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.

called on the carpet bombing

 

1024px-boeing_b-52_dropping_bombsIt isn’t so shocking that Donald Trump said of ISIS, “I would bomb the shit out of ‘em.” He does after all have a track record of saying some seriously stupid things. One reward for that is an extremely long list of websites dedicated to his rhetorical malefactions.

The other reward, apparently, is becoming an early favorite to earn the GOP nomination. Seething with jealousy, Ted Cruz too has entered the fray for the heavyweight troglodyte title. Though I realize that blood sport is all about the kill, having a second contender suggest carpet bombing strains even this Curmudgeon’s ability to discern the depths of American political dysfunction.

This is genuinely stupefying.

Primaries bring out the worst in politicians being more like precinct donnybrooks or professional wrestling than an ordered process to pick the leader of the free world. It gets ugly. Really ugly. Just ask Edmund Muskie.

But this is a different species of ugly than the 1972 dirty tricks. As grotesque as presidential politics has always been, policy has been treated seriously albeit somewhat superficially. The only prominent candidate that has ever approached this level of cavalier exposition was Barry Goldwater, and that didn’t work out so well for him.

One might think these candidates had taken a leave of their senses if it were not for the admonition that one should not attribute to insanity that which is adequately explained by self-interest. And from their perspective, it is working out grandly.

I’m certainly not alone pointing out that primaries are necessarily focused on solidifying a candidate’s political base. This is a truism. Yet the radical lack of propriety gives one a sense that perhaps there is a fundamental shift in play. Clearly, winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing. Worry about America later.

I have no quarrel with a candidate advocating aggressive pursuit of criminals, but these glib sound-bites smack more of Western-centrism or racism than policy. I must be missing something because I see no possible advantage to this hyperbole. I would love for a Trump or Cruz apologist to explain this approach to my moderate Muslim friends.

Anyone that utters such nonsense must never be handed the Football.

This would all be great political fun if the stakes were not so high—but I am finding it hard to laugh at the political class and their minions this time around. Make no mistake about it, the world order is transmuting around us and as the center of the old order, the United States matters. How we select our leadership matters. How the President conducts himself matters. The world is watching.

In horror.

Well, not quite. There are those who find the United States an obstacle to their vision for the world order. There are those bitter about any number of American excesses on the world stage that are eager to witness our death throes. There are those simply jealous.

And there is Hillary.

She never dreamed of an opponent less likable than herself.

déjà voters all over again

Our quadrennial presidential tournament was playing out like the normal boring political cage match six months ago. While the smart money remains on the choices of the major party elite, things are getting interesting here on the eve of the Iowa Caucus.

The latest polls show the competition is fierce. Or not. Never one to trust polls, I instead rely on direct observation and clearly the gladiators know this will be a battle not an anointing. This is good news because watching otherwise intelligent people defend Hilary and The Donald is better than Super Bowl commercials. But sadly no more substantive.

This is all very entertaining for those of us excluded from the process.

I wish the headlines shocked me. “As Trump and Cruz Soar, G.O.P. Leaders’ Alarm Grows”, and “Two Hired Guns for Clinton and Sanders in Iowa Showdown” are the policy bereft lead stories for the New York Times as I write. Apparently, actual statements of policy greater than tweet-sized are the sole province of the Brookings or Cato ivory towers. Cheering Americans are again lining up on the Democratic or AFC sidelines to watch our gladiators throw down.

It’s déjà voters all over again.

Legislation has infamously been compared to sausage making. Politicians suggest that citizens do not really want to see how it is done, but it is clear that ugliness doesn’t bothers Americans—indeed, they love their politics grisly. Though often lacking even a fundamental understanding of the issues, they viscerally discern that too much unlabeled pork is making it into the all-beef sausage.

Money trumps our high ideals every time.

On a good election day, roughly 50% of Americans sleep in rather than go to the polls. I am convinced that they find the uncompromising dysfunction of government simply exhausting. Why bother when authentic change cannot rationally be anticipated from the limited choices on their ballots? They feel disenfranchised, not apathetic.

But there is a hint this year—just a hint—that change may be in the air. “Outsiders” like Bernie Sander and Donald Trump are, if you are the sort that pays attention to polls, encroaching on the anointed of the political machines.

And now, we hear Michael Bloomberg may toss his hat (and his billions) into the ring. Just when I thought I’d seen everything now that a barrel of oil costs less than a salmon, we may have a socialist, a megalomaniac and a bizillionaire moderate vying for the oval office.

A moneyed non-partisan might just have a shot in this strange brew.

Don’t worry: I’m not getting my hopes up. The partisan drums beat loudly and the American voters will, as is their tradition, respond. Pundits are already churning out analysis of whether Bloomberg would hurt the Reds or the Blues more.

Perhaps Bloomberg is just what is needed to shake up the ruling class and get We the People out its two-party malaise. I do not yet know if Bloomberg is someone I can get behind or not. But I do know that the over-sleeping 50% are a reservoir waiting to be tapped. For the first time in a very long time, there is the possibility of an authentic change agent on the ballot. Perhaps I too will set my alarm early on November 8th.

But don’t hold your breath.