Category Archives: Politics

Memo to Scientists: Don’t March. Educate!

Women marched on Washington to demonstrate their deeply held feelings for our just minted President.  And it was eugh!  The pussy caps endure, but what else survives of that exhilarating  moment to improve any of the conditions that brought them there?

Now scientists are on the march, first in Boston; then with a climactic event planned for Earth Day.  Some unsolicited advice: save your sneakers; you’ve got much more important things to do with your time.  Don’t march.  Educate!

Marching is a great visual, but it’s not likely these days to move legislation in your direction. The President doesn’t give a damn.  I doubt that he watches Neil de Grasse Tyson or Science Guy Bill Nye on cable.  Senator Snowball from Oklahoma doesn’t give a damn. Chief of Staff Priebus will tell you to go home, shut up and listen. Lamar Smith isn’t likely to show up at the Mall for a listening exercise.  And conducting teach-ins among the devoted is just sooo sixties!

So here’s your marching orders, if I may be so bold.

Educate yourselves.

Learn how to communicate with the average person.  You may be whizzes at what you do, but too many of you are too often incompetent about how you communicate what you do to the average person in terms that are relevant and meaningful to him or her.  Why should you care?  Joe and Jane six-pack don’t pass appropriations and climate legislation and environmental regulations.  But they elect the clods that do, and that’s where the battle needs to begin. If you can’t communicate with them and make science important in their lives, you’re toast.  You’re just another part of the elite they’ve come to despise, and with some good reason.

We didn’t become a nation of science dolts over night. It has taken sixty years for the lessons of Sputnik to wear off.  That’s what whip-lashed us into caring about science then.  It will take something equally existential to bring us back.. Climate Change should be doing it, but you’ve been too complacent as a group for too long, and what is existential to you does not seem too important to a lot of other people.

Prepare for  the Long March.

That’s what you’re on.  Not just some giddy road trip to DC with some selfies and cool t-shirts.

The Long March is to Town Halls and State Capitols where decisions are still made close enough to constituents that the perpetrators may have to look them in the eye.  The Repugnantlans made that Long March over the past twenty years,  and we now have what we have in D.C. by way of local voting precincts and state legislatures. The Democrass couldn’t organize enough people with enough energy and focus around a theme to constitute a march.  The result has impacted science and much more.  The cure will have to tread the same path. And the cure will have to fix much more than science; it’s just part of the syndrome.

 Educate Others

Get out of your labs. Embed yourselves in your community’s affairs.  If not your specific subject matter ( string theory and quantum physics is tough to apply at the Planning and Zoning Commission), bring your discipline of critical thinking, of cause and effect, of data informed (but not data driven) decision-making.  Equally importantly, observe and learn from the actions of non-scientists in the competition of ideas in the broader community. That’s the theater in which the politics of science will play out, as with everything else.  That’s where it must begin to find respect and acceptance, and gradually transform processes and results.  But it will take time…as does much of your research.

Clean Up Your Act.

The ethical constructs of the broadly and loosely organized ‘scientific community’ have come under scrutiny and strain of late,  as well as assault.  You need a code of ethics and a governing body as never before to protect you and your science from the onslaught of interests and self-interest that have perverted science as it has most other human endeavors in our complex and contentious society.

The forces of fear and desecration are about in the land, capable of inflicting fatal harm on reputations and causes with or without justification. That shouldn’t be news to you any longer.  Don’t give them justification.

Clean up the peer review process.  Avoid hyperbole in putting forth your hypotheses and projections.  I know you’re only as good as your last grant or publication, as is true of salesmen in any other field, but let your product sell itself.  Don’t oversell it in order to break through the din.

Inform the Political Process, But Don’t Become Political.

You can be scientists or you can be political activists.  But you can’t be both without compromising your position as scientists.

I was deeply disappointed when Dr. James Hansen concluded his career in science with an act of civil disobedience in defense of his science. I could empathize with his frustration, but I viewed his act as an affirmation that his science was insufficient.  Rather than advance his science and his proper message, he diminished it, in my view. Please do not follow his example. You risk far more in the March on Washington and its potential for unintended consequences in our current environment than you stand to gain.

Stand Your Ground.

Defend what you know. Acknowledge what you don’t know. And fight at every  opportunity the falsehoods perpetrated by others with the weapons your science provides. I have witnessed climate scientists in public forums sit passively while self-styled nabobs of science denial rose to proclaim this or that piece of nonsense courtesy of the Heartland Institute or some other propaganda mill, when they should have risen to professionally counter false assertions.  As we have seen too often of late, lies perpetrated and left unchallenged become accepted as truths among the ill-informed.  Successful lies encourage their liars to more audacious levels.

Maintain Your Sense of Humanity and Humility.

Knowledge without purpose is no better than wealth or power without purpose. Scientific knowledge that does not advance the human condition cannot justify its call on the commitment and resources of others that it depends on to advance.

Your knowledge confers on you significant power, but it is ephemeral.  Do not forget the difficulty of attaining your achievements.  Do not become the difficulty impeding the next step of progress.

With all this said, I have no doubt that the Short March on Earth Day will proceed as intended.  But if it is not followed by the Long March, a Death March will surely await us.

Onward

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Requiem for a Lightweight

Trump did not win. Ms. Inevitability lost.  It was inevitable. The only surprise is that so many refused to see what was so obvious until it was too late. I saw it coming and said so; first in September, 2011, then in  June, 2013, and again in June, 2016.  However, there is a much more profound consequence of this election that remains ignored in the post-election ruminations of the media.  I will touch on that later, but first, the postmortem.

Did the Russians steal the election from  her?  No.  Whatever they may have done was minor to what she did to herself long before.   Hillary, paranoid of right-wing conspiracies long before Russian hacking became a national security threat,  dismissed security concerns when she was Secretary of State. She dismissed security concerns regarding her own personal server(s).  Her campaign dismissed security concerns as if they had no prior knowledge of her email vulnerability, and no prior exposure to ‘third rate burglaries’.  How much more damage could the Russians have done to her than she and her dream team had already done to themselves?

Did the leaked emails kill her?  Probably not.  If there were any smoking guns revealed, I’m not aware of them from what was reported in the press.  Most of it was a lot of embarrassing but petty, small-minded trivia erupting from her camp followers and hangers-on which reflected the shallowness and self-serving mentality that many of us associate with the political culture in general.

Did Comey and the Gang That Can’t Shoot Straight do her in?  She may be convinced that he did, but I would give equal credit to Willful Bill, who just had to stop by the AG’s plane to discuss grandkids for 45 minutes. That may not have justified Comey’s subsequent actions, but in the current take-no-prisoners climate, it must have upped his need to protect Number 1, not wishing to be Lynched for his boss’ poor judgement and not knowing her loyalties.  Between a rabid Congress and incompetent Justice, he didn’t have any good choices.  Only responsibility.

Hillary didn’t lose because of Comey. She didn’t lose because of the email server. She didn’t lose because she’s not likable enough.  She lost because she was an inferior candidate,  a fragile ego hiding behind a brittle mask of toughness, and unwilling to acknowledge her own weaknesses; a striver who could not calibrate her ambitions to the dimensions of her abilities; a closet Republican wearing the mask of a liberal; a chameleon  who struggles to blend in but only manages to stand out and irritate with every tone-deaf effort to justify herself;  a panderer to minorities who did not understand that elections are won by majorities; a self-styled political operative who failed to grasp that the ultimate election was the Electoral College and not the popular vote; a candidate so seriously flawed in image and limited in substance that her flacks had to re-brand  her every two or three weeks as the New, Exciting Hillary, only to experience serial failure.  All the Queen’s horses and All the Queen’s men couldn’t put Hillary together in the end.

But the real story of Hillary’s loss is not that she won by nearly 3 million of the popular votes.  It is that she didn’t win by far more and that she lost the ultimate race, the Electoral College, by so much and against an opponent as deplorable as hers.  Hillary’s real measure of loss is the votes that were cast against her and the votes that stayed home. If one adds the 4 million votes for Gary Johnson, most of which we can presume would have gone to Trump or stayed home, she would have lost the popular vote or been in a dead heat, and still lost the Electoral College.  Voter turnout over the prior election appears to have increased by at least 7 million.  Voter registration is reported to have significantly increased for this election.  If we assume that the Democrats were largely the beneficiaries of registration growth, but she only won by 3 million votes, what does that suggest about how much of her base eroded, like the out-going tide of public mood pulling grains of sand from under her feet while she stands at the water’s edge,  contemplating the view of the horizon, only to discover herself pulled out to sea by the undertow she didn’t know was there.

But it would be unfair to blame Hillary’s loss on Hillary alone.  It takes a village.  In this case, the Democratic party.  Consider that after her amateurish campaign against a relatively unknown newcomer in 2008, the Democratic Party is handed a victory that it  largely did not earn as a party, and then proceed to lose ground in two consecutive mid-term elections in which it should have built on momentum to solidify its gains, but basically left Obama to swing in the wind.  And now it has the temerity to insinuate, if not charge, that it lost 2016 because Obama ‘didn’t do enough’.  I hope that when Mr. Obama writes his memoir, he devotes a chapter of rebuttal entitled ‘The Audacity of Dopes’.

     *  *  *

This election has been a collection of ironies.

First, that Ms. Experience should be severely challenged by a virtually unknown quantity in Mr. Sanders for the second time in her illustrious career and survive not on her merits, but on her careful engineering of the backroom Democratic machinery in an undemocratic manner.

Second, that the chief strategies of Hillary and Trump were to debate each other’s deplorability, and against all reasonable assumptions, she lost.

But the greatest irony is that she was defeated by a candidate who  attacked her for being a pawn of the elite, and who is proving day by day to be a more corrosive agent of middle class economic and social decline than Hillary would ever be.

How did this come to be?  The ultimate blame belongs to the electorate.  We pay more attention to sports, reality TV and the Kardashians than to the politics that influence our daily lives.  We are a society that embraces the cheap and easy  and frivolous at the expense of quality and durability, and it shows in our political choices as well as our clothes and food.

We don’t want a President.  We want Santa Claus, who will fulfill our every wish with no effort or sacrifice on our part.  Many of us, especially Democrats, expected the newly elected Obama to do it all, and we turned our back on him like yesterday’s meatloaf when  he couldn’t fix everything in the face of a Congress of indifferent Democrats and largely rabid Republicans led by the treasonous Mitch McConnell and the gutless John Boehner.

The American public, programmed by the media for cultural ADD and narcissism, turned on Obama for failing to meet its expectations and now turns to Trump with the same level of hope that it first projected on Obama, but hope resting on a dubious foundation.

I suspect, based on the anecdotal knowledge from my small sphere of acquaintances but with  no statistical foundation for the assertion, that many who voted for Trump view him not as a leader but as a hammer.  They have few expectations that he will  ‘make things better’.  Rather, they hope that he will ‘drain the swamp’ and break the system that they feel has done so much for so long to put their well-being at risk.  They are willing to take the risk that out of the rubble that Trump will create,  they can fashion a better life for themselves. That is likely an ill-conceived calculation.

Ironically, many of these people are professionals whose well-being is tied to the very system they hope Trump will dismantle.  They seem to embrace a detached sense of cause and effect, seemingly dismissing effect. Many of these people in my acquaintance are analytics in fields of finance and management and medicine and engineering where facts matter and have consequences, and image is to be viewed with professional skepticism. But they see the current system as beyond redemption, and in need of recycling.  I share the view that the current system is seriously flawed, but if Trump is the cure, I’d prefer the illness and a search for a credible remedy.

   *  *  *

There remains one critical question for the economic elite and their political gofers to contemplate.  When Trump’s masses discover in the next year that he is the Hillary they feared, what will they do?  When they discover that he and his wrecking crew have stripped them of the few remaining benefits and safeguards that the current political  order provides and they have taken for granted, what will they do.  Can Trump put back in the bottle the anger he has released, or will he be its next victim, but not its final victim? When the Tea Partiers and Occupiers realize that they are not each other’s enemy, but that they share a common enemy, what happens next?

   *  *  *

I voted for Hillary Clinton, much as I distrust her.  I deemed her less dangerous and destructive and more subject to control and containment than Trump.  I did not do so gladly, but I considered the option of not voting a dereliction of a citizen’s duty. Even among two genuinely lousy choices, one is usually less lousy than the other, if only by a hair’s width. I hope that this requiem for Hillary’s political life does not become a requiem for our great national experiment.

I am reminded of Simon and Garfunkel’s lyrics:

Sitting on a sofa on a Sunday afternoon
Going to the candidates’ debate
Laugh about it, shout about it
When you’ve got to choose
Every way you look at it you lose

Bookends  1968.

Not much has changed.

But everything has changed.

Onward

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The Bully-In-Chief and the Naked Empress

You would think that a society that has spent the past ten years wringing its communal hands over how to deal with school yard bullies and their consequences would recognize one in the man-child Donald Trump, and have a clue of how to deal with him.  Obviously not.

Most interesting is the self-inflicted dilemma of the Repugnantlan Party; those stalwart wearers of flag lapel pins,  supporters of our troops and police, champions of right to life until born, true believers that they have a monopoly on patriotism, self-appointed protectors of the constitution that they are systematically raping in the name of God, country and free enterprise….They stand trembling in the shadow of Trump.  Ironically, the shadow is less than the man, but the Repugnantlans are less still in their collective incapacity to confront this breathing amalgam of narcissism, arrogance, deceit and rank ignorance, and say to themselves and the society that they presume to lead “This man does not represent our values, and we will not lend our Party’s label to his twisted and destructive enterprise.”   Or something to that effect.  But that apparently demands more courage than they can collectively muster.

Nor were the alternatives all that attractive.  A party that has embraced a thinly disguised agenda of bigotry, religious zealotry, misogyny and elitism under the brand Conservatism, and thus done severe damage to the meaning of that term; that same party has looked desperately in its wings among the kooks and Hucksters, and mini-narcissists in waiting, for an alternative to the Enfant Terrible, to no apparent avail.  Short Form: they’re screwed.

The question before the Repugnantlans is: Do we face a firestorm at the convention in the effort to save the party?  Or do we face a firestorm at the voting booths and watch the party be bludgeoned into dust, at the possible tangible loss of Congressional majority.

Given the level of courage and integrity currently in evidence in the party leadership, it is conceivable that they would rather suffer the risk of defeat in the less frightening confrontation and anonymity of the voting booth, than to risk the physical, in-your-face, mano-a-mano confrontation that is promised by Thugs for Trump at the convention.

And as disturbing as all this is in what it says about the state of Party leadership, what is even more disturbing is that there is a constituency that is big enough to give Trump this power.  The question is: is this a constituency of mini-bullies supporting a master bully in their greatest fantasy of power, or as some observers suggest, are Trump’s followers mostly very angry people who see Trump not so much as their leader, but their hammer to render a failing system to the dustbin of history. A similar speculation has been rendered of Bernie Sanders, who is beginning to sound more like Trump in his prognostications for the coming Democratic Convention.

Then there’s the Demo-crass.  They have a different kind of fear, or should.  They face the risk that fewer people will turn out for Ms Inevitability, a.k.a ‘Hillary Don’t-Cry-For-Me-Argentina Rodham-Clinton’, than the die-hard crazies who will turn out for Trump.  On paper, she should have this thing licked.  She’s got ‘credential’s.  She’s engineered the back room of the Convention.  She’s got an enviable Rolodex ( because, as she acknowledged in the prvate computer server grillings, she’s not particularly tech savvy) and the financial backing.  What she lacks is credibility.  Not necessarily an insurmountable problem for a politician.  But she has such an incredible knack for shooting herself in the foot, that it’s totally reasonable for the average person to wonder if she can be trusted with nukes.

In one of her rare moments of candor, she acknowledged after the Florida primary that she is ‘not a natural politician’,  like her husband or Obama.  So why is she running for the position of Politician in Chief?  Is it because she’s a superb, wonky tactician like her husband?  Uh-huh!  When the press were battering her phalanx of flacks, she carefully sequestered behind her security wall.  When an attack was needed, she sent out Bill.  When credibility was needed, she grasped for Barack’s coat-tails, and when that was inconvenient as in the case of the Pacific Trade agreement, she let go.  She claims to fight for the underdog, but what has she ever won for the underdog of substance? Health care, voting rights, better treatment of women anywhere in the world?  She claims experience, but where is the wisdom?  Health care? Libya? the Russian Reset? Syria?  Is her wisdom and pragmatism possibly hidden in that gold-plated speech she gave to Goldman Sachs which remains more closely guarded than her official emails as Secretary of State.  Could it be that if that text ever saw the light of day, it would reveal her to be as shallow and vacuous as the Mitt-ster?

Hillary is nothing but an avatar of women’s and minorities aspirations, but without the substance and quite possibly the will to deliver more than pious platitudes. A candidate whose image quite likely has to be re-invented every two weeks by her army of ‘advisor’s who are still groping for a credible product, isn’t much of a vehicle for progress.  An individual who has struggled against as improbable opponent as Bernie Sanders, in spite of all the advantages she amassed for her presumed coronation, must be profoundly lacking in substance.  A person, whose chief praise in recent weeks is that she has broken many barriers, but always seems to do it the hard way, is not a strong credential for endorsement.  I can’t really picture myself pitching my wares to a prospective employer with the line:’I git it done, but always the hard way’.   Endurance is fine, but competence would be better. She is the Demo-crass equivalent of Jeb Bush.  They  could make an awesome fusion ticket of irrelevance and incompetence.

On any rigorous assessment of substance, Hillary is an empty suit.  Indeed, the Empress has no clothes.

Hillary’s only claim to viability as a candidate is that, next to Trump, she looks at least sufferable, and may almost pass for presidential.  But even that may not be enough to save her if the terminal boredom or revulsion of so many independents and many in her own party is enough to deny her the critical margin for victory.

And then there’s the wild card:  The Republican Convention is July 18 to 21.  The Democratic Convention is July 25 to 28.  What if the Repugnantlan Party finally found the testicular fortitude to deny Trump the nomination on merits (or lack thereof), and installed Romney as the plug-and-play answer?    A contest between two equally brittle avatars.  But on surface, it is conceivable that Romney, an executive in private and public enterprise, could appear to have more chops than Ms Inevitability.

The Demo-crass High Command would have to assess  very quickly which old horse has the better chance.  The Demo-crass will be in the same convention dilemma as the Repugnantlans of reconsidering the ‘presumptive’ nominee, but the Repugs will have gained first mover advantage, which Mitt, the consummate capitalist, knows is critical.  Could the Hillary Horde pivot quickly to a new opponent and a new strategy?  Not likely, if two presidential campaigns are compelling evidence. Could the Democratic Party?  Probably not a prayer.

Can Elizabeth Warren save the ticket?  She would likely carry the ticket.  But if I were her, I’d be extremely wary of signing on to the HIll ‘n Bill show.

Onward.

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What Hath Business Wrought?

Or perhaps more precisely, what hath the Business Elite of the US wrought, specifically in the melt-down, (or is that conflagration?) of its political arm, the Republican Party, a.k.a the party of Business?

It is too early to write the obituary of the Republican Party. Remember, that has been done before; after the flame-out of Barry Goldwater, and the humiliation of Richard Nixon’s demise.  But what the Business Elite has unleashed through its political arm is more devastating to our national well-being than the collapse of a political party which can and likely will regenerate in a variety of ways.

It was supposed to be so simple.  After three decades of whittling away at government at all levels through various manipulations of elective and lobbying processes, covered by the benign visage of Ronald Reagan and Bush the Elder, and finding that economic power alone was not sufficient to complete the task, the Business Elite decided to go to asymmetric guerrilla warfare.  Agents such as Dick Armey and Karl Rove incubated and unleashed what became the corporate arm of the Tea Party.

It was supposed to BE the Tea Party, except, as with the Stuxnet  computer virus, it metastasized beyond intent…and control.  It sought to rouse the deepening dissatisfaction and cynicism of the white middle class and vector it like an explosive shaped charge against The Government. The anger that was building over a system that was failing the Tea Partiers on all fronts was supposed to deliver the final ‘democratic’ blow to ‘take back the government’ by destroying the government.

Kind of reminds one of that famous line delivered by a military officer in the aftermath of the Tet offensive: “We had to destroy the city in order to save it”.  It is worth noting that that did not work either.  Nor will the act of destroying our governments at all levels and denuding our Constitution of its spirit and intent by straight-jacketing it with brittle meaning of a bygone era that doesn’t comport with today’s reality. (May Justice Scalia rest in peace, and the rest of us with his passing.)

But, back to Business. There is a double ruse at work here.  The Republican Party has mastered the meme of ‘perp as victim’, pretending to defend the Constitution against the ghost of the Warren court, while systematically disemboweling the very notion of a democratic society, aided and abetted by the Roberts court which, despite the best efforts of its liberal wing, has exceeded the alleged abuses of the Warren Court  in its interpretive manipulation of the spirit of that document.

It takes more than a flag lapel pin to be a patriot.  Eroding voter rights while championing Citizens United and Corporate participation are among the gems of their deceit.  Their rejoinder that Citizens United merely puts business influence on a level playing field with union influence ignores the success of the Business Elite in bludgeoning the union movement into irrelevance.  (In fairness, it must be noted that the union movement has done itself no favors in convincingly arguing its relevance, which should be self-evident in the asymmetrical warfare perpetrated by the Business Elite against workers at all levels of the food chain, but that’s a subject for another time.)

And so the Repugnantlan Party finds itself with a choice:

‘Do we play by the rules (a novel concept, don’t you think?) and let the ‘democratic’ primary process choose the nominee; or

do we trump Trump in the convention and engineer the coronation of a ‘true’ conservative;

or do we ditch this rusting hulk of a party and run a third-party candidate who is a true ‘conservative’.’

Note that in any case we’re talking about the vestiges of a party that is defined only in terms of which brand of ‘take-no-prisoners, no-compromise, Christian caliphate’ flavor of conservatism that The Force might choose.  It’s Trump (wing-nut conservatism); Cruz (Christian Caliphate Conservatism-Dark), Kasich (Christian Caliphate Conservatism Light with a smily face), or god only knows whom else can be dredged up.  The Huckster? Jeb, the Repugnantlan equivalent to Hillary’s political ineptitude and entitlement?  Marco, the flame-out hope of the Establishment that couldn’t sell the electorate on youthful Kennedyesque charm alone? (fill in the blank).

And who is the Force?  It is the widely reported groups of ‘Big Donors’ who have been meeting this past week to determine the Repugnantlan Party’s fate. And who are The Big Donors?  Well, they ain’t Joe and Jane Six-Pack of Union Local 13.  Safe bet?

They are the Adelsons, and the Koch Brothers  and Big Oil, and Big Hedge Funds, and Big Banks and other Big Corpocracies through various intermediaries to conceal their identity from the Little People where disclosure might be bad for the ‘Business Model’.

In one sense,  nothing has changed.  As in Watergate, Deep Throat’s advice still holds: ‘Follow the money‘.  But today, the stakes are so much greater; and the mechanisms so much more blatant; and the arrogance, insufferable, as evidenced in Trump who merely distinguishes himself from the rest of the Republican clown circus in his galactic audacity (because Earth alone could not possibly contain his ego).

The Business Elite have, as a group, succeeded in corrupting both parties so as to appear ‘impartial’ and politically neutral.  But the flow of money, to the extent that it can be determined, tells the truth.   It would be both unfair and myopic to suggest that the Democratic Party is less corrupt.  It is less dangerous merely because it is less organized and focused in its intent.  Democrats in Congress seem more concerned with saving their own individual hides than with submitting to a party discipline.  This is as much the cause of Obama’s troubles, post-2010, as is the treasonous Mitch McConnell and his minions in the opposition party.

But, perhaps this rant is missing the fundamental point.  What’s really bad in all of this?  Isn’t what’s good for business good for America?  Don’t our job creators know what’s best?  Aren’t we safer than we’ve ever been, thanks to the very same Military Industrial Complex that Eisenhower warned us about?  Don’t we have the best health care that money can buy in the world, thanks to the Medical Industrial Complex?  Don’t we have the safest food in the world thanks to the Agricultural-Industrial Complex that also gives hope to so many undocumented workers? Aren’t our pensions and other investments secure in the best free market system known to mankind? And wouldn’t all of this be so much better if business were just taxed and regulated less so that it could invest more in turning West Virginia coal miners into high-tech coders (which it would surely want to do because full employment makes for more robust consumer markets for cheap Chinese stuff sold at everyday high prices and lowest possible cost and quality (because quality is unnecessary cost))?

And besides, who’s really complaining about the role of business, besides some spoiled little brats who are too incompetent to find a good job and don’t want to pay off their college loans accumulated while taking gender studies and lit classes?   Most people are happy.  They’ve got the newest technology.  They can  watch Hunger Games and Game of Thrones on a big screen at home or in their car, or on a mobile device.

Access to Hunger Games and Game of Thrones and House of Cards on mobile devices is particularly useful in the migration from foreclosed McMansion to homeless shelters.  It maintains continuity of distraction from the real hunger games and games of thrones and house of cards going on around us as our infrastructure crumbles, our rule of law crumbles, our way of life crumbles, our civic institutions and sense of shared destiny crumble, our self-esteem disintegrates.

I suspect that at some point, Tea Partiers and Occupiers will converge by necessity if not by desire, in homeless shelters and other venues of need.  Circumstances will force them to look at each other as people, and not caricatures of The Opposition.  They will discover that they have more in common than they ever imagined; that is, they’ve both been screwed by the same forces.  And when The Government has been reduced to a point of institutional incompetence and impotence as to be rendered irrelevant and no longer a plausible ‘enemy of the people’, they will begin to ask the questions that should have been asked thirty years earlier: Who is the real enemy of the people? And why?

And when they begin to ask those questions, the Business Elite will learn belatedly that Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders were the least of their concerns.  It will be a bad day for Business. It will reap what it has sewn.

*     *     *

There will be voices in the business community who will object to this rant and protest that its observations are not reflective of all people in ‘business’.  That is of course true.  No generalization is ever universally applicable.

But it is also true as in many movements that an assertive minority that presumes to speak for the majority, in effect speaks for all in the majority’s silence (remember Nixon’s Great Silent Majority?) .  In a majority’s silence, the majority has made a decision, be it subliminal or conscious; be it for agreement or fear of consequences or apathy.

If the Business Majority chooses to remain silent to the actions of the Business Elite for whatever reasons, it is an endorsement.  If significant members of the business community or the Republican party are troubled by the course of their institutions toward regressive and repressive government in  the perverted guise of ‘conservatism’, and choose not to speak and act in opposition, then they are accomplices to the consequences.

Or to borrow a line from the Sixties protests, ‘if you’re not a part of the solution, you’re a part of the problem’.

Onward.

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Dis-Integration

“You know the nearer your destination, the more you’re slip-slidin’ away”

Paul Simon

It was all supposed to work so nicely. The world would be tied together by the Internet, free trade, free music. The ‘bad guys’ in Moscow and Beijing would become good capitalists and stewards of something remotely resembling democracy. Growth would be forever, and business cycles would be banished from our economic Garden of Eden.

Except it hasn’t, and it isn’t, and it likely won’t for another …? Let’s just say that nirvana has been indefinitely postponed until further notice.

The Internet, its many benefits notwithstanding, is a battleground of deception, invasion of privacy, and other more serious forms of warfare and cyber-mugging.

Global free trade is hostage of escalating economic, environmental and sociopolitical uncertainties.  Somalia is no longer the poster child of failing states. It is now in competition with Syria, Egypt, Libya, Greece, Italy, Pakistan, and Japan.

The economic juggernaut that is China is at risk of suffocating from its collateral environmental excesses.

The kleptocracies that have replaced the dreaded Communism in Russia and rendered it a mere brand name for garden variety totalitarianism in China, may merely be temporary place-holders awaiting the next devolution.

At street-level, societies are rapidly pulling apart.  Civic institutions are in decline due to aging populations, a lack of civic engagement under the pressure of economic trauma, and a fundamental distrust in civic and political institutions across the political spectrum.

While gays are now marrying in record numbers, heteros are declining or deferring marriage in greater numbers in several economically developed countries, creating a demographic wild-card.

At a time when our capacity to generate information is unprecedented, our distrust of that information is growing apace.

And did I mention the environment? It too is morphing in a thousand ways. All of our institutional and informational capabilities have not yet found a way to distill its disparate trajectories into a net assessment of consequence and consensus for action.  But fundamental natural forces are subtly wearing away at the assumption of human dominance.

We have entered a stage of massive Dis-Integration.

Disintegrate?  Or Dis-integrate

Again, I turn to the stalwarts at Merriam-Webster for some grounding in accepted usage before presuming to go off on my usual tangent.

Disintegrate:

“To break or decompose into constituent elements, parts, or small particles”

“To destroy the unity or integrity of”

But before we explore this term, and its mutation for this post, dis-integrate, let’s also define its root.

Integrate:

“To form, coordinate or blend into a functioning or unified whole.”

“To unite with something else.”

“To incorporate into a larger unit.”

Disintegration is often an unintended process, the result of ambient forces in the natural or social or economic ecology. Wind and water and other elements disintegrate shorelines, and monuments and masonry without any pre-meditation or purposeful agenda. Staff turnover disintegrates organizational continuity, competence and cohesion. Technological change disintegrates sustainability of media and data integrity. Market forces disintegrate product viability and customer loyalty.  These may be directed or coincidental to other influences.

But we are seeing now a mutation of the term with decidedly different consequences: Dis-integration, or what I will define for this discussion as the conscious and concerted dismantling of a structure or state of being. This is a more forceful and focused form of the term.  In the case of the US Congress, the Republican Party generally, and its Tea Party malignancy specifically, the term ‘virulent’ might be more appropriate.

We have entered an age of dis-integration, following approximately sixty years of intense integration since World War II.  This is an international, national, local and personal phenomenon. It is cause for concern. But what is the cause of the phenomenon?

It is the major failure on multiple fronts of integrative processes and relationships which have fostered profound doubt about the wisdom of the whole. That is one reason, primarily at the grass-roots level.

And then there is the more sinister level which finds opportunity in chaos, known more popularly in business circles as ‘disruption’;  and attacks constraints in integrative structures which are perceived by the Dis-integrators as inhibiting their ‘rightful’ freedom of action, consequences to others being inconsequential to their calculus.

A Darwinian sociology is taking hold at all levels of the food chain. At the individual level, it is often a concerted retreat from social and economic structures whose benefits are now doubtful, but whose impositions are becoming burdensome and blatant.  At the institutional level, political and economic, a concerted drive to disrupt, divide and conquer is shredding the social fabric. It is consolidating power at the cost of systemic social resilience.

Much of the institutional disruption has been perpetrated by corporations through political processes.  An article in the late 80’s suggested the rise of the supra-national corporation, an entity that was essentially stateless and defines its objectives independent of and superior to any particular nation-state.  This, of course was most pertinent to US corporations which were among the largest at that time, and were mutating into multinational and trans-national organisms. Such institutions have steadily challenged, co-opted, eroded or simply ignored US governmental strictures, steadily increasing their influence and freedom of action.  The rise of the 1%ers and concentration of power is perhaps the clearest collateral indicator of this movement.  It is most manifest in Silicon Valley, Wall Street and the energy sector where concentrations of power have achieved sufficient critical mass to bend the political process to their will.

Throughout history, institutions and nations have risen in the pursuit of power, and fallen in its failed exercise.  In the twentieth century, power has been aggregated through a conscious architecture of management, and has often been expanded not only by force of arms, but by reason and pursuit of social logic and stability.

But our management processes have too often failed us or betrayed us, and the social logic which has been the glue of our integration is dissolving in frustration and anger. The Tea Partiers (not the corporately propagated sect, but the natural mutation) and the Occupiers come from opposite ends of the sociopolitical spectrum to share a common distrust of ‘the System’. Voters are retreating from political parties; workers from unions. Citizens are moving to rural areas to escape the demands and problems of urban/suburban life. States and counties are talking of secession.  The phone companies want to abandon the cord of reliable service, and Congress is waging an assault on the Postal Service that goes beyond reform to decimation. Multiple attacks are being launched against public education, one of the critical glues of social advancement and cohesion. Privatization of government services, ostensibly to save taxpayer dollars, is as often a boondoggle greater than the disease it was supposed to cure, but it further erodes the stature of government at all levels, and the continuity and public oversight that is possible, if not always executed to intended effect.

We are now retreating within our individual and tribal caves, electronic and otherwise, as if to seek safety from the elements, cyber and otherwise. It did not work for our ancient ancestors. It will not work for us.

When the first settlers landed in the strange new world of North America, they died one by one.  They only survived when they figured out their priorities and learned to work together.  Here in the Brave New World, there is a lesson to be re-learned.

Onward.

20131104

Where’s the SWAT Team when you need it?

The current standoff on the debt ceiling and continuing resolution defies comprehension.

Let me see if I understand this with the available information.

A Tea Party minority of Republicans within the Republican majority of the House, a.k.a. Al Qaeda in the Republican Party,  is holding the Republican majority hostage to voting on a clean CR, and presumably the debt ceiling increase.  Among the hostages is House Speaker John Boehner. Presumably, not all of the 180 or so Republicans are as crazy as the 40 or so Tea Partiers in their midst.  Mr. Boehner? Not so sure. Maybe it’s the UV radiation poisoning.

Mr. Boehner refuses to bring a clean CR forward for an up-or-down vote, the same kind of vote he has demanded of the Senate in other circumstances . He appears to be the primary obstacle at the moment to a vote that could resolve the issue.

Two things strike me about this situation:

1)  The non-Tea Party majority within the Republican Party is clearly more afraid of the malignancy in their core than they are of their so-called competing party, the Democrats.

2)  The reason for Item 1) is that the Democrats are as incompetent in opposition today as they were leading up to the 2010 elections, when they remained hung-over from the glory of the 2008 election victory, and assumed that Obama would be the designated driver to chauffeur them to the Promised Land while they partied on.

It is a dubious accomplishment of the Tea Party that its modest numbers within the Congress has terrorized, yes, terrorized the Republican majority as much as it has.  No doubt this is because of the prospect that they impose on the majority Republicans that they too will be replaced by other Klingon warriors of the Rabid Right in the next election.  And of course, these American Flag wearing self-proclaimed patriots of the Republican majority who support our troops do not themselves have the testicular fortitude to put their principles on the line, and their country before party, and their constituents before their own personal fortunes.  Their conduct does disservice to the old and honorable profession of prostitution, a label they frequently share, but without the same level of dignity as its true practitioners.

Then there are the Democrats.  If they were a true party that shared more than a party symbol and letterhead, they would make their colleagues on the other side of the aisle fear them more than the Crazies.  But that is apparently not the case.  They probably see it beneath their dignity to be as crazy as the Crazies.  But they don’t have to be.  They simply have to use philosophical judo; use their opponents’ force against them, by clearly communicating to their constituency the idiocy of so many of the Republican Party’s positions and tactics, and the consequences of that idiocy to their constituents.  How many of these so-called leaders actually have the capacity to communicate effectively with their constituents beyond the usual vacuous campaign drivel?

But that assumes that the electorate in some critical mass of Democrats, independents and Republicans, is open to information and reason, and capable of distinguishing information from disinformation before applying reason.  I suspect that many congressmen of both houses seriously doubt the existence of such a critical mass, or would know how to communicate with it effectively if it existed.  Pontification is not communication. And part of that doubt must come from the appearance, if not reality, that there are as many Crazies in the electorate ready to pounce on them as on The Hill.  But I suspect that is more an appearance than a reality.  Let me correct that: I pray that it is more appearance than reality. Don’t know.

*   *   *

Nine months ago, I posted a blog entitled: “Does Business Still Own the Republican Party?” Businessweek recently answered that question.  A relatively small group of the economic elite have unleashed a political virus in the Tea Party as an illusory populist expression of the desire for small government and ‘freedom’. What is really being attacked in Big Government is those institutions that are perceived as constraining the rightful entrepreneurial freedoms of the economic elite. But the Tea Party has mutated from its intended focus. Like the cyber-virus Stuxnet, it has gotten out of the cage, and beyond the grasp of the Koch Brothers and Dick Armey, and now threatens to do a whole hunk of damage in its own delusional exercise of Take-No-Prisoners reform.

Now ‘Business’ is beginning to get concerned. Those risk-taking, strategizing Masters of the Universe have finally figured out that this all could go very badly. What to do? What would McKinsey do?

*  *  *

Since my billing rate is much, much lower than McKinsey’s, I’ll offer a crazy thought with my usual money back guarantee if not completely satisfied within 30 days.

If Boehner is the obstacle for bringing the clean bill to a vote, the House Democrats should call for a new vote for the speakership if Mr. Boehner does not immediately allow a clean CR to come forward. Given that they are the minority, that would seemingly go nowhere, unless they hold the feet of the 180 non-Tea Party Republicans to the fire, and force them to own the current speaker for their next congressional election (which, incidentally is just a year away),  or ditch him so we can get on with the Country’s business.  This could do one of two things in the immediate term: it could clarify Boehner’ personal calculus of relative risk, or it could force enough moderate Republicans to re-define their individual self-interest and let the Speaker go on his kamikaze joy ride on his own.

*  *  *

This may neutralize the Tea Party for the moment, but does not irradiate its cancer from the body.

We’ve heard a lot about bullying in recent years. It is generally recognized that bullying tolerated is bullying encouraged.  We as a nation have tolerated the bullying of the Tea Party and its assorted variations of idiocy and paranoia for too long.  Too many citizens, too many business leaders, too many politicians have tolerated or trembled at its antics. It is time to confront the bullies before they gain more power and destroy what they claim to want to reform. That less than 10% of the Congress can paralyze the entire body and government processes beyond its chambers is utterly insane.  But the greater insanity is that the broader public remains largely silent.  We may not be able to reach the ten percent, but we should be able to send a clear message to the other 90% to take control, or begin scouting for a lobbying position in their next life.

Occupy Wall Street, and Occupy Everything Else did far less damage to the public good, and was treated far more harshly by the authorities, than the thugs mugging Congress, and by extension the rest of us. No SWAT Team is going to remove these gang-bangers from the Hill. It is up to you and me.

We look at Egypt and Syria as distant places and distant realities.  But as we stand on the precipice of October 17 and look into the abyss, we might consider that the only thing that separates us from Egypt and Syria…is time.

Onward

20131009

Cool Hand Barach — The Sequel

In late 2010, I wrote the original post at the time of a showdown regarding tax cuts.  I suggested that Obama, who at that time was portrayed as weak and indecisive, was really playing rope-a-dope with the dopes in both the Republican and Democratic parties. I believe that subsequent history has confirmed that assessment.  I’m prepared to go out on a limb again.

This time, it is the threat to unilaterally use force in Syria.  It seems crazy for him to take this positions on the surface, with the utter failure of Iraq so fresh, the current failure of Af-Pakistan fresher still, and the questionable success of Libya highly debatable, and a cautionary tale for any intervention in Syria. Given his commitment to end both wars, and his reluctance for engagement in both Libya and Syria, his sudden if reluctant commitment to unilateral action seems inconsistent, to put it politely. But is it crazy, or calculating?  I have a sense that he is playing a very high stakes game of poker (or more appropriately, pool) with a very narrow window of opportunity.  Here’s how I see it.

1)  His primary tactical target is to neutralize Syria by way of….Russia.  He does that by means of threatening a strike which would put Russia in a very difficult position.  Russia knows he can do it.  Putin is just not sure if O is crazy enough to do it,…and that’s the problem.  Because if O is crazy enough, then what does Russia do in response?  It likely does not want to consider a reciprocal military response, for which it is likely not adequately positioned.  It could consider a cyber response, but that could get easily out of hand with no fun for anyone.  And to do nothing would be an insufferable political embarrassment.

2)  So the easiest way out for Putin (and let us be sure: it’s all about Vlad), is to lean on Syria and say ‘Cut out the chemistry lab stuff.  Go back to slaughter in the accepted conventional way that everyone has tolerated so nicely for the past 99,000 deaths’.  He then goes back to O and the UN and says that the great humanitarian state of Russia has negotiated a cessation of further gassing of the neighborhood, and we should all go back to concentrating on a further negotiation to end the more acceptable means of slaughter while that slaughter continues.

This seems like a great symbolic, do-nothing solution to everyone but the Syrians on all sides.  Russia saves face. O doesn’t have to pull a trigger for which there could be infinite unintended consequences. Life goes on…or not for some.

3)  But a message has been sent nonetheless that ripples out from the bloody streets of Syria.  Assad now knows the limits of his prime patron. Russia has been put in a smaller box than Obama.  And the dark eminences in Tehran also know the possible limits of  their prime patron. And that causes uncertainty about the limits of future support.

4)  But it’s not all about the Moslems. In Jerusalem the worries remain that the autocrats in Syria and Egypt could ultimately succumb to the Moslem extremists, who would not necessarily seize control, but could destabilize the  neighborhood.  While the Israelis wring their hands, Obama gently suggests to them that this might be the best, and dare we suggest last, time for them to achieve an agreement with the Palestinians so as to take that issue off the table for other Arab and Moslem militants, undermining Hezbollah and Hamas, and rendering Al Qaeda’s recruiting posters pointless.

5) With the Palestinians off the table, Iran has no remaining bogeyman to divert its population’s attention from its day-to-day plight but the distant Great Satan, and the populace can begin concentrating on contemplating the cost-benefit of endless investments in centrifuges at the expense of everything else.

6)  LATE BREAKING NEWS: OBAMA SEEKS AUTHORIZATION BY CONGRESS.  Perfect. He wins either way.  Either Congress pulls the plug, and lets him off the hook, or Congress authorizes and we’re back to Step 1.  If Congress pulls the plug, he lays the issue at the Security Council where Russia and China, with their own internal political problems, are called to task for aiding and abetting slaughter by stonewalling international intervention, of which they do not want to set even the most remote precedent for their own home-brew caldrons.  And how long will Congress debate this one, with the Republicans divided internally as much as Democrats, and Democrat doves forming an unlikely alliance with Rand Paul libertarians.

Meanwhile, the killing proceeds unabated.

If my inferences are correct, Obama may be playing a very high stakes game that could significantly alter the dynamics of the Middle East, but not necessarily its direction.

*   *   *

I believe that Obama, the community organizer, understands far better than John McCain and Hillary, the Elitists, the limits of what the US can do alone in the Middle East and elsewhere.  We may be the only superpower, but it does not make us all-powerful. We can influence events but we cannot control them and assure outcomes. And that is the ultimate point.  The best we can do in the long run is to watch and wait and see what emerges from the morass, and prepare to negotiate a relationship with whatever survives and appears to sustain. This is not ambivalence, or cowardice or indifference; it is pragmatism.

The Middle East today is a bastardization of history, gerrymandered by Western powers without regard to history and culture.  It is unsustainable in current configuration for that reason.  The Genie is out of the bottle. The pretense that we have a humanitarian mission when everyone suspects that our only motivation is to sustain access to oil does not compel our engagement in Syria, no matter how regrettable the human suffering.

The world is on fire, and the fires must burn themselves out, because their containment and curtailment by other means is beyond the resources, wisdom and will of the observers.  What we are witnessing is the disintegration of social and political systems, just as we have witnessed the decay and dysfunction of economic systems in recent years and of environmental systems currently.  How they re-constitute is anyone’s guess.

The rules of war that define decorum between armies in feudal contests of force between nation-states are becoming irrelevant as we move to conflicts between civilians and their armies within nation-states.  The organizing paradigm is transnational political and religious (same thing) movements.  The battle is between anarchy and authoritarian control. In the West, the question is whether democracy can coexist with security when the forces of disruption use democratic processes as a cover for anarchistic asymmetric warfare against established authority.  And, will Authority sustain security in concert with democracy, or at its expense for ulterior motives that become all too achievable in the specter of chaos. In the East and South, these questions are largely moot.

Meanwhile, back in the US of A, our own internal divisions and dysfunction are beginning to show disturbing signs of similarity to Egypt. The NSA, drug wars, gerrymandering voting districts, voter rights, erosion of public trust in public institutions, little armed ayatollahs of the religious and secular right .  We too are disturbingly close to the edge of the precipice, and the soil of a once firm civic footing is eroding under our feet.

*   *   *

The issue of chemical weapons, as horrific as they may be, is a side-show.  Does it really matter if we use chemical weapons or drones, or Abrams tanks, or M4 assault weapons, or napalm, or cluster bombs, or fry the grid and take a society back to the stone age with death by a thousand other means?  Dead is dead, maimed is maimed, and at the end of the day the body count is the inverse measurement of humanity’s progress from its ignorant and barbaric roots.  So far, the score doesn’t look good.

Onward.

20130901