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Bands / Tribes / Nations / Empires

14/03/2017

Bands
Tribes
Nations
Empires

That’s how humans organize themselves

Bands are small communities, typically no more than a couple of hundred people, almost always related by blood and where everybody personally knows everybody else. Leadership may be by consensus or by unofficially acknowledging someone in the group as the leader.

Tribes are related mostly along lines of kinship, and while larger than bands by an order of magnitude, people in a tribe know of everybody else in it, and relationships and reputations can be swiftly determined. Leadership may be loosely traditional or formally codified, but generally is older, experienced members of the tribe.

Nations are comprised of many different tribes, but almost always linked by culture / language and usually by geography (even nomadic nations are known by the territory they roam). Members of a nation know about others in the nation, but not necessarily direct first hand knowledge. Leadership is typically formally codified.

Empires are an amalgam of many different nations / cultures / languages. Typically formed by conquest and colonization, if run well an empire justifies its existence through mutual support / defense / benefit. Members of an empire do not know all the different tribes / nations / cultures that make it, and indeed empires can often contain groups strongly antithetical to one another; the great virtue of an empire is that it can tamp down these antagonisms through objective codified justice and leadership through which all groups feel they are treated fairly.

(The above is derived
from Jared Diamond’s

Guns, Germs, And Steel:
Highly recommended.)

The United States stopped being a nation and became an empire in the wake of the Mexican War, our first conquest of another group’s territory that absorbed the members of that group instead of annihilating them or driving them away. It was cemented as an empire in the wake of massive non-Anglo immigration and the emancipation of African-American slaves (slaves in general not being considered citizens but property undeserving of rights or respect).

This country was built on the theft of land and labor by whites to the exclusion of others. Out of necessity America was forced to include non-whites, but it never fully came to terms with them the way Rome came to terms with non-Italian peninsula citizens or Byzantium with its plethora of cultures or even the Islamic world at the height of the caliphate.

We are paying for that refusal to come to terms.

 

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fictoid: Ride & Grow

13/03/2017

“There are enough elephants in the forest,” Kyle said. “We don’t need to import more.”

“They have to go somewhere,” I said. “We just can’t let them roam free.”

“There’s not enough food for them in the forest,” Kyle said. “Any more and they’ll disrupt the ecosystem. Can’t have that, can we?”

“What do you suggest?”

“Have you tried the mall?”

“The mall? What’s for them to eat at the mall?”

“Well, you could sell rides on them, and customers could pay with elephant food.  Hey, I bet they’ll work for peanuts!”

Kyle chortled at his own wit; I was not amused. I had fourteen elephants on my hands, maybe fifteen if the older female was indeed pregnant, and I needed a place to stash them.

“Try something else,” I said.

“Farming?”

“Hmm, that’s an idea, but there aren’t that many farms around here. Besides, the elephants will eat a lot.”

“True, but they’ll refertilize the fields with dung.”

I snapped my fingers: Kyle’s two bad ideas just synthesized into a single good one.

So that’s how I started Ride & Grow, a service that provides custom made organic fertilizer to your garden and educates and entertains your kids at the same time.

  • You select the feed mix that will provide the perfect manure for your yard or garden
  • Your kids feed the elephant
  • Your kids ride the elephant and guide him (or her, as the case may be) to deposit your custom made manure right where you want it

How’s business? It’s booming!

In fact, we’ve been doing so well I’ve been thinking about poaching a few elephants from the forest…

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© Buzz Dixon

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Written today while my car was undergoing a smog check.  If you want to know where we get our ideas, damned if I know.  I sat down, opened my note book, the first sentenced appeared out of nowhere, and we were off and running…

 

 

 

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Magic Eye Racism

9/03/2017

You can still find them if you look, but back in the 1990s Magic Eye 3D posters were pretty ubiquitous.

If you haven’t heard of them, they were big posters that looked like they were screen caps of a TV screen full of static but, when you gazed at them long enough, a three dimensional image would appear to be looming out of the art.

They’re good examples of both signal-to-noise and pattern recognition. It takes a while, but eventually most people are able to pick out the background patterns and process those patterns until the image pops out.

Most people.

Clearly, if you’re blind or have only one functioning eye, you’re not going to see the 3D image.

If your eyesight is too poor, or if you’re one of those people who just can’t process spatial relations in your head (i.e., you see everything flat even with two working eyes), or if you just can’t catch the pattern, you won’t see the image.

Conversely, one can reverse engineer the images; filter out the extraneous static “noise” from the pattern “signal” and the image will appear.

However, once you see the hidden image, it becomes almost impossible not to see it every time you look at it after that. Your eyes know what to look for and they seek it out.

Racism in America is a lot like that.

Many people, particularly African-Americans but many other minorities as well, have built in filters. They see the racism in American culture as it slaps them in the face incessantly.

But white people don’t have that filter.

White people have to be told the pattern is there, told to look carefully for it beyond all the background noise that hides it.

Once they see it they are shocked at how pervasive it is. Like the hidden messages in John Carpenter’s They Live, evidence of racism is everywhere and in everything.

Even things we might consider as wholly innocent turn out to be permeated with racist concepts.

Let’s take a look at two quotes, what they mean, and how people respond to them.

“That’s what America is about–a land of dreams and opportunity. There were immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less. But they too had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

Compare and contrast with:

“And perhaps, like some of you, these new arrivals might have had some moments of doubt, wondering if they had made a mistake in leaving everything and everyone they ever knew behind…So life in America was not always easy. It wasn’t always easy for new immigrants. Certainly it wasn’t easy for those of African heritage who had not come here voluntarily, and yet in their own way were immigrants themselves.

“There was discrimination and hardship and poverty. But, like you, they no doubt found inspiration in all those who had come before them. And they were able to muster faith that, here in America, they might build a better life and give their children something more.”

There are some people — racists, or apologists for racism — who claim the two quotes are virtually identical.

They’re not.

They touch on similar ideas, but they draw separate and entirely different conclusions.

If you don’t know what you’re reading, if you don’t know what you’re looking at, the racism gets lost in the background noise.

If you know what to look for, if you are (as yrs trly is) a trained editor, you see how the phrasing is used to shape a particular response with a particular audience.

Look at the first quote. The flow of ideas is from America as a land of dreams and opportunity [i.e., something people long for] to immigrants [i.e., literally people who migrate from one area to another] to the bottom of slave ships [first indication all is not right with the American dream] to working longer & harder & for less [implying that being enslaved and forced to labor under pain of death / torture / rape / brutality is the equivalent of being made to work overtime without extra pay] to those people [enslaved people] dreaming along with those who came to America voluntarily to find happiness and prosperity.

Now look at the second quote. It starts by acknowledging even the willful pursuit of the American is not without its moments of doubt, nor was it always easy. It singles out those of African heritage by rightfully pointing out the vast difference in their ancestors’ experience and the experience of those who came voluntarily, yet goes on to point out there are nonetheless similarities between those two experiences. It concludes by acknowledging that unique experience, but goes on to acknowledge they had faith that their lives would be better [i.e., less brutal] and their children might have something more [i.e., no longer be in enforced poverty].

The first quote classifies Africans as immigrants first then only briefly alludes to their being enslaved before moving on to lump them with all other immigrants re hopes and dreams.

The second statement first points to the fact that they were enslaved and forced to endure hardships that others didn’t then points out the irony that in a certain limited sense they were also immigrants.

The two quotes are not conveying identical ideas at all. The first is about negating the experience of the enslaved Africans brought to this country and forced to labor for the benefit of whites. It is designed to minimize the injustice forced on those enslaved Africans and their descendants while the second quote acknowledges it front and center.

The first quote pushes racial inequality by minimizing the harm visited upon non-whites by whites. It is not intended to address similarities but to dismiss valid issues and concerns of people still experiencing inequality in this land in order to appease those who still benefit — and yes, often unknowingly – from said inequality.

The second quote recognizes the injustice visited in the past and still with us in the present, yet still urges those suffering from injustice not to give up on the idea of unity with the rest of the country.

A stark contrast with the first message crafted to negate the experiences of non-whites, not draw them into unity with the country.

Words and syntax alone do not convey meaning, rhetoric does as well. The way an idea is expressed often conveys as much if not more signal than the noise of the specific details of the message.

How many times have we turned off songs on the radio because they didn’t reach our hearts, yet listen transfixed when a songwriter conveys the same idea in exactly the right manner?

If you are not an ethnic or religious minority in this country, if you are not a recent immigrant, you need to see the signal patterns behind the noise in our culture. This is still a culture that does not treat all equally in the eyes of the law. The fact that some minority members enjoy prosperity while much of the white majority struggles does not mean minorities enjoy a superior status much less that equality has been achieved.

If you’re one of those people who gets offended when they think they’re being accused of being racist, understand to a person suffering from actual inequality there is not a lot of difference between those who actively discriminate and those who choose not to see the discrimination.

Open your eyes.

Look.

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A Post On Reparations

7/03/2017

You’re invited over to someone’s house for a turkey diner.

Maybe it’s your grandparents who are inviting you.

Maybe it’s those nice neighbors.

Maybe you’re coming empty handed, maybe you’re bringing a side dish.

Doesn’t matter.

You come, you gorge yourself on turkey.

You have a great time.

You feel full.

But then, as you’re leaving, you learn your hosts — be they your grandparents or just nice neighbors — stole the turkey from someone else.

And the person they stole the turkey from, they and their family have gone hungry.

Oh, maybe not starvation hungry, but hungry.

And what was once theirs was taken from them.

And you benefited from that theft, even if you didn’t know it at the time.

Now, do you seek justice for the victimized family?

Do you demand your hosts pay for the turkey?

Do you at least dig into your own pocket and pay your share of what the turkey was worth?

Or do you say it’s not your fault?

Not your responsibility?

The victims should have done a better job of looking after their poultry?

That other people steal turkeys all the time, and until those thieves are brought to justice the nice people who invited you shouldn’t have to pay?

One answer makes you a mensch,
one answer makes you a shit.

And you damn well know which is which.

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Laying The Groundwork About The Lying

6/03/2017

I know a lot of people who voted for Trump don’t want to talk about this, but unfortunately, we need to talk about it.

However, rest easy. I am not going to try to change your minds. Not yet, anyways…

A few days ago, I was in a discussion about Trump’s alcohol use.

Evidence — and granted, it was far from conclusive — was presented that Trump is a closet drinker.

A counter argument was made that he was a teetotaler.

When asked for the source of this counter argument, the answer was Trump claims to be a teetotaler.

Folks, here’s the thing:
If Trump is known for one thing, it’s for playing fast and loose with the facts and truth.

Ask him how many rooms he has in his Trump Tower apartment and the number will vary from telling to telling, depending on how many he thinks you’ll believe and be impressed with.

When called on this in the past, his response was, “Who cares?”

Now, certain people are permitted to play fast and lose with facts.

Indeed, we expect it of them.

The late great Carl Ballantine had a comedy-magic act that often included mind reading tricks. He’d recruit a member of the audience — say a woman in a polka dot dress — and as he’d finish the trick, he’d add: “By the way, that dress has exactly 247 polka dots on it.”

The audience would gasp in surprise and applaud —

— but what Carl said was pure B.S.!

Carl had no idea how many polka dots were on her dress, it was just a made up number he threw out to entertain the audience.

See, nobody was harmed, nobody was short changed by Carl’s made up number.

They were entertained, which was what they were in the theater to be.

Nobody missed a meal / lost a paycheck / got separated from their family / deported because Carl pulled an imaginary number out of the air and said it was true.

Donald Trump has played many roles in his lifetime, but unlike Carl Ballantine he is not scrupulous in identifying which role he plays at any given time.

There is Trump the so-called successful businessman, there is Trump the celebrity attention-whore.

In the latter case, it didn’t matter if his facts and figures are all made up in his head:  As a celebrity attention-whore his job is to entertain audiences with his B.S.

However…as a so-called successful businessman, it’s his job to give accurate and reliable information to investors and lenders and clients and employees and contractors so they can make informed decisions as to whether or not to do business with him.

And instead of that, he keeps dishing out made up B.S.

Even before 2016, Trump was known for primarily one thing:  The complete unreliability of his public utterances.  He was a shuck & jive man, a con artist, a slickee boi whom no bank or respectable investment firm would have anything to do with.

He would make up B.S., make up even more B.S., contradict himself with yet more B.S., then B.S. some more to cover up the now inoperative previous B.S. before creating brand new B.S.

Let’s state this as baldly as possible:
Trump lies far more often than he tells the truth, and he lies about everything including trivial matters in which he gains nothing by lying.

As a rough rule of thumb, if Trump says something, the chances of it being 100% false are far greater than the chances of it being 100% true, and if there is any scintilla of truth in his utterances, the odds are far greater than most of it is B.S. and very little bears any resemblance to known and provable facts.

It’s one thing when Carl Ballantine was standing on the stage of The Magic Castle throwing out B.S. to entertain a paying crowd.

It’s another when the person occupying the Oval Office throws out B.S. for no discernable purpose.

I’m not pretending previous administrations did not lie:  
We have lots of examples in our lifetimes of presidents lying.

But the difference is they lied for rational reasons (i.e., they thought they would either gain something or avoid something bad by lying).

Now, before we go further, let me be absolutely 100% clear in what I mean by lying:  To deliberately relay information one knows to be false or imaginary with the intent of the person receiving said information believing it to be factual and reliable.

I will cut GWBush slack and say he demonstrated horrendously bad judgment re Iraq, but that he genuinely believed there was a chance Saddam Hussein possessed WMDs and as such was worth the risk to make sure he didn’t.

I will cut Ronald Reagan slack and say his Alzheimer’s disease may have made it impossible for him to remember what was / was not real.

But Bill Clinton absolutely lied to protect himself from political scandal regarding an affair with an intern.

GHBush absolutely lied about non-existent Iraq atrocities in order to justify the war in Kuwait.

Richard Nixon absolutely lied to protect himself from criminal charges regarding Watergate.

Lyndon Johnson absolutely lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify escalating the Vietnam War and thus escape accusations of being soft on communism.

However, to hammer home the point, they lied for rational reasons, which is to say they knew they were lying and did so to escape what they felt were bad consequences.

Trump lies as a byproduct of breathing. It’s almost refreshing when we catch him lying for rational reasons, because that indicates some degree of foresight and planning.

Usually when he lies, it’s just to win applause and admiration from whoever is within earshot.

So, based on what we know about him, the odds of his claim of being a teetotaler being true are far from 100%.

In fact, it’s one of the few examples of where he actually has a rational reason for lying. If it was known he drank and used drugs (as the late Carrie Fisher believed based on her own personal knowledge of what a coke head looks and acts like), then all his other lies and falsehoods and fantasies and prevarications would snap into sharp focus: No wonder he’s B.S.ing all the time — he’s an unreliable drunk!

Do I have any hard facts that he drinks, much less is an alcoholic?

No.

But I do have a well documented, long established, and indisputable record of him lying about everything in his life, big and small, important and unimportant, crucial and trivial.

We simply cannot take him at his word on anything, from being a teetotaler to any campaign promise he ever uttered to his statements about his administration’s relationship with Russia.

Meditate on that fact for a moment:
He.  Can.  Not.  Be.  Trusted.  To.  Ever.  Tell.  The.  Truth.

For all their myriad sins and shortcomings, Bill Clinton, GHBush, Richard Nixon, and Lyndon Johnson began their administrations with a public assumption that they would not be relaying only false information to the American people.

Indeed, their later lies relied on them starting from a position of trustworthiness, from being able to speak candidly and truthfully enough to the American people to gain the benefit of a doubt when they actually did start lying.

Trump has no trust to lose, because he came into office on a tsunami of B.S. and has just been generating more ever since.

Think about that.

We have a man in the Oval Office who cannot be believed, much less trusted under the most trivial of circumstances.

Now, as of today, most Trump supporters have not yet had what A.A. would call “their moment of clarity”.

Right now Trump still has the appeal of the brash outsider who can change things the way no career politicians can.

(And we’ll sidestep the issue of whether career politicians may know a thing or two about the way government works and that explains why they don’t move as quickly or as extremely as we may like.)

So far Trump has done nothing to create immediate harm for the bulk of Americans, in particular his voters.

But that day is coming.

If he signs the GOP’s proposed health care bill into law, we will see tens of thousands of people die needless deaths, suffer needless misery, and a sharp spike in personal bankruptcies as lack of adequate health insurance forces them to decide between medical treatments or a roof over their heads. (This is not exaggeration; this is what we had before the Affordable Care Act and what they intend to return to.)

He has already authorized one military operation without appearing to understand the value of the intelligence presented to him, and made a judgment call whose responsibility he shirked when he blamed its failure on the generals and admirals who carried out his orders.

He will not hesitate to waste more military lives in vainglorious gestures then blame those personnel when things go wrong.

He is already moving to gut various laws and programs that protect the environment, American health and safety, and otherwise enrich our lives based on his bogus claims that they are (a) unnecessary and (b) will save the country money.

Remember, this is a man who has a long history of never telling the truth.

A man with a long documented history of cheating and double crossing investors and lenders and employees and partners and clients and contractors.

How can you rely on anything he has to say on any topic?

Normally this is the point where the writer of the essay works themselves up into their final pitch, urging the reader to Go Out And Do Something.

And most of you Trump supporters reading this are bracing yourselves, ready to repel any such urging from me.

Relax.

Not gonna do it.

Wouldn’t be prudent, as GHBush used to say.

Nah, all I’m going to do is close by observing:  Trump cannot be trusted. In anything. Ever.

All forms of politics, to be successful, from local to global, require some form of trust. It may be the “trust but verify” of the cold war, but it’s trust.

A leader who cannot be trusted cannot lead.

A leader who cannot lead will always be removed.

I’m not saying dump Trump right now.

I’m saying the inevitable consequence of his untrustworthiness will be removal from office.

He lies.

You know he lies.

You can’t trust him.

You know you can’t trust him.

I’m not asking you to actually do anything.

All I’m asking is that you keep one thought in mind: It is possible to remove him from office for lying.

You don’t have to want it to happen.

You don’t even have to believe it’s going to happen.

All you have to do is keep a little spot open in your head for this thought:  It is possible to remove him from office for lying.

He’ll do the rest.

Trust me.

And when he does…

…we’ll talk.

Carl_Ballantine_1968

Carl Ballantine
then and now a better choice

 

 

 

 

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In The Bloody Decade After…

5/03/2017

As bitter as Clinton’s failure must feel to her, and as ignominious her and her husband’s fall from grace in the Democratic Party is going to be over the next two years*, in the end she will probably come to reluctantly admit it was better that Trump took the reigns and drove the country into the shitter than for her fingerprints to be on the controls in 2020.

Barack Obama will probably come to realize the same thing, that it was better for him to have been a thwarted figurehead for six years than to have actually enacted any programs, for had those programs not been instantly and obviously 100% successful, his place in history would have been tainted by them.

Now he goes down as a heroic champion, stymied by the incipient racism of conservative politics, a Kennedy-esque figure without the liability of actually having to get shot.

Like it or not, here is the problem:
Big Money, always a player, has taken control of the political system in this country and several others.

They are like professional athletes who have conspired to get all the refs and umpires thrown out of the stadium and regard the rulebook with contempt, playing the game as they damn well like and expecting the fans to love it and continue paying them exorbitant fees to do whatever they feel like doing and who gives a rip if the crowd likes it or not?

If that sounds stupid, it is:
Nobody except Big Money has ever claimed they were smart and Big Money’s proof of their intelligence are the huge piles of money they steal or extort from others.

If history is any example — and boy howdy, is it ever! — then they are going to get a bunch of laws passed to enrich themselves, another bunch of laws repealed or changed so they can avoid paying their fair share, and then everything will go to hell in a hand basket.

Smart Republicans — yes, they exist — are going about with forced smiles on their faces, hoping Trump runs things off the rails right after the mid-terms in 2018 so they can blame him** for screwing things up and position themselves to remove him from the ticket in 2020 and hopefully spare themselves from the ethics of retaliation yet again.

Trump’s negotiating history is this:
He finds a mark who wants to make money or otherwise get something out of the deal (acquire a property, etc.).

He makes grandiose non-specific promises and lets the mark fill in the details in their own head.

Once Trump gets what he wants, he disengages as quickly as possible. If the mark is lucky, the mark has gotten all or most of what they wanted. If the mark is unlucky, they have to deal with the people Trump hands off to.

If the mark is really unlucky, Trump stiffs them. They then face a range of options going from shutting up and accept being stiffed, settling for a lesser amount, or suing (and the whole gamut of options there).

Rarely does anyone take it all the way through court and successfully recover what is owed them plus attendant court costs.

Trump repeats this again and again. Eventually the word spreads and he runs out of easy marks. This happened to Trump in the US as US banks and investors, wary of his shenanigans, refused him money.

Trump is approaching foreign policy in the same manner, assuming his brashness and braggadocio will get him what he wants without blowback.

Unfortunately, he can’t walk off the world stage. To paraphrase a line in Watchmen, the world isn’t locked up with him, he’s locked up with the world.

He is dealing with people who have much different agendas than self-enrichment. World leaders are motivated by internal factors Trump has no control over, and which Trump can’t negotiate on.

He can offer a short changed investor pennies on the dollar, he can’t offer to turn a foreign nation’s internal pressure down.

His behavior, in fact, will only acerbate this.

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* Like it or not, they are tainted goods now, and for whatever valid advice they may be able to offer, it will have to be behind the scenes.

** You know he will loudly be taking claim for every good piece of economic news before then.

 

 

 

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Why Trump’s Tax Returns Remain A Big BIG Deal

3/03/2017

Given:
Trump would release his tax returns if he thought it would benefit him.

Query:
Why would he think there is a benefit in not releasing his tax returns?

Most Benign Hypothesis:
Trump believes leadership consists of getting only what you want without compromise or concession to others. He refuses to show his tax returns for the same reason a child throws a temper tantrum and screams, ”You’re not the boss of me!”

This harkens back to his foolish pursuit of the fraudulent “birther” issue regarding President Obama. President Obama had produced his short form birth certificate same as all other candidates for president, but in the eyes of racists and GOP partisans (and there is an appreciable overlap between those two groups), this was never enough, despite the fact that in the 1950s the Supreme Court had ruled the short form was absolute proof of the live birth of a U.S. citizen.

Trump latched onto this bogus issue and clung to it despite legal setback after legal setback after legal setback. Even when Hawaii finally released the long form to the public — President Obama having requested them to do so from the very beginning — it was not enough for Trump and the racists.

They gleefully claimed “victory” insofar as they “made” President Obama release the long form, then refused to accept the validity the long form.

Trump continued with the issue until the point it became obvious even to him that pursuing it further would only damage his chances of winning the election and so, seething with ill-contained rage, staged a short press conference in which he claimed to have “proved” President Obama was indeed a U.S. citizen by birth and American could thus “put the issue behind us”.

The most benign hypothesis states Trump’s fear of not establishing absolute dominance is what drives his refusal to release his tax records even though he promised to do so once elected. The most benign hypothesis states there is nothing wrong in Trump’s tax returns, but he will feel a sense of failure and humiliation if somebody else can compel him to release the forms.

I call this the most benign hypothesis, but it’s still pretty fncking scary. Trump’s belief that anything less that total dominance is failure and humiliation does not bode well for anyone, especially him. The history of the world — political and financial — demonstrates the wisdom of leadership by objectives; i.e., determining the outcome one wishes to enjoy then making whatever short term deals and compromises are necessary to achieve those objectives.

It’s the difference between a poorly run company, such as Sears or K-Mart, in which the CEO clings to his demand the company be run just the way he wants it despite the failure of his strategies in the marketplace, and a well run one such as Disney back in Walt’s day.

Walt Disney never hesitated to remind people that it was his name on the company, but he also knew what he wanted was for Disney to be the finest brand in entertainment, and to that end listened to and accepted input from literally hundreds of people he recruited to help him achieve those objectives.

For Trump to cling to a “my way or the highway” philosophy of total dominance will only set him and the country up for disaster when he encounters peoples and groups and nations and cultures that are inimical to both him and U.S. interests and will successfully maneuver him into strutting faux-macho responses that will undermine his administration and the country.

The Legal But Wrong Hypothesis:
The second most benign hypothesis is that there’s nothing actually illegal in Trump’s tax returns, but a lot of it will reflect badly on him.

Maybe he hasn’t paid what most Americans would consider the fair share of taxes for a billionaire. If you go a decade without paying taxes on a billion dollars, as Trump has in the past, then it’s hard for Sam Citizen & family to admire you when they are digging deep into their pockets to meet a few hundred dollars of additional taxes.

Maybe he is not nearly as successful in business as he has claimed to be. There’s certainly ample public evidence of this; any person who goes broke selling football and alcohol and steaks and gambling to Americans is clearly doing something wrong. If his tax returns show even greater failures and losses than what is already in the public record, then it undermines Trump’s claim of core competency. It’s like hiring an architect who has had four houses they built collapse; they can try to explain those away as freak occurrences but if their entire career reflects shoddy design and workmanship, it’s foolish to trust them.

Maybe he is not as wealthy as he claims. Thanx to a combination of a vigorous economy and creeping inflation, being a mere millionaire is no longer a big deal in the United States. Too many hoi polloi have $999,999.99+ in assets. While there is nothing shameful to a normal person to have dropped from billionaire status down to millionaire (indeed, author J.K. Rowling did so by donating much of her personal well earned fortune to charity; there’s some magic for you), to Trump this would again be a stinging sign of failure and abject humiliation.

It brings us back to Trump’s sense of entitlement re undeserved dominance in all his interactions, and is bad insofar as it denied millions of Americans the chance to make a better informed decision, but in the end is no worse for the country than the most benign hypothesis.

The Really Really BAD News Hypothesis:
The above speculate there is nothing actually harmful or illegal to be found in Trump’s tax returns, he is hiding them simply because that’s the way he always acts even when it’s not in his own best interest.

No, the really really bad hypothesis would be that Trump’s tax returns will confirm he is at best deeply compromised by large outstanding, overdue debts that undermine America’s confidence in his trustworthiness to administer the country for the best benefit of the citizens.

At worst, he is deep in the pockets of any number of people and organizations, from multinational banks and corporations to organized crime to Putin and his dreams of a renewed Russian Empire.

This is a pretty big freakin’ deal. We have ample evidence of Putin’s long term political ambitions, including attacks against the Ukraine and an active campaign to undermine the unity of Europe by sponsoring the Brexit vote and stirring up white nationalist movements in France, Germany, and the Nordic nations. If Trump is compromised either directly or indirectly by Putin, then he will betray our alliances with Europe.

This means NATO will be less able to stand up to Russian expansionism and while Putin’s ambitions probably extend no further west than Belorussia and Lithuania and other former Soviet Republics, reclaiming that territory will do little to convince Germany it has nothing to fear from the east.

Already Germany has announced it is doubling its defense budget, and Sweden has just reinstituted their draft. Historically, these are not good signs, and the potential for even a medium size European war to wreak untold economic havoc and cost hundreds of thousands of human lives around the world is a well established fact.

God help us if it escalates merely to World War One levels of carnage.

Now, if there is no such evidence that Trump is compromised, the solution is quick and simple: Release the tax returns. Let the country and the world see neither he nor his administration is in any way, shape, or form compromised.

As it stands now, there are an enormous number of…well, let’s be generous and refer to them as “coincidences”…that strongly indicate collusion between Trump and his cabinet and staff with Putin and Russia.

When President Obama was asked for information on his birth certificate, he promptly provided it. When the GOP launched their series of eight bogus Benghazi investigations, each of which specifically exonerated President Obama and Hillary Clinton, both President Obama and Clinton quickly and freely handed over all the necessary information required by the committees.

Trump can put all his problems in this area to rest with one single phone call. Considering how inseparable he is from his phone, it behooves us to ask why he hasn’t already done so.

 

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the humanity poem

2/03/2017

if your virtue /
requires either /
carrot or stick /
you’re not human /
you’re just a dick  .

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What Color Is Your President?

24/02/2017

A Meditation Upon
The Fourth Turning,
A Fourth Reich,
And The Fragility
Of
Cheetos

.

There’s been a lot of talk and press and postings recently about The Fourth Turning, a book by William Strauss and the late Neil Howe that hypothesizes a pattern in human history, both for the world at large and the United States in particular.

There’s a lot to recommend in Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis — and a lot to be skeptical of. While a strong argument can be made for broad generational patterns in history, Strauss and Howe are very flexible with their terms and conditions.

Like The Amazing Randi’s infamous faux horoscope, Strauss and Howe give themselves enough wiggle room to squeeze a large camel through (“It will be the best of times, it will be the worst of times…”).

One gets the feeling there may indeed be something to their hypothesis, but they haven’t proven their case yet.[1]

No matter; this post isn’t about Strauss and Howe but rather about the reported fascination Steve Bannon, Trump’s NSC advisor and BFF, seems to have with it.

If reports are true — and God knows the Trump administration and their neo-nazi trolls on the alt-right strive to eradicate public trust in anything — then Bannon believes the U.S. is entering it’s fourth Great Turning, the Revolution (1776), the Civil War (1860), and the Great Depression (1927) being the previous examples.[2]

According to reports, Bannon believes the fourth turning to have been triggered by the economic crisis of 2007-08, the meltdown of the housing industry’s notorious sub-prime mortgage scam.[3] Bannon apparently sees that as a beginning of a collapse in faith in our institutions and the start of a new fascist future.

If there is something to Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis, I don’t think another economic crisis is the trigger.

I base this on the fact that once a culture goes through a traumatic event, the reaction to the next such event is not the shock of the new and the unexpected but more along the lines of “Oh, #%@&, not this again!”

If Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis holds true for the U.S., then the triggering event for the Revolution was irritation at not being allowed representation in Parliament after being mildly taxed for starting a global war.[4] While there have been a few minor insurrections over taxes since then[5], there have been no further large scale violent uprisings based on tax protests.

The Civil War fits more into Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis, as it was a truly existential challenge to the unity of the United States, the very existence of the South’s slave labor economy, and a massive redefinition of race relations vis-à-vis citizenship in this country.

So why then no similar crisis when women gained the vote in the late 19th / early 20th century? Why no upheavals as manufacturing in cities grew at an explosive rate in the second half of the 19th century, or the corresponding growth of the labor movement?

Strauss and Howe suggest the third turning was an extended period from 1927 (the start of the Great Depression) to 1933 (Hitler’s rise to power in Germany) to 1939 (the official start of World War Two) to 1945 (the end of WWII, and the start of the Atomic Age and the Cold War). There’s a lot of support to their argument but again the dates and events are so flexible as to accommodate almost any interpretation.

Two things spring out at me:
First, while there had been other depressions and financial crisis in the U.S. economy prior to 1927 that include numerous bank failures, the Great Depression was a systemic shock that was felt at all levels of society. This was a gargantuan upheaval that left millions destitute and homeless.
Second, and not included in Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis because it was an unpredictable outside influence from the natural world, the Dust Bowl, which wiped out hundreds of thousands of people’s homes, livelihoods, and savings yet did so without being the result of direct public policy choices.[6] The Dust Bowl was a heretofore unpredicted and wholly unexpected natural disaster that proved as destructive as the Great Depression and subsequently became a force multiplier when coupled with Prohibition.[7] It was a game changer like no other.

But we learned from that experience!

As devastating as the mortgage meltdown of 2007-08 was, we had systems in place to check the worst ravages and keep the failure from spreading. The Dust Bowl was topped by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans as the worst natural disaster in American history, but despite that body blow we kept functioning as a nation based on the lessons we learned from the Dust Bowl. And Prohibition set a new bar for corruption and organized crime that Americans have come to accept as normal; we scarcely blink at big banks being more corrupt than the drug lords whose money they launder.

No, a financial crisis ala the mortgage meltdown is not the trigger for a fourth turning (if Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis holds true), nor climate change, which albeit real, occurs so slowly as to be safely ignored.

If the fourth turning has been triggered, it hasn’t been by anything we’ve already endured and survived.

The fourth turning, if Strauss and Howe’s predictions are accurate, has been triggered by something else entirely: The election of Barack Hussein Obama.

I am not blaming Obama; quite the contrary, he was a vitally needed element in the story of America, a scalpel with which to lance the sorry boil of festering racism and finally begin draining out the bigotry plaguing this country, an ugly and painful process we are only just starting to endure.

But Obama’s election and re-election, both times by clear cut majorities in the popular vote, basically caused millions of white people to lose their shit.

Do not read this as a blanket condemnation of whites as racists and bigots — racists aplenty there are, and enough of them are genuine hate mongering bigots — but the more typical white person’s reaction was stunned disbelief followed by an eager search for anything — no matter how bogus — that would bolster their fragile egos.

I’ve written before about a dear family friend, a person possessing not a single mean spirited or hate filled bone in their body, who was absolutely convinced that the United States was in the middle of an epically horrendous crime wave — and when that was speedily disproven thanks to the Internet, to then claim California was in the midst of a crime wave even if the rest of the country wasn’t — and when that was disproved then to claim their neighborhood was in a crime wave — and then the truth came out that their neighborhood wasn’t more dangerous, their neighborhood was merely more brown, the Sanchez family replacing the Smiths, the Dominguez family replacing the Davidsons, the Hernandez replacing the Hendersons.

Our dear friend can truthfully say “some of my best friends are…” and mean it with Filipino and Korean and African-Americans in their close circle of friends, but all their life they lived in a culture that was white, a culture where white Christian values were the only values that mattered, that anybody different in appearance or thought or action or belief was at best tolerated as “exotic” (i.e., okay, but not really white, not really one of us) and at worst an enemy of all that is good and pure and holy.

Muslims share 99% of conservative white Christian American social values, differing only in specifics of religious practice and occasionally in manner of dress, yet they are regarded by those similar to our dear family friend as satanic fiends intent on murdering / maiming / terrorizing / enslaving America.[8]

Obama’s election, while never a real or intentional threat to conservative white Christians, so badly shook their perception of the world that they have effectively gone insane, electing a demonstrably evil, incompetent, lying con artist and tossing him the keys to the country and a stack of credit cards.

The reaction of white Christian America to Obama was not the same thing as the South losing the Civil War.

While the South fought to maintain slavery, slavery was merely a means to an end. Replace actual bona fide slavery with Jim Crow and the system soon fell back into place, with whites on top and blacks on the bottom, soon to be joined by Asians and Jews and Italians and Mexicans and queers and socialists and labor organizers and anybody else who did not fit into white Christian America’s image of itself.

The country has elected some truly deplorable human beings as president[9] but never ever as grotesque a caricature of America as the cheeto[10] now shitting in the Oval Office.

This is what white Christian America wanted!

If our presidents are symbols to what we aspire to as a nation, then Trump is a repudiation of everything Obama represented.

Do not deny this is true! Look at their first order of business, see what they struck down to thunderous applause from neo-nazis and home schooled Christians alike, watch what they poise to do next, and admit the truth: This is white America not screaming in rage but screaming in fear.

White Americans will not be annihilated, they will not be denied any rights. There will be no pogroms or camps for white Christian Americans, despite their fears and projections of same.[11]

Presuming we are entering a fourth turning, it is not what Bannon and his bigots think it is. Spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually too stunted to see the truth slapping them in the face, Bannon and company[12] want to wage unholy war on all of Islam (1.6 billion people) and China (1.35 billion), thinking somehow magically — by virtue of their white skin and lip service to a perverse prosperity gospel — that they will come out on top, dominating half the planet through sheer military intimidation while miraculously and simultaneously defeating millions of years of human nature to impose a ridiculous moral code on the rest of us, a moral code that they have repeatedly demonstrated they have no intention of following themselves.

If we are to enter Strauss and Howe’s fourth turning, this is what the crisis will be: Not yet another failure of free market capitalism, not a war against billions of people who just want to be left alone to determine their own destinies, but the shrieking / screaming moment of true horror ala H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider in which white Christian America recoils in horror at the monster before it, stretching out its hand to ward off the repellant fiend…

Harry Clarke - Masque Of the Red Death

“…and touch a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.

May God have mercy on our souls.

.

art by Harry Clarke
(Yeah, I know it’s from
Poe’s The Masque Of The Red Death
but it’s the best I could do, okay?)

[1]  Real historians find their work interesting but far from convincing, and have laid out a skeptical case against it.

[2]  Even here the weakness of Strauss and Howe’s claims are apparent: They predict a turning every 80-88 years yet allow enough wiggle room to include so a wide variety of historical events that almost any incident can be shoe horned in. Did the second turning trigger in 1856 or 1864 or somewhere between? Was the third turning in 1936 — nine years after the start of the Great Depression — or in 1944, the height of WWII? Is the start of the fourth turning 2016 or is it yet to come in 2032? Inquiring minds want to know…

[3]  See The Big Short; it’s on Netflix and explains this very well in an extremely entertaining manner. And it’s got Christian Bale as an insane billionaire with uncanny super-vision.

[4]  What we refer to in passing in U.S. history books as The French & Indian War, to us a relatively minor series of skirmishes, is what Europe calls The Seven Years’ War, a massive conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives and drained several national treasuries.

[5]  The Whiskey Rebellion being most prominent.

[6]  Human error certainly did contribute mightily to the Dust Bowl, but had the prairie ecology been different there would have been no subsequent disaster.

[7]  A moral panic that opened the doors for truly monumental corruption and lawlessness to further undermine public confidence.

[8]  I have made this prediction before and am standing by it: Someday somebody will figure out how to market Islam to white Americans and when they do 90% of the fundamentalist white Christians will abandon the Bible and embrace the Q’ran, turning on their former religion with a viciousness so intense that long time Muslims will have to intercede on behalf of a now besieged American Christian minority. Allah Akbar, mammy-jammers.

[9]  In my lifetime I would say only Eisenhower, Ford, Carter, and Obama earned a C, while Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes — for any and all positive moments in their administrations — ultimately failed themselves and their country, producing far more harm than good. And, yes, I know some of them were wonderfully charismatic; they still fncked us over seven ways from sundown.

[10]  An apt term as he is unnaturally orange colored, greasy, appealing yet empty, and ultimately extremely fragile.

[11] They, on the other hand, have repeatedly called for the punishment and execution of non-white Christian Americans for the heinous sin-crime of being non-white / non-Christian / non-American, yet in the dim recesses of their memory recall Sunday School verses in which Jesus taught “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” and they tremble in fear of being treated in the exact same manner they and their ancestors have treated Native Americans and African-Americans and Mexicans and Asians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs and Irish and Italians and the poor and the disabled and the sexually unconventional. And the kneeslapper is this: Nobody gives a fnck about them; people have their own problems and don’t want to waste time / energy harassing white people.

[12] Looking at you, Mike Pence!

 

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Ian Fleming On The Trump Administration

21/02/2017

“Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago:
‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. The third time it’s enemy action’.”
— Ian Fleming, Goldfinger

trump 16 - fake 3 times

Not once, not twice, but three times now Trump or spokespersons for his administration have referenced non-existent terrorist attacks.

Specifically, non-existent Islamic terrorist attacks.

These are not simple misstatements, confusing a place name, or a single slip of the tongue in an otherwise factual statement.

Read the transcripts. Trump and his spokespersons refer repeatedly to events that have not occurred as if they have and are in fact either common knowledge or would be if the media was not deliberately hiding the information.

That last part makes no sense. Mass media makes its profits off of viewership; they have every motive to over-report incidents (and often do).

There is a reason for these lies about non-existent terrorist attacks, and that reason is to lay the groundwork for a war against…somebody, just so long as they’re Islamic.

The most likely target will be Iran, for reasons I’ll go into shortly, but if ISIS or some other group obliges Trump and stages a successful attack on Americans in the US or abroad, that will be sufficient for the Trump administration to send hundreds of thousands of American service personnel in harm’s way for no other reason than to glorify the draft dodger who mocks genuine war heroes.

Say what you will about Presidents John Fitzgerald Kennedy, Lyndon Baines Johnson, and Richard Milhous Nixon, but when their country called they served in time of war.

Not Trump.

The reason Iran will be the most likely target can be found in the mindset of his chief strategist, Steven Bannon.

Bannon was a Navy lieutenant aboard the USS Paul F. Foster when President Jimmy Carter, a former nuclear submarine commander, authorized a mission to rescue Americans being held hostage in Tehran.

As to why Americans were being held hostage in Tehran, check below the jump. What happened was that the mission, later criticized as too complex and too ambitious for the resources allotted it, failed before it even got started, resulting in the accidental death of eight American service personnel and the lost of a helicopter.

Bannon has pointed to that failed mission as the start of his interest in politics, blaming President Carter for undercutting the mission. (If that sounds familiar, it’s because conservatives used that same trope against President Kennedy when the Bay of Pigs invasion failed.)

History is replete with demagogues, failing leaders, floundering governments, and brazen opportunists who have sought — all too successfully all too often — to stir up needless wars in an effort to bolster their own positions.

America has historically marched off to war with great enthusiasm…and far too often trudged back with the sad realization the sacrifice and effort was misspent.

We are good at invading, we historically have done poorly at holding what we’ve taken, much less building a successful peace (the aftermath of World War Two being the one bright spot in our history).

Bannon has openly talked about war with China, a rising economic power in the Middle East and Africa where their brand of foreign involvement steers clear of the pitfalls Europe and America fell into.

To build up to that — as other warmongers have sought to build up to their grand campaigns — the Trump administration is focusing on anti-Islamic prejudice to justify a warm-up conflict that will let the US test out new strategies, tactics, and technology before taking a swing at China.

[Do not look at China and assume it will be a simple replay of World War Two. For one thing, China massively outnumbers the United States, Japan in World War Two had a population of 71,380,000 while the US outnumbered them almost two-to-one with 131,028,000. China has over four times our population: 1,382,000,000+ vs 324,000,000+ for the US. At the start of the war Japan’s fleet was vastly outnumbered by the United States Navy and they had to fight not only us but the British and Australian fleets as well as elements of the Free French navy. Much of Japan’s war effort was devoted to maintaining control over occupied China in the face of coordinated attacks by Chiang Kai-Shek and Mao Tse-tung. Most importantly, Japan was an island that could be and was cut off from supplies and resources; China is the fourth largest country in the world in terms of land mass, trailing behind the US by only 230,000 square miles, and bordered by several nations more friendly to them than the United States. They have only 260 nuclear weapons compared to our 6,800 but that’s more than enough to devastate the US and its military if the balloon goes up.]

We know Putin has ambitions towards the Ukraine and the former Soviet States in Eastern Europe. He probably has sense enough to avoid anything that could be construed as a direct attack on Western Europe (because tell the Germans they can give the Russians some payback and this time they’re on the side of the angels and you’ll find that part of the world ablaze all too easily), but he does want the US out of the way, which is why he’s been encouraging Trump to make noises about abandoning long standing treaties with staunch allies. A US / China war would suit Putin’s plans just fine, taking two potential rivals out of immediate play by pitting them against one another.

There’s no reason for this to happen, of course. No real reason.

But neither Trump nor Bannon are men of reason.

Read the rest of this article »

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