brussels sprouts tweets

In my blogging-free decade before recently resuming, news consumption continued to evolve. Though Facebook was nascent and Twitter had yet to launch ten years ago, the trend leading down to 140 characters was well established. Television’s ascendancy had already entrenched “sound bite” in our vocabulary. I blogged about how the new manufactured reality insulates media consumers from real experience and knowledge. Indeed, it appears that as the newspapers get ever thinner and the paywalls get more robust, actual content is attaining heirloom status.

And if you do not already suffer from ADD, most news websites induce it.

Brussel_Sprouts_Tweet

The tragedy of pervasive media induced ADD is that important subjects are rarely discussed in depth. Unless one is part of the functionally literate cadre, like Disenfranchised Curmudgeon readers, your social media news diet consists more of headlines about the reaction of politicians to important events than it does the events themselves. Nothing illustrates this better than the coverage of the recent terrorist attacks in Brussels.

It is most unsurprising that the Bloviating Billionaire sees this as more evidence that we need to ban Muslims, ramp up torture and compare wall sizes. In another more literate epoch, one might reasonably expect a more substantive treatment from other political gladiators.

Don’t hold your breath waiting for that this year.

Our political discourse is sadly obsessed with the offensive and inane—substance has no chance. Cruz managed to vault the lofty offensiveness of even Trump by suggesting that we lock down Muslim neighborhoods lest they become radicalized. Kasich effectively dodged offensiveness by managing a press release of 185 words that said absolutely nothing.

Since the GOP has famously bought the crazy franchise this election cycle, it might be reasonable to expect more from the Democrats, but they too disappoint. President-almost-elect Clinton did little better, in spite of her alleged policy wonk cred, choosing to highlight the GOP candidate stupidity while reminding us of her dubious claim to “experience”. Proving his suitability for the content free milieu that the candidates thrive in this year, Bernie was predictably more articulate and platitude laden yet ultimately gave us no more insight into his view on foreign policy than any of the other candidates.

This candidate reaction checklist makes one thing clear: these somnolent weasels use their 140 characters to say nothing.

Well, it would be “nothing” except that the English words are coming out of their mouths or off the fingers of their tweet managers seem to effectively rile up the masses. Or at least the portion failing to recognize that tuning in to this media based conversation is one of those rare human activities that will leave you less intelligent than when you began.

This is a time when we badly need intelligence. The Brussels attacks raise many of the most important issues that face the United States and the World. The media talking heads continually tell me how smart the President-almost-elect is and as much as her political cronyism quashes any voting impulse, I would relish a policy throw-down. That of course will not happen either as she walks the tightrope of leveraging the President’s voter base without sharing the blame for his administration’s foreign policy missteps.

For two administrations spanning almost 15 years and both major political parties, we have waged a “war” on “terror” that has primarily produced a new generation of alienated radicals. We are in desperate need of a new approach. The candidates deny you the transparency of advancing a substantive vision because they deem occupying the Oval Office to be more valuable than articulating a coherent policy agenda for voters to judge.

They are not open because We the People vote our guts, not our brains.

They know sound bites produce votes.

Substance produces Unfollow button presses.

So, as we forge ahead into a future without a map, are you going to be surprised by the next big terrorist event? Are you going to vote for one of these candidates that treat you no different than the functionally illiterate citizens that have, due to your acquiescence, become the only voters that matter? Are you going to vote for the lesser of the evils though that too is an evil choice?

Of course you will. Why waste a vote?

smells like trump spirit

It is said that the success of Smells Like Team Spirit stole Kurt Cobain’s soul. Nirvana’s platinum-plated, angst saturated teen anthem is an eerie allegory for the Trumpian appeal to the testosterone fueled rage of the disenfranchised. My own fear is that Trump Spirit, even if less successful, will consume America’s soul in the decades that follow November 2016.

The hyperbolic headlines denouncing Trump for his role in the thus far muted violence surrounding his campaign rallies continue to miss the real story. Trump, apparently, is a Hitler or perhaps a Mussolini. Honestly all you hyperventilating media wags, he lacks the intelligence to aspire to such infamy. Heck, he isn’t even a David Duke, much less a an heir to 20th century fascism.

Trump is merely a symptom of a larger problem.

Honestly, I’m getting a bit tired of hearing, thinking and writing about Trump. Yet, like you, I am transfixed by the spectacle as I endeavor to explain this putative apocalypse to myself. It is especially hard wrapping one’s mind around a misogynistic, bigoted megalomaniac having an excellent chance of being the next POTUS.

But a good look at Bernie Sanders helps.

I’m far from alone when I suggest that Making America Great Again and Feeling The Bern are tapping the same well of pent up anger. Decades of low voter turn-out have mostly incorrectly imputed apathy to the disenfranchised. The “politically savvy” crowd, those reliable Red and Blue jersey voters, are perplexed by those who are undecided between Sanders and Trump. But it isn’t complicated: they are sick of the partisan machinery.

There are more of us disenfranchised than you think.

It has been over two years since Nick Hanauer issued his famous pitchfork warning on the TED stage. While he was certainly not the first to call attention to the growing unrest engendered by the profound income inequality growth of recent decades, he was one of the most engaging. His talk is worth your time if you have not seen it. Sanders too speaks about this passionately, but in his inimitable way, so does Trump. Sanders harangues us in direct terms, but even when he regales us on social justice, it is still all about the wealth gap: in 21st Century America, money is a proxy for pretty much everything.

The Trumpian appeal is usually much less overt. His campaign slogan implicitly asks the question: America isn’t very great for you, is it? We’ll build a big beautiful wall. Like Sanders, Trump too is in the political blame game stoking resentment against outsiders rather than billionaires. And of course everyone hates politicians.

Am I the only one who hears Cobain’s angry voice echoing in the background here?

I feel stupid and contagious,
Here we are now; entertain us…

The trend of substituting form for substance is a powerful one. Eleven years ago, I wrote about the post-modern trend in Presidential politics:

As reprehensible as all of this hypocrisy may be, the greater concern must still be the trend. The stage has been set where propaganda will likely get the seal of approval by the American people. If this administration and the one before it has taught us nothing else, we know that Presidents learn from the political successes of their predecessors. And if, as is likely, the propaganda thing gets added to the essential toolkit of the executive branch, the next administration will be unconstrained in ways we have scarcely imagined as possible in America.

While I share the fear of what the next four years will bring, that which truly terrifies is that which comes next.

Here we are at next.

Yesterday, Charles Krauthammer echoed my own fears that perhaps the pitchforks are coming, pointing out that the history of political thuggery is owned as much by the extreme left as it is the right. And when you plug in the Sander’s talk of revolution, this is getting downright creepy.

I myself am getting bit angry too. The anger is because I have so often had ugly names cast my way for pointing these things out. Calling into question the artificial two party political axis our politicians and media thrive upon is considered an apostasy of the highest order apparently, while calling for revolution or riot under the auspices of being a major party candidate—that’s OK with many partisans as long as it is their team. While I do not view widespread political violence as likely, as long as politicians like Trump throw around intemperate words skirting the edges of inciting violence, I can no longer rule it out. Cleveland 2016 may be more like 1968 Chicago than we care to imagine.

America’s angst is real. Partisan politics and the devolution in media from real content to plastic forms conspire against us. Our challenge is to collect our wits and rediscover who we are in America’s third century. The question is whether we will answer that calling or allow the political class to carry us into the abyss.

Much as Teen Spirit spoke to angst of that generation, this new spirit speaks to the angst of the disenfranchised. Three years after Nirvana’s anthem was a runaway success, Cobain, tormented by the challenges of success and heroine committed suicide. It is my hope and prayer that America’s addiction to sound bites does not lead it to a similar self-inflicted end.

After all, stupid IS contagious.

gross encounters of the partisan kind

close-01Observing the Presidential Election cage match, I cannot help but identify with Richard Dreyfuss’ wonder at the spectacle of the Third Kind unfolding before him in the Spielberg classic. As he stands looking up at the alien presence, you can feel his excitement and fear: is this the end of the beginning or the beginning of the end of the human race? Like many of you, I fear that what we are seeing is indeed the beginning of the end of the American experiment.

Except the real world kind’s motif is decidedly one note, rather than five .

What is before us, if we are honest with ourselves, is a partisan cacophony voraciously pitting us versus them, and you against me. Their one note admonishing the evil “them” is a sour note indeed.

I have been given a lot of grief over the last couple of decades for pointing out the similar strategies of the two major parties. The game is much easier to apprehend after shedding the rose or violet colored glasses. Little is more curious than the peculiar human faculty to see the inconsistency and failings in THEM without apprehending the same in WE.

Now I know, most of you think I am as alien as ET when I say such things, but bear with me today: I have a simple proof of the truth of which I speak. It is simple and lying in plain sight, yet apparently eludes complacent Americans: Obstructionism.

It is tempting to dig into the diverse details, but I am committed to keeping this missive a manageable length. In deference to the exigencies of the scarcity of time, I want to focus on just one, yet quintessential, mechanism of obstruction in American politics, the U.S. Senate Filibuster .

There is very little in American political lore which can compete with the pyrotechnic nature of the filibuster. Though much has been said, the scrutiny has been consistently superficial. Demopublicans and Repubilocrats alike both “use” and “abuse” this parliamentary device first leveraged by Cato the Younger to thwart the agenda of Julius Caesar.

Two millennia hence, politicians have not changed.

In theory at least, we Americans like to think we have changed since the bad old days. We could have an extended conversation over the degree of truth in this American myth, but it seems that if we can agree on little else, one cornerstone of the American ideal is the rule of law. Which should have us asking “what is the law governing the filibuster?”

Fortunately, this is actually an easy question. The filibuster is a senate rule: Senators past enacted rules by which they conduct business and the filibuster is but one part. As in the time of Cato, this particular rule has been used to thwart a mere majority in favor of a large minority. A longer post could contain plenty of examples of partisans from both sides of the isle using the filibuster, or the mere threat of a filibuster, to obstruct the agenda of the other. The most famous filibusters being the lengthy filibusters of the Civil Rights Act of 1957 by Strom Thurmond, and of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by Robert Byrd.

Two Democrats.

My point here is to not beat on Democrats at all: I like them no less than the others. I am not even here today to suggest whether such obstruction is a good or a bad thing. (Actually, I think it is bad, if you were asking, but this is not relevant to my point.) Here is what I want to call attention to:

Senate rules are controlled by a majority vote.

At the risk of insult, I want to sharpen the point a bit: at any time in the last 120 years or so, the majority party was capable of eliminating the filibuster. They could, if they chose, completely eliminate this obstructionist tool—for at least the duration of their majority.

Democrats and Republicans choose the status quo.

The hard truth here is that they NEED obstruction. They understand that people do not vote enthusiastically for those who compromise. The filibuster gives Senators a platform to be seen “fighting the good fight”. And you, my fellow Americans, consistently give them a pass on this behavior and eagerly blame the color of the jersey in opposition to your team. When the GOP is in charge, Democrats are the obstructionists. When Democrats are in charge, the Republicans are the oppressors of progress.

It is called Confirmation Bias.

So I ask you dear reader to peek out behind your rose colored glasses and violet goggles. Take a cold hard look at the facts rather than the partisan performances. See how they are using us like a cheap moist towelette at a fried chicken diner. As we stare at the spectacle before us, it is hard to not be fascinated. The billionaire parade, the Madison Avenue advertisements, the patriotic bunting and vacuous bloviations all conspire to mesmerize us.

My belief is that this is no third kind, but rather a kind we know all too well.

super screwsday–millennial’s wasted votes

I want to be excited for all the anti-establishment energy. I really do. Voting for change is great and if change were at hand, I would be breaking out the confetti myself.

But today I am a bit bummed. While I wrote a few weeks ago that all this outrage gives me genuine hope for the future, millennials are about to learn that 2016 is most assuredly not the future. Reality inflicted depression is a sadly common state for a Curmudgeon.

Setting aside for the moment the probable winners and losers coming out of Super Tuesday, the wasted votes become clear when you think not about the vote at hand, but about 2017. Whether you love Billionaire Bloviations or are Feeling the Bern, the hard reality is that after the votes are counted, the winner must govern.

No job was ever more properly described as cat herding than the American Presidency.

The special interests and self-dealing have long ago metastasized in the Congressional organs. That which passes for governance on Capitol Hill was aptly summed up by Senator Bob Dole speaking of his Republican Senate during the Clinton Administration:

Our intent will not be to create gridlock. Oh, except maybe from time to time.

Dole. What a comedian.

Another comedian, David Letterman, was typically droll when he more recently observed:

It was announced that President Obama and his wife, when they’re finished in Washington, are moving to New York City. The guy just can’t get enough gridlock.

As much as newcomers to the political scene want to believe that Mitch McConnell’s declarations regarding Obama Supreme Court nominees was something way out of line, it was but an ordinary1101760308_400-1 manifestation of the altered reality inside the Beltway. This is just the way things work in Two-party Hall and your vote for an anti-establishment President will not change this.

Just ask Jimmy Carter.

We had an interesting conversation over the family dinner table last night about the Bloviating Billionaire. Like all conscious Americans, my son is concerned about what the election of the other outsider as President might mean. I reassured him that America is far too resilient to succumb to even a long run of bad Presidents.

 

There is plenty of evidence of American resiliency in this regard: The Pentagon Papers, Watergate, the Nixon Pardon, the Iranian Hostage Crisis, the Iran-Contra Affair, Read my lips, no new taxes, Coffee Klatches, the Blue Dress, and of course my personal favorite, Mission Accomplished. And that is only the last half-century’s greatest hits.

We’ve got this.

One person’s resiliency though, is another’s intransigence. Congress was designed to resist change by founders who were concerned that passions should not rule over reason. So while we can survive the Bloviator in Chief or a Congress refusing to feel the revolutionary bern, nothing significant will change other than perhaps the growing voter angst.

It will be a shame if passionate progressives waste their angst chasing the every four year Presidential promise fairy dust. You can have real transformative progress, but that necessarily starts with the real grassroots. Today’s Congresscritters are yesterday’s state legislators and local officials.

This is a tough business. We need young people patiently dedicated to building new parties and reforming old institutions. We need a new focus on holding our elected officials accountable to their words and for their misdeeds. We need to get busy raising expectations at every level of government.

This is a work of decades—not a single Presidential kerfuffle.

If you go to the polls and pull the same levers we have been pulling for over a century, you can go tell somebody other than this Curmudgeon about your demand for change. History informs us of these truths if one is willing to learn. Thus educated, we can know with certainty that voting for Republicans or Democrats is not a progressive act. To think that such a vote is progressive is cute, but delusional.

Better luck next election Millennials.

fbi v. apple decrypts candidates

As in 2016’s first eight contentious weeks, rallies, polls and posturing are similarly shaping week nine. Clinton v. Sanders and Trump v. Pope are but a couple of the headlines.

This week’s newcomer is Apple v. FBI.

If you care about this issue beyond just the headlines, I would encourage you to go and get the facts for yourself. The encrusted traditional press is pitiful when communicating the substance of the conflict, but Macworld produced a short yet excellent FAQ that will get you up to speed quickly.apple_fbi

Several issues are at play, but the important one to me is determining whether the government can compel its citizens to spend their time and treasure on assisting a criminal investigation. While most of us would be eager to help our law enforcement, it is quite another thing when they compel civic altruism from our neighbors. This is an egregious overreach by the FBI.

I do not recall the cultural prototype of Federal Law enforcement, Matt Dillon, ever deputizing a posse against their will.

As shocking as it is that the courts went along, it is more disturbing to behold the uniform public support for the FBI in this matter. Outside of the tech community, Apple has little support. The Pew Research Center poll’s only significant demographic not on the FBI’s side is left-leaning independent voters. One would naturally expect that Bernie would join his fellow left-leaning independents and come out on Apple’s side, but feeling the spotlight of the presidential campaign, he instead waffled:

“There has got to be a balance. But count me in as someone who is a very strong civil libertarian who believes we can fight terrorism without undermining our constitutional rights and our privacy rights.”

Now, in Mr. Authentic’s defense, Hillary waffled too—but we expect that from the candidate who sold her soul to the political underworld long ago.

The GOP candidates, never the sort to miss an opportunity to seize power from anyone without “Inc” in their name, uniformly weighed in on the side of truth, puppy dogs and the Hooverites. But leave it to the Bloviating Billionaire© to strike a perfect Reality TV pose going even further in calling for a boycott of Apple until they comply with the court order. In this 2016 edition of politics as sport, Trump is proving that he is indeed no mere apprentice.

I know that the Curmudgeon often sounds like a phonograph with the needle stuck in a groove, but there are certain big issues that permeate our entire national political morass. A quantitative graph of our collective tolerance for the vacuous discourses of these frauds playing us for fools would be a century old exponential curve.

The American affinity for the sound bite waxes strong.

In some ways I am more hopeful today than in recent memory that the twitterification of America can be reversed: there are numerous new-media sources succeeding with long form presentations and discussions on important social, legal and political topics. In spite of this positive trend, this Curmudgeon senses that we are still a long way from the content of a candidate’s ideas influencing more votes than their 140 character rejoinders.

It seems I am doomed to disenfranchisement for a while yet.

As an ardent civil libertarian, I am happy that Sanders at least stakes out some ground around which to defend our freedoms—as far as it goes. It is certainly nothing new to hear political elites give liberty some lip service. Virtually no American running for national office will campaign on a platform to alienate that which was formerly inalienable.

But voters seem unwilling to confront the reality that our upper caste rarely fails to say one thing while doing another. Sound-bite politics is a messy thing and Americans are peculiarly averse to holding their gladiators accountable for their words and deeds.

I applaud Tim Cook for his (smallish) stand against the accelerating over-reaching of our government. We need this reminder with awareness of the threats waning as Edward Snowden recedes further from the headlines. These politicians campaigning for leadership of the free world have made it clear that they have little care for your and my liberty. They only superficially acknowledge the competing issues that the FAQ I recommended above made clear.

As I said, this is nothing new. The hard question for you, Dear Reader, is whether our fellow Americans will ditch the newspaper, drill down deep, and remember. Whether you will remember the election rhetoric and promises.

This American will never forget their misdeeds.

one thing could be finer…if you vote in carolina

The world again watches events in South Carolina. All eyes are riveted on whether the Trump tsunami will dissipate on Carolinian shores or gain momentum as it surges west. For now, the polls say that the smart money is on the tsunami.

We are watching “again” not because of past primary battles, but recent cultural ones. It is hard to believe that it is already over six months since South Carolina gave into public ridicule and removed the Confederate Battle Flag from their state capitol. Many breathed a sigh of relief: finally, the culture of racism is starting to visibly die. Maybe.

It is putting up a ferocious fight.flag_retirement

The word “racism” gets thrown around a little bit too much, so I hesitate to use it to classify all Trump and Cruz supporters. But after that hesitation, I remember the flag imbroglio and quickly lose my trepidation. Some days a Curmudgeon just has to call it what it is.

Today I just can’t get Strange Fruit to quit playing in my head.

I acknowledge that a bare majority of voters are not old enough to have known people who experienced the race riots and unrepentant lynch mobs. While old school racism is as real as it is ugly, the better descriptor for most of them is xenophobic. I suppose too that there is often a fine line between racism and primal survival instincts: the fear that someone is going to steal your coconuts, or worse, is deeply embedded in our DNA.

Xenophobia, like its more evil sounding twin, is an old school tradition too. The political exploitation of the fear of the other is as American as baseball. Native savages, slave insurgents, Irish immigrants, and Japanese saboteurs are but a few of the historic tools of fear. Trump and Cruz are merely playing out of a very old playbook.

An old and disgusting playbook.

Call me crazy, but it would be amazing if South Carolina Republicans rebuked the old playbook. I know the racists and xenophobes are in the minority. It must be true. Perhaps the time has come for enlightened Republicans to leverage their disgust and send these two vestiges of reconstruction packing.

Recently on the David Axelrod podcast, former Mitt Romney political strategist Stuart Stevens called Trump a “zeppelin” adding,

This large slow-moving hydrogen-filled thing just waiting for people to start poking. And he is incredibly thin-skinned.

Only in my fantasy could I be the one who poked holes in the bloviating billionaire hot airship. You will not find my name in Who’s Who, but rather Who’s He? Fortunately, voters do have the power—if they will use it.

And if you are reading along South Carolina Republicans, when you exit, tell the pollsters of your anti-racist vote. Tell them that South Carolina is busy with the business of exterminating the culture of racism. Tell America this is about more than an old flag retired to a museum.

If the tsunami continues to gather its cowering minions, I fear that Millennials will remember my generation as old museum pieces who just wouldn’t die quickly enough. And they would be justified: racism should have relegated to history by our hand.

And truthfully, we are just about out of time.

extinguishing the bern

I’m not a great election forecaster. Or even a good one. But that never stopped me before and I’m going out there again: Bernie doesn’t stand a chance.

There…I said it.

As I’ve written before, I’m pulling for an outsider win this time. Outsiders give us the best possible result we can hope for in our current dysfunctional federal government: glorious gridlock. For the millennials following along, here is exhibit one: the Carter Administration.

I admit it: gridlock isn’t really that glorious. It only seems glorious juxtaposed to Congress unleashed. I’m firmly in the camp preferring nothing over misguided half-measures like the Affordable Care Act. That’s Obamacare for the baby boomers following along.

But my expectations are getting ahead of reality and I must throw cold water on myself. The Democratic machine is powering up and while they can’t quite dictate a Hillary victory, a $4.5 Million spending spree and a 394 Superdelegate head start gets close.

Fighting Two-party Hall on the inside is tough.

The ugly truth is that $4.5 Million is just the start as the power elite pullsil_570xn-844756496_76kb out the stops. So far, The Bern has 44 Superdelegates. How many of the remaining 274 do you think he will get. Hint: not many.

As Curmudgeonly as I am about our current state of political affairs, I do see glimmers of hope. My sense is that the populist trend is real. After a lifetime of political pendulum swings, demographics are beginning to assert their actuarially inevitable tidal forces. 2020 could be a whole new political world.

Think Latinos and Millennials.

Both Latinos and Millennials are less deferential to the past than the Old White People that will be dying in the next four years. Certainly less deferential than my generation was when we were the whippersnappers.

Working in Software Engineering, I’m around a disproportionate number of Millennials for an Old White Curmudgeon, and I can attest, they have completely different life experiences and the progressive attitudes that are a natural result. My recent teaching foray in a very conservative high school confirms that we are seeing a very broad shift across diverse socio-economic classes on a wide range of political and social issues.

Four more years of Old White People dying. Four more years of millennials attaining voting age.

This is big.

If you doubt the progressive groundswell consider the data coming out of Iowa and New Hampshire. I won’t bore you rehashing the numbers—there are plenty of sources for you if you want to dig.

But for those who dig, a few things become clear. It is clear that “socialism” is not a dirty word for those who learned of the Cold War in history books and not newspapers. It is clear that “social justice” resonates with the working poor. It is increasingly clear that it also resonates with those middle class at risk of joining the ranks of the working poor.

2016 is not, however, the dawn of a new progressive age. The political elite will not go down easily. The headlines deceive: Hillary is overwhelmingly ahead in the delegate count. And will stay that way.

It is exceedingly hard to fight Two-party Hall.

As for the Bern? He is Bernt Toast.