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.

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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.

caucuses in iowa aren’t the problem: you are

An old friend commended a recent Jeff Greenfield editorial decrying the broken primary process. I bit. Greenfield blames Iowa for the usual reasons: too white, too educated, too different than America. It was a worthwhile read even while completely missing the actual dysfunction.

Now, if Greenfield wants to change the primary process, I can get behind that cause in the same way I’m in favor of express lanes at the grocery: little improvements are nice. But if one believes changing up some primary dates and tweaking the processes of the big parties is crucial to democracy, I question their grasp of what ails our republic.

The primary debacle only seems huge because of the two party miasma.

I learned about all of this at a young age when my 7th grade civics teacher told me we had a two party system. I regurgitated that on the exam, no doubt, just like you. They key word here is “system”. It took a few years for me (I know—I’m slow) to figure out that this state of affairs was not designed, but rather happenstance.

A political party, by definition, is not designed. People of common interests get together and decide to pool their clout to influence government and field candidates that support shared ideals. It is unsurprising that parties might develop different processes for picking candidates and building platforms. In a true multi-party world, this might even be a good thing.

But Greenfield is right as far as he goes: Iowa does end up with inappropriate influence on what candidates end up on our ballot. But it is just plain wrong that Iowa hijacked anything: years of anti-competitive legislation from Two-party Hall hijacked our political process.

Ballot access restriction inflates the importance of the Iowa Caucuses.

Our elections would have a radically different timbre if instead of two parties choosing candidates it were ten. One weird Iowa caucus or New Hampshire straw poll would have far less significance. Perhaps in a multi-lateral world we would choose to do this all the same day. But maybe not.

It is harsh blaming you for the problem, I know. But experience tells me that there are very few of you who will not vote Democrat or Republican.

If you do, you are enabling this mess.

If they are going to get your vote…and you know they will get your vote…why should the party elite change? The pattern has long been the same: in primaries, run to the right (or left), and in the general election move to the center. This is how they bait you in, and the convention sets the hook.

You MUST vote for your candidate: That other party can’t be trusted with America’s future.

Go ahead and do what you must. Go ahead and complain about how it would all be just great except for THEM. And Iowa.

Go ahead. You know you will.

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.

transit of mercury

A rare astronomical event is coming your way on November 8th: the transit of Mercury. Observers will see a small black disk “transiting” the face of the Sun as the planet Mercury comes between Earth and Sol in such a way for it to be visible here in North America. Happily, my Son’s telescope and I will be at his school for some hands-on education during the transit. Nothing edifies an old Curmudgeon like spending an afternoon with a class of seven year olds.

Unfortunately, I will be in need of edification on this day after our national apostasy.

Apostasy will be exactly the right word in the eyes of Republicans as they witness American voters turning away from the true faith of conservatism. “Revival” will probably seem more fitting if you are a Democrat.

You see, one jihadist’s sanctification is another’s abomination in American political theology.

But the apostasy to which I refer is the anti-democratic election process we engage in under the guise of republican democracy. Vote for anyone you want, damn near everyone tells me, so long as they are a Republican or Democrat. Republicans seem uncannily certain that Democrats are going to Hell and Democrats share the same heartfelt moral contempt for the GOP. Both would agree on the fate of those that disparage the two-party system: there is a special level of Hell just for us.

I shall not, however, be dissuaded from regaling you with my disenfranchised observations while I await my fate in the hereafter. And given that we are getting down to election time, I will hazard a few prognostications and some prospective aftermath analysis.

I am not in rare company when I predict the GOP’s ouster from power on November 7th. Depending on who you choose to listen to, 350 to 390 seats in the House of Representative are considered “safe”. Decades of rapacious Gerrymandering have reduced things to where as few as twenty seats out of 435 are considered serious contests. But the current margin of GOP House control is so thin that the balance of power may still swing on those twenty or so Congressional districts.

As luck would have it for the Democrats this time around, the Democratic seats up this election tend to be the safer seats and the Republican seats less so. A six seat shift will be required for control of the Senate to go blue and something like ten of the thirty-three seats are considered seriously contested. My sense is the national rage against the war in Iraq is going to deliver the Senate chamber keys to party of Jefferson though by a narrower margin than in the House.

Analyzing congressional elections through the lens of national issues has historically lacked utility, but Tip O’Neil’s admonition that all politics is local seems quaint to me now. Certainly there are still times and specific races where local factors are more important than national ones, but in recent years there have been more Congressional elections that were national in character than not. In the wake of 9-11 and the Iraq Occupation, national issues are at the forefront as seldom before.

It was the national focus that brought out the Moral Majority in record numbers two years ago to thwart the putative leftist attack on families. In spite of this incredible energy generated in the right-wing base last election, the result was an even thinner margin of control in Congress as war weariness was already beginning to set in. This election, there is no lightening-rod issue at the forefront to energize the right, but for the left it will be the body count. It doesn’t take an astrophysicist to grasp the polling data. The GOP base has cooled off and the Democrats sense their opportunity.

And I’m talking now about 2008.

You see, this election is 1966 all over again. In 1966 mid-term elections, the GOP made big gains in Congress in what was an easily recognizable harbinger of the 1968 GOP Presidential campaign success. Wars that lose their purpose inevitably have bigger effects than jokes about “Mission Accomplished” banners. While it would be a mistake to push the 1966 to 2006 analogy too far, the same voter nerves have been rubbed raw and the result will be a changing of the guard.

The good news is that I can look forward to enjoying two years of return to glorious dead-lock. You remember what that was like do you not? Stalemate with the Executive and Legislative branches in the hands of different parties was a (relatively) beautiful thing. It was more beautiful than I even realized back then. Extremist agendas, be they from the left or right, while often noisy, in retrospect they did not get nearly as much traction.

The bad news is that the 1966 election was followed by 1968 just as surely as 2006 will be followed by 2008. As was the case back then, the body bags will continue to accumulate and voters will be looking for change.

Leave it to Shurb to screw up the opportunity for a golden age of glorious stalemate: the GOP has botched things so severely that we are about to find the government entirely in the hands of the Democrats in two years.

Even this I would calculate to be good news for me personally: cynical punditry should be at its zenith. Surely I’ll soon be picked up by a national syndicator because opportunities like his only happen once in a life time. If you think the Arkansas mafia was fun the first time, just wait till they apply the lessons learned at the knee of Rove and company. Can you imagine the excitement in their camp? Now their elitist ways are legal thanks to the GOP.

Whether we like it or not, we should start practicing our salutations now because “Madame President” does not yet flow readily from the tongue.

Yes indeed, I’m looking forward to November 8th and my time with the seven and eight-year olds. Thanks to the kids, I will have less time to contemplate the rigor-mortis that will then be setting in on those experiencing sudden political death. It will get my mind off of the tragic American political mess and on bigger things. On youngsters who offer hope rather than adults who sold theirs to the highest bidder. On the inevitable triumph of Good.

Perhaps it is no accident that Mercury is making his show on the heels of the day of death and apostasy. One of Mercury’s lesser celebrated services to man was to act as an escort to see the newly dead from Earth to the Underworld. Depending on whether you root for Team Blue team or Team Red, you may have differing opinions on whether the departed Titans should properly be escorted to the Elysian Fields.

Me?

My bet is down on justice: a speedy transit to Tartarus.

ring of fire

I am not sure whether I fell in to the ring of fire or whether I jumped. Supporting the GOP was for me, like most people, a conscious choice but after a while, I discovered that like love, politics too burns.

In my defense, I was never fully comfortable with the GOP. I supported them by pulling the straight party levers (back when it really was a lever) because I was overwhelmingly concerned with fiscal policy, national defense and abortion. As a teenager and young adult, it was easy to make the error of assuming politicians actually mean what they say, so I beg the forgiveness of the Almighty and my gentle readers for the transgressions of my youth.

I remember my mid-life political epiphany with clarity though it came about not in an instantaneous flash of light but over a period of a few months in 1996. Having already had all I could stomach studying asset forfeiture, flag burning, sacramental peyote and other significant civil liberties affronts, the extraordinary hypocrisy of the budget battles sealed it: I had become a full blown political heretic. After dabbling with the Libertarian Party for a few years and eventually abandoning that institutionally defective and philosophically incomplete camp, I found the path of political redemption by dropping out of the existing political process altogether and dedicating myself to using the power of the pen to try to shake whatever small circle of people I can out of the two-party stupor which plagues our land.

I am reminded of all of this because of reading the recent Supreme Court ruling in the case of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. It is an interesting read to say the very least.

Interesting because of its overt political nature. The political thrust and parry drip from the white space between the words of putatively sober jurisprudential exegesis. Stevens and Scalia were at their result oriented best reducing the opportunity for righting egregious wrongs and propounding great ideas into a base game of political sport.

Stevens and Scalia are no Hand and Holmes.

The decay of our Federal Judiciary is emblematic of the larger trend of politicization of our nation. Stevens and Scalia are both extremely intelligent men who are fully capable of propounding great ideas in articulate and reasoned analysis. Instead, they give us eisegetical crap.

As a nation we have come to accept this hyper-politicization of everything as something normal and wholesome. When the blue team scores, the crowd roars its approval while the red team clings to hopes of a good free agency period between elections. It is all about victory and defeat.

This politicization affects big stuff that is easy to identify, but you can even see its subtle affects in the smaller things as well.

Perhaps space exploration is not a small thing, but it provides an immediate and useful example of how deeply political we have become. As I write, we are awaiting the Space Shuttle return to flight launch and there is considerable angst over the future of the various NASA programs. If you are not keeping up, it boils down to this: if the flight is successful, then the Shuttle will continue flights for the next four years to complete the International Space Station (ISS). Another failure will likely permanently ground the Shuttle fleet and the ISS will never achieve any stage of construction remotely similar to finished.

Whether Space Exploration is a worthy goal or not is a separate and interesting debate which I am happy to have. But we have gone forward in this direction and having made that decision, we should be proceeding based on scientific merit and rational objectives. Instead the go/no-go decision is being influenced by budget cycles and political spin. The growing corollary national disease of extreme risk aversion plays into the politics of the Space Shuttle, but I’m going to exercise some discipline and avoid venturing further down that tangent.

Truly, it must be incredibly disappointing to career scientists and engineers at NASA to be at the mercy of the spin cycle. But no more disappointing than this political reality is to thousands of our best and brightest who pursue noble causes such as medical research only to find out that getting funding is also a political process. No more disappointing than realization that meritorious science is less important than spending on the political disease du jour.

No more disappointing than figuring out that this is what we have become as a nation.

As we play the two-party game, the federal budget grows and grows. Vote producing procurement programs move forward while things that matter are not even discussed much less addressed. As we fall down, down, down into the political ring of fire, more and more people are getting burned.

I, for one, refuse to stoke the flames.

thinking inside the box

It is not often that politicians are candid about their motivations and intentions. Yet there it was with John Conyers writing recently in the Washington Post regarding the potential for impeachment proceedings should the reigns of power change hands in the next election:


It was House Republicans who took power in 1995 with immediate plans to undermine President Bill Clinton by any means necessary, and they did so in the most autocratic, partisan and destructive ways imaginable. If there is any lesson from those “revolutionaries,” it is that partisan vendettas ultimately provoke a public backlash and are never viewed as legitimate.

It was close to complete candor, but let me translate this into plain English for you: “We would impeach the guy faster than a Congresscritter accepts a bribe, but we are afraid of losing our seats from voter backlash”.

Honest yes, but utterly contemptible.

Conyers himself described the charges of malfeasance against the administration as, “grave, serious, well known, and based on reliable media reports and the accounts of former administration officials.” He then goes on to describe the problems of proof, exacerbated by administration stone-walling, that prevent a conclusive determination on the presence of impeachable conduct.

Back in 1974, that was called obstruction of justice.

I can not seem to find the public outrage over obstruction of justice being tolerated by Congress under the explicit rationale that there might be a political backlash. I’m sure the outrage is lying around here somewhere—probably hiding under a pile of weapons of mass destruction.

It will not surprise my readers that I think that 43 crossed the line of impeachability long ago. If you are one of those poor souls who think the Democrats or Republicans will save us, however, it should shock you to learn that impeachment is no longer even an option. Where ever you may come down on the issues, this should torque you. Time after time politics trumps the rule of law yet there is no rage against the political machine.

And it is a political machine: the spirit of Tammany Hall is alive and well. Alive like some twisted vision of Mary Shelly crafted from the head of an elephant and ass of a donkey.

I wish Shelly were alive today to animate the American voters with a bolt of reality.

Whatever my wishes for a great awakening, the American voters continue their oblivious ways and seem poised to reactively return the Ass to the head of our political institutions. If you have been paying attention for the last several decades, you can go ahead and write the speeches now. The GOP urging us to stay the course with ads conjuring phantoms of terroristic demons that only they can be trusted to protect us against. While the Democrats will be urging a return to honest leadership and demonizing those who would send our children to war and poison our Earth to purposely make their lives miserable if they survive.

After all the fine speeches, the Democrats will win. This is the American way after a scandal such as is the current administration. And that of course means for the first time we will be saying “Madame President”.

The sad thing is that many of the hordes of people voting for Hilary will be doing so in a sincere effort to return our government to some semblance of respectability. It is sadder still that we have had a presidential administration so thoroughly obnoxious and incompetent that it makes Hilary look good in comparison. To borrow a phrase from a friend of mine, it is bone crushingly depressing that our choices will be limited to the candidates of Two-party Hall.

Not that I believe Two-party Hall exists as a simple hierarchical power structure. There is no Boss Tweed running the operation. No David Rockefeller behind the curtain. But the mutual self-interests of the power blocks within Two-party Hall operate to protect the family with almost as much loyalty as the machines of old.

Perhaps this is what they meant by “family values”.

Ruminate for a while on the reality of that which lies ahead as We the People turn away from a “culture of corruption” is the likelihood of returning the Clinton family to the White House. Consider their return to power in a world where lying to the American people, insider corporate dealing, unrepentant torture of prisoners, and obstruction of justice are charges too weak to justify impeachment proceedings. The rule of law has become of joke and we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But this joke is no laughing matter. We consistently let politicians off the hook as long as they stoically maintain their walls of plausible deniability. It is hard to laugh at the reelection of the President in the face of the horrible revelations from Abu Ghraib because people are willing to give him a pass on knowing the facts. We failed to remove his predecessor for lying under oath because the economy is good and the majority of Americans did not want to rock that boat. The litany of imperial tendencies could go on ad nauseum.

The problem with failing to take care that we remain a nation of laws is much larger than the political maneuvering of the current election cycle. James Madison articulated it well in the Federalist Papers when he wrote:


The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands, whether of one, a few, or many, and whether hereditary, self-appointed, or elective, may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny.

Does an executive branch that claims unilateral rights to take us to war, make decisions on searches without judicial assent, and abrogate ratified treaties sound like tyranny to anyone besides me? Do the rumblings about executive privilege make any of you queasy?

What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.

Unfortunately, developing an understanding of the legal implications in the broader populace is probably impossible at this point. Historically, Americans have relied on its opposition leaders to at least point out Constitutional abuses and corrupt practices, but where are the senior statesmen calling Conyers on the carpet for his outrage?

Obviously, these “statesmen” are busy protecting their own position and pecuniary interest rather than seeing to the long term health and viability of These United States. Ultimately, politicians who share the guilt for the destruction of our legal institutions can not be expected to hold their peers accountable. Only an awakening of the power of We the People can change our course and avert destruction.

I think if I were a betting man, I would bet with the power elite that lazy Americans will continue to take it all in stride, so long as their Tivo and porn surfing are not interfered with. However improbable significant social backlash may be our political elite would do well to heed a proverb that I recently heard: “At the end of the game the king and the pawn go back in the same box.”

King or Pawn, thinking about one’s future in a box would be a very good thing right now.