Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Civil War (+ Pessimism)

Even after six months, I shake my head in wonder at the disaster of Trump.

His corruption is so transparent, his complete lack of decency so conspicuous, that I can only be reminded of that line from a Hitler henchman – something about the bigger the lie, the easier it is to pull off.

Too often, I tend to be pessimistic. I admit that freely. I anticipate the worst of outcomes. Many times I am proven wrong, but this has not altered my essentially grim expectations.

In one of these useless LUNG diatribes, I predicted civil war. Or, more accurately, said that one is not off the table. I still think it could happen. This country is so divided that Trump’s removal from office could be the spark that ignites it, especially given the way he encouraged, even incited, violence during last year’s campaign.

“Donald, thy name is division,” wrote New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow, in the period between election day and the inauguration. “You and your campaign of toxicity and intolerance have not only divided this country but also ripped it to tatters.”

I’ve become a big fan of Blow’s. He has delivered indictment after indictment since Trump’s elevation. Typically calm and reasoned, I find him far more insightful than, say, that smug Lawrence O'Donnell, or that blowhard Chris Matthews. I’m glad they and other MSNBC mainstays are going after Trump. But they’re all preaching to the choir. The liberals take them in, while Trump supporters turn to Fox News and to Brietbart.

I don’t think the mainstream media is fake news in the way this fake president portrays it. I do think it is beholden to the powers that be, and is little more than a mouthpiece to the power elite. They are lined up squarely against Trump, which is revealing, and why, of course, he hates them so much.

The LA Times did a great series on Trump last spring. You should follow that link, and read the whole thing. There are individual editorials like “Why Trump Lies,” and “Trump’s Authoritarian Vision.” The series as a whole painted a bleak picture, but was not without hope. “We should not underestimate the resiliency of a system in which laws are greater than individuals and voters are as powerful as presidents,” it said. “This nation survived Andrew Jackson and Richard Nixon. It survived slavery. It survived devastating wars. Most likely, it will survive again.”

Such optimism!

The Washington Post called for Trump’s impeachment in mid-May, just after the firing of James Comey. The paper that brought Nixon down forty years ago correctly said it will take serious commitment to constitutional principle to get the job done. Is that even possible, in the current political climate?

Trump has his true believers. Yet surely, some of his supporters have always been reluctant: reasonable people who had voted Republican their entire lives. I have to believe that, once they accepted this yutz really was their party’s 2016 candidate, they held their noses and loyally cast their red ballots. Perhaps they’ll have that commitment to constitutional principle.

The Trump presidency is compelling psychodrama. It’s a major test of the constitution, probably its biggest ever. Can it protect the country from this lunatic? Or is Trump the death knell for what remains of this democracy?







Thursday, June 22, 2017

Government Hacks

On June 21, the Associated Press posted a story about testimony to the Senate Intelligence committee made earlier that day. Bill Priestap, the FBI’s top counterintelligence official, said that in disrupting the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, the Russians “used fake news and propaganda and they also used online amplifiers to spread the information to as many people as possible.”

The primary goal of the Russian efforts, Priestap said, was to disrupt the electoral process and aid the candidacy of Donald Trump.

At the same time as Priestap’s testimony, the House Intelligence committee heard much the same thing from Jeh Johnson. “The Russian government, at the direction of Vladimir Putin himself, orchestrated cyberattacks on our nation for the purpose of influencing our election – plain and simple,” testified the Homeland Security Secretary under Barrack Obama. This hacking was directed at the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

And yet, the AP reported, those Russian efforts “did not change the ballots, the final count or the reporting of election results.”

In other words: yes, the Russians interfered with the election to help Trump, but no, it did not affect the final result.

Or that is what seems to be implied. I dont buy it. The AP specifically says the meddling “did not change the ballots, the final count.” If this and other media reports are true – and we’ve all been hearing about it for many months – then the Russian meddling, with its “fake news and propaganda,” would almost certainly have influenced voters long before election day, thus affecting the final result. Changing the ballots had nothing to do with it.

Jeh Johnson acknowledged this, but offered no conclusions. “I am not in a position to know,” he said, “whether the successful Russian government-directed hacks of the DNC and elsewhere did in fact alter public opinion and thereby alter the outcome of the presidential election.”

Is it not curious that Trump has shown no interest in this matter, beyond his ongoing dismissals that Democrats have cooked the whole thing up because they lost an election everyone thought they’d win?

As president, he is sworn to uphold the Constitution and is, ostensibly at least, a leader. But then, he knows better than most that he lost the popular election by some three million votes. We must never forget that: Trump lost. In my view, the Russian meddling explains this, and explains why the polling was all so very wrong.

It is clear that we remain in uncharted territory. Trump continues on as a grotesquely unqualified charlatan without a shred of credibility. God only knows where all of this is headed.

Everything Ive written here is based on media reports. People I know of, who claim to investigate the “deep state” and describe just about everything in conspiratorial terms, probably consider me a naif. They view the question of Russian hacking as merely the bas relief of broader and deeper political intrigue. Maybe so. But what I am able to decipher is astonishing enough.





Friday, June 16, 2017

Our National Nightmare

The other day I Googled the words, “Hubris as a fatal flaw.” I did not have anyone or anything in particular in mind. Or maybe I did.

The top hit:
Hubris is extreme pride and arrogance shown by a character that ultimately brings about his downfall. Hubris is a typical flaw in the personality of a character who enjoys a powerful position; as a result of which, he overestimates his capabilities to such an extent that he loses contact with reality.
Who does this remind me of? Oh, yes – of course – that president who, as I’ve said elsewhere, has all the warmth and charm of a spiny-tailed iguana. On principle (at least for this blog post), I will not allow his name to taint this page. Its a word associated with Bridge, the card game, but more nowadays with a scowling, gloomy misanthrope.

Most of my Facebook feed is decidedly anti-Iguana. Consequently I’ve seen a barrage of stuff there, purporting to show his true colors. Most of it, with shadings, is probably true.

Someone posted a 1997 New Yorker profile that really caught my attention. In case you missed it, or didn’t have the stomach to read it all, it said this pretender drinks a gallon of Diet Coke per day (or did then). He does not, however, drink alcohol, or even coffee; nor does he smoke. These are among his few commendable attributes, as far as I know (though the coffee thing is highly suspect).

The reporter described some of the iguanas obvious lies, and then added this:
Salesmen, and [he] is nothing if not a brilliant salesman, specialize in simulated intimacy rather than the real thing. His modus operandi had a sharp focus: fly the flag, never budge from the premise that the universe revolves around you, and, above all, stay in character.
He has only been in office for about six months, as this is written, but we’ve been subjected to a wearying stream of chaos and bullshit. Yet everyone is on to this fraud. In a recent Fresh Air interview, Sen. Al Franken (D-MN) suggested that behind closed doors, with no cameras or microphones around, his Senate colleagues, even (especially?) Republicans, acknowledge this.

Surely there will be enough of them, in due time, willing to go public and help make a difference. He is too obvious, too transparently corrupt, and too dangerous.

Right?

After Nixon resigned, Gerald Ford, who had his own skeletons, famously said, “Our long national nightmare is over.” God only knows where this new nightmare is headed. It will not end well – Im sure of that. Whether that means bad news for the United States, or for that humorless authoritarian, that terrorist in Presidential clothing, remains to be seen.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Raw Violence

Around noon on Wednesday, the last day of May, a gas tanker on north bound I-25, just south of Denver, careened out of control. It slammed into the median dividing the north and south bound lanes, and burst into flames.

From the office where I work in the Denver Tech Center, we had a clear view of the resulting fire, a mile away. Thick plumes of black smoke rose to the blue midday sky. The injured tanker driver, we learned from online reports, had been transported to a nearby hospital. (Hours later, his condition remains unknown. No one else was hurt.)

As a result of this horrific accident, the freeway shut down in both directions. So did a portion of the light rail train that runs parallel to it. That light rail is the first leg of my commute home.

With the interrupted light rail service, buses began taking affected commuters to the Belleview light rail station, two stops up the line from my usual stop. Service was normal from there.

The bus I boarded was crowded with displaced passengers. It was an ordinary city bus, with one entrance in front and another about halfway back. Inside was hot and stifling, and a tense atmosphere prevailed. I found the only remaining seat.

A minute or so after I got on board, an irritated voice behind me said, “Come on, let’s go! The bus is full!”

A few more minutes passed before we finally lurched forward. We began winding through the heart of the Tech Center, a sprawling, many-miles-long complex of office buildings where thousands work. There is no direct way through it, and we twisted and turned along a sluggish, serpentine route.

Halfway between Arapahoe and Belleview is the Orchard station, not far from the scene of the accident. As we neared it we passed a freeway entrance ramp, where I could see long fire department hoses spraying foamy stuff on the fire.

Since Orchard was shut down we might have bypassed it. But when the driver asked if anyone had to stop there, one passenger did, a guy wearing a green shirt.

“Jesus Christ,” snarled the irritated voice behind me. “The one day I have to pick up my kid!”

“Our tax dollars at work,” whined someone else.

Traffic, already overburdened by cars re-routed from the adjacent freeway, got a little heavier. But after a few more minutes we reached the Orchard station, and stopped.

“Why the fuck are we even here?” asked that irritated voice. “Orchard is still closed!”

“Because somebody has to go here,” someone else calmly replied. “It’s his stop.”

For some reason the guy in the green shirt didn’t get off right away, even though the doors had opened. Instead, he glared back at the guy behind me.

“Come on, man! Get going! I gotta get my fucking kid!”

Green Shirt glared back a moment longer. I sensed a primal challenge, the call of the wild.

“People are so damned impatient,” somebody said.

Green Shirt relented then, and got off the bus.

But the bus didn’t move. I happened to look out the window to my right. And suddenly there was Green Shirt, fists raised, and that snarling guy, fists raised. Both attacked. Punches landed and heads snapped back from the force of the blows.

“Oh my God!” someone yelled.

“They’re fighting!” cried someone else.

The combatants slugged their way out of my view. The driver jumped from the bus. I couldn’t see how, but he stopped the fight.


All told, the ride from the Arapahoe station to Belleview took about twenty minutes, including the detour and fisticuffs. We made the rest of the journey in stony silence. Most riders, I think, wondered what the hell just happened.

I know I did. Even as the bus pulled away from the Orchard station, I began writing this blog post in my head – as if by properly sequencing what I’d just witnessed, I could understand it; could make sense of a meaningless, violent confrontation between two men who were almost certainly strangers. But there is no understanding it. There is only a trite cliché: trying times bring out the worst in people.

At the Belleville station, the light rail waited. I hopped off the bus and onto the train, got out my laptop, and began writing this. At Union Station I jumped off the train and caught a connecting bus right away, ordinarily the second leg of my commute home.

Once on board I resumed this blog post. After sketching out the essentials, I made brief notes for a possible ending: “In spite of everything I got home around 3:30, only fifteen or twenty minutes later than usual.”


But alas! That ending proved to be inadequate.

When I got off the bus near home, and approached the bicycle I lock up every single morning, I found it had been vandalized. Not vandalized, really: I think it was an aborted theft. Someone had stolen both brake levers, and would probably have stolen more, but got scared off.

That’s my assumption, anyway. Why else would some fiend remove the rubber handlebar grips, disconnect the front and back brake cables, and remove both brake levers, leaving everything else untouched?

Yet that is what happened. Brakeless, I rode home slowly and with great care, anticipating stops as best I could. On this final leg of my ride home, I used my feet, Fred Flintstone-style, to bring the bike to a halt. Once home I took an extra bike that’s been lying around for a few years, removed its grips and brake levers, and installed them on my bike.


Addendum: Early Friday, two days after the accident, a Denver news outlet finally reported the tanker driver is still hospitalized but “recovering,” and that his family is “grateful they’ll be able to take him home.” This report also hinted at possible safety violations.