The collusion between government and Big Banks
  • The breakdown of our protective agencies
  • The federal out-of-control spending taking a terrible toll on the finances, education, social programs, infrastructure, and public services of individual states, resulting in a devastating implosion
  • The revolving door between government and lobbyists
  • Government office being restricted to self-made millionaires or billionaires or those who sell their souls to special interest groups
  • The decline of a literate electorate.  With elections decided by electronic sound-bytes rather than thoughtful reading of newspapers, magazines, and books
  • The political campaigns degenerating into attack ads and character assassination orchestrated by unknown sources or people
  • Vote fraud
  • The staggering economic toll taken by multiple foreign wars
  • Retirees losing all they’d saved for their retirement years
  • Graduates unable to find well-paying jobs
  • Manufacturing continuing to be sent overseas
  • The perceived failure of so many of our schools and colleges
  • The courts becoming ever more hostile to all public expressions of religion or belief in a higher power
  • Marriage discredited by secular forces; so much so that the nuclear family (man, woman, child) is for the first time ceasing to be the norm.  Out-of-wedlock births are skyrocketing to such an extent that it is said that one-third of all American children are effectively being raised by their grandparents.  Sexuality today trumps lifetime commitment.
  • A media apparently determined to so ridicule religion and those who attempt to live by biblical principles that they will discredit those people into irrelevancy.
  • Widespread attempts to strip religious holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving of their spiritual significance
  • The replacement of time-honored concepts of Good and Evil and Right and Wrong with psychiatric terminology divorced from a Higher Power.  Result: lying under oath no longer means much to all those who don’t believe in God (however they may perceive Him).  Neither do cheating or stealing seem wrong.
  • Deconstruction of history strips our erstwhile national heroes of whatever noble qualities were once attributed to them.
  • Thoughtful parents so terrified of societal forces hostile to their children (bullying, hazing, pedophilia, rape, substance abuse, sexuality without commitment, ridicule of their beliefs, etc.) that they are pulling their children out of public schools and homeschooling them

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

All these variables swirled around during the memorable two-hour debate (meaningful because moderators asked searching thoughtful questions of the candidates, zeroing in on issues where candidates were perceived to be on thin ice).  Furthermore, moderators permitted candidates to respond and defend their actions and words.  Unlike so many meaningless public debates of recent years, where no real substantive dialogue took place, this debate was very real—indeed it was so gripping I felt it to be high drama!

 

Significantly, the Dec. 15 growing consensus appeared to be: our template is broken beyond repair; it almost has to be rebuilt from the ground up, starting with cutting politicians’ salaries in half, moving back to citizen governance with half-time government service and half time work in the real world.  Frugality once again.  Pay as we go: don’t spend any money we don’t have.  Create jobs rather than parasitically siphoning off the life blood of those who are working hard to create a newer and better society.  Bring God back—, more to the point: bring us back to God.  Respect right to life.  Bring back a society based on the twin bedrocks of God and country.

 

Frankly, I’m less than optimistic that what I felt in the auditorium on Dec. 15 will blossom into a much needed cultural revolution.  For both parties—not just the G.O.P.

 

However, in the darkest days of history, God has summoned great men and women to selfless service—Moses, Daniel, St. Paul, St. Nicholas, St. Francis, Luther, the Wesleys, Washington, Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Lincoln, the Roosevelts, Gandhi, Schweitzer, Churchill, Mother Teresa.

 

Why could not God do it again?