“Dotard” or WTF Friday

Maybe Kim Jong-un isn’t as crazy as we thought. He nailed that one and it is quite a step up from “rocket man”. Maybe Kim will have that song by Elton John as his new theme song like Hail to the Chief. Dotard according to Dictionary.com is “a person, especially an old person, exhibiting a decline in mental faculties; a weak-minded or foolish old person.” Nailed it. And he still does not get Kim. The teenage food fight is going to lead to violence. As I have argued before, Kim needs this kind of aggression to survive. And the Village idiot in Charge (VIC) is the perfect adversary that goads him on. WTF over.

Meanwhile in the ‘homeland”, Facebook has turned over 3000 possible add buys by Russian proxies and the Dotard’s response reported in the Daily Beast was:

In his latest early-morning tweetstorm, President Trump called the reports of Russian ads on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election a “hoax” and pointed the finger, once again, at former challenger Hillary Clinton: “What about the totally biased and dishonest Media coverage in favor of Crooked Hillary?”

Crooked Hillary? So clear and direct evidence of Russian interference in our election is a hoax, and facts and data don’t matter. The Dotard believes what he wants to believe and if you extend this to other policy positions, you kind of have to say, WTF! Of course we have had this evidence for some time, not only with the Dotard in Chief (DIC), but his dotard party. They believe what they want to about healthcare and as Jimmy Kimmel has shown us, either lie or don’t believe their own words. Then there is “tax reform” which of course is a tax cut for the wealthy even though the DIC says there will be no tax cuts for the wealthy. What does he think a 15% corporate tax is? WTF!

Meanwhile in Alabama, for those of you who want relief from disaster pictures and stories, the two candidates are a nightmare. One did a deal with Sessions and the Governor for the post, the other can’t quite figure out that separation of church and state thing. It does tell you one thing. Make any excuses you want about down trodden workers railing against the government, these two make dotard operative as everyday speech. One has to wonder what they put in the water in Alabama (WTF country).

I have to go to the doctor this morning and I want to write something about the first half of PBBS’s Vietnam so I am going to cut this short, but with all the power lines down in the hurricane devastated region, could they not learn from our own military that hardens their bases by burying all those lines? Nope, that would be too expensive, except when you figuring in how many more times they will get knocked down. Oh wait! That would be believing in global warming and Dotard says it is junk science. Got go with him right? WTF

Protect and Defend (Themselves)

I am not going to comment in detail on the bull in the UN shop that has sent so many embarrassing and conflicting messages that world leaders are left wondering what happened to the United States of America.  Let me just say that as he announces the latest sanctions on Kim Jong-un, I will try to remind you that it is the threats and economic attacks that feeds Kim Jong-un.  And the tighter the noose, the more likely a response, the tighter his grip on his nukes, and his response would not be negotiations.  You have to note that as the Village Idiot in Charge threatens to back out of our agreement with Iran (or renegotiate it which is a pipe dream) he sends a strong message that you cannot trust us.  Turn over your weapons and we will leave you alone.  Even I don’t believe that.

I have to ask, where is the U.S. Navy, Hospital ships, even cruise ships that could provide safe haven for those in Puerto Rico and the outlying islands that now have nothing?  Are we flying in generators? In Mexico, where are our trained structural teams to help extricate people from the rubble?  Maybe they are out there, but it is clear this President (not mine) does not put this very high on the importance level.

I should not also miss mentioning the outright lie the Republicans are telling about their repeal and replace healthcare plan.  Of course why should that be a surprise when their “tax reform” bill is nothing but a tax cut for the wealthy, paid for by the cuts they are going to make in healthcare.  Oh, and notice how they are rewarding states who did not expand Medicaid, while penalizing those who did.  If any of those fools vote for this that held out before, there is nothing left of the Republican Party but a lap dog for the base. Rational thought does not enter their brains.

But to the subject of this blog.  Are you getting concerned with the number of times police are called out and ending up killing someone?  The latest was in Oklahoma City where a cop shot a deaf man who would not put down a pipe while bystanders were shouting, “He is deaf, He can’t hear you.”  There was that case last week of the student at Georgia Tech wielding a knife and was obviously on a death by police mission. It would seem that police are really good at handling handicapped, mentally ill, or autistic people with the use of their gun. Here is another one. . Remember the kid in the Park with an air pistol?

It goes on and on.  Search on police kill son after call by parents and you get hundreds of stories. The message here is don’t call the cops, they may start shooting.  Who are they protecting, and the answer is themselves.  Sure there are shootings that really are self-defense, but most are perceived self-defense, and parents who called the police thought they would help, not kill their son.   In other words, they are way too eager to shoot first to protect themselves than to do their job. Yes it is a dangerous job, but that is why you got in it right? Where are non-lethal ways of controlling the situation?  Why is the gun the weapon of choice in these situations?

Look, I know that this is a minority of police, but it makes no difference.  The shootings of blacks are outrageous and most of the time the cop gets off.  See the latest in St Louis.  What this does is delegitimize the police in the eyes of citizens, and when they lose that trust, they lose the ability to be an effective policing force.  I would think twice about call the police on anything, because it is becomes the wild wild west, and I am white well off citizen.  We have a giant problem here Houston, and I think the easiest way to solve it is training and more nonlethal tools to control suspects.  Then when they get it wrong, it doesn’t end someones life. For now all we got is body cameras so we can see the tragedy up front and personal.

A Ken Burns Vietnam Update

Notice the distinct shape of the nose area where the cameras are.

In the third installment, there is a description of the battle near the Viet Cong stronghold of Chu Pong Massif in the La Drang Valley.  It is the story of Lt. Col Hal Moore and the debacle at Landing Zone X-Ray, made famous in the movie, We Were Soldiers.  Just before the scene where the Napalm canister comes down on our own troops, there is an RF-4C going by at about 100′, trying to identify enemy positions with their cameras.  It just a flash, they were trucking to stay out of ground fire, but you get the idea of the job.

After the brave fight by the Americans and South Vietnamese, Burns uses journalist Neil Sheehan to bring home this thought I always thought but never said, “I saw them fight at La Drang. It always galls me when I read or hear about the WWII generation as “The Greatest Generation”. These kids were just as gallant and courageous as anybody who fought WWII.”  Amen to that and that was my experience also.  I was against the war, but I worked with amazing people who gave everything to the mission.  In many ways it is the closest you will ever be to a true brotherhood of purpose.  We did our jobs as best we could under difficult circumstances to say the least.

By the way, Neil wrote what I consider the best book on the war, “A Bright and Shinning Lie“.  It is the best book because it got you into the psychology of how the war became a never ending nightmare.  Burns has already introduced John Paul Vann, who was an officer in the field who realized the way we were fighting the war was counterproductive.  But over the many years his ego overtook the reality of the futility of the war and he became compromised to the military mission. According to The New York Times Book Review: “If there is one book that captures the Vietnam war in the sheer Homeric scale of its passion and folly, this book is it. Neil Sheehan orchestrates a great fugue evoking all the elements of the war”.

From a guy who watched every moment of it and finally was in it, this book told a story that resonated with my experience.  Oh, and yes, the tears rolled as I watched this.

Playing Into Their Hands and Other Topics

Well are you embarrassed enough?  The Village Idiot spoke at the United Nations and if you are doing a fist bump, I hope you go first to the coming war.  First, he told us the Iran agreement was the worst and “dumbest” thing we have done.  So the option was war?  By all accounts it is working and is the route we could only hope for with North Korea, but the VIC is indicating he does not keep agreements.  How is that effective?  What message does that sent to North Korea?

Speaking of North Korea, just about everyone gets it wrong.  Kim Jong-un is quite rational in his own way.  He will do whatever to stay in power, including taking his nation on a suicide mission.  Think of the lover who wants to own the focus of his attentions.  If he can’t have her, no one can. Oh, and many of his citizen believe they could survive a nuclear war.  So much for MAD.  Kim runs a ruthless, cruel, and illegitimate regime.  He needs the threat of an American attack to keep his generals and people from revolting.

There is a report of suggesting we should drop iPhones all over the country and deploy a WiFi network so the North Koreans could find out about the real world.  It is known that many North Koreans who defect do so after getting radios and phones from China, learning the truth, and then going through the treacherous route of China to Laos to Cambodia/Thailand.

Here is the problem with that.  Once Kim feels threatened, he will go to war.  He is simply defending himself in his mind.  That is the issue here.  There is no believable scenario saying he is not under threat of regime change, and giving up his arms would actually weaken him.  He looks at Libya, Iran, and other countries, along with the VIC’s penchant for lying and not keeping his word, and wants to snuggle up with his nukes.

So he is not going to negotiate and he is going to get nuclear weapons.  If he is ever really threatened, he will use them.  Now what do you do?  I have argued we have two paths, let him have them and rely on MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction) to deter him (which I don’t think is operative), or take him out and live with millions of casualties and quite possibly bad to horrible relations with Japan, South Korea, and China.  What a choice.

Okay, let’s talk tribal politics.  There was an article in the Washington Post that looks at our politics in tribal terms, the red tribe and the blue tribe. So you don’t think and you just are loyal to your tribe.  That is how many explain the failure of facts to penetrate the red tribe. The author refers to an essay by Andrew Sullivan with this:

Sullivan believes that America’s founders would have been surprised by our cultural tribalism and skeptical that any republic could survive it. I’m inclined to think that Alexander Hamilton — who viewed men as essentially “ambitious, vindictive and rapacious” — would be unfazed. But few (or none) of the founders would have viewed political parties based on cultural identification as a positive thing.

I take issue with this formalization of our politics.  Not that there is not some truth here, who could forget Jim Jones and his followers who found it relieving not to think and just follow their leader. But I think the Enlightenment was about more than the freedom to believe anything you want to (Fantasyland).  It was about taking faith-based thinking out of the equation and allowing reason and logic to prevail.  And it clear which tribe does that more routinely (the blue one).  I think it is a mistake to characterize it this way and continue to hammer away and try to restore what most of our Founders believed, debate and rational though leads to the best solutions, not a tribal war.

One last thing this morning.  As you hopefully are aware, the Republican are making another assault on Obamacare and it is reported that the three Republicans who held out before are wavering. One thing I learned in local politics was that a bad idea just keeps coming back until everyone gets tired and it somehow gets through (city council and development).  Maybe this time they will create their own worst nightmare by repealing it with no workable solution to replace it.

Meanwhile in the NYT there was a op-ed about the failure of single payer.  It is definitely worth the read, especially the comments.  Make no mistake, this is a hack job. Sure there are problems with single payer, but note they do not raise any of the problems with our existing system or offer any real viable alternatives. The whole article reminds me of that famous saying, I believe by Winston Churchill, “It has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms…“.  The same could be said for single payer. I will leave you with what one reader (Pat) thought about this piece:

A favorite right-wing tactic: let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Don’t act because we don’t have an absolutely perfect replacement yet. Good thing we didn’t apply this kind of reasoning to virtually every advance in science, policy, technology etc. or else we’d still be living in caves.

Another: subtle misdirections such as saying that “[w]hile many other countries have universal health systems and feature more government control over individual health care decisions….” But in our system we have for-profit insurance companies exercising more control over individual health care decisions in ways calculated to increase their profit. Which would you prefer?

We don’t need more delays and reasons not to act. The rest of the modern world has figured this out already and it’s time for us to join them. Let’s start with Medicare for all and work from there to implement a civilized, modern system that covers all Americans.

 

Ken Burn’s Vietnam

The reason I used this picture is because strip away all the rest and this is the reality of war. The little girl was badly burned from Napalm, but did survive. The photographer, Nick Ut took it in 1972. He won a Pultitzer Prize for it in 1973 and Facebook censored it in 2016. Tell you anything?

I had a strange reaction to the first episode last night. I could not stop the tears that kept welling up in my eyes. The first episode was mostly history, flashing forward from the French colonial rule to some of the parallels of our own involvement, but there was nothing there to make one tear up. Or maybe there was. You are watching us go down the road to massive suffering, killing, and stupidity for no good reason. Well there was at the time, the belief in the domino effect, which belied our understanding of the whole region or the real war we were getting involved in. Yes, those who tell you Iraq was nothing like Vietnam, miss the point entirely. It was the same stupid rush to war without understanding the dynamics of the region and what is really going on.

But I will leave that for Ken Burns to tell. You make a major mistake if you think Vietnam is ancient history. For me and many of my contemporaries, it defined our lives in many ways most of us still have not come to grip with yet. To understand my reaction you have to understand that I grew up in a military family in the middle of the Vietnam war. It was just getting really hot when I graduated from high school in 1964, and by the time I graduated from college in 1968, we were going if we could not get some kind of deferment. That is what George Bush was doing in the National Guard as did many of my college friends who had connections.

Having grown up in the military, I was pretty much buying the whole stop communism thing when I went to college. But we entered turbulent times and everyday was in one way or another consumed with the war and protests.  And knowing you were going put a whole other dynamic on the whole nation. Try to remember that at one point we had over 530,000 troops on the ground there when I graduated from college. And the nation was being torn apart as the body bags were coming home. In that year, 1968, 16,888 kids came home in body bags. The older generation saw it as pushing back the threat of communism, a no-brainer, and the younger generation were asking serious questions about what we were really doing over there. It turns out that in hindsight it was the draft that got people engaged and did not leave the war to a professional all volunteer military that would not be raising questions and saying “Hell no, I won’t go.”

For me, it was a struggle. I am intellectually curious so I started reading to understand the war and the Vietnamese people. By this time I was a young officer in the Air Force training in RF-4Cs, reconnaissance fighters. It was becoming quite apparent to me, as Ken Burns will demonstrate, that we were in a civil war, backing brutal and corrupt leaders, and on the wrong side of right and wrong in the name of fear of communism. Remember, they were going to vote on uniting the country and the South pulled out when it was clear Ho Chi Minh would win. There was no domino theory if you understood the fierce independence and historical hatred of invaders, Chinese, Russian, Japanese, French, or us. The ARVN (Army of the Republic of (South) Vietnam) were really controlled by warlords fighting for their piece of the pie. In other words, as I am sure as Ken will show us, it was a mess.

To say I was conflicted was an understatement. I was from a military family, all supporting the war. My older brother was in Saigon during the Tet Offensive. My last two years of college had been picked up by the Air Force. My Dad was a general officer in that Air Force. And finally, I had sworn an oath to the Constitution to support and defend. Was I now going to walk away because of my political feelings? I wrestled with this one mightily and to this day I am not sure I did the right thing by honoring that oath. Those that at great personal risk to themselves did the very hard thing and either went to Canada or served jail time for refusing to serve. They were in many ways much more brave than I was. My decision was to go when called because the Constitution required it. There was nothing I knew of to make this war illegal, Congress had authorized the fighting and as a military fighting man, politics were suppose to be put aside.  At least that is how I justified it.

So after being consumed for years with the debate, watching the tragedy on both sides, struggling with my own family on my political views, when I got called, I went, After about 8 years of turbulent conflict, I went. My time was not particularly dangerous or memorable. I did my job and did not think too much about it in the sense of fear. Southeast Asia during that time was the focus of a massive military machine and you just got in the pipeline. It was an experience you can’t really convey to people who were not there. If you knew how to work the system, you could do just about anything.

But there is another side few people talk about, although this is quite familiar to our present day warriors. It is another world where the knowledge and mental attitudes you need to survive and be successful has nothing to what we used to call the real world (home). You learned about defenses, burst altitudes, SAM tactics, surviving in the jungle, how to resist torture (as part of my experience I brought a POW home after 5 years of captivity and suffered with him as he relived his experiences), how to survive in captivity, and being stoic, that steely eyed fighter guy. And when you came home you felt like an alien, except for the amount of hatred you attracted as the nation soured on the war.

You had this whole catalogue of knowledge and experience that nobody cared about or wanted to know about even in the Air Force (I went to B-52s after my tour). Not long ago I was out with some friends and I ran into a Wild Wiesel (Thud, F-105) driver who was stationed in Thailand when I was. We conversed about our experience in the war and later several people commented that we were speaking a different language. Yes we were.

So many of us just moved on. It was another life you left behind, but it was a costly other life where people suffered and died, and there was an insanity to it. Then you came home and you put it away. You started over again and you just forgot about it. Except you didn’t really. That I think is my reaction as I watched Ken Burns history. It all comes back, the bitterness, the loneliness, the fear, the doubt, the loss, the frustration, the anger, and how it forever changed the path of my life, and for many, ended theirs. And that I think brings tears. It absorbed so much of my life, and you lost and gained so much, and then it was like it did not exist.

It was just over and you will never be the same, but get over it and move on. Put it away. You arrived back in the real world and it was like that reality never existed. So many died on both sides and it was tilting at windmills. My life was totally absorbed by it, and then, it was meaningless, move on. Maybe some of it is that my days are now numbered (advanced stage prostate cancer). It would seem we put so much into it (that period of our lives) and it was such a large part of my life, and we learned nothing, and nobody really cares now.  And of course, we learned nothing.

We lost that war and we should be glad we did because it would never have been over until the Vietnamese had their country back. Don’t let anyone fool you when they talk about tactics, rules of engagement, no-fly zones. The Vietnamese were smart and they were tenacious. It was not winnable unless we wanted to kill everyone down there (my view from the air). It really was that simple.

It is their country and their future. And that is what really breaks my heart when I look upon the Wall (the Vietnam memorial). All those human beings thrown away for stupidity and hubris, and yet at the time we were all wrapped up in it. It is what made me who I am and yet looking back on it is so painful. That is the best way I can explain it. I guess the tears are just going to flow for all 10 episodes. Then I will get over it. Put it away.

Normalizing Spicy

In the Emmys last night, Sean Spicer came out with his podium to assure us that this was the largest crowd to ever watch the Emmys, making fun of his first appearance as the Press Secretary for the White house, lying about the size of the crowd to please President Trump’s ego.  Ha, Ha, Ha, a little balance and perspective since Trump was going to get slammed all night.

I don’t think so.  It was a bad idea because it normalizes lying to the American people from the highest office in the nation.  See, Spicy is a good guy who can laugh at himself, it just normal.  No it is not. The narrative in the press is sympathy for Spicy because it is his job to deliver the news with his boss’s slant on it.  But lying is not a slant.  It is outright lying to the American Public and degrading the office of  the Presidency, while eroding our trust in our government.  This should not be legitimized and had Spicy real integrity, he either would have presented it as “in the President’s opinion …” or walk away.

So when the Emmys decided to bring him out to laugh at himself, they are legitimizing the continued misinformation and outright lying of Sarah Hucklbee Sanders and further eroded our faith in our government.  Sure, it is good to laugh at ourselves once in a while, but would you laugh at Benedict Arnold making fun of his treachery?  Would you make laugh at the 9/11 terrorists who make fun of their destruction as urban renewal?  A reach?  I don’t think so.

Donald Trump, no matter how you try to normalize him, is a danger to this country.  He and his minions are attacking voter rights, our environmental security, denying and destroy science and its findings in government databases, issuing executive agreements clearly unconstitutional, attacks on the rule of law, normalizing white racism, saber rattling that could get us into war, clueless about the details of healthcare or tax reform, and it goes on and on.  The real threat is that he is an unstable character whose reaction to events could put us all at risk.  Let’s not normalize him or his minions.  That he might work with Democrats does not change any of this.

So in this case we should not laugh with Spicy, but at him.  What he did is not forgivable and is part of demolishing the integrity of the White House.  Certainly you can push the President’s policies and spin your view of how they might impact America, but out and out lying is a danger to all of us.

Oh, and one more thing about the Emmys.  Get it together.  You know how much time you have to speak so plan it to hit the high points and get off the stage.  Some did that very well, others, well, it was painful. Get over yourself.

 

Taking a Step Back and Reflecting

This is a long one, but lays out I think, all the connecting of dots for our way forward.  In Florida the mob is out with the pitchforks and torches over the death of elderly residents at a care facility in Hollywood Florida. There was an immediate call for criminal proceedings. Why? Certainly it was a tragedy as these folks basically died of complications from heat stroke. But other than that we don’t know what happened. Wouldn’t we want a thorough investigation before you erect your gallows? I am not here to argue who did what or did not do what, I am just using this example to show how we tend to want to blame first, and find out facts later, maybe leaving many innocent victims in our wake.

It is with this in mind that I watch Hillary being interviewed and pushing her new book. I have been clear that I just want her to go away, in a sense blaming her for Donald Trump. But as a great article in the Atlantic by James Fallows makes the case, she does have something to teach us. You don’t have to agree with her to learn something here and on many things she is direct and right. As James put it:

If you’ve read this book, with Clinton’s repeated reminders that blame for this historic disaster begins with her, you’re more likely to start yelling at the TV—or the newspaper or the website—when you see pundits, mainly male, saying that it’s time for Hillary Clinton to “step back” or “stop whining” or “get off the stage” or “stop making excuses.” She’s telling an interesting and important tale—and one with uncomfortable implications for the press among other institutions.

So as one of my friends reminds me, she still commands the respect of millions and maybe we ought to allow her her podium. I listened to the Rachel Maddow  interview on MSNBC and on many policy issues she has great insights, and unlike the idiot we have in office, actually knows their history and the players. There is no argument here that she would have been much for better the country than the train wreck we are on right now.

Her point about the press fixating on SQUIRREL! (emails) and Trump’s understanding of this to get 24/7 coverage of his lies is critical to her loss and has not been fully reconciled by the press as they continue their nonstop coverage of the Village Idiot in Charge when he or his surrogates say nonsense. The White House Press briefing has become an arrogant fuck you America and we still get it live every day, giving them a megaphone to spout lies.

But in that interview with Rachel and in her book (which I have not read yet, but will, so I am judging here from excerpts), I can find no real reckoning with the massive loss of Democrats in state and federal government positions over the Obama years. Rachel did not ask the hard one here about why Democrats could not get the vote out. And that I think is my critical criticism of Hillary and Democrats in general and why I have argued in the past that I wish she would just go away. They have not come to grips with this except as a bunch of tactical errors, not why they do not excite the electorate.

I withdraw my just go away critique and I think we can learn from her, as long as she is never a candidate again. Her advice on policy and knowledge of the players may be invaluable, but on the big issue of strategic vision, she is sorely lacking. Right or wrong there is just too much baggage and a lack of trust. It can’t be won back.  There is too much history and a history of calculating on isses and following the herd (gay marriage for one).

So why did Democrats basically get relegated into also rans? Now before I answer this question, I want to bring up one other question that has driven me nuts: Why do most Americans reside in Fantasyland? Why is it that facts became relative? They aren’t you know. If the last election were run on issues and facts, Hillary would have won in a landslide. Democrats in general would fare much better in the polls. Facts, data, and science are mostly on their side. Donald and the Republicans have repeated lies and misrepresented the facts and Donald’s White Mob (his base) is as Hillary said, deplorable. Yet he got elected and so did the Republicans. How is that?

Well there is a great book that goes a long way to explaining it called, Fantasyland: How America Went Haywire: A 500 Year History, by Kurt Anderson. Basically he gives us this great condensation:

The short answer is because we’re Americans, because being American means we can believe any damn thing we want, that our beliefs are equal or superior to anyone else’s, experts be damned.

He tells of Stephen Colbert riffing as the conservative character he created on his invented word, truthiness, and summing up that philosophy is this monologue:

Now I’m sure some of the “word police,” the “wordinistas” over at Webster’s, are gonna say, “Hey, that’s not a word!” Well, anybody who knows me knows that I’m no fan of dictionaries or reference books. They’re elitist. Constantly telling us what is or isn’t true. Or what did or didn’t happen. Who’s Britannica to tell me the Panama Canal was finished in 1914? If I wanna say it happened in 1941, that’s my right. I don’t trust books—they’re all fact, no heart…. Face it, folks, we are a divided nation… divided between those who think with their head and those who know with their heart…. Because that’s where the truth comes from, ladies and gentlemen—the gut.

He tells us of all the mystical fanciful things we like to believe (religion, witches, Obama is a Muslim, Angels, Devils, Heaven, black helicopters, etc.) and makes this assertion about us:

By my reckoning, the more or less solidly reality-based are a minority, maybe a third of us but almost certainly fewer than half. Only a third of us, for instance, believe with some certainty that CO2 emissions from cars and factories are the main cause of Earth’s warming.

I called this faith-based thinking and I have argued in a similar vein that our religious training and beliefs gives rise to this duality of thinking, rational and faith-based, that starts crossing lines and gives us what we want to believe instead of what is.

I am in that third, solidly reality-based group.  Certainly I have my prejudices and things I want to believe, but in the end, facts, science, and data inform me.  If tax cuts for the wealthy really worked I would jump on it.  If unregulated markets are really the best solution for all things, I would be all for them.  If for profit healthcare really did give us the best system, I would fight for it. If global warming really was a hoax, I would be against legislation to recognize it.

If transsexuals really were a problem in the military, I would be for banning them.  If the Muslim ban were anything but counterproductive, I would be all for it. I could go on and on. If the poor are poor because they are lazy, well it is just deserts. But we have tons of data, facts, and science that tell us otherwise and I have written extensively about all of them in this blog with links to reliable sources, facts, and data.  None of it matters to what people want to believe.

So why is this import to the question of why the Democrats have fallen out of power?  Were the Republicans just better liars?  Let me introduce another idea, that of optimal and suboptimal solutions.  I think Thomas Friedman came up with this concept a few years ago:

But while our culture of imagination is still vibrant, the other critical factor that still differentiates countries today — and is not a commodity — is good governance, which can harness creativity. And that we may be losing. I am talking about the ability of a society’s leaders to think long-term, address their problems with the optimal legislation and attract capable people into government. What I increasingly fear today is that America is only able to produce “suboptimal” responses to its biggest problems — education, debt, financial regulation, health care, energy and environment.

The concept is fairly simple.  Take healthcare.  What we know from the rest of the world is that universal healthcare (everyone has it, not necessarily single payer) is the model that drives down costs and delivers better care.  It has been implemented in many forms from doctors and hospitals that are government owned, to single payer like Medicare.  There are even forms of it as private insurance (Switzerland) although highly regulated (no profit taking for basic well-defined benefits policies).  So what did we do here?  We went for a suboptimal Obamacare because we could get it. Now it is under continuous attack. There is a lesson here.

Back in what I like to call the semi-rational days when Republicans had not gone totally off the rails, Democrats and Republicans would compromise on suboptimal solutions, which is the very essence of compromise.  If you watch what happened and you are honest, the country went right with Bill Clinton, more like a moderate Republican than a Democrat, and conservative economic ideas took over the nation.  De-regulation and Wall Street ruled. As Democrats tried to accommodate the country’s drift right with more economically conservative positions, the real threat to our Democracy grew, economic inequality***.

During the Bush years we had disastrous tax cuts with no jobs and giant deficits, and finally through deregulation helped by Bill Clinton, the market crashed and burned.  Guess what?  Self interest did not drive wise decisions. Then when Obama came along and improved the markets, there was no flow down to Main Street, thus the birth of the Tea Party.  They were tired of suboptimal solutions that did not work for them.  The trouble with their optimal solutions, balanced budgets, slashing government spending, gutting government regulation, and blaming everything on immigrants is that it was based on what they wanted to believe, not reality, and we are back to Fantasyland.

Eight years of Obama and nothing really changed for those middle class working stiffs.  They saw the rich guys get richer and they languished, and worse, their children’s prospects languished. What arose from all this was the election in 2016 where the mood in the country was anything but the establishment that had proven ineffective to dealing with our problems.  Both sides were seen (accurately) as part of the problem. Democrats did, and you still hear it today, want to be hands across the aisle.  Working together is the goal instead of optimal solutions based upon data, facts, and science. It polled well although the reality was people never vote that way. It is a recipe for failure. You can (and I have) blamed the failure on Republican control of the media, gerrymandering, the filibuster, but in the end, Democrats failed to present a strategic vision of their way forward.

Other than on social issues, Democrats failed to really stand for anything and their economic policy (and Hillary’s) was Republican Lite. So you had a choice between Republican Lite, socially progressive, and real Republicans who stood for a grand strategy, although one built of a Fantasy world.  Voters picked the guys who stood for something, albeit all the wrong somethings.

Standing for something means standing for optimal solutions, based upon facts, science, and data.  Things that work, not fit neatly into an ideology about what should work, or politically easy.  But in that standing for those optimal solutions, there has to be a grand strategy, a strategy of how what we are proposing fits into a whole that will make all our lives better.  Hillary, at least I have yet to hear it, has not ever done this in a believable way.  For the young voter’s perspective, while she has some good policies and certainly would be better than Trump, is still part of promoting the economic establishment that is at the heart of all our problems, racial***, social, and economic.

The grand failure of the Democratic Party is that they lost what they stood for and it became working within the existing system assuming that the existing system was not fundamentally flawed. Being against what Republicans were for, but not real there, there. In trying to accommodate right trending popular politics, they lost who they were.  The book Listen Liberal should be required reading for everyone.  It’s painful, but the truth is Democrats became like Republicans, really blaming the victim, using education as the tool to innovation and a better tomorrow.  We don’t like to believe it, but we became elitists too. This last election was a giant flashing sign that the electorate was pretty much done with establishment politics because it wasn’t working for them no matter who was in power.

The Democrats tried to reinvent themselves within the establishment with their “Better Deal”.  Then they introduced some policies to support that.  It fell flat.  Better Deal connotes that the existing system just needs some fixes and everything will be hunky dory.  Donald Trump and the Obama voters that voted for him are data that says that does not work or that no one believed it.  They know the system is against them and they are right.

Bernie got that, but the Democratic establishment did not want to hear that message, and we got Trump against Hillary and this should have been a cake walk.  I thought it would be.  But I have learned from this election, and Hillary and establishment Democrats do not appear to have. Their still arguing tactics and not understanding that their grand strategy was non-existent. We are the non-Trump party did not wash when people wanted to break things.  They wanted a new way forward.

Okay smart guy, what is the way forward?  What is the strategic vision? Well remember that old document, The Declaration of Independence.  Remember this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …

Well change it to this:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a level playing field. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …

That is the strategic vision.  Money begets power, which begets the loss of equality.  Powers seeks to consolidate its favored position, and all the rest is history.  Economic inequality throughout the world is growing and is the root of all the rest.  This does not mean that meritocracy should not rule, but within bounds and be fair meritocracy, not one based upon position and power (read money).  And what the Republicans who represent the 1% forgot was that last part, “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men …”.  They defined it as securing their rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness at your expense when your life, liberty or happiness conflicts with theirs, and as wealth accumulates with the few, there are lots of conflicts.  In other words, economic inequality is the root of all inequality***.

Once this reality is recognized,  that  our system is structured to increase economic inequality under the false assumption that a high tide lifts all boats, then you recognize that the system has to be changed in fundamental ways and we have look at what works effectively, those optimal solutions that get thrown away as “not politically feasible” when in fact, they are our goals.  Bernie laid it out for us, but he is a socialist so don’t listen to him, was the response of Republicans and many Democrats.

He said the obvious, the system is not working for the average guy.  It has to be fundamentally changed so that more of us share in the wealth of our nation.  That says we have to rewrite the tax code, laws that regulate intellectual property, trade agreements, property and contract laws to name a few.  We need a fair minimum living wage.  We need major investments in our infrastructure.  We need to recognize science, and fight global warming.  We need universal healthcare and a Social Security system that insures everyone with a secure retirement*.  We need to fundamentally rethink debt and investments in our future.  But all of this cannot be just policies, but a vision or structure and a systematic approach to improving our lives and our children’s live’s for the future. It has to be couched in the right to life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and a level playing field.  

The solutions to all of the above cannot be suboptimal solutions, but optimal ones.  Does not mean you will get there on day one, but that is the goal, that is what we stand for. And with that we become a party of well-defined principles again. We will still have a capitalist solution, but one regulated to prevent monopolies, abuses, and excessive profit taking.  It will take some of the proceeds and invest them in tomorrow.  Instead of looking for corporations and CEO’s to define tomorrow, we the people will, and rewrite the rules to benefit all of us, not the wealthy few.

That is radical change.  And we already know the solutions that work, except for those who reside firmly in Fantasyland.  But that will fail too and Fantasyland looks bleak when your beliefs don’t get you anywhere.  That may be why electing Trump was probably the only way forward to see the failures of Fantasyland. And if some of  those solutions we progressives so believe in don’t work, we can change because we are wedded to science, data, and facts, not ideology. That is the key.

So the grand vision of our next Democratic Party, if they are to survive, is simple:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, the pursuit of Happiness, and a level playing field  — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, …**”  Hillary would buy into that in a minute, but not understand the fundamental changes in our economic system that has to take place because she is perceived as too wedded to the old power structures.  Then again maybe she would, but the time is past for Hillary and this is what the New Democrats have to bring to the table.

*One of the things that helps innovation and social mobility is a strong safety net.  Our European friends have shown us that with a strong safety net, people are more willing to take chances, create businesses, and innovate.  Too bad we can’t learn from them.

**Mustn’t forget that second part about “That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”  Market places and competition do not secure a level playing field.  In fact they do their best as they accumulate power to do the opposite.  Government secures that level playing field.  Yes that big bad government is our salvation if we want real freedom and equality.

*** Racism wants to reserve a special place for themselves with special solutions.  That may be somewhat true when considering systemic racism in our institutions (policing), but if you believe that money is power, then leveling the playing field should also give them power. Leveling the playing filed is really an approach to all, racism, economic, social, or class.

 

 

Missing the Whole F*cking Point

Part of our problem today is labels. We label something and there are all these connotations of meaning, many may have nothing to do with reality, but they drive our feelings about them. I have two major bones to pick with most journalists, focusing on political intrigue and maneuvering instead of the issues, and labeling as though that explains the underlying issues. We end up discussing all the wrong things and nothing gets done.  Nancy and Chuck announced a “deal” with the VIC on border security and DACA and the Republicans go crazy claiming amnesty.  Can’t have that can we?  Yet we can have amnesty for corporations who shield their income overseas because they don’t want to pay taxes.  Can you think of anyone better who should have a path to citizenship than these model citizens?  But amnesty the word sets them off instead of a real look at an effective policy.

My ire this morning is pointed at Dana Milbank who wrote a column entitled, The Democrats have Become Socialists. He is talking about Bernie and the 16 senators who have signed on to sponsor Medicare for Everyone:

When Bernie Sanders launched his bid for the Democratic nomination, he was often asked whether he, a democratic socialist, would actually become a Democrat. Now, more than a year after he ignited a movement with his unsuccessful bid, that question is moot. The Democrats have become socialists.

This became official, more or less, Wednesday afternoon, when Sanders rolled out his socialized health-care plan, Medicare for All, and he was supported by 16 of his Senate Democratic colleagues who signed on as co-sponsors, including the party’s rising stars and potential presidential candidates in 2020: Elizabeth Warren. Cory Booker. Kamala Harris. Kirsten Gillibrand.

…This embrace of an unabashedly socialist position by the Democrats delights nobody more than the original socialists, the Democratic Socialists of America. David Duhalde, the group’s deputy director, was one of the first in line for the event, carrying a Medicare-for-All sign.

…In the short term, I’ve argued, this development is a bad thing for Democrats. The nation’s focus has been on divisions among Republicans and their inability to enact any sort of agenda under President Trump. The single-payer issue highlights Democratic divisions and united Republicans.

You get the drift. It is bad strategy because as Dana did, Republicans can label them socialist and that is the end of the discussion. But what is really going on is not an ideology binge, but a real attempt to solve one of our biggest problems, the cost and limit of healthcare. That’s the issue. What is the most effective way to deliver affordable healthcare to the whole nation. Once you remove labels and ideology from the equation you are left with some fairly simple facts, yes facts. Universal care is provided by most of the rest of the world at half the cost of ours and better outcomes. How do they do that?

Well they do not have an unregulated or poorly regulated marketplace. The approaches have one thing in common, they offer universal coverage, some (England) with government owned delivery systems, some (Canada) with a single payer where the government is the insurer, but doctors and hospitals still compete to provide service (also our Medicare), and some actually do it through the market place (Switzerland), albeit a heavily regulated market place limiting profit making.

So what Bernie and other Democrats are doing is offering an alternative to our failing system unless of course you like to pay double what other countries pay for worse care.  In fact what they are doing is getting the idea out there so we can debate it and get comfortable with it.  It is how change happens.  It won’t work this time, but it will start people thinking.  But we have the press, this time Dana Milbank, only thinking about Washington politics not the issue itself or what would be most efficacious for the people. So he labels it socialism, be afraid, and playing into Republican hands.  I don’t think so.

If you think like Dana Milbank, we should all move to the middle and hold hands.  Nothing changes and Democrats become irrelevant.  Oh wait, they already have.  I think he and other politicos badly read the people of this country and we should be looking for optimal solutions to our problems and quite labeling them or being against them based on ideology.  Instead we get suboptimal solutions and people lose faith and don’t vote, e.g., the last election.  Democrats are starting to lead again and shake up the system, ideology be damn.  Well it is about time.  Ask yourself this.  Is the point to do things that politicos think are politically smart like tinker with Obamacare and kick the can down the road, or is the point to come up with policies to fix problems?  I thought the latter, but what the fuck do I know.

The Noise Today

Noise, because it is distracting, not informing.  Of course we are distracted by Hillary whining.  The press loves it and does not spend much time on substance.  Note that after the election Bernie has been working tirelessly to get Democrats around Progressive issues (see Medicare for All) while Hillary spends the time throwing mud.  Of course she has some valid points.  Comey was an ass, both in July 2016 which was totally unprofessional, and then again in October just prior to the election when what he did was simply against the rules.  Did she loose because of it.  Maybe, but again why was it even close.  Oh and don’t get distracted by the popular vote.  Winning sadly is by electoral college and that is the game you play.  Did the Russians affect the election.  Most probably.  Right now we are having interviews to sell her book and what the country needs is to move on.  Hillary lost and this was an election the Democrats should have walked away with.  Thomas Frank from the Guardian gave I think the best critique:

No real blame ever settles anywhere near Clinton’s person. And while she wrestles gamely with the larger historical question of why the party of the people has withered as inequality grows, she never offers a satisfying answer. Instead, most of the blame is directed outward, at familiar suspects like James Comey, the Russians and the media.

This I think is significant, the massive losses Democrats have had over time and the establishment’s failure to come to grips with their own complicity.

She seems to have been almost totally unprepared for the outburst of populist anger that characterized 2016, an outburst that came under half a dozen different guises: trade, outsourcing, immigration, opiates, deindustrialization, and the recent spectacle of Wall Street criminals getting bailed out. It wasn’t the issues that mattered so much as the outrage, and Donald Trump put himself in front of it. Clinton couldn’t.

…Besides, to take populism seriously might also mean that Bernie Sanders, who was “outraged about everything,” might have had a point, and much of What Happened is dedicated to blasting Sanders for challenging Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Given that he later endorsed her and even campaigned for her, this can only be described as churlish, if not downright dishonest.

That Clinton might have done well to temper her technocratic style with some populist outrage of her own only dawns on her towards the end of the book, by which point it is too late.

Not to mention impossible. Hillary Clinton simply cannot escape her satisfied white-collar worldview – compulsively listing people’s academic credentials, hobnobbing with officers from Facebook and Google, and telling readers how she went to Davos in 1998 to announce her philosophy.

And then, in her concluding chapter, returning to her beloved alma mater Wellesley College and informing graduates of that prestigious institution that, with their “capacity for critical thinking” (among other things) they were “precisely what we needed in America in 2017.”

I wish it were so. I wish that another crop of elite college grads were what we needed. I wish Hillary’s experts and her enlightened capitalist friends could step in and fix this shabby America we inhabit today, where racists march in the streets and the Midwest falls apart and cops shoot motorists for no reason and a blustering groper inhabits the White House.

I wish it were all a matter of having a checklist of think-tank approved policy solutions. But I know for sure it isn’t. And voters knew that, too.

My point here was emphasized yesterday in an interview with purple state Colorado Senator and Democrat Michael Bennet, where he tells us that people just want us to work together.  We can all agree on goals so let’s just focus on debating how we get there*.  It is like he too missed what happened in 2016 or for that matter the last 9 years where if you agreed with the Republicans goal and offered them policies they liked, they rejected them.  He is blind to the failure of the middle road and how it has allowed Republicans to take over almost all government while Democrats seem to stand for nothing.  You need to take a stand on what works and not works, not pie in the sky goals.

Democrats need to recognize the anger out there with the establishment that has solved nothing.  That was the lesson of the Bernie and Donald Campaign.  The Demos missed it and had already anointed Hillary and the rest is history.  She lost because she did not get out the vote on a candidate who was easily beatable.  That is the bottom line here and if Democrats fail to understand that, they will cease to exist.  Happily many are now working to develop progressive agendas that is not holding hands with Republicans who are ideological opposed to most of the viable solutions to our problems. At the very heart of this is the knowledge that our economic system does not work anymore for the majority of us and Democrats have been to wedded to the status quo defending that system.

Speaking of the economic system, the VIC (Village Idiot in Charge) is now all into bipartisanship.  Don’t be fooled.  Look at what is accomplished, not what he says.  The tax cut he claims will not be not be on rich people, for the middle class, and of course lower the corporate rate to 15%.  Remember when he claimed the Republicans repeal and replace protected everything?  He has no clue.  On the 15%, the big guys don’t actually pay that and will be against it.  I don’t mind lowering the corporate rate as long as we close all the loop holes and make sure they pay their fair share for all the things like infrastructure we now have to do.  See where we might raise the capital gains tax so they pay what the rest of us pay?  Don’t get distracted by smoke and mirrors.  There is no free ride and fixing the tax code while providing funding for the things we need is going to take sacrifice, not free rides.  So it goes with another day where the media loves to report what is said and political infighting but misses the real issues that affect all of us.

*If you don’t believe in global warming, how do you plan for rising sea levels? If you believe tax cuts create jobs and stimulate the economy (supply side economics) how do you craft efficacious solutions?  If you believe government is bad, how do you grapple with national problems.  It is of course not as simple as Bennet confusedly states.

Global Warming You Dilts!

MOBILE HOMES IN THE KEYS DON’T DO SO WELL IN STORMS

I am back from a round of losing golf balls and feel disgusted with myself. I shouldn’t really. I have to buy a new sand wedge because I hit a ball into the rough and when I pitched it out, I hit a rock. That stimulates the economy. Also if you count the number of balls I sliced, and then hooked off the Tee, well, the economy is humming making golf balls. So I take an ibuprofen for my back and turn on the TV and we are now seeing the total destruction in the Keys and I am thinking why or why do we build houses in hurricane country out of wood (or mobile homes like the above)?

Sure it is cheap (relatively speaking), until you figure in the number of times we will have to rebuild it. Of course maybe insurance companies (backed by our government) or government bailouts will dry up and quit subsidizing this stupidity. What is good is that Republicans in Florida are starting to say the GW word (Global Warming). I wonder if we can finally have a rational discussion about reality, the waters are rising, are warmer, and the storms are stronger, and it is going to get worse. Miami got a major wakeup call. So did Jacksonville. Houston has to rethink flood plains and drainage.

This may seem extreme, but here would be my criteria:

  1. Flood Plain – Take whatever it is now and add at least 6 feet. That might driving raising foundations on compacted fill or build the house they way they did along the Mississippi before the Corps built levees. That is having the first story abandonable and fairly impervious to flood damage. Houses built on hills have to look at sliding issues (saturated soil and pushed off their foundations).
  2. Wind – Winds were gusting to 180 mph and were sustained at 150 mph when Irma was a Cat 5 hurricane. That would be my design minimums. If you are raising the house for flood and facing the winds, you might want semi open lower story to reduce wind load and yet a foundation that can resist the shear (horizontal loads)
  3. Water and Power Storage – Back up power is a must. It would be nice if we could go with solar with backup generator (I have a generator to run my house and that is not that expensive). Solar can’t be the usual installations that feed power back into the gird when the gird is dead. That would say battery storage which is very expensive and where we should be sending tons of R&D dollars. Water will be critical and if you have a well, not only will you need backup power, but it could be contaminated. So some kind of maybe 5 day water storage backup system (drinking, flushing, and washing only).

That says to me that stick houses (usual wood frame house) are a bad investment not only from water damage, but resisting the wind loads. Now there are all kinds of concrete houses from cinderblock, pre-cast panels, and insulated form systems. Clearly if you are going to build in this environment we need some innovative building methods to make houses and buildings more resilient. Note that many architectural styles including rock and brick simulated finishes are available. Carefully designing the interior could allow for large open spaces that then could be configured with easily moveable walls as your needs changed. Try moving a wall in a stick house and find out what the word load bearing means. Roofs will probably also have to be concrete with carefully designed singles/waterproofing.

Okay, all that is a structural engineers dream, but can we really afford to ignore it at this point? Note there is still very little questioning by reporters about aid that simply allows us to recreate the scene of the crime before the crime. Miami and Houston are screwed. They are already built on too low elevations. Rebuilding in those environments without raising the minimum elevations for flood clearance is insanity. Yet, do you hear any discussions? Key West looks like a total disaster. Maybe in the future, we might consider some of the criteria I described above. In many ways they have a clean slate. Is it not time to rethink how and where we build. Oh wait, that would be government regulations* and we can’t have that can we, but we will still demand they bail us out when our planning sucked. Idle thoughts of an engineer.

*Just don’t insure them unless they comply. Then they have the freedom to roll the dice, but don’t hold your breath for a bailout. One thing that did get me was all the wrecked boats. I am still thinking how we could build to protect them.