Tag 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.

Bicycle Thoughts in Deep Winter

The winter of 2012 was a wonderful aberration. In most of New England it was the “winter without a winter”. While some people remember the lack of skiing, skating, ice fishing, or snow plowing, my memories involve bicycles. Not the lack of bicycles, but the amazing gift of a winter bicycling season. Unseasonably warm temps meant that I was taking rides around town in January, and not covering every inch of exposed skin against frostbite-inducing winds.

This winter, not so much. It has been business as usual with heavy snows, cold arctic-born winds, and our favorite form of frosty excitement: Wintry Mix! If it is, say, 37F and raining, and maybe some ice, sleet, snow, or other unknown matter is along for the ride, you’ve got Wintry Mix. Actually it is formal slang for “crappiest of winter weather” and can mean anything from a foot of ice nuggets to rain showers onto frozen ground at 19F… black ice machine weather. As a result there has been less time for riding and more time for thinking about riding.

Bike Curious

On top of that I have been following the progress of CT Fastrak, the project previously known as the New Britain Busway. It has many of the markings of a successful transit diversification project. As a pure transit service concept, this particular project is a loser. It provides one mode, rubber-tire buses on a closed roadway, in an effort to provide a service that nobody asked for. At least not that we know of. I have been around Connecticut long enough, and New Britain specifically, to know that it is possible that *many* people in New Britain are big fans but don’t have a voice or don’t feel comfortable in the current discussion.

There is a silver lining for some of us, tarnished as it may be: the southern half of the Fastrak project includes a 5 mile bike/pedestrian path. That solves a problem for me by eliminating one of the worst sections of my bike-to-work route. As usual, it creates another problem by dumping me in a residential area with zero bike infrastructure. That is where I would have been anyhow, but the idea is that the bike route ends near absolutely nothing. If there is nothing but the chance to ride on the shoulder of the road and battle it out with the texting and driving crowd, it can very easily turn into a kevorkian-esque piece of social machinery.

One thing I would like to find is a commitment to development that leverages the Fastrak project. If you are a struggling city you could do worse than have your own transit corridor to jobs and commerce. Location of residential or commercial development with good access to the Fastrak system would seem to be a given. To me, that is the identifying trait of successful transit development. The city needs to buy in for it to be a success. This could mean residential development in the South End or on the East Side, with solid tie-in to Fastrak.

I need to see more about mayor Tim O’Brien’s planning vision before resolving that question. I think he is doing a solid job as mayor, so maybe I need to look harder. In fact, I will. To hear the anti-busway voices, providing transit from New Britain to Hartford, Connecticut is a masterpiece of unintentional comedy. And of course, if that drives the dialogue, they could be right.

Bike Friendly

I recently had the very good fortune to attend a few events where the new direction of the Connecticut DOT has been touted, and even illustrated. The Bike Walk Connecticut membership dinner was a last minute thing, but it turned out to be a lot of fun. Bike geek stuff is usually a hit with me. On top of that I was able to see Dan Esty, the Commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP, where I am employed), speak on the topic of transit infrastructure and how great bicycles are! I have seen the same thing as part of my job, but seeing it “in the wild” was good for some perspective. Dan Esty was an infotational and positive as always. That is a compliment.

As well, there is a 600lb gorilla in most of the high-level communication about bike transit. I appreciate the enthusiasm, no doubt, but most of these presentations miss the fact that those bicycles are ridden on roads with zero bike-safety structure. You might get some painted lines, maybe even a “sharrow” or two. Might. probably not.

Bike Agnostic

Being bike-friendly at the destination is about showers and bike storage. We have had that at DEEP headquarters for a while now thanks to a few people who saw opportunity and bingo! Bike Racks! I had the good fortune to attend an awards event where a Deputy Connecticut DOT Commissioner awarded a Bronze Bicycle Friendly Business award to DEEP because of the agency’s bike-friendly policies and basic infrastructure (Bike Racks!). The DOT showed up with a great slide show on the bicycle infrastructure improvements in Connecticut. I am looking for a link to that content. It is a good example of how priorities at the top effect the actions of the agency.

One of the projects he brought up was Fastrak. I took the opportunity to ask, after the meeting broke up, “why didn’t we get the last 5 miles of bike trail on Fastrak?” Apparently the right of way was too narrow to accommodate more bike lane. I nodded and all, but I have a hard time believing it. I believe the answer, but I wonder what the prospect for the entire project is with the half measures and lack of continuity. As another attendee said “If they needed the space for cars, they would get it”.

I am happy to have a 5 mile section of bike path, so it is a net positive for me [less likely to be run down by a driver hitting 65mph on Cedar Street]. But, it would be many times more useful if Fastrak extended into Hartford. The right of way issues should be a spur in the replacement infrastructure department, but it seems to be off the radar. The challenge now will be to upgrade the roadways that extend from the ends of the bike path, giving them wider shoulders and better sightlines, and allowing more of the surrounding population to reach the trail by bike, and end up in bikeable distance to their destination. That is how you link a community to a job source, and consumers to stores, without tying them to the car as a solution..

Don’t blame the messenger

I want to say this up front: I often find filmmaker Michael Moore to be a pain in the ass and I also find his opinions cringeworthy at times.  But he is also taking on issues that border on taboo and that can mean having to cringe occasionally.  If there were more like him we might be more open and less cringey about things.

Here is a great example:  Celebrating the Prince of Peace in the Land of Guns

I have been nibbling at these issues for a while, but Moore does a great job at bringing them into a cohesive narrative.  Small excerpt:

I’m not saying it’s perfect anywhere else, but I have noticed, in my travels, that other civilized countries see a national benefit to taking care of each other. Free medical care, free or low-cost college, mental health help. And I wonder — why can’t we do that? I think it’s because in many other countries people see each other not as separate and alone but rather together, on the path of life, with each person existing as an integral part of the whole. And you help them when they’re in need, not punish them because they’ve had some misfortune or bad break. I have to believe one of the reasons gun murders in other countries are so rare is because there’s less of the lone wolf mentality amongst their citizens. Most are raised with a sense of connection, if not outright solidarity. And that makes it harder to kill one another.

Adios LIE-berman

I’m pretty sure you won’t read many poison pen pieces on Joe Lieberman at this, the time of his retirement from the US Senate.  As well, I won’t write one at this time either.  But I would like to say that I don’t think he had a huge friend-base on both sides of the aisle.  I think he was masterful in hedging his bets on both sides of the aisle.

Did you think I could keep away from this topic? PSYCH!

Dana Milbank of the Washington Post gives Joe a teary send off, in what is, due to the sentimentality and lack of facts, thankfully an opinion piece.  It completely mishandles the reality of his 2006 primary loss, and how integral Dick Cheney and the RNC were in securing his re-election.  It whitewashes how forcefully he has repeatedly stabbed his supporters, his electorate, in the back in the name of “principle”.  It takes a pass on the depth of the sham of his “Independent Democrat” schtick.  It also ignores how little he has done, how small he has been, in the way of public discourse since 2006 while all of his hated “partisanship” has been ravaging the nation.  Much like his other Monday Morning Quarterback calls on issues like Monicagate and Iran, and Israel for that matter, his farewell speech is too little, too late, and poses no danger of changing anything.

See ya, Joe.  I don’t think anyone will even notice your absence.