Category Archives: politics

America gets a real-time IQ test

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I’m going to assume that some moderate percentage of the US population could either describe an oligarchy or identify one if they saw one. I don’t think it is anywhere near 50%, but let’s say it is greater than 25%. (But read the Wiki. It’s a good primer on what tipping-point we just crossed)

Now what percentage of them could identify an emerging oligarchy? It would be like saying you can ID an oak tree, but not an oak sapling. Lots of people fall into that category.

What just happened in the US is that an oligarchy sapling just broke through the forest floor, is getting lots of nutrients and sunlight, and before you know it, son, you got yourself a mature oligarchy growing right there in the front lawn. And the bigger it gets the harder it will be to get rid of. How do we know if we have a real oligarchy, and not just a playboy-type with delusions of grandeur? The dichotomous key to political systems will get you close:

You have a billionaire as president-elect. He became a billionaire by extracting moderate sums of money from thousands of people at a time, and then doing it again, and again. What billionaires care about it not whether the Dallas Cowboys are looking good (That’s Jerry Jones’ issue, and he is “special”), or whether their bills are getting paid. They mainly care about other billionaires, their money, and how they stack up against them. So we can check that box. They play “Fantasy Billionaire” the way Joe Six Pack plays Fantasy Football. But with piles of other people’s money. No other billionaires have been elected to the presidency of the US. That is a big bragging point right there. That goes over real big when he gets on the phone with other billionaires AND with other heads-of-state. It’s a win-win. And don’t he know it? It’s Trump, Putin, and a few guys in the UAE. That, as they say, is the list of billionaire heads-of-state. Don’t go looking for their free press or their sterling record on human rights.

And in the case of our current president-elect, Donald Trump, he is demonstrating his incuriosity, thin skin, and sub-par intellect at every damn turn. We don’t have a super-genius billionaire, or even a really smart billionaire. We have a whiny douche from Queens who inherited more money from his daddy than the average American makes in a lifetime. He is accustomed to outsourcing virtually everything. He hires “the best”. (More on that, and how he only hires the best for himself and hires the worst when it comes to protecting the American citizenry, later.) How does a guy like this plan to run a country?

Glad I asked! First, you put military lifers in positions where you want chain-of-command respected, not a bunch of smart-ass sass-back. You only want to hear “how high?” when you yell “Jump”. So you stock Defense, Homeland Security, and Intel with guys who will throw their mother in front of the L-train in the name of chain-of-command. It helps if you have conspiracy theorists with itchy trigger-fingers and an axe to grind. Less motivational work and coercion to waste Trump’s time.

Next, you recruit fellow billionaires who you know will put other billionaires (like the president-elect. just sayin’) first, and pretty much fuck the little guy all day long. That is how they got there. When you find anyone who ever called Rex Tillerson “human rights champion” please let me know. Trump himself has *never* gone on the record regarding human rights (I looked, and if you find something I am all ears). It is safe to say he has never though about the concept other than as a way to tar a “loser” who put humanity over making a dollar. Go find the country that Rex Tillerson has staked out where you have a thriving middle class, lots of manufacturing jobs, cheap top-flight health care… Good luck. If that model was successful they would be like Johnny Appleseed, as opposed to Joey Goebbels.

And Trump has Bannon, who jerks off to photos of Goebbels, so another base covered. This guy is a “strategist” in only the broadest way. He seems to be the worst kind of political apparatchik. The kind who will never be seen in public, or grant interviews, or take any real responsibility. He has his hand up Trump’s ass and it looks like Trump is talking, but you are really hearing Bannon throwing his voice. THAT is this dude’s “strategy”. And as usual, when “strategy” is next separated from “propaganda” it will be the first time.

Next, Lackeys. You cannot have a functioning oligarchy without lackeys. You need dopes who are so far over their skis that they will take whatever direction they get because what the fuck does Rick “Dancing with the Stars” Perry know about nuclear warheads? Nothing. And he ain’t gonna learn anytime soon. The steady stream of agency heads who are incompetent or outright hostile to the charters of the agencies they are being tapped to head is not a coincidence. You want a nice mix of incompetence and hostility. Both is nice.

Like an exterminator examining the mud casings in the footings of your democracy, I hate to tell you this, friend: you got a colony of oligarchs, military stooges and lackeys setting up shop in your house. The fix is to get at it early and maybe in short order you’ll have a problem you can fix with a can of RAID. But for now you gotta be ready to do the hard work to knock this oligarch colony down to size.

 

A observation on Close Up Magic

When Trump was mowing down the seemingly endless pool of rivals for the GOP nomination he was pulling off a very simple con: Whatever the opponent’s strength is, that is a bad strength to have.

Trump never had to back up his self-aggrandizement because he had a very public brand and he maintained a drumbeat of labeling his opponents with simple, easy to comprehend nicknames.

The youth movement of the GOP, Marco Rubio: Little Marco

The reality-challenged but politically powerful Ted Cruz: Lyin’ Ted

and so on… There was no time to be asking serious questions about Trump’s policy goals because “hey, look over there, it is a new target for my grade-school bully act.” At no point does anyone in the press (I have looked, but maybe I missed someone) call him out on this. They are falling for this “got your nose” level scam, and falling hard. And it works, and as one after another falls to this trick he wins the GOP nomination.

To the press it all seems like a lark, because, you know, he’s a hack and has burned much of his needed support base by humiliating them in a very public way. All of the living former US Presidents are telling American’s that Trump is not acceptable and a danger to the core principles of the nation. And there it is again. Got yer nose! Two-term Republican President George W. Bush?A two-term Republican President, leaving office, zero live appearances at a national convention. Well, you gonna listen to a guy who was photoshopped out of the GOP family picture for two straight GOP Conventions? What about his dad? A one-termer. Probably senile. Jimmy Carter? Bill Clinton? Who in the GOP is listening to them on anything, ever? People who have held the office were discredited out of hand.

On the other hand, people with zero experience, or negative experience, are showing up alongside Trump and getting free rides. Nigel Farage buggered off to who knows where when his Brexit ambitions were realized. He had no plan because he never thought he’d win. (maybe that makes him a perfect role model for Trump now?) He shows up alongside Trump on the campaign trail? Aside from being a major no-no in US election protocol, he was given a free pass on his cowardice. These sort of free-rides might be explained by a simple “cult of personality” effect. But the silence that greeted people with real job experience? That is a straight-up con job.

So what happens when he is facing Hillary Clinton, a very experienced, very politically savvy opponent with top-level foreign policy credentials and a AAA-rated philanthropic foundation? Experience is bad. It’s a code-word for “beltway-insider”. Experience in the US Senate, and having run the gauntlet of those elections? Generic claims of how bad she was, no supporting evidence needed. Again, experience is a negative. Service as Secretary of State? Again, that experience is turned into a negative. The GOP spent tens of millions of dollars on congressional investigations and found nothing of substance. That should be a point to Clinton. Nope. Regarding Benghazi Colin Powell says (I paraphrase) rightly that Christopher Stevens made a decision to operate with a minimal security detail and it came up snake-eyes. Again, a GWB-guy, and we don’t like him anymore. Plus Powell has always been too cozy with the Dems. Regarding the so-called email scandal, again, nothing of substance. The power of the FBI applied to a small pile of emails (ask GWB who deleted 2.2million at the height of the Iraq war, when serious questions of who knew what and when were being asked, if 30,000 emails is a lot of emails) finds nothing. Still, it is turned into a negative for Clinton. This charade is now in full-on snowball mode. And then the director of the F B fucking I piles on for no apparent reason two weeks before the election.

And speaking of strange bedfellows, Trump starts off his campaign with Paul Manafort fresh off a Ukraine PR campaign for Putin, and seemingly still running errands back to the Kremlin. Nothing. No alarm bells. One day of warm press and he is replaced. Nobody ever asks if he is still working in any capacity. The Kremlin is thought to be behind a stream of leaked emails from the DNC. Most of these are beyond vanilla. And despite playing an open wink-and-nod game with Putin during the campaign, Trump gets a free pass. Again, The Kremlin Is Openly Hacking US Assets to Support A Candidate For U. S. President. The CIA knows this. Crickets. Oh, And Manafort shows up again at the tail end of the campaign. Not a peep about how a guy who … “returned to Ukraine in September 2014 to become an advisor to Yanukovych’s former head of the Presidential Administration of Ukraine Serhiy Lyovochkin. In this role he was asked to assist in rebranding Yanukovych’s Party of Regions. Instead, he argued to help stabilize Ukraine, Manafort was instrumental in creating a new political party called Opposition Bloc. According to Ukrainian political analyst Mikhail Pogrebinsky, “He thought to gather the largest number of people opposed to the current government, you needed to avoid anything concrete, and just become a symbol of being opposed”. Sound like a familiar strategy? You can read his Wiki if you want to see how this guy operates.

My point here is this: A very simple tactic of finding your opponent’s strengths and ridiculing them was allowed to create a wave of public apathy that Trump rode to the Oval Office. We now have four years to decide whether we are collectively willing to both hold Trump to the best of his promises and prevent him from following through on the worst. On top of that we have to depend on the same ass-clowns who obstructed Obama for eight years to reign in Trump’s worst impulses, as well as not hop on board and stoke the engine. And I do mean collectively. Gutting Medicare will not spare Trump-voting grandparents. Gutting environmental protections will not target left-leaning lungs. Trade wars will not be surgical.

The best leaders actively seek out contrary opinions, actively engage them, often hire them. It allows them to see new opportunities, identify flaws in their original plans, and build solutions that create the most benefit in both the short and long term. Trump has NONE of that. He is building a sycophantic echo chamber of politi-ghouls who will tell him whatever they have to in order to preserve the Presidential Illusion. We the People need to work together to breach that information fortress. May we find the strength.

We’re Back, and Madder Than Ever

The election is over and some large part of America has just realized that we are now trapped in a four-year-long timeshare presentation, and there is no exit door. Reality TV filtered through Kafka and directed by Louis Buñuel.

Like many Americans I am watching the emergence of a kakistoscracy, one of many words we are now using with regularity that were unknown just weeks ago. Government by the worst people. The qualifications for the Trump cabinet and high-level appointees appear to be stolen from the Oakland Raiders’ Playbook: Salvage Projects with a Criminal Record and Anger Management Issues get first crack at the starting lineup. If you are just an unrepentant sociopath hell-bent on the destruction of our social fabric, you can count on a spot on the scout team, and maybe kick returns.

But I am getting out ahead of myself. It is becoming very apparent that one opinionated blogger, one journalist, one humorist, cannot keep up with the pace of truly horrifying behavior we are witnessing. For non-pros like me, I think it is best to try to stick to what I know, and maybe take a flyer on something that catches my eye from time to time. To me, what we have been put through is a psy-ops project where objective truth, provable facts, and first-person evidence are losing out to unfounded conspiracy theories and distraction tactics (I hesitate to say tactics because that implies intelligence, but I don’t have a cool word like kakistocracy to use here). So my bag will be to root, root, root for my home team: FACTS.

I have a few items in the hopper, and I hope to be turning them out on a regular basis. Until then, Keep Looking to the Skies! That’s where incoming ICBMs will be.

 

Organized Labor goes Bananas…

A few points of interest for those of us who follow the trials and tribulations of organized labor…

The participants in the Republican Presidential Debates, or whatev’ they are calling that clown show these days, pulled off a major coup by engaging in a work stoppage, a mutual agreement on contract terms, and a negotiation session regarding working conditions. There is no other way to describe their actions that I can think of. These candidates now have *zero* anti-union credibility.

It brought a chuckle and a tear to my eye to see how they wilted under the brutal white-hot pressure of a televised debate and demanded that they be involved in setting terms and conditions for their working environment. As President Obama has pointed out, Putin is waiting for you in the green room, bitches.

In another shocking turn of events, football players at Mizzou organized a work stoppage in support of a hunger-striking classmate, forcing the resignation of their University President. The headline is Players Wage Power Play. They used the leverage of college football economics to enact change. I applaud them and their efforts. I hope it bears fruit in the form of real social change and not just an administrative change.

The subtext that I immediate saw was this: If NCAA athletes ever unionize, they will do so under a no-strike structure. In organized labor there are contracts that allow the workers to strike (work stoppage) and contracts that don’t (binding arbitration). The Mizzou action may have a side-effect of greasing the rails toward unionized NCAA athletics, with the caveat that they will concede the right to do what the football players at Mizzou just did.

The financial calculus has not changed. The universities and television networks reap enormous profits from big-time NCAA athletics, and the athletes see a tiny fraction of that cash-flow. The imbalance was exploited by the Mizzou athletes with a reversal of the “Right Stuff” axiom… No Buck Rogers, No Bucks. The football coach at Mizzou, Gary Pinkel, makes over $4 million per year. His support of the athlete’s actions, probably more then those actions themselves, sealed the deal for president Tim Wolfe.

I admit that the no-strike wrinkle is a bit of organized-labor wonkery, but I am sure that I am not alone. The athletes may get stipends, health care, guaranteed scholarships (no take-back in the case of injury), and so on. But they will probably have to hand over the right to strike in order to get that. And if so, it would mean that Mizzou may have been the event that won a battle but lost a larger tactical war.

Connect(icut) the Dots….

If nothing else, I am from Connecticut. My family background is 100% Italian-American, going back to the early 20th Century. One grandparent on each side was born in Connecticut, the other in Italy. Both sides settled in Southington, a mill town about halfway between Hartford and New Haven. Every immediate family member I have lived in Connecticut….

Point is, I don’t have another point of reference. I know other places, some pretty well, but my outlook is pure Nutmegger. Long, intense winters. Short but similarly intense summers. Our major industries are Wall Street finance, Insurance, and Higher Education, probably in that order. What is left of the military industrial complex and manufacturing is bringing up the rear.

You can drive across the state, the long way, in about two hours. You can drive from Connecticut’s capitol Hartford to Boston, NYC, Providence, Albany, or the Vermont border, in about two hours. The Canadian border is about 4 hours away. It is a compact region, is my point.

So you would think we have it made. Loads of highly educated people making a good living, cultural wonders in abundance, beautiful woodlands, rolling hills (no mountains, really), lakes, rivers, the ocean (aka Long Island Sound), etc… Not so fast.

We have staggering economic disparity, often in very close proximity. Fairfield County regulary battles for the highest per-capita income of any county in the country, but contains one of the poorest cities in the nation (Bridgeport). We have Metro-North, the most intensely utilized mass transit system in the nation, but the citizenry by-and-large considers any mass transit project to be something between a boondoggle and a mortal sin. Metro-North brings the wealthy and powerful into New York City every morning and brings them home every night, but it is basically a disaster waiting to happen due to being starved of maintenance funds. Simply put, the Gold Coast doesn’t call the shots in Hartford.

If the three bears came to Connecticut it would not be “just right”. We have massive overhead due to three interstate highways and sprawling suburban development. Connecticut has 169 towns, almost all with their own local governments, and no county government to fill out the middle of the state-local axis. The town budgets rely heavily on property tax which the state gets essentially none of. The state backfills the town school budgets with “ECS”, or Education Cost Sharing, so town taxpayers are often shielded from the actual impact of their largest cost, schools. The state has to fund itself with a mix of income tax, sales, tax, business taxes, use-taxes and fees, and an array of nickel/dime nuisance taxes. We still have not mentioned taxes paid to Uncle Sam. Connecticut is near the bottom in federal tax recovered per-capita. Our federal taxes are not coming back to fix Metro North, for instance, and nobody seems too sure why. Add in the high costs for housing and food/essentials, and it can be a very expensive place to live.

Day to day, this is the status quo. Often complained about, but never truly analyzed. That should change. If you take a step back, what I just described is “lossy”. A lossy system is one where efficiencies are abandoned in favor of tradition, or other “steady habits”. Not surprisingly that is the way we roll here. Which is a shame. What we really need is a top-down rebuild of many things we hold dear.

Once the villages and mill towns grew into one another in a petri-dish like explosion of suburban sprawl, the gig was up. Your quaint notions of sovereignty are vestiges of a time gone by. My favorite analogy is the “string of pearls”. In the beginning you had a “string”, let’s say Route 10, splitting the state in half from north to south. New Haven to Springfield on a ribbon of asphalt. Once you cleared New Haven you wold travel past farms and woodland between a series of village centers, the “pearls”. But those pearls were growing, and in time edged together. Where once there was string, it is now covered by overgrown pearls. It was originally a wagon route, and paralleled sections of a rail and canal system. Those wagons, barges, and boxcars kept the mills and factories running for a hundred years. It was host to a trolley line until, like everywhere else, it gave way to the supremacy of the automobile. With the car came the pressure of suburban development.

When those villages were isolated there was a logical case to be made for their fiefdom governments, but in time they used that independence to make decisions at the expense of their neighbors, or to the advantage of the town fathers. Suburbs with elbow room could depress taxes to draw home buyers away from their neighbors. They could also push up taxes to keep out low-income families. They could offer tax abatements to pull industry away from the cities. The cities watched their industrial base flee, to China as often as another state or city, yet they still had to feed a hungry city machine. As the cities crumbled, their taxes would rise, burdening an already underemployed citizenry. Due to “white flight” where city dwellers fled urban centers for the suburbs, his was not seen as a problem by a largely middle-class state. When it was confronted it was often seen as an “urban” problem.

That was then. The lack of long-range planning has handcuffed those towns. They thought they could build enough homes to satisfy their growing budgets but they were just digging themselves a deeper hole. School systems were expanded, as were snow plowing and other maintenance functions. Police and fire services grew, along with increasingly complex administrative departments. In short, the low mil rates that attract those real estate developers and home buyers mean that the property taxes they pay fall short of covering the costs of the services they use. It also means that the towns cannot afford to create tax-reduction zones or tax rebate/incentive programs for seniors. That has resulted in what might be called “grey flight” as retirees leave the state for less expensive surroundings.

What we have now is a restless middle class looking longingly at lower taxes in the southern states, the mid-Atlantic, and beyond. The Connecticut promise was that those hyper-local policies had no downside. Flee the city for the suburbs, trade up and get better schools, move over one town and halve your property taxes… The idea was that all was fair and all decisions were equal. The triangulation of housing, job, and commute was supposed to be zero-sum. If not equal, they were not to be questioned. What we actually built is a landscape of bloated suburbs dependent on the retail and service economy, with secondary education and government jobs replacing the manufacturing and white-collar business positions that built the suburbs in the first place. All those kids need to go to school, they all need electricity, police, fire, road maintenance, parks, recreation, drinking water, clean air, cellular phone coverage, and so much more. The overwhelming reaction, regardless of your political bent or income, is that smaller government is the solution. In our current situation it is an easy conclusion to draw. Even easier if the alternative is wholesale regime change.

At one point, a time I can barely remember (the 80’s), it seemed like a numbers game. Residential development went unchecked on the premise that it generated revenue. Even when the numbers showed that the tax revenues were dwarfed by the costs of educating the kids in those houses you were better off barking at the moon. Towns were going to build their way out of budget shortfalls and no egghead was going to spoil the party with “math”. The battle lines were drawn between town councils padded with developers, bank presidents, realtors, and insiders who bought in to their cause on one side; and good-government types and academics on the other side who lacked the connections and financial motivation to gain even a board seat. But the numbers didn’t lie. Towns privatized services like trash collection, moving the costs off the books. Road maintenance was deprioritized, along with parks and recreation. We have built a rift between parents with kids in the schools and empty-nesters. With Connecticut schools averaging about $8,000 per student per year to educate a child, $4,000 in property tax seems like a steal. If you stay around for an additional 13 years for each kid you put through the system it probably works out. Otherwise it is just the price of living in a community with educated children. That price is born equally across the community, but burdens fixed-income elderly in a way that hardly seems fair.

If I had a tidy solution I would have laid it out by now. I know that there needs to be a discussion. I know it will be divisive. But I know also that our current system has outgrown itself. That bucolic “string of pearls” with country roads, mill towns, farms, and tidy urban enclaves is now a memory. Mementos exist, but that’s all they are. The steady habit should have been cooperative improvement and long-range planning but instead it has been greed, isolation, and finger pointing. A good long look in the mirror might be the first step we need, even if we aren’t thrilled with what we see.

Sorry, Charlie…

It has been a very shaky start to the new year. My groaner of a first 2015 post was symbolic of the way the year kicked off. And things may have been looking up until a mass murder in France took the lives of some of the greatest satirical minds of my generation, along with their friends, co-workers and protectors. Charlie Hebdo. I saw this weekly paper on my trip to France in 2011, and it stirred my desire to learn the French language a little. (I got carried away, and am still learning the language, albiet slowly, in fits and starts). The cover of an issue of Charlie Hebdo stood out like a beacon from a newsstand. Whatever that was, I wanted some. I was not disappointed. One reason for the fascination was that Charlie Hebdo destroyed my notion that the French people were not funny. Maybe I was blinded by their appreciation of Jerry Lewis, or the deeply un-funny Gerard Depardieu. Maybe I was just ignorant. But my highly-tuned cartoon radar saw immediately that these French were not only funny, they were hard-core funny. They were not fucking around. No punches pulled. You were being told to get the joke even if you WERE the joke. I was in France to pay homage to Frank Zappa, and he had prepared me well to appreciate the genius of Charlie Hebdo.

Until Wednesday, January 7, that was all there was to it. I sat at my desk, at work, at 7:30am and it was as if I was reading fiction. Two hours after the attack I was reading a headline in complete disbelief. How could this be true? …that kind of reaction. Then the churning stomach, the rage, the sadness, the confusion.

I would see the Charlie Hebdo covers on the internet, sometimes digging a little deeper, and I could understand enough to get the joke. But not being on the scene in France, specifically I am not French and furthermore not Parisian, I could only glimpse the joke. They were playing to the home team. I was watching from afar on a lo-res feed. In Paris, they are heroes. Not “were” heroes. Are Heroes. The French take their satire very seriously. Wine. Charcuterie. Satire. Charlie Hebdo. They were committed to not pulling punches. They were not letting their audience make editorial decisions for them. What is the point in that? Why bother with satire if you are letting the object of the satire tell you what is in-bounds? No. If Le Monde wants to play that game, there is plenty of game for Le Monde. But Charlie Hebdo is the prow of the free speech ship. Taking the brunt of the waves and the weather.

And that, of course, is what will be glossed over as this tragedy is examined by every hack with a microphone or a PhD or a blog (even I am glossing over something, I’m sure). The core concept of free speech, the concept that makes satire and critical commentary possible, is to be free from that kind of sensitivity. The existence of that sensitivity, when it rears its head, is a giveaway to where the next jab should be directed. Like a fighter covering up a bruised rib, that is where you direct the next blow. Charlie Hebdo walked the walk. Their mission was to occupy the deep center of free speech protections and put everyone else to the test. Does the government support free speech? Immigrants to France, knowing full well that they are living in the cradle of free expression? Foreign interests, who may or may not be aiding and abetting by giving quarter to extremist voices? They all stand in some measure as less free than Charlie.

I have made the point that Charlie Hebdo may not have been an outlier as much as the surrounding voices stepped back when called, leaving Charlie exposed and unprotected. The threat of extremist violence is no laughing matter. Not something to be taken lightly. Most people are not dealing with the threat that they will be assassinated for their latest blog post or news article. If you are thinking that I read Tony Barber’s piece in the Financial Times, you are right. When he writes “It is merely to say that some common sense would be useful at publications such as Charlie Hebdo, and Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten, which purport to strike a blow for freedom when they provoke Muslims.” Errrr… Tony, they are not purporting to do anything. It is actually free fucking speech, you imbecile. It is not up to the speaker to provide the common sense. Charlie Hebdo was not yelling FIRE in a movie theatre. The common sense is that they have a right to speak and draw and satirize. The offended must have the common sense to respond in kind, with a pen and not a kalashnikov rifle.

But all of that is conjecture. Cabu and Charb are gone. Wolinski, the same. Tignous, silenced. Honoré, snuffed out. This is not an academic exercise. It is the kind of reality we have avoided in the US by sanitizing so much of our public speech (and as Ted Rall points out, by getting out of the political cartoon business, almost entirely). We, Americans, the holders of the flame, stepped back when the call was to step up. We now pull punches as a matter of course, letting the offended set the rules of engagement. We are not alone, but we are a good example. Even the dimwitted David Brooks managed to not make a total hash of this concept in the NYTimes: “Just look at all the people who have overreacted to campus micro-aggressions. The University of Illinois fired a professor who taught the Roman Catholic view on homosexuality. The University of Kansas suspended a professor for writing a harsh tweet against the N.R.A. Vanderbilt University derecognized a Christian group that insisted that it be led by Christians.”

No. We are NOT Charlie Hebdo. And to maintain otherwise requires proof. What we did is let Charlie Hebdo take the heat while we relax in air-conditioned comfort. That is the truth. Do we want the lives of the good people at Charlie Hebdo, called by name to be slaughtered by maniacs, to mean something in the long term? Can we pay homage to their legacy in a meaningful way?

If the answer is yes then we need to reexamine our lives and our rules and our hysterical reactions. We need to ask ourselves if we are better off living as appeasers or dying as free men. Maybe we will not get all the way there, but if we try then we are at least learning from this sad episode and not just spackling over it like we do with so many other offensive acts. Can we bring ourselves to walk the walk in the face of this aggression? That may very well be the defining question of civilized peoples in the 21st century, and we can thank a group of French “cartoonists” for the lesson.

ch-dave-brown-finger

Image by Dave Brown, cartoonist at the Independent UK.

Can Politics ever really reach Bottom?

As the results trickle in from Connecticut’s 2014 midterm election I can’t help but wonder if the process can get any worse. It was impossible to find substantive discussion on either side. Republican candidate Tom Foley apparently spent the past four years in cryogenic suspension because he was less informed about every issue that he was when he ran four years ago. He either refused to answer questions about actual state policies, or admitted ignorance but made references to his problem solving skills, and gave no example of them but trust him they are impressive. Incumbent Democrat Dannel Malloy fell into a trap of taking the bait on nonsense issues. His record might not be the kind of thing that voters are thrilled about (sheparding a state back from a global economic meltdown without making things worse) but it is his record. His approach has worked, but it required state tax increases and a slower pace of deficit reduction in exchange for shielding the state’s 169 towns and cities from funding cuts. Since all property taxes are assessed locally this means that the citizens of Connecticut were spared mil rate increases that impact the poor and working poor especially hard.

Asleep yet? I wouldn’t be surprised. Malloy has stayed true to his “good government” blue collar roots. In return he has been largely tuned out by the electorate.

Foley had one pitch: “that stuff you don’t like, I wouldn’t have done that”. See. Easy to digest. No policy angle. You can go on with your day unencumbered by facts, figures, data, policy details, or anything else that can vaguely be pulled under the heading of “reality”. His track record is either sketchy, hazy, or negative. Six months heading the Provisional Authority in Iraq, where U.S. lucre was hauled away by the wheelbarrow load by… well, nobody knows who. But billions of dollars were unaccounted for. This was also over a decade ago, and the entire venture was largely undocumented. And he is a corporate guy. A business guy. All we really know about his corporate ventures is that he made millions upon millions of dollars and played hardball with labor.

But they had debates.That should have proved edutaining! Errrrr, No. The debates were like mud wrestling without the charm, and the voters found out nothing the really needed to know to make an informed decision. Nobody seemed to care. They were too busy staking out some imaginary high ground. There is no high ground. There is only swamp land.

So you have a showdown between a sitting Governor who was not that able to frame his policies in a way that appeals to voters, and a guy who has never held any elected office and who couldn’t remember his running mate’s name with three weeks to go before election day. Surprised that the election will be a nail-biter?

Good Night. Good Luck. Good Grief.