Russian Democracy American Style

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America has had two great exports. Democracy and our Culture. That’s why our history is filled with supporting dictators, warlords and rebels against democratically elected governments we didn’t like. The American Empire. For all that the US still had an apparently viable two party system. A counter balance to the totalitarian Communist Soviet Union. The driving  policy of post war lost it way when free market Capitalism won. Democracy spend across the former Warsaw countries.

Great we won. America won the gold medal. But just like on D-Day and Gulf War 1, there was no plan for after. The British had these weird attachments or specially designed vehicle to defeat the hedgerows. The American generals rejected them. They actually put all the bolts and cables on their purposely built dock extending out for supplies. The Americans had one. Because they didn’t. The Get it done and get it now mentality got it was destroyed in the first Atlantic storm. . The Gulf War? But my country is so large, we must have helicopters to get around. Please? Ask the Kurds how that worked out.

Then those ungrateful countries created Democracies that reflected their historic and cultural past. Filled with sectarian or religious prejudices. Tribal alliances at there worst. The baby steps of democratic institutions corrupted before they could become strong enough to resist. The CIA was instrumental in bring the Shah to power in Iran. The former Persian Empire of Xerxes reborn in the modern world. That conflict between modern and ancient directly caused the 1979 Revolution. The birth of the Islamic Republic of Iran. A limited Democratic Theocracy.  One supported client groups to fight the Saudi backed Sunni factions. All the while export a very conservative form of Islam, Wahhabism, with America never challenged. Gotta keep the oil flowing.

Both branches of Islam hate the Kurds. History lesson. Sal al-din, proper spelling, was a Shia ethic Kurd whose crowning achievement was the capture of Jerusalem in 1187.He had the personality to  juggle all the various factions of his combined polyglot force to achieve that goal. Guess what fell apart afterwards?  Following WWI, Kurdish land was split between three countries. Eastern Turkey, Iran and Iraq. All majority Sunni. the Brits have a long memory. Lesson done.

Americans tend to forget that we considered ourselves British until the Revolution. Even then many still did. Economic status. The colonist carried in their DNA English Common Law. A Parliamentary government. the Magna Carta. The privilege of Empire that didn’t include them. Democracy meant for the landed gentry. The last two are alive and well in the former Soviet states. Ukraine is the current example of our revolution without the institutions to support it.

Now a slim minority has elected an inexperienced Con man whose claim to fame is his self supported Cult of Personality. A man who brands everything in GOLD LETTERS. A self aggrandizing brand that rode an angry populist wave to the most powerful position in the world. And who does he admire? A second rate Authoritarian former KGB officer who played a part in scamming Reagan during his visit to Russia. A modern Czar in all but name. These events didn’t magically appear. They have been decades in the making. Nameless unelected political operatives for both parties whose only purpose was winning have brought us to this point. Party over Country. Any difference in basic party motivation is a smoke screen for a desire to win. By winning they have power. Absolute power is the theme of this President.

The genie in Aladdin got it right. “Absolute power. Itty bitty living space.” In this case its the Constitution and our bodies of laws. The Bill of Rights enshrine individual rights. Not limit them. That is still unique in the world. Demanded by the people to ensure Governments couldn’t run roughshod over individuals or groups. It’s taken a century or decades for those ideals to be fully realized. The struggle still continues for many. And one election puts it all in peril. Luckily Trump can’t throw his opposition in jail just cause. His lack of mandate and general thin skin works to unite the 3/4 of America who didn’t vote for him.

Start working towards 2018. Replace his single party majority in Congress. Or put a serious dent in it. That’s America Democracy in action.

Look

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My daughter was in a play this weekend. Everything I needed to know I learned in kindergarten. A series of stories wrapped in life lessons. Got me thinking about the current discord in the nation. I guess it matters which school you went to that allowed the environment for the innocence of the lessons to take root. The book was written by an older gentleman of a different generation. His voice resonated with the one I inhibit.

The play talked about the commonality we share along with the forgotten openness lost on the road to adulthood. Common decency tends to take the worst beating. Kindness? Only to those that look like us. Or in our Class. Neighborhood. Those we know. Play nice? Yeah right. We won. Piss off. The evolving fake emotion of the baseball handshake. Facebook feeds filled with toxic comments. Hide and seek complete with unassailable stone bastions  to hide behind. Taunts from the protection of height.

Looking down not up to in childhood amazement the beauty of clouds. The warmth of the sun on your face. The grass has been sprayed with something. i just mowed that. Insects. Starlight travelling through time that our ancestors stared at. The smell of flowers on the summer breeze. All forgotten in the whirlwind of daily obligations and stress. Kids see reality through the tablet or phone. No one holds hands to cross the street past a certain age. Cooties.

The end was particularly thought provoking. The first word in the early reader is Look. One word that carries the weight of metaphor with ease. Take a breath. And Look. Stop talking. And Look. See the small wonders or joys in the everyday. It takes practice. An awareness lost in the noise of reactions. Not thoughtful response. We’ve forgotten to say Please and Thank You. The greeting of “How are you doing?” is now a filler for having nothing else to say. We don’t want to have the answer. It would mean having to listen.

What I see in the nation I call home and served is distressing. Aware that my actions or words have added to the current state of discourse. An environment my kids are growing up in. In our divide nation, we look at the other person but see what our reality projects on them. Not has they are. Our brains interpret the image through a filter of fight or flight. The one survival trait carried over when we where in the food chain. Not on the top of it. In the modern world it’s learned behavior informed by how we were nurtured. Encouraged to dream or hide? Our sense of beauty. Limitations not the possibilities.

Having radical challenges in life force us to reevaluate. Everything. Then we can change from reaction to response. A negative to a positive. Peace only happens when you are at peace with yourself. Accepting all aspects of yourself. The good. The bad. The ugly. Remember the first word in the first reader is “Look.”

 

 

 

The Founding Fathers

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Watching Stephen Frye on the Rubin Report focus many random thoughts bouncing around my head this past few days. The printing press spread the ideas of the Rennaiise. with was fueled by the Reconquest of Spain. the Muslims valued knowledge. Their libraries and street of book sellers thrive while Europe slept through the nightmare of the Dark Ages. The wisdom of the Greek and Romans was protected. And available to all. The growth of Mercantilism allowed the space for the leisure class to expand. The  Enlightenment followed. That was the culture into which the Founding Fathers grew up in. An elite Class in a new country without the baggage of history.

William the Conqueror ruled England in the truest form of Feudalism. He won control of an island without the conflicting oaths so common in Europe. The original framers of the Revolution didn’t want a King. George Washington could have been President for Life. His conviction to the ideals of Philadelphia and the trails of the Constitutional convention guided the choice to serve only two terms. Frye made the comment that the most open societies today have Constitutional Monarchies complete with a state backed religion. A rational of twisted logical thought that has serve them well. Odd that. Then there’s the Bill of Rights.

The added enshrinement that groups demanded to keep a centralized government they distrusted from becoming what they feared. Ten statements that where written to protect the rights of the minority. Today the majority use certain articles to bash the other side. but only the chosen few. Forget the rest. the Electoral College was a compromise. Political parties were thought of has a slow poison to the budding democracy by many of the original framers. Partisanship. Rancer. Gridlock. The Senate was the remedy to the populism of the House. Again experience from the Articles of Confederation. All of which prepared the groundwork for the Civil War.

An armed dispute of catastrophic damage due to the inability for a peaceful shift in economic systems. A loss of power and influence for one group of  Elites to another. We are in another type of Civil War. The country has been for past twenty years. The Eisenhower Republicans balanced out the Southern Jim Crow democrats. Til they aged out. Reagan was the zenith of that age. the Class of 68. Progressive/liberal democrats has reached it’s peak. Hillary. Now is the age of extreme Populism. Trump, the Alt-Right of Bannon and the coming out of the narrow intolerant so called Christian zealots of the Republican party.

America has always had been isolationist. Xenophobic. Intolerant of the newest arrivals. Any non Protestant religion. My contention has always been my country was settled for these reasons, Gold, Glory and God. In that order. Royal courtiers and men of influence where given vast tracts of land in return to clear debts owed. The colonies also acted has a safety valve for a restless elements in society. Only the extremest would chose the wilds of the colonies to separate themselves because of deeply held religious beliefs. The various religious orders inside the Catholic acted in the same way until Luther. He only wanted a public discourse to address those 95 flaws in the church. Not cause a break.

The American colonies became a way to clear out the jails.Exactly what Castro did during the Cuba boat lift. Let someone else deal with them. We were an extension of British Common Law and identity. A third of our population still considered themselves British during the Revolution. Fear of losing economic power. Another third was waiting to back the winner while selling supplies to both sides. History isn’t cut and dry has the textbooks make it out to be. It also shaping future debate of who and what we are in very subtle ways. Ideas take a very long time to take hold before the conditions are right to burst forth into the light of days. Reap what you sow.

I have always studied the underlying why of how a small dedicated group of individuals can cause fundamental changes in the overall society. It only takes 3 players to rig a soccer game. The same number can subvert a police district. Not a conspiracy. A band of fellow travelers looking to enlarge themselves. All of which is driven by greed. They gather those other groups looking to push an ideological agenda close to theirs. The noise hiding the guiding hand. A guiding hand that is flexible enough to change tactics when needed. Trump is the noise. Pence is the Savior when he fails. A Savior in every sense of the word. With Bannon at his side.

Exactly what the Founding Fathers feared most.

Three Card Monty.

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The President elect communicates in 140 characters. His childish feuds and 3 am tweets capture the headlines. Daily. Russian hacking. Conflicts of interest in his world wide business brand driven empire. Recently admitted during his victory lap tour that “Drain the Swamp” was a good phrase. One he didn’t like until he saw the rection. Then he threw his slick carny sideshow barker soul into it. Keep poking the media to have them react the way he wants. All giving cover to the serious business of confirmation hearings for the people who will push fake science, anti regulation or ideologically driven attacks on their long hated targets.

One commentary  before the election talked about brand of Trump’s candidacy. He stated that Trump is a shallow thinker ruled by emotions who trust family over outsiders. Unless he could use them to help sell the Brand or achieve his narcissistic goals. Those supporting him are deep thinkers. Of a narrow extremist bent. Their America. Not yours or mine. Not the one of the people who voted for him live in. Then there’s Mike Pence. A Conservative’s Conservative. The True Believer. Question. Who was leader of Germany when Hitler came to power? Not Hitler.  He controlled the largest block of elected representatives in the Bundestag. Appeasement of a radical group for support of a weak leader in crisis.

The illusion of a free and liberal Germany helped elect the very ones bent on its destruction. A National Socialist is a non starter in the US. Cold War propaganda ensured that. Being a newish small “s” socialist in a extremely Capitalist society, I have argued that the color red is a hindrance. Forget the history. It closes the mind to any reasonable thing we could point out. So Mike Pence is waiting on deck. Calm. Sure of himself. Out of the eye of the storm. The favorite guy in the the clubhouse. While the multimillionaire star is an arrogant ass no one willing to have a beer with.

So the question is, who will spring the trap? The ones set by the Democrats are clearly marked to keep the innocent kids away. Safety first. Measures pushed by certain vocal factions. Here’s your signs, police tape and noise makers. Shut Up. We’re hunting here. How’s that gonna turn out? Who’s waiting in the tall grass with the elephant guns? The more extreme portions of the party in power. Those that fell for the biggest lies told by their savior from anything Obama.

I like puzzles. Not the detective story type. More the Sherlock Holmes kind. Clues hidden in plain sight by criminals operating from their basest instincts. The criminal Mastermind is always the ones closest to the mark. Theirs is a high level con. Simply look at the ones surrounding Trump has advisers.  Reminds me of South American strongmen and dictators rather than the European model of democracy. Trevor Noah of the Daily Show found the best comparison. South Africa. The country he was born and raised in. One he knows intimately. The pieces are all there on the table. Edges done in Red State 2010. Just that little bit in the center to go.

The table everyone has studied. Talked about in quiet conversations. A one time chance. Don’t screw this up. Then there that one guy. Listening. Watching. Looking at the human pieces. 3D chess Master. Just my thoughts based on all the speculative fiction I’ve read since my teen years. It clicked with the way my brain works. I truly hope I’m wrong.

Another Universe

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One person who has haunted me. A man waiting for  another bus. Someone that could have been me in another universe. Someone we’ve all seen. The guy on the side of the road holding the sign asking for help. I’ve given money to them. Believing in the power of the 90% rather than the fear of the 10% who abuse the trust. Intent matters.

The wind chill was a painful -6. This long gray breaded gentleman was sitting there on a concrete bench. Hands gripping the edge. Shoulders hunched. Head down. Winter boots and thin jeans. The cold wind was to be endured. His sign was folded under his arm. Around the shoulder of his faded white jacket with the American flag pattern was a woman’s sling purse. Two in facts. Brightly colored. Designed for Summer. The season of hope and rebirth. Better days. He could have been a piece of street art in his stillness. Not the quiet stillness of exploring possible futures. This was the implacable grimness of despair. The glacier that grinds everything before it.

One of the Do All special needs folk knew him. She was the only one who approached him. Used his name. The most important sound a human can hear. No reaction has she guided him inside. Just another bench to brace the weight threatening to crush him. A study in utter defeat of the human soul. Masters of Russian literature could spends chapters dissecting this familiar stranger’s inner thoughts.

What I do know is there but for the right medication and an understanding Ex, That could have been me. If I had gone back to Texas, it would have been. The icy cutting wind was a welcoming warm summer breeze compared to the frozen dagger in that moment of kinship. An intimate connection that forced me to wait outside. I wish him well but can’t help him. Still too close to that edge on a thin rope most days.

Observations from a Bus.

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The great equalizer in our society is public transportation. Modern technology has replaced the folding newspaper or a book has the barrier to looking around at the others. Forget the windows on a cold Michigan day wrapped in endless clouds diffusing a weak winter sun. There is no cycling gear that protects you in single digit air temps and negative wind chills. I’ll leave that for the young and hardcore. My answer is the bus. (The time and planning to get anywhere is a topic for another blog.)

The city bus station is an open shed structure built to keep the rain out. The attached small square building with the ticket window and a waiting area with bathrooms. Nothing fancy. If your leaving town, you better get there during business hours for the passport to some place else. This along with the one stop everything County service building slash courthouse and the jail used to be a densely packed working class neighborhood built  across the street from the plant. The plant’s still there. Along with the block long bowling alley and movie/event center built to provide entertainment. Remnants of a post war America. One that replaced lumber and the wooden ships built here to carry it. Green spaces along the river walk have replaced those once bustling areas where men toiled. Plaques with historic pictures and information mark their graves. Ignored by locals. A passing curiosity to visitors.

Concrete barriers block the unused expanse of parking lots once filled with worker’s cars. Nature is slowly reclaiming its own from the asphalt. Automation has taken the jobs that retirement or buyouts hasn’t. The one story  modern social security and 1933 WPA post office with it’s federal court above complete the boundary wall.  Two Depression era spawned programs separate deep rooted industrial areas from the leisure tourist Summer focused Historic Downtown.

Bay City is the northernmost end of Detroit’s automotive reach up the I-75 river of commerce. Where the river and road met Lake Huron. Raw materials and finished goods. Places where industry has thrived since recorded history begin. Babylon. Carthage. Venice. London. Barcelona. Boston. Some were company towns. Others evolved.  Through it all the people lived their lives. The past, present and future. All on a city bus of a smallish city on a cold Michigan Winter day.

On the hour the 10 buses await their riders. One disgorges the youthful wave of teenagers from the high school. Hunter camo mixes with the Midwest fashionable  attitude attire from the Big Box stores. The wave filters through the rest of those arriving. Waiting to be sorted. By destination or condition. The older residents of the numerous retirement tower apartments. Middle aged working class men and women making the best of what we have. Except for the teenagers, all stand alone. Out of habit rather then an active intent. An unconscious practiced state of mind. All sharing a warm place out of the wind till movement is demanded.

The mentally and physically challenged adults are the ones without filters. Child like acceptance of their surrounding which breaks through the barriers. At 3:15 the temporary pool of community is empty.  My bus leaves. The lady sitting next to me with the wheeled walker is a regular. I find out her drain pipes froze last night. Her husband is hopefully taking care of it. The unspoken question is how many times before has this happened? The why is easy.  The pipes need insulation. Easy to do for her husband? No.

There are grey cheap plastic bags from Walmart being carried. Weighing the balance between need and ease of carrying. The young black man, another regular, is working steel toes with tan Dickie work pants. The hunter’s orange knit hat would look out of place anywhere else. One lady is age appropriate stylish.And on her phone.

The teenagers are clustered together in the raised back platform. The bus passes through a neighborhood of working class homes. Where the bright happy group get off. There’s a quiet where their energy was. There are two boys, the sons and grandsons of shop rats. Men who walked into the black abyss before the sun was up. Left when it had set. Everyday for years. A good wage for soul destroying work in order to provide. The boys carry the grim reality of not knowing a future where that’s possible. They want to move away from the cloudy winter skies but not Michigan. I wonder what will happen has I watch them walk down the edge of their street facing the industrial park.

Another turn. Past the wooden warehouse being taken apart for its old growth lumber. Down Woodside. The river on the left. A railroad switching yard. Wild tangles of vines and trees hid the stone docks. Then rows of metal warehouses advertising boat storage do. On the right is street after street of well maintained modest homes. Driveways with newer GM or Ford cars and trucks. The dichotomy of history. Organic city planning  based around distance to work before cars took over. Sidewalks instead of expanses of green to admire but not use. The bus is empty except two others. No phones. We are all watching the endless circle of routine. Looking for a stop that lets us step out into another world.

My stop. 3:28. I, like some of the others, offer some thanks or a keep warm comment to the driver has we stepped off.  The manners taught by our parents and those of the teenagers show an appreciation for another human being. Simple phrases that ease the stress of the day. On bitterly cold ones especially. An acknowledgement that we all matter in our own way. For the job we do. Or being the person we hope to be. Not a throw away phrase to fill an awkward pause.

Could riding a public bus be a cure to seeing others like ourselves? Stop some of the disregard being expressed lately? I don’t know. What I do know is seeing involves understanding and empathy. Something in short supply.

A Look back while Looking Forward.

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Standing on the plateau after the long climb of 2016 gives me a chance to reflect. The dense fog that dogged my existence the past three years was a one way mirror. From here it’s so very clear. The decades long descent into chaos laid out. While another fog shrouds future lies ahead. This is the first flat spot in my journey. One my new reality allowed me to found. Funny what you can see when you’re not focused only on the next step.

Three and half years ago the rowboat I took out into the swells sank. No amount of bailing  could keep out the waves. Finding the bottom was easy. Wait for the pain of rolling across the rocks seen in the troughs between towering seas. Some helping hands guided me over to the sand. My undying gratitude goes out to the nameless faces in the past that fought against the people wanting to cut away of the government support system for those of us suddenly drowning in the unknown. I survived in large part for where I live. While it was an act of escape to something in reaction, it is Home now. Being poor in a poor state is easier than one of rising effluence.

There were two saving graces. The first was I fell from a from a place of stability. Being raised in an upper middle class home left me unprepared for the moment but gave me the tools to think the way through. The second? My status has a Homeless Vet during a time when the nation and politicians actually cared about us.  The sad fact is the political will only exist during that short period when the true cost of war intersects with the public’s exhaustion and horror of the headlong rush into it. The 24/7 news has brought the sanitized scenes into the home. Smart phones streams the unedited to sway the emotions towards a particular narrative. A new tool in the asymmetric warfare of tech savvy Vets against the coming political indifference.

In order to understand for the non military reader, some facts. The VA funding is considered discretionary. A source of funds that are victim to the whims of Congress. The current state of VA services has been building for decades. Underfunded by both parties in yearly budgets. Just enough taken away to keep up the appearance of caring for the Veterans to hide the backroom reelection deals hurting them. Likehe aging Baby Boomers populations are causing budget problems in social programs, many are aging vets. Add to that Korea, Vietnam and all the far flung little armed actions that the VA is responsible for, any cut hurts. One figure is it will cost on average $1 million from the day he or she separates from active duty. That’s also the cost of treatment for each combat critically wounded soldier from battlefield to evacuation for top flight first world hospital.(Iraq) Here’s the numbers of FY2016 of the US budget.

Submitted February 2, 2015
Total expenditures $3.999 trillion (requested) $3.854 trillion (estimate)
Deficit $474 billion (requested) $587 billion (estimate)
GDP $18.819 trillion (projected)
Website Office of Management and Budget

Here’s the entire list of Discretionary Spending. The Political football used to fund the budget deficits created by tax cuts and corporate welfare.

Department    Budget   Emergency  Total
Dept of Defense     $523.9   $58.8    $582.7
HHS       $77.9     $0.4      $78.3
Education       $69.4      $69.4
VA       $75.1      $75.1
Homeland Security       $40.6     $6.7      $47.3
Energy Dept       $30.2      $30.2
    (NNSA)         $12.9
HUD      $38.0      $38.0
Justice Dept      $18.1      $18.1
State Dept      $37.8  $15.0      $52.8
NASA      $18.3      $18.3
All Other Agencies    $135.9   $3.5    $139.2
TOTAL  $1,065.2  $84.4 $1,149.4

 

How does VA spending stack up in the overall percentage? Since 9/11 it’s increased every year. Why? Social Media. The important part for me is “since 9/11”. I’m a peacetime Vet. My GI Bill disappeared after 5 years. Guess being part of Reagan’s 600 ship navy to break the USSR did mean that much in Washington. Luckily I became Homeless. Think about that sentence.

Housing. SNAP. Preference in agencies. Low or no cost medication to control my Bipolar craziness. The water isn’t up to my nose anymore. More at knee level. The shore is a vague glimmer than a visible fact. There are still deep hidden holes in my path. One Aha moment let me find a compass. One of those deeply subconscious operating systems strengthened by the perception it creates. The deepest of the magical thinking children use to fill in the gaps to an incomplete understanding to the world we sought to navigate. The machine binary code on which all computer programs need to run. There’s a maxim fundamentally understood by every programmer. Garbage in. Garbage out.

I have written about the results. The endless dominoes hitting the next for last 40 years. Small nudges will shift the next 40. At this point my old reaction would have been Run Away. Run Away. Followed by the deep depression for the lost opportunity. Lock the door. Cover the windows. That parallel path is very close. The Middle Way is my response.

This past election cycle was a distraction in following that path. It also help to strip away the muck. That layer of randomly collected ideas that bury core values by sheer volume. The Downsizing of my physical world was the first step in changing how I navigated through the interior one. For the first time the wind on my face isn’t the gust front of a coming storm. The calm isn’t the eye of the hurricane. All the dips and detours of the coming climb won’t be seen has a descent into darkness. More  a period where the  absence of light is a temporary condition to be passed through. That’s my hope. Experience has taught me backtracking will happen.

Which is where my binary programming can be changed the most. That change will take a long time. One day all these blogs will be collected into a book. If by throwing my thoughts and words out into the digital ether brings help to someone, my purpose has been fulfilled. Maybe for more than one. Right this minute is a good place. One to be appreciated. Never to be repeated. It’s unique. So that’s where I’ll leave it.

 

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